There is nothing quite like the beauty of a sunrise or sunset, and this is especially true of the Smoky Mountains area. Although the mountains can often block the gorgeous red and orange hues of daybreak and dusk, there are many locations that provide the perfect vantage point for an excellent view of these events. Some of these locations are easy to get to. All you need to do is park your car, sit back, and enjoy. Others are more of a challenge with steep hiking trails, but you will be well rewarded for your effort. The following information will help you find that perfect location where you can enjoy the amazing Smoky Mountains sunset and sunrise.
Little River Road
You will find many small pullouts between Laurel Falls and the Sugarland Visitor Center off of Little River Road. These spots are prime locations for watching the sunrise over the Smoky Mountains. The pullouts are on the small side, but they are not usually crowded. It is well worth a stop if you happen to be travelling through this area on your way to Cades Cove.
Oconaluftee Valley Overlook
The Oconaluftee Valley Overlook is an ideal location for viewing the Smoky Mountain sunrise. It faces the east about one half mile from Newfound Gap as you travel towards Cherokee. Oconaluftee is the first overlook you’ll come across as you enter The Blue Ridge Parkway. It will be on the right hand side of the road.
This is one of the Smoky Mountains’ most popular places to view the sunset. From here you can directly see the setting sun, and at certain times of year, the sun will actually align itself between the peaks as it goes down. Morton Overlook is easy to find. It is a small pullout off of Route 441. It will be on the right hand side as you come from Gatlinburg. Plan to arrive here at least one hour ahead of time, especially on weekends or during the peak tourist seasons. Parking spots and prime viewing locations fill up quickly.
The Foothills Parkway
There is a part of the Foothills Parkway by Townsend that provides wonderful views of the Tennessee Valley. The overlooks face west, and they are prime locations for sunset watching. From here you will see the sun slowly dip below the Cumberland Plateau off in the distance.
Chimney Tops hiking trail’s summit is known for its beautiful Smoky Mountain sunset. From this trail’s narrow ridge you can see Newfound Gap, Mt. LeConte, and the Tennessee Valley. You’ll also be able to view the lights of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg which only adds to the experience. The only downfall is that you will have a 1.9 mile hike in the dark to get back to your vehicle after the sun goes down.
Newfound gap is as beautiful at sunset as it is during the sunrise. The vibrant colors of the sun lowering are amazing to see when they reflect off of the clouds while the sunrise offers you an opportunity to capture some amazing shots of the early morning mountain vistas. You will find Newfound Gap just past Morton Overlook about 30 minutes outside of Gatlinburg. When coming from the city, parking is on the left side of the road. The lot is large so finding a spot is fairly easy, and restrooms are available.
This is the highest point found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This makes it an excellent spot for viewing both the sunrise and sunset. You will need to follow a half mile paved trail once you have parked. This leads you to the observation tower. The pathway is steep, but you will be rewarded with an amazing view of the Smoky Mountains sunset. Sunrise is visible from the east facing parking lot without walking up to the tower.
Mt. LeConte is a wonderful viewing location for both sunrises and sunsets, but you have to work a little at it. It is the national park’s third highest peak, and you can’t reach its numerous overlooks by car. You’ll have to hike. Alum Cave Trail is the shortest path to take, and it is five miles long before you reach the summit. This spot is best enjoyed by avid hikers who don’t mind the dark.
The panoramic view from the observation tower at Look Rock is ideal for sunrise or sunsets. With a vista that spans almost 360°, you can see the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the east along with Clingmans Dome and Thunderhead. You’ll find the tower on Chilhowee Mountain along the Foothills Parkway. It is roughly 10 miles from the U.S. Highway 321 turnoff. Simply follow the signs from the parking lot to the trail head. The hike is about one half mile with asphalt most of the way.