Top 9 Photography Session Locations in The Smokies
The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is an incredibly popular destination location. With over 14 million visitors each year, it is the most visited national park. So, it’s no surprise that couples and families alike would want to take advantage of this park’s beauty and plan their engagement photos or their family photos here. With miles of hiking trails to explore, scenic drives, and epic water locations there are plenty of photography session locations in the Great Smoky Mountains. But, which one is right for you? Let’s explore some top locations below!
Historic Elkmont was a booming logging camp where wealthy vacationers also went to enjoy cooler weather. Now it’s a hidden gem filled with a multitude of options for campers and hikers. It is also an ideal location for photography sessions, and it is by far my personal favorite location in the Smokies.
The National Park Service is restoring many of the old buildings to protect the spirit of Elkmont. As years go by more cabins will be restored in the area. However, some buildings were removed leaving behind beautiful relics. Stone chimneys, stairs, and foundations remain and make for beautiful portraitures. There is also a hidden stone troll bridge that can be described in one word: epic.
Not into the historic stuff? Elkmont also has multiple woodland locations with its various hiking trails. The Little River also runs through the area providing those oh-so-popular river photos.
Pro: Multiple photography locations all within a quarter-mile.
Con: No mountain views.
2. Foothills Parkway
There is one word for this location: scenic. In this 16-mile stretch between Walland and Wears Valley, visitors are provided breathtaking views of The Great Smoky Mountains. It is known as one of the most beautiful drives in the Smoky Mountains and should be on anyone’s bucket list that visits the area. Visiting at sunset is popular for guests and local residents. You will see many picnickers sprawled across the lawn taking in all of Mother Nature’s beauty.
This location also hosts numerous pull-off locations, which are frequently used for weddings and elopement photos in the Smokies. If you are interested in getting married in the Smokies, make sure to check out all of the approved wedding locations provided by the National Park Service.
Pro: Breathtaking mountain views.
Con: All photography locations are on the side of the road.
3. Townsend Wye
Looking for an easy location that feels very “Smokies.” The Townsend Wye is the perfect place to have mountain photos without all the fuss. Located at the Townsend entrance in the national park, this river location feels like you are deep in the woods. There is also plenty of location to sprawl out with a picnic blanket under the trees or partake in the water hole that is a local favorite in the hot, summer months.
Pro: Easily accessible location just outside of Townsend
Con: River-only photo location that is busy in the hot months
4. Cades Cove
If you are looking for THE photography session location in the Smokies, this is it. Cades Cove is by far the most popular photography location. Why? It has nearly everything. There are endless opportunities to take photos at cabins, trails, open fields, water locations, and so much more. This location is perfect for weddings and elopements, engagements, and even family photos.
When in Cades Cove, plan to be there for a while. The one-way loop extends eleven miles around the cove, and it can take anywhere from 2-3 hours to complete (on a non-busy day).
Pro: Multiple photography locations.
Con: Very busy with a lot of traffic.
Greenbrier is one of the off-beaten paths and a hidden gem of photography session locations in the Smokies. Located on the Gatlinburg side of the Smokies, it hosts some of the best wildflower viewings in the Spring. The area is known as an “old growth” and dense forest area. The area escaped commercial logging from decades ago. Therefore, you will see mature trees and thick underbrush.
Greenbrier also has the Ramsey Cascades trail. This trail features the tallest fall of water in the national park, at around 100 feet of waterfall. It’s a very strenuous hike, however, with some rugged terrain that calls for strong legs and good footwear for the 8-mile trip. If you are looking for an easier hike, try Porters Creek Trail which leads to Fern Branch Falls. This trail is only 2 miles long (4 miles round trip). The trail offers wonderful natural scenery and a 50-foot waterfall as its feature.
Pro: Perfect for water locations.
Con: Limited diverse photography locations.
6. Cherokee Orchard Road and Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Just to the south of Gatlinburg is the Cherokee Orchard Road and Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This route has cultural and natural features, as well as many hiking trails. The start of Rainbow Falls Trail, a popular route in the Smokies, has its trailhead in this area. The 9-mile journey will be sure to take you to many of the park’s roadside waterfalls, and the Place of a Thousand Drips.
You will also find the infamous “Fairy House” just a short distance from the entrance. Located in the Twin Creeks area, this old spring home is a unique find in the forest. Further up the road is Noah “Bud” Ogle Cabin. This log home is the first of many along this route and includes a short walking trail that is excellent for Spring wildflowers.
Pro: Unique locations that you won’t find in other areas of the Smokies
Con: Be prepared to be stalled by the traffic in Gatlinburg, especially in the Fall.
7. Cataract Falls
If you are looking for an easy-peasy location with a waterfall, then Cataract Falls is your place. This is also the only waterfall permitted by the National Park Service where photography is allowed. Located behind the Sugarland Visitor Center, the 1-mile out-and-back trail will take about 20 minutes to complete. It is a popular location for many guests, so be prepared to encounter other people while exploring.
Pro: An easy waterfall to hike to for photos.
Con: If there is no rain, there is no waterfall.
8. Little River Road
Little River Road is an 18-mile drive following the Little River from the Sugarlands Visitor Center to the park entrance at Townsend by the Townsend Wye. This road is a popular drive in the Smokies and offers numerous places to stop and hike, camp, picnic, fish, and swim. Along the way, make sure to pull off at Maloney Point Overlook, visit The Sinks, or hike the Laurel Falls Trail. You can even travel just a little off the road to enjoy historic Elkmont with camping at Elkmont Campground or a visit to Daisy Town.
Pro: Visit many highlights of the Smokies.
Con: An extensive trip that could last a couple of hours.
9. Newfound Gap Road
Looking for another scenic roadway in the Smokies? Welcome to the Newfound Gap Road. This road travels between the Sugarlands Visitor Center up and over the mountains into Cherokee, North Carolina. The 31-mile stretch of road is the only fully paved road in the park. At the top of the road is the Newfound Gap Parking area, which is a perfect location for wedding and elopement photos.
Along the way, make sure to stop at the beautiful Chimneys Picnic Area, or even stop and hike at the Chimney Tops Trail. Alum Cave Trail is also a local favorite, just make you start the hike early, especially if you want to stay at LeConte Lodge. Just be prepared the weather can change drastically as you climb 3,000 feet into the mountainous landscape. During the winter months, this road is frequently closed due to snow, ice, and high winds.
Pro: Amazing landscapes and beautiful scenery.
Con: Frequently closed due to weather, especially in the winter months.
Hire a Permitted Smoky Mountain Photographer
Did you know that Erin Morrison Photography is a permitted photographer in The Great Smoky Mountains? I am available for maternity, family, engagement, elopement, and wedding photos inside the boundaries of this magnificent mountain region. As a professional photographer, I am familiar with many of these photography session locations in the Smokies.
Please note, that photography fees vary by location and event! If you have any questions, please contact me today to chat about your photography session in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.