Travel Tips for the Great Smoky Mountains

Foothills Sunrise

Recently, I have had the opportunity to visit the Great Smoky Mountain National Park twice.  The first trip was during peak fall colors (third week of October) and last weekend (November 8-11).

This entire period is an amazing time to visit the park because there is such diversity in the activities you can do.  For fall colors, I would definitely recommend going during the week if at all possible.  The traffic on weekends really detracts from the beauty around you.  Traffic slows down a little in November, but remember that this is a very busy national park all year round.  One perk of visiting the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is that there is no entrance fee required whereas a majority of the other national parks around the country charge a daily fee.  However, it is a very kind gesture to leave a donation to help support the park.

In late fall, the wildlife is very active and fun to watch.  The deer are in rut which means you could see a lot of sparring between the male bucks as they fight for their choice of ladies for mating.

The bear are also active, eating as much as they can in preparation for the winter months ahead.

Turkeys are abundant as well – no worries for them about being the next Thanksgiving dinner as there is no hunting in the park.  You may get lucky and spot an un-common Smoke-phase Gray Turkey like the photo below.  This color variation is due to a recessive gene and is a very beautiful sighting among a crowd of your usual brown turkeys.

Depending on what type of activities you like, two nearby towns to consider visiting on the Tennessee side are Townsend and Gatlinburg.  Townsend is a small, quiet town with easy access to the park.  It has a few hotels and restaurants with an overall quiet feel.  Gatlinburg, on the other hand, is much more touristy with many more restaurant and shop options.

A few suggestions I have for places to visit would include Foothills Parkway for sunrise, Cades Cove in the morning fog, and Clingman’s Dome for sunset.  Head out of Townsend and take a left onto Foothills Parkway. The first pull-off on the left offers a great easterly view of the mountains for sunrise.  Find out what time sunrise is and plan to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to that.  The morning twilight can be so peaceful and beautiful.

Cades Cove is also an excellent early morning drive.  It is an eleven-mile one-way loop that has great scenery, especially when the fog settles in the morning.  The gate to Cades Cove opens at sunrise and you will see a line up of cars waiting to enter.  Cades Cove is where you will see most of the wildlife activity and just after sunrise or just before sunset is usually when the animals are most active.

A nice place to visit in the early evening is Clingman’s Dome.  This is the highest point in the park with an elevation of 6,644 feet.  Bring extra layers as the wind is often strong and the temperature is much cooler as elevation increases.  A short, half-mile hike from the parking lot takes you to the top observation tower for a nice view.  But in my personal opinion, I enjoy viewing the sunset from the parking lot.  It is a great westward view.

Thank you for your time and interest in my work and as always, your comments are welcomed and very much appreciated.

I apologize for the watermark through the middle of my photos but, unfortunately, I found it is necessary to protect my work.



  • Tom

    Jennifer love your picture from the Smoky mountains. Your blog or comment will help me when I go there this fall for the fall colors.. I am meeting other photographer so hopefully they well have a idea where to go but I’m taken note for myself. Thank for your help and great shooting.

    May 21, 2013
    • Jennifer Ludlum

      Thanks for your comment Tom. The Smoky Mountains are an amazing place with so much to see. Beauty is around every corner and is different to each person. Enjoy!

      May 31, 2013

Leave a comment


Email(will not be published)*


Your comment*

Submit Comment

Copyright © Jennifer Ludlum Photography 2008-2013. Email: