Spanning North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park can be summed up in three words: “It’s worth it!” If you love nature, hiking, and photography, then this National Park has it all! With over 11 million visitors last year, according to National Geographic, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has ranked #1 as the most widely visited US National Park year after year. It’s no wonder why! Minutes from Dollywood and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the park quickly transports you into another world. Upon entering the National Park, dense forests surround you and scenic byways take you atop stunning mountain vistas. In addition to the beautiful drives, hidden hiking trails lead you past cascading waterfalls deep within black bear country. All in all, this park does not disappoint!
Top Photography Locations and Sights at Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
Fun Facts About Great Smoky Mountains:
- The Great Smoky Mountains are somewhere between 200 and 300 million years old.
- A woman was the first settler in the Smoky Mountains.
- There are about 100 different species of tree native to the Smokies. That’s more than any other National Park in North America.
Featured Great Smoky Mountains National Park Photographs:
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Featured Photography Workshops at Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Wildlife Photography:
For its size and climate, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most biodiverse park in the world! If you like wildlife photography, you will love what this park has to offer! Click here to see a complete list of wildlife in Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
Interactive Map of Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a one-way scenic road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This 10 mph loop allows you to “hike” from your car while still taking in some amazing views. Whether you are going there to hike to Grotto Falls, see the historic lob cabins, or fall in love with the Smoky Mountains’ biodiversity, this drive is sure to satisfy!
If you have time, hiking to Grotto Falls is well worth the trip! This 2.6 mile roundtrip moderate hike leads you to a beautiful waterfall that you can walk behind! The main way to access the falls is on the Trillium Gap hiking trail. The trailhead is located on the one-way Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Leave early to ensure a parking spot as this is a favorite location!
Sugarlands Visitor’s Center
The Sugarlands Visitor Center is filled with great information, amazing park rangers, and fun souvenirs! There is even a small museum where you can read about plants, insects, and animals native to the Great Smoky Mountains!
Newfound Gap Road
The Newfound Gap Road is one of the highlights of Great Smoky Mountains National Park! This 33 mile scenic drive takes you up and over the Great Smoky Mountains and connects Gatlinburg, TN to Cherokee, NC. There are ample turn outs and photography opportunities as you drive the Newfound Gap Road. You can drive the entire length of 1 hour and continue on your journey, or you can drive to the mid point and turn around. At the Newfound Gap Overlook, you will cross the state border between TN and NC. Be sure to get out of your car so you can see the beautiful vistas and stand in two states at the same time! Click here for a list of the top turnouts (with photographs) along the Newfound Gap Road!
At 6,643 feet, Clingman’s Dome is the highest point at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here you can see stunning sunrises as well as sunsets! The turnoff for Clingman’s Dome Road is just past the Newfound Gap Turnout on Newfound Gap Road. The 1/2 mile hike to the top of the dome will leave you breathless, however, it is worth it! The hiking path is well paved and wheelchair accessible to a strong person. Even if you don’t have time to hike to the top, the views from the parking lot are worth the trip.
Morton Overlook is located along the Newfound Gap Road, just before you reach the Newfound Gap Overlook on the right (heading south). This overlook is home to some of the most stunning sunsets seen at Great Smoky Mountains National Park! The sun sets just between the mountain peaks depending upon the time of year and is spectacular. This is a favorite location amongst photographers! Arrive early to ensure your spot.
Laurel Falls is one of the most popular destinations at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, according to the National Park Service. This 2.6 mile round trip hike leads you to an 80 foot waterfall! When you reach the falls, you can walk across them on a foot bridge and continue hiking, or you can enjoy the views, feel the mist and then head back down for my fun in the park. The trailhead is located just past the Sugarland Visitor’s Center off of Fighting Creek Gap Road.
Ramsey Cascades is the tallest waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At 100′ tall, this waterfall will not disappoint! This waterfall is located in the Greenbrier section of the park and is only accessible via a hike. Be prepared for a strenuous 8 mile round trip hike to get to Ramsey Cascades. Click here for more information on how to hike to Ramsey Cascades!
Porter’s Creek Trail
The Porter’s Creek Trail can be accessed in the Greenbrier section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “The first mile of the Porters Creek Trail is actually an old gravel road, which meanders through a lush forest of moss covered trees and rocks as it follows along the banks of Porters Creek. If you happen to have the opportunity to hike this trail during the spring you’ll likely be treated to an absolutely awesome display of yellow trillium near the trailhead.” From this trail you can see old homesteads, wildlife, and the 60′ Fern Branch Falls. | Source: Hiking in the Smokys
Mt. LeConte Hike
“If ever there was a classic hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Alum Cave Trail to Mt. LeConte would certainly qualify. Sure, there are hikes in the Smokies that are far longer, gain more elevation, or have steeper climbs, but the Alum Cave Trail is unmatched in its combination of interesting geological features, history, high adventure and stunning panoramic views.” This 11 mile round trip hike will be one your won’t be likely to forget! | Source: Hiking in the Smokys
Rainbow Falls is 80′ high. The hike to this beauty is located just outside of Gatlinburg, TN. The hike is a total of 5.4 miles round trip. If you are lucky, mist from the falls produces a rainbow on sunny afternoons, hence its name.
Chimneys Picnic Area and Hike
The Chimneys Picnic Area, located off of the Newfound Gap Road, is a pleasant and beautiful place to stop to have lunch. From there, you can access the Chimney Tops trail. This moderate 3.3 miles round trip hike will take you to an observation point where you will have views of the Chimney Tops formations as well as views of Mt LeConte.
Oconoluftee Valley Overlook
Famous for its stunning sunrises, the Oconoluftee Valley Overlook is well worth a visit. It is located along the Newfound Gap Road on the North Carolina side. Go in the early morning for an amazing show of nature. This turnout will not disappoint!
Cades Cove is a broad, verdant valley surrounded by mountains and is one of the most popular destinations in the Great Smokies. It offers some of the best opportunities for wildlife viewing in the park. Large numbers of white-tailed deer are frequently seen, and sightings of black bear, coyote, ground hog, turkey, raccoon, skunk, and other animals are also possible. Scattered along the 11-mile loop road are three churches, a working grist mill, barns, log houses, and many other faithfully restored eighteenth and nineteenth century structures. There are also lots of hiking trails you can take! | Source: NPS
Located in Cades Cove, the hike to Abrams Falls is 5.2 miles round trip. Cited as one of the most dangerous hikes in America, use caution when visiting this waterfall. That said, the 20′ Abrams Falls is a beautiful photography location with lots of gushing water! Click here for more information on how to hike to Abrams Falls.
Arch Rock at Great Smoky Mountains National Park is another site worth visiting! “Arches are rare in the Great Smokies, and you get to hike through this one! This gem is also along the way to Alum Cave Bluffs, so you can hit two gems in one. This arch is slate rock that has taken hundreds of years to form. You can easily maneuver through this trail with the steps and cables installed in it.” | Source: The Hiking Project
Alum Cave Bluffs
Alum Cave Bluffs is the “namesake of Alum Cave Trail. Alum Cave is less a cave and more a bluff about 80 ft tall and over 500 ft long. The cave was mined up until the end of the Civil War and the minerals extracted were epsom salt, saltpeter, and alum to name a few. This is definitely something one should put on their checklist when visiting the Smoky Mountains.” | Source: The Hiking Project
Mingus Mill is located on the Tennessee side of the Newfound Gap Road. This historic mill is a beautiful photographic location if you like old buildings surrounded by nature. It is a must-see if you are in the southern section of the park!
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- Featured Photo Credit: Great Smoky Mountains in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina/Tennessee by Christine Jessel Grider