sunrise from clingmans dome
January 31, 2020

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a photographer’s paradise! Everyone from beginner level photographers to the pros will find plenty of opportunities to capture endless beauty in the Smokies year-round. It’s also a wonderful place to photograph your vacation and capture moments with your family and friends that will be treasured for years to come.

Here are 5 of the top spots for photos in the park and a few tips to help you have a great experience in the Smokies!

Roaring Fork Motor Trail

roaring fork motor nature trail

The Roaring Fork Motor Trail is located just outside of the downtown area of Gatlinburg and is a haven of roaring cascades, trails, waterfalls, historical structures and more. A full day can easily be spent in the area photographing locations like the Noah “Bud” Ogle homestead, Grotto and Rainbow Falls or the lushness of the area during the summer months. Autumn on the motor trail is one of the most stunning experiences in the Smokies and it’s common to see wildlife along the drive or while hiking on the trails. Seekers of the wildflowers of the Smokies will also enjoy the area throughout the springtime and into late summer. If you’re adding this area to your itinerary and hope to capture long exposure photographs of the streams and waterfalls it’s best to visit on a cloudy day, early in the morning or later in the evening for the best light.

Clingmans Dome

The highest point of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as well as the Appalachian Trail is a wonderful location for capturing the vast views of our ridges of blue. Though Clingmans Dome Road is closed during the colder months, it is still open to foot traffic and is an excellent opportunity to find solitude and snow covered hills. If you’re not up for the 14 miles of walking, you can drive up once the road opens in the spring. Standing at the top of Clingmans is beautiful at any time of the day but sunrise and sunset are certainly the best times for photographing some of the most amazing colors and light that the mountains have to offer. Astrophotography fans will also enjoy late nights at the top of the Smoky Mountains during the summer when the Milky Way is visible.

Mount LeConte

ridges of Mount LeConte

One of the most photographic locations in the Smoky Mountains is Mount LeConte, but the area is only accessible by hiking trails. The six different routes to the top are filled with subjects to photograph. Each trail offers a different experience and can include waterfalls, breathtaking vistas, wildlife, geological beauty, flora and more. At the top hikers will find the historical LeConte Lodge that was first established by Jack Huff. The best views can be captured from Myrtle Point at sunrise, on the Cliff Tops at sunset and at either spot throughout the day. Taking one of the trails up and a different trail down will allow for a greater variety of picture perfect moments!

Cades Cove

Tucked away within the peaks and ridges of the Great Smokies is a picturesque valley called Cades Cove. Once a place that was home to numerous families, homesteads, schools, churches and more, the area is now one of the most photographed sections of the Smoky Mountains. It’s easy to understand why countless visit the cove each year. With rolling fields, historical structures, abundant fauna, a variety of flora and the mountains that seem to be hugging it all, it’s truly a destination that is gem within the national park. Guests can drive the one-way 11 mile loop, wander on foot or bike around the valley. When planning a trip to Cades Cove, you’ll want to make sure that you check for any closures that may be occurring.

Foothills Parkway

fall foliage from foothills parkway

If you’re planning on spending a day in Cades Cove, you’ll want also want to consider taking a drive along the Foothills Parkway on the west end of the park. By starting at the Wears Valley entrance and driving to Walland, you’ll experience some of the most amazing views in east Tennessee. Once you reach Walland, you can continue on the parkway and explore Look Rock and other overlooks. If you’re ready to continue on to Cades Cove you can take a left onto highway 321, pass through Townsend and continue on into the park. Don’t forget to stop and take a family with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park sign!


  • Foggy days, rainy days and snowy days offer some of the best opportunities to capture the beauty of the Smokies. Pack appropriate clothing, protection for your camera gear and spend the day in the midst of the incredible beauty of the Appalachians!
  • Always arrive at your sunrise spot at least 30 minutes before the actual set time for sunrise and stay at least 30 minutes after sunset. The best color and light is often seen just as the light begins to hit the horizon or after the light from the sun setting spreads out to the clouds.
  • Don’t forget to experience the moment. Some days, well most days, won’t picture perfect. However, there is beauty and magic to be found in every day when you’re in the Smokies. Take time to truly soak up the experience and you’ll probably even spot a sliver of beauty to photograph.
  • Respect other park visitors, wildlife and federal laws in place by the national park. The park requires that all guests stay at least 150 feet away from wildlife. When planning for your trip, also prepare to photograph from that distance by bringing the correct camera gear with you. You even want to consider renting a lens for the length of your trip, it’s often an affordable option and will help you to enjoy your time photographing the beauty of the Smokies. Drones are also not permitted in and area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a violation of that restriction, failure to keep the correct distance from wildlife or ignoring other park rules not only creates an unpleasant experience for other visitors but it can result in a hefty fine and other consequences from the national park service.
  • Spring and Autumn are two of the most popular times to photograph the park, but you’ll also find abundant beauty and opportunities to capture gorgeous photos throughout the year. Visit the Smokies at least once during each season to truly experience the area.

two queen room in the appy

If you’re ready to start planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains, we would love for you to take a minute to Browse Our Guest Rooms! During your stay with us, you’ll find that being surrounded by photographs from the Appalachian Trail is a great way to be inspired for your own photographic adventure in the mountains. Amenities like our free complimentary breakfast, indoor pool with a hot tub, season outdoor pool, fire pits and more will help to keep you rested and energized for the next day’s excursions in the Smokies. Our location allows you to easily access the Gatlinburg bypass that leads into the national park. We also have plentiful free parking and a trolley stop on our property. You can learn more about the area and places to explore by reading Our Blog. If you’re looking to attend a local photography workshop, find a local guide or need any other information, Click Here, to contact us and we’ll be happy to connect you!

We hope to see you soon!

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