Andrus Photography - Smoky Mountain wedding photographers

Planning weddings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) is different from choosing a traditional venue. The Smoky Mountain Wedding Association is pleased to recommend many venues such as chapels, barns, cabins, outdoor settings, and other venues. However, when planning a Smoky Mountain wedding, don’t forget to consider a site inside the incredibly beautiful Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The captivating cover photo shown above is from local photography company Andrus Photography. If that’s the look and feel you’re aiming to achieve with your Smoky Mountain wedding, then this is the article for you.

The Smoky Mountain area is a popular destination for weddings, but ceremonies held inside the park’s boundaries offer an enchantment that couples cannot find elsewhere.  The GSMNP is the nation’s most visited national park, and there is still no entrance fee. It is a sentimental destination for many people, which is one reason why so many brides dream of a wedding there. We are sharing these ten helpful tips to help brides hoping to get married inside the national park.

10 Tips for Planning Weddings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

In the Smokies with Don Fields Photography
Photo Credit: Don Fields Photography

1. Planning early makes the process easier.

The team at the National Park Service offers pre-approved locations for weddings. View this helpful map to see which sites the park allows. Brides covet popular locations like the Chimneys Picnic Area, Newfound Gap Overlook, and the churches inside Cades Cove. The park allows only two weddings per day at each of these locations. To have the most options available, be sure to choose a site and submit a permit application as soon as possible.

2. Permits are required.

The National Park Service (NPS) requires a permit for any ceremony inside the park’s boundaries. The application fee for a permit is currently $50 for weddings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is true for weddings, vow renewals, and commitment ceremonies. Click here for a printable permit.

With the correct permit, you gain access to a ceremony site but it does not give you exclusive use of that area. National parks are public land. All park areas are open to the public and the team at the park service cannot close the sites for your event. If you require exclusivity, consider one of the many beautiful private venues in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and surrounding areas. Anakeesta and Barn Event Center of the Smokies offer outdoor settings like that of the GSMNP but with exclusivity and additional amenities that some brides desire. Find more local wedding venues on our website.

Twigloo at Anakeesta in Gatlinburg
Photo courtesy of Anakeesta
Other Types of Permits

Speaking of permits, the NPS requires a permit for commercial photographers holding a photo shoot in any area of the GSMNP. Your permit will cover this activity if it is on the same date on your permit. The permit allows for photography at your venue or at the park’s scenic overlooks, open fields, stream banks, and historic areas.

This means that if you’re getting married at a location outside the national park but hope to shoot photos within the park’s boundaries, a special use permit is required. Additionally, your photographer must be certified to work inside the park. Do not worry about obtaining these permits; your professional photographer will take care of everything. Learn more about wedding photography guidelines inside the GSMNP here.

We should also note that a vehicle parked longer than 15 minutes inside the national park must have a parking pass displayed. Your guests should purchase and display a parking pass on their vehicle to park at your ceremony. Motorists may purchase passes online or in person at a variety of locations inside the park. This new Park It Forward initiative began in 2023; learn more here.

3. The simpler the wedding, the better.

Outdoor ceremony locations in the national park can hold no more than 25 guests and historic churches accommodate up to 50 guests. Decor should be kept to a minimum and remember that everything you bring with you must also be taken away.

Permits for most areas do not allow for any type of reception or celebratory activities. Park officials ask visitors to “Leave No Trace” during any activity in the park including weddings. If your wedding has a larger guest list, the Smoky Mountain area has an abundance of privately owned venues that offer views and outdoor ceremony sites that will take your breath away! Check out Historic Seaton Springs Farm for breathtaking scenery.

Historic Seaton Springs Farm
Photo courtesy of Historic Seaton Springs Farm

4. Weather can change at any moment.

The weather changes in the Smoky Mountains quickly and with very little notice. This includes temperature fluctuations and precipitation that can interfere with your plans. For weddings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, have a rain plan ready to go regardless of what the weather forecast says. Doing so can make the difference between a memorable and a miserable wedding day.

5. A Tennessee marriage license makes it legal.

Obtaining a Tennessee marriage license is necessary for your marriage to be legal and official. You can easily get a license at the Sevier County Courthouse with no waitlist or required blood work. Contact the courthouse at 865-453-5502 or click here to learn more.

6. GPS May Not Always Work.

Even in familiar areas, many of us depend on GPS to find the best route available. However, the Smoky Mountains are vast and cover a large area of winding and hilly terrain. Inside the park, Wi-Fi is non-existent and cellular service is extremely limited. Send written directions to your guests in case their GPS service is disrupted during the route to your ceremony. In addition, the park service no longer maintains many old roads through the mountains. Google Maps and other navigational services may not be up to date on road closures from events like floods, landslides, and other natural disasters. 

Stay updated on road closures inside the GSMNP here.

7. Formal footwear can be problematic.

Formal footwear is not the best choice for weddings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We recommend shoes that are flat and easy to walk in for the wedding party and your guests. If you wish to wear formal footwear, change into it at the last minute. This may be a fun chance to wear rhinestone sneakers or personalized hiking boots. Get creative but most importantly, stay safe.

8. Hire the right photographer.

Jake Schick Productions
Photo courtesy of Jake Shick Productions

Getting married in the Smoky Mountains gives couples access to its unique landscapes and scenery. Get the most out of your wedding photos by picking a local photographer who specializes in the area. A local photographer will know the best locations for photos, offer credible insight, and know the best times for lighting and other technical considerations. He or she will also know where and what to avoid during a photography session inside the national park.

Ask if the photographer you hire is certified to work inside the park’s boundaries for a ceremony or photo shoot within the park.

9. Opt for romance.

Willow + Rove wedding photographer in the Smoky Mountains
Photo courtesy of Willow + Rove

The Smoky Mountains are stunning and the lush landscape is a romantic backdrop for weddings. Inside the park, look for streams, waterfalls, and panoramic overlooks to set the mood for your wedding day. Not only will the setting enhance the atmosphere, but it will also automatically give you beautiful images and memories from your wedding day. Plus, it will give you a special spot to return to as you revisit the area for anniversaries.

Our favorite romantic sites for weddings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are:
Cataract Falls

The trail to reach Cataract Falls leaves from Sugarlands Visitors Center, which means your guests will have plenty of parking, restroom facilities before and after the hike, and an overall fun destination to enjoy. Learn more about Sugarlands Visitors Center here. Furthermore, the trail to Cataract Falls is fairly level and less than a mile long. This makes it a wise choice for groups with children and seniors. Cataract Falls is a 25-foot waterfall and there is plenty of space for your wedