Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Most Visited Park in the U.S.

This post is being published on Christmas Day, 2018. Let me first start with wishing a Merry Christmas to my readers who celebrate the season.

There is no more beautiful way to travel between North Carolina and Tennessee than to drive through the Great Smoky Mountains. The park, most popular of the U.S. National Parks, hosts well over 10 million visitors per year. Second on that list is the Grand Canyon National Park. You won’t need your Senior Park Pass or shell out any green to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as it is the only national park that doesn’t charge a fee to visit. On a late October day, we found ourselves traveling out of Asheville and for a short distance moving along the famed Blue Ridge Parkway, the 469-mile (755 km) highway that is also a National Park. At Cherokee, we turned off the parkway and soon found ourselves on Highway 441, a main road that traverses the park.

Paralleling the highway is the Oconaluftee River. There are many points along the way for a short stopover to grab a photo. The river is so photogenic, you can’t hardly take a bad photo. Funny story. Our son, Josh and his wife Nichole, traveled with us. We’d decided to take photos of waterfalls and even brought along a book describing how to get to some of the most popular ones. Josh wasn’t worried about finding them. Their last trip through the park found plenty for them to stop and view. Well, they obviously didn’t travel down highway 441. Even with our side trip to Clingman’s Dome, we didn’t see so much as a single waterfall. Figures.

The photographer’s goal of a fall trip to the Smokies is to capture fall colors. For those who must select flights and hotel rooms weeks in advance, it’s a crapshoot as to whether the visit and peak colors coincide. Not only did we miss the peak, we found that colors in most areas of the park were muted as conditions in the autumn of 2018 were not conducive to generating large amounts of color in the forests of deciduous trees that inhabit the park.

The one turnoff from 441 we made led us to a high point in the park where we could get a great view of the vastness of the park. Clingman’s Dome attracts hundreds of visitors per hour. We soon found ourselves in a que of cars slowly moving upward. As we neared the top, we noticed there were a few parking places open along the highway that was lined with parked cars. When traffic allowed that coincided with an open space, we made a quick U-turn and tucked into a tight parking space. We would end up walking about a quarter-mile to the parking area at the viewpoint. It’s easy to see why the viewpoint is popular with tourists, the view of the park is nothing short of spectacular. The photos I captured could hardly do it justice.

All along highway 441 are many viewpoints, so if you decide not to fight the traffic to get to Clingman’s Dome, you can certainly capture majestic views of the park elsewhere. This park is one of the few where I captured many panoramic images, two or more vertical photos stitched together by Lightroom. The opening shot is an example, as is this post’s closing shot, a sunset view of the park.

Featured below, I submit for your review a small gallery of images captured that day at the park. In most browsers, you can click on an image to enlarge it and to scroll through the gallery.

John Steiner



  1. Great post and wonderful pictures. Isn’t it awesome that you don’t have to pay to get into GSMNP?! I wonder why that’s the case since you have to pay for every other national park. Do you know?

    • That is an excellent question. I don’t know why there is no fee. I didn’t realize that until after we entered the park. If I find out, I will share the info here. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. What a day! Such beautiful views, the GSMNP dares you to find a view not worth capturing. Next time we’ll make sure to find a myriad of waterfalls… Sorry we failed in that regard. Happy photoging, always enjoy your posts!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.