7 Things To Do Before Your Smoky Mountain Engagement Photos
The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited National Park in the country. To some of you, that may be a surprise, but it’s not for me. It may not be vast like the Grand Canyons or majestic like the Rocky Mountains, but with its hundreds of miles of hiking it is by far the most accessible. Oh, and don’t forget it’s intimate beauty with ridge upon ridge of forest coupled with remnants of Appalachian mountain culture. So, it’s no wonder why people want Smoky Mountain engagement photos.
You may decide that having a backdrop of stunning natural beauty is the way to go for your engagement photos. Whether you are a local to East Tennessee are, or you are traveling from another state, there are some things to keep in mind if you want to capture your precious memories in the Smokies.
Book Your Hotel, Cabin, or Airbnb
Let’s just start with the bad news. There is only ONE lodging option inside the boundaries of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In fact, this lodging is the highest guest lodge in the eastern United States. LeConte Lodge is only accessible by hiking one of its trails. But, don’t worry, guests sleep overnight in a permanent structure. And, you get meals!
If you aren’t up for a hike to your hotel, there is a huge selection of hotels, cabins, and Airbnbs surrounding it. You can find this selection of places in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, and Townsend. Further, there are lots of different types of accommodations, so it’s worth researching where you’d like to stay based on the type of trip you want. You’ll find everything from rustic cabins for adventure travel to romantic hideaways.
Renting a cabin or Airbnb would give you all of the natural experience of visiting this beautiful area, without the restrictions of camping. Or you could add more of a luxe feel to your trip by considering Dancing Bear Lodge or Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort. If you’re wanting to prepare hair and make-up before the engagement photos, book accommodations with facilities to make this easier (on you and your hair and makeup artist).
Plan For The Full Smoky Mountain Experience
If you’re traveling from out of state and this is your first time to the smokies, you’ll want to ensure you have allowed enough time to take in the full Smoky Mountain experience. This includes activities inside and outside of the National Park boundaries.
Did you know that the Appalachian Trail bisects the Smokies? Most visitors don’t have the time (or the will) to hike the entire trail, but there are some sections of the trail that can be done in a day. If you are interested in stepping foot on this historic trail, take the trailhead from Newfound Gap Road 7 miles to Clingmans Dome. If the Appalachian Trail doesn’t appease you at all, consider one of the other trails in the Smokies. There are 800-plus miles of walkable trails available!
One of these trails will lead to one of the 100 cascades and waterfalls that be found inside the National Park boundaries. Popular trails are all around and will lead you to Grotto Falls, Laurel Falls, Abrams Falls, or Rainbow Falls. You can even drive to some of the roaring waters. Meigs Falls, The Sinks, or Place of a Thousand Drips are the perfect places to view the water from the comfort of your car.
Now, this is one thing that the Smokies are definitely known for! The Great Smoky Mountains National Park maintains developed front-country campgrounds. What is front-country camping? Front-country camping means that you camp near your car in a developed campground. These campgrounds have restrooms with cold running water and flush toilets. Each individual campsite has a fire grate and picnic table. There are 10 locations dotted all over the park.
If you want to get away from it all, then consider back-country camping. This is for you backpackers. This type of camping requires hiking several miles to a campsite. Great Smoky Mountains National Park requires a permit and advance reservations for all backcountry camping in the park.
Go For A Drive
Cades Cove is one of the most popular destinations in the Smokies. Driving the 11-mile one-way loop road through Cades Cove takes you through a valley with views of the mountains. Historic buildings and churches dot the one-way loop, with plenty of opportunities to view wildlife. For a quieter ride, head to the Roaring Forks motor nature trail. Or drive the 18-mile Little River Road that starts in Townsend and ends at the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
There is also the newly completed Foothills Parkway. This section of the road offers a spectacular view of the Great Smoky Mountains and the Tennessee Valley. On a clear day, visitors can see the Cumberland Mountains to the west. The recently completed sections of Foothills Parkway connect visitors to the Tail of the Dragon. Officially called U.S. 129, the Tail of the Dragon has 318 curves in 11 miles. A favorite with motorcyclists and sports car drivers.
If you want to go a bit out of the Smokies, hit up Blue Ridge Parkway to the North in Pisgah National Forest. The Pisgah National Forest is a land of stunning peaks and flowing waterfalls. Toted as one of America’s favorite scenic drives, visitors travel through large parts of Pisgah National Forest to the north and south of Asheville. In Asheville, there are four main entrances to the Parkway, which offer numerous opportunities to pop on and off the Parkway.
