Top Spots for Amateur Photographers in the Smokies

Whether you’re seeking a picturesque mountain backdrop to enhance your portfolio or the coolest Instagram shot to boost your followers, the Great Smoky Mountains provide unmatched photo-worthy beauty as far as the eye can see. From wondrous wildlife and historic buildings to cascading waterfalls and alluring landscapes, the Smokies has you covered — and then some.

While there are plenty of photogenic areas, we’ve compiled a list of the top spots for the best shots, particularly for amateur photographers. Even if you’re not a pro, don’t let that stop you from photographing as much as your heart desires!

Clingmans Dome
At 6,643 feet – the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! — Clingmans Dome (our most literal top spot) is home to the best panoramic mountain views with a spruce-fir forest sprinkled all around. Plus, with breathtaking 360 views from atop the observation tower, you’re sure to capture the Smokies at their best.

After reaching the large parking lot at the end of Clingmans Dome Road (closed December 1 – March 31), it’s a half-mile hike up a smoothly paved trail to the tower. Being a bit steep, the path is not wheelchair accessible. Additionally, pets and bicycles are not permitted, so bring your peeps and your preferred walking shoes instead.

Due to the much cooler temperatures towards the summit — sometimes reaching a 20-degree difference — it’s a good idea to dress in layers or at least bring a light jacket, no matter the season. Most importantly, your journey will be met with many places to stop and rest along the way, so take your time and take some photos!

Cades Cove
If your photos need a touch of historical ambiance, look no further than Cades Cove. With a road looping around the valley area, you can simply take a drive through the captivating scenery (some features are below). Let the past tell its own story through your exquisite pictures of the local structures. Stretch your legs on the area trails and go on a photo hunt. After all, one of the greatest ways to experience nature is on foot, which presents the perfect opportunity to show the world how you see it — through your lens.

  • Primitive Baptist Church – Capture the charm of the first church built in Cades Cove.
  • Oliver Place – Snap a few pics of Mr. Oliver’s (son of the original settling family in the cove) homestead.
  • Abrams Falls Trail – Follow Abrams Creek to a beautiful waterfall — enough said!
  • Cable Mill – Get shots of the waterwheel used to help grind the grain (you can even buy some flour as a souvenir).
  • Mountain wildlife
  • – Look out for white-tailed deer, river otters, raccoons, turkeys, foxes, and yes, even black bears!

    Rainbow Falls
    Uniquely — and rightly — named for its misty rainbow effect on sunlit afternoons, Rainbow Falls is the highest (80 feet!) single-drop waterfall nestled in the Smokies. As you head up the Rainbow Falls Trail, you’ll be met with impressive scenery, such as crystal-clear water cascading over jagged river rocks or perhaps a few deer having an early breakfast. While photos are important, don’t forget to record video (perhaps in slow motion) of the falls, too — you did just walk a great way to see them!

    At 2.7 miles one way, it’s a reasonably moderate hike to the falls, so be prepared (hiking shoes are recommended). Bring plenty of water and have a good rest once you’ve reached your destination. For their own safety, pets are not allowed on this trail as the terrain can be a bit rough at times. Also, the path is closed from Monday at 7:00 a.m. to Thursday at 5:30 p.m. weekly (May 8 – November 16, 2017) for trail maintenance, so plan accordingly.

    The Gatlinburg Sky Lift
    Tired of trekking all those trails? (Say that fast three times!) Take a load off and let the photos come to you as you ride up and down the Gatlinburg Sky Lift. Get the ultimate city shots of Gatlinburg as you come to know its home in a humbling mountain scene. Remember to check the Gatlinburg Sky Lift website before you go, since their open times vary depending on the season. Also, as you graciously behold the magnificent landscape, be sure to tightly hold your nice camera — it’s a long way down, you know! With views of the Great Smoky Mountains on 3 sides, this will be an uplifting experience you won’t soon forget. It’s a great place for amateur photographers to practice some on-the-move photography skills in the Smokies!

    Nature Photography Tips:

  • Use the morning and evening hours to your advantage for the best lighting. Animals are also more active during these times!
  • Consider the season of the area to plan not only your shots but also your outfits and items to carry. (For example, spring means wildflowers, which is great for shots, but
  • they also attract bugs, so you may want to bring some bug spray along.)
  • Be aware of local animals and their behavior for your safety and theirs. If their behavior changes, you are too close!
  • As important as your photos are, remember to enjoy the moment. Spend a little time to reconnect with nature, feel your surroundings, and most importantly, admire the views through your own eyes!

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