Settings within the Great Smoky Mountains provide amazing opportunities for breathtaking photography. Imagine standing at a roadside overlook and watching the colors of the sky change as the sun rises or sets. It will take your breath away and create memories for a lifetime. Here are some of our favorite spots for getting the best photography in the Smoky Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Bryson City NC area:
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Morton Overlook is located along Newfound Gap Road (US 441) just north of the Newfound Gap Overlook area in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and is a prime spot for sunset photography. Plan to get there at least 2 hours before sunset - the skies are every changing with fog and sky colors. Morton Overlook has very limited parking, and is popular with professional photographers - another reason to get there early!
Most people know Clingmans Dome as the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with an observation tower, visitor center, and restrooms. Photographers know Clingmans Dome as an excellent spot for both sunrise and sunset photography, due to its wide expansive parking lot. This is also a prime spot for Milky Way photography, due to it high elevation and no city lights to impede visibility. Keep in mind that Clingmans Dome Road is closed during the winter months - November through March, so the only way to traverse the 6-mile road in, is to hike.
Oconaluftee Valley Overlook
Photo by Dave Allen Photography
Also located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Oconaluftee Valley Overlook is a favorite spot for sunrise photography. Layers of mountain views, a verdant valley, and colorful mountain skies will amaze you in the quiet morning hours.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Located at mile marker 451.2 of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Waterrock Knob is a beautiful overlook for sunset photography. The parking area is very large, and has picnic tables, restrooms, and a visitor center. The Parkway is often closed in the winter months, so plan accordingly. Blue Ridge Parkway Road Closure Guide
Cowee Mountain Overlook
For a photographer's prime sunset location, plan to visit Cowee Mountain Overlook, located at mile marker 430 of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Layers of mountains as far as the eye can see, along with a full westerly view of the changing sky colors, plan to arrive here well before sunset to take in this serene mountain view.
Other Photogenic Spots in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Mountain Farm Museum
The Mountain Farm Museum at Oconaluftee Visitor Center is a popular location for spotting elk grazing in the fields in the early morning and dusk hours. Located on US 441 - Newfound Gap Road at the Cherokee entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Farm Museum is a photogenic opportunity for historical structures. Learn more about the elk in Cherokee.
A working mill located just a mile north of the Oconaluftee Visitor, Mingus Mill provides several photo opportunities of both the mill itself and the millrace. One of our favorite photo settings here is to stand at the far end of the millrace – on the board that crosses over the millrace – looking toward the mill. This puts the millrace in the foreground with the mill in the background.
Oconaluftee Baptist Church at Smokemont
The Oconaluftee Baptist Church, also known as the Smokemont Baptist Church and the Lufty Baptist Church, is a historic building in the Smokemont area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was built in 1912 for a congregation organized in 1836. The church has been restored and is usually open to see the interior with the original pews.
The Bridge at Kephart Prong Trailhead
The parking area for the Kephart Prong Trail is parallel parking on both sides of Newfound Gap Road (US-441) - located 7 miles north of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. The trail starts out as a bridge over the Oconaluftee River. Standing at the foot of the bridge creates a great photo especially in the fall. You can also capture scenes on the bridge viewing downriver - this is a long view of the river with overhanging trees. Or climb down the embankment on the left side and photograph the bridge from below going over the river. There are many photographic settings here.
The Charles A. Webb Overlook honors North Carolina Senator Charles Webb. In the 1930s. Webb was editor of the Asheville Citizen Times, where his influential voice helped establish the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From the overlook you'll be able to spot Clingmans Dome, the highest mountain in the National Park. To get to Webb Overlook, travel 6 miles past the Kephart Prong trailhead along Newfound Gap Road. The Webb Overlook will be the second overlook on the left side. The first overlook on the left side after the Kephart Prong trailhead is the Thomas Divide Trailhead - and while somewhat scenic, it pales in comparison to the Webb Overlook.
Swinging Bridges Overlooks
One of the most scenic overlooks in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the side-by-side Swinging Bridge Overlooks. These overlooks are near mile marker 14 along Newfound Gap Road. (Or .6 miles north of the Webb Overlook.) There are two parking areas on either side of this scenic view.
- The parking area on the north side is also referred to as Swinging Bridge Quiet Walkway Trailhead on Google Maps and has ample parking.
- The parking area on the south side of this overlook is called Swinging Bridges South on Google Maps and has only a few parking spots.
Next to both parking areas is a sidewalk with a railing that extends along Newfound Gap Road to provide excellent viewing of this pristine section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is an ideal photography spot for cascading mountain views for miles.