Surrounding Great Smoky Mountains National Park are the gateway towns of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Townsend. After a retreat to nature, emerge into one of these towns and enjoy aquariums, rides, museums, and Dollywood. Dollywood is an amusement park and resort founded by Dolly Parton.
Once at Dollywood, ride America’s first wing coaster Wild Eagle, which is my personal favorite. Or, you can take your chance on Lightning Rod. This ride will launch you from zero to 45 mph right at the start. Don’t worry, it only gets up to 73 miles per hour. Oh! Before you leave the park, make sure you pick up some cinnamon bread. You will thank me later.
Plan Your Mountain Engagement Outfit
It’s hard enough to pick an outfit for a date night. It feels nearly impossible to choose your outfit for engagement photos in the mountains. As a Smokies Permitted Photographer, I guarantee you that it’s possible. It just takes a little extra effort.
Look Like You’re Going Glamping: Ok, sort of. You have chosen the Smokies for a reason. Dress in an outfit that represents you and the mountains. Choose boots for shoes, jeans for pants, and vests for a pop of attention.
Choose a Long Dress: If you are going to wear a dress to the Smokies, make it a long one. Why? We will be walking through fields, trekking on rocks, and sitting on blankets. The long dress goes a long way in making you more comfortable.
Contrast with Green: The forest is green. Duh. You want to stand out against it! It’s time to bring the color! Choose a color that compliments your skin tone and rock it out.
Bring Extra Shoes: It’s worth keeping in mind we’ll be walking on uneven ground and surfaces may be a little muddy. So, please choose footwear that will be compatible with walking long distances. Heels can be carried in a bag and switched out when we get to scenic spots for your smoky mountain engagement photos. Believe me, your feet will thank me later.
Check The Traffic Report
As one of the most popular (and therefore busiest) national parks in the county, traffic at the smokies can get pretty busy. We’ll plan a time for your shoot around the best light for the day, which is usually at sunset. It will be important to take traffic into consideration at this time. As a permitted photographer, I am aware of the engagement session locations that can get bogged down with traffic. I will make sure that we plan enough time for those smoky mountain engagement photos you traveled for.
Road, trail, and facility closures may occur due to winter storms, floods, and high winds. Follow road status updates on the Smoky Mountain Roads NPS Twitter Page. Updates are available for Newfound Gap Road (US-441), Little River Road, Laurel Creek Road, and Cades Cove Loop Road.
For updated road information via phone, call (865) 436-1200. Once you hear a voice, dial extension 631 for road information.
Double Check the Weather
Elevations in the park range from approximately 875 feet to 6,643 feet. Whew! Now, we won’t be going to those mountain peaks for engagement photography, but it’s always a good idea to double-check the weather. Rainfall averages 55 inches per year in the lowlands of the Smokies. Prior planning will help ensure an enjoyable experience for your session in any season.
March through May: Spring brings with it unpredictable weather. Changes occur rapidly – sunny skies can yield to snow flurries in a few hours. In March, snow can fall at any time during the month. May is warmer, with daytime highs in the 70s and 80s.
June through August: Summer in the Smokies means heat, haze, and humidity. Afternoon showers and thunderstorms are common. Evening lows are comfortable with temps in the 60s and 70s.
September through mid-November: Clear skies and cooler weather signal the onset of the amazing fall color season with peak color in late October and early November. This is the driest period of the year with only occasional rain showers.
Mid-November through February: Winter in the Smokies is generally moderate, but extreme weather does. Snow falls more frequently in the higher mountains and up to two feet can fall during a storm.
Grab Your Smoky Mountain Map
There’s no cell service in The Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Therefore, a map becomes essential rather than a luxury. It will be worth spending time to familiarize yourself with key landmarks and roads before your engagement session.
General hiking safety applies here too. Please let others know where you’re going for your engagement photos and when you should be expected to return. Further, take enough provisions with you in your vehicle in case of emergencies.
If the thought of traveling in the Smokies without cell services makes you uneasy, plan to meet your permitted photographer outside of the park boundaries. I meet many of my couples at the Townsend Visitor Center in Townsend, Tennessee. From there, it’s just a 5-minute drive to the Townsend entrance to the Smokies.
Hire a Licensed Smoky Mountain Professional Photographer
The only photographers legally allowed to take engagement photos in The Great Smoky Mountains are those who have a Commercial Use Authorization. As one of a small selection of licensed smoky mountain photographers, I have the necessary experience to help you safely navigate to those great scenic spots for your smoky mountain engagement photos. I can also make recommendations about some of the things you can enjoy on your trip to this beautiful part of our country. Please view my Smokies Portfolio page, and contact me at any time!