Don’t let a little chilly weather keep you from coming out to enjoy the magic of the Smoky Mountains. The winter season is a fabulous time to visit the mountains without the crowds and you’ll find special off-season rates at your favorite lodging destinations! In the lower valleys, winter is generally mild with highs reaching the 50s. When my husband and I were there the first week of February 2023 we had valley temperatures in the mid 60s! Read more about a winter getaway in the Smoky Mountains. 

A Great Smoky Mountain National Park winter getaway has a lot of advantages: 

  • Plenty of motel vacancies
  • Fraction of the people
  • Mild weather (at least compared to upstate New York)
  • Scenic drives, beautiful hikes
  • Still beautiful views 

From the stunning forests, historical buildings, to the beautiful vistas that stretch for many miles, Great Smoky Mountain National Park has it all and has something that appeals to everyone.  Nestled in a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains lies the vast scenery of the Smokies with a flourishing valley situated amidst a beautiful mountain backdrop. Add in wildlife, historic cabins and the Cades Cove Loop, the Smoky Mountains are a favorite of mine. 

Mountains appeal to me. The time spent without our devices allows us to just be in the moment and recognize the beauty of the little things. There is an overwhelming sense of freedom and simplicity in the mountains. You will find yourself surrounded by absolute silence and miles of untouched natural beauty, which encourage you to live in the moment forgetting the common and often overwhelming stresses of daily life. 

Smoky Mountain National Park Facts

Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited park in the United States. I have been to numerous National Parks and this fact shocked me. I would have thought it was Yellowstone National Park or Grand Canyon National Park. More than twice the number of visitors go to Smoky Mountain than any other National Park. 

  • The park sits on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina
  • The signature smoky haze is created by rainfall combined with evaporation and high elevations. The “smoke” is fog. 
  • Around 1500 black bears live in the park.
  • There is no entrance fee, although starting on March 1, 2023 a valid parking tag will be required for all visitors parking for more than 15 minutes in the park. The daily parking tag is $5, weekly, and $40 annually. 

Newfound Gap

The Newfound Gap road is open in the winter, although Clingmans Dome Road is closed. Newfound gap in the winter is still pretty. A gap is just a low point along a mountain ridge. The dense fog that forms visually appealing smoke literally took my breath away. Newfound Gap Road has some incredible views of the Smokies which makes the drive very popular. There are several overlooks where you can stop and enjoy the views. 

Driving to an elevation of 5046 feet, once at the top, you are treated to a beautiful view of the gap. 

You can also stand in two states at the same time as the states of Tennessee and North Carolina are divided here. 

You can walk a small distance of the Appalachian Trail here. The Appalachian Trail runs for over 2,190 miles from Georgia to Maine. The trail runs through Smoky Mountain National Park for about 72 miles and mostly hugs the Tennessee-North Carolina state line. 

the Appalachian trail sign and hiking trail in Smoky Mountain National Park

Appalachian trail sign and hiking trail in Smoky Mountain National Park

North Carolina and Tennessee state line in Smoky Mountain National Park

North Carolina and Tennessee state lines

Top of newfound gap in Smoky Mountain national park showing blue mountains and evergreen trees

Top of Newfound Gap view of the Smokies

Cades Cove

Cade’s Cove is a real gem. It’s an idyllic section of the park with interesting historical sites. The one-way 11-mile road takes visitors through lush meadows, by historic buildings with the beautiful Smoky Mountains in the background. Once a thriving 19th century settlement, Cades Cove takes you back into the past with a look at historic buildings set against the natural landscape. Although nearly 700 people once called the valley their home, only their structures remain today. 

Cades Cove is one of the most visited areas in the park. The first European settlers arrived in the Cove in the early 1820s. They built log homes, barns, corncribs, smokehouses, churches and cleared land for farming. By 1850, the population in the valley had reached 685. 

As you make your way through this stunning valley, reminders are everywhere that in the not too distant past, this place was also home to a group of pioneers. Cades Cove is one of the most serene places in the park. The breathtaking views of pastures and mountains are worth the drive.

Winter Getaway

f you are looking for a quick winter getaway, Smoky Mountain National Park is a great option. It is an easy drive from upstate New York where I live. We got a route 81 and went south!  

old church from the 1800's in Cades cove Smoky Mountains.  beautiful sky

Old church in Cades Cove

old settlement cabin showing rustic fence and trees.  Cades Cove Smoky Mountains

Settlement cabin in Cades Cove

view of mountains with a field and rustic fence in the foreground

View of Smoky Mountains from Cades Cove

My Camera

I’m often asked what camera I shoot with. I’m a firm believer that any modern camera today and produce a good picture. I use a Canon R5 as my main camera. It is a mirrorless camera, but most importantly it is a great tool. I am able to get it to translate the vision that I see into a photograph. 

My key reasons for this camera are: 

  • It is 45 mp. For some photographers, that is too much. For a landscape photographer it is my sweet spot. 
  • It’s a Canon. I have used a lot of Canon cameras and have always found them dependable, reliable and intuitive to use. 
  • The RF lenses are truly amazing. I have always had EF-L series lenses, but the RF lenses produce stunning images. 
  • The image stabilization is outstanding

But this isn’t a blog about cameras. If you want to know more, please contact me.

Debbi Marquette Photography is located in Upstate New York at the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. Debbi is an award winning and published travel, landscape and bald eagle photographer specializing in artistic, authentic, and memorable landscape and wildlife photography. She travels frequently, lives near the mountains and constantly has a camera in her hand to capture photographs so others can see the beauty of our world.

Capture Moments: Share Stories.