When I visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, my camera is always at hand. I’m the girl with a point and shoot, DSLR and iPhone at the ready. Does this sounds like you? If so, read for tips on where to take the best pictures when you visit the Smoky Mountains of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.
When you’re in a place as beautiful as the this, it’s hard to put your camera down. I mean, you never know what may be around the next bend or mountain range. There are so many beautiful views and scenic areas it’s hard to know which are the best spots for Great Smoky Mountains National Park pictures. Follow this guide to capture some of the finest scenery the Smokies have to offer.
1) Cades Cove
Visiting Cades Cove is like stepping back in time. Old homesteads, historic churches, rustic barns, a working grist mill and other 18th and 19th centuries have been restored, all of which you can view on an 11-mile loop. There are several places to stop and explore further, so you can score excellent photos. The mountains and valleys of Cades Cove are also picturesque, and the abundant wildlife such as deer and bear add to the possibilities. Arrive early for the best pictures, as it can get quite crowded throughout the day.
2) Mount LeConte
At 6,593 feet, Mount LeConte is the third highest peak in the national park and offers an exceptional vista of the rolling mountains and valleys of the Smokies. There are five trails in which you can access the peak: Alum Cave Trail, The Boulevard Trail, Bullhead Trail, Rainbow Falls Trail, and Trillium Gap Trail. The Alum Cave Trail is the most popular as although the ascent is strenuous, the descent is the easiest of the trails. At 11 miles roundtrip, it’s also the shortest trail but is still a healthy dose of activity. Be prepared with water and snacks. In addition, be sure to set out early for any of these hikes.
3) Newfound Gap
Break out the panoramic mode on your camera for this shot. The view is endless, and easy to get to, making it an ideal place for a quick photography grab. As you’re driving on US 441, pull over at the Newfound Gap parking area and take a few (or 50) snaps. At an elevation of 5,046 feet, Newfound Gap is the lowest drivable pass through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and was created as the main route used to travel through the Smoky Mountains. Some of the best sunrise and sunset photos you’ll see of the Smokies come from this location. As a result, it’s easily one of the spots for taking Great Smoky Mountains National Park pictures.
4) Clingman’s Dome
You can easily combine the views at Newfound Gap with a visit to Clingman’s Dome as its just 7 miles away. Now, those 7 miles are quite curvy, but still—it’s easy enough. Plus, Clingmans’ Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains at 6,643 feet. Which means it also has some of the most stunning views you’ll find—anywhere. The parking lot has some pretty great vantage points for photos; on clear days it honestly feels like you can see forever. But, I recommend making the trek to the observation tower for even more memory-card-filling pictures. The ½ mile trail is strenuous and steep as its straight up a mountain. The 54-foot-tall tower, as well as the elevation gains along the way, offer birds-eye-views screaming for lens to be on them. The only downside are the dead trees littering the area. Maneuver around, or angle them to frame your photo.
It seems many of the hikes I navigate towards have waterfalls. What can I say? The cascading falls are a nice reward and they generally have some nice views along the way. Luckily, there are plenty of amazing waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains. My favorite three, though, are Rainbow Falls, Abrams Falls and Laurel Falls. Rainbow Falls (5.5 miles roundtrip) has a height of 80-feet and a the route meanders along LeConte Creek; Abrams Falls (5 miles roundtrip) is only 20-feet high but is very wide; and Laurel Falls (2.5 miles roundtrip) has an upper and lower section. Each is unique in its own way, and ideal for outdoor Great Smoky Mountains National Park pictures.
Bonus: Chimney Tops Trail
This hike isn’t that long at 3.8 miles roundtrip, but it’s what I call a Billy goat trail: it’s steep, on a mountainside and makes you feels like a Billy goat as you cling to the mountainside with nothing but your feet. Chimney Tops is so steep in fact, many hikers don’t make it to the top as you climb almost a 1,000 feet in the last mile. There are snap-worthy views along the way, but the panoramic at the peak is what you’re really after. Push on, if you can, to take some iconic hiker-magazine worthy images.4
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Pictures
These are some of the best spots for Great Smoky Mountains National Park pictures. Charge your camera gear, bring plenty of storage cards and get to snapping!