Camera in the Park: Snow and ice season


A winter wonderland after heavy snow along the high reaches of Newfound Gap Road.
A winter wonderland after heavy snow along the high reaches of Newfound Gap Road.

Winter sees a dramatic drop in visitation to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, resolving the traffic congestion seen on busy fall color days. This is a brilliant opportunity to experience peace, quiet, and solitude in this most-visited national park.  A winter visit will depend mostly on accessible points of interest. The park limits the road treatments it uses to protect the Smokies’ fragile ecosystems, so after a storm it may take a while for roads to re-open. Additionally, most visitors are not experienced with winter mountain driving, so conservative policies on road closures help to keep everyone safe. That said, there are always options for a visit to capture some of the Smokies’ winter beauty in your photos.

If Newfound Gap Road opens after a snow, a winter wonderland awaits you. For photographers, this window of opportunity may only last a few hours before the snow comes off the branches, but sometimes it lingers for a day or even two.

Snow coats the branches along the Middle Prong of Little River.
Snow coats the branches along the Middle Prong of Little River.

When Newfound Gap Road is closed, roads at lower elevations are often still accessible. Try Little River Road from Sugarlands Visitor Center to the Townsend Wye, and on to Cades Cove on Laurel Creek Road. If everything is shut down after a major event, park at an entrance and walk in. Try the Tremont area for even more solitude.  You will not have much company and can have a wonderful day in the snow. It’s an easy walk.

No snow? Look for icicles on rock walls; they are especially plentiful along stretches of Newfound Gap Road.

Winter Photo Pro Tip: Use your histogram to guide your exposure and pay attention to your highlight warning indicators. Expose as bright as you can without the blinkies showing up. Phone users will not have this feature, but most phones do a respectable job of getting the exposure right.

Icicles hang from a rock wall along Newfound Gap Road.
Icicles hang from a rock wall along Newfound Gap Road.

Some Tips Before You Go:

• Check the park’s road report by calling 865.436.1200, then select option 1, and then option 1 again. This will tell you all you need to know about current conditions, but you may have to guesstimate about future conditions, like when a closed road might re-open.
• Have an emergency plan. Tell someone trustworthy where you are going and when you expect to return and remember to check in with that person.
• Have extra blankets or a sleeping bag in your vehicle in the event you get stranded by weather or car trouble.
• Leave home with a full tank of gas and top off close to the park if it’s a long drive from home.

With some preparation and your camera in hand, the Smokies offer a unique mountain experience throughout the winter months.

Nye Simmons is a writer and photographer who has been photographing the Smokies since the 1970s. He is the author of the Greater Smoky Mountains Photographer’s Guide and Tennessee Wonder and Light. He is also a collaborating photographer on Great Smoky Mountains Wonder and Light, as well as several books about the Blue Ridge Parkway. He currently offers photography workshops in the Smokies and beyond. Find him on the web at

Great Smokies

Welcome Center

Hours of Operation

(subject to change)

Open year round (closed December 25)

January - February

Open Daily 9:00 am - 4:30 pm

March - November

Open Daily 9:00 am - 5:00 pm

Open Daily 9:00 am - 4:30 pm

The Great Smokies Welcome Center is located on U.S. 321 in Townsend, TN, 2 miles from the west entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Visitors can get information about things to see and do in and around the national park and shop from a wide selection of books, gifts, and other Smokies merchandise. Daily, weekly, and annual parking tags for the national park are also available.

Physical Address

7929 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway Townsend TN 37882


865.436.7318 Ext 320