You don’t become the most popular National Park in the country without fantastic views. If you’re headed to the Great Smoky Mountains, here are the best spots for pictures!
Newfound Gap Road
With a park as large as Great Smoky Mountains, you don’t always have to strap up your hiking boots in order to access the best scenery for pictures. Some of the most breathtaking views in the park are located right along the main drag, which stretches from Gatlinburg to Cherokee. The road winds in and out of the mountains, exposing you to sprawling vistas at every turn. Take advantage of the various pull-offs to stretch your legs and set up some steady shots (pack a tripod to avoid shakiness). We recommend hitting the road for sunrise, when the early-morning fog hangs majestically over the valleys below. To capture the fog, make sure to set the white balance to cloudy.
The third highest peak in the Smokies also offers some of the best hiking opportunities. There are multiple options for trails to the summit, but we recommend the Alum Cave Trail, which winds five miles to the top. Along the way, stop at the eponymous cave, a concave bluff stretching 80 feet (24 meters) in height. Toward the end of your hike, you’ll stumble upon LeConte Lodge, the highest guest lodge in the eastern U.S. But, continue down the trail and you’ll reach the summit, where you’ll be rewarded with a scenic Smoky Mountain panorama.
A visit to the Smokies is incomplete without a visit to the park’s highest point. Clingman’s Dome provides some of the most amazing views in the range, and unlike some of its shorter brethren, it’s not terribly difficult to summit. Travel seven miles up Clingman’s Dome Road to reach the observation tower. After exiting your car, you’ll face a short, but steep trek up the walkway which spirals above the park’s high point. If you make the climb in the late fall, the leafless trees will open up the intense views from the top.
The Chimney Tops Trail gains 1,400 feet in just two miles, making for a strenuous climb that includes a steep and rocky scramble to the summit, but trust us — it’s worth it. The trail crosses several rushing streams before ascending the side of the mountain. Along the way, you’ll be treated to gorgeous views of Mount LeConte and the rest of the undulating range. At the top, you’ll reach a rocky pinnacle that lends the peak its name.
The park may be known and named after its spectacular mountains, but one of the best spots in the park is actually this verdant valley in the Tennessee section. You can tour the broad valley via an 11-mile loop road that will provide you with ample opportunity to spot the region’s beautiful wildlife, including white-tailed deer, black bears, turkeys, groundhogs, and raccoons. Be polite to your fellow travelers and utilize the road’s various pull-offs, but remember to act accordingly if you see a bear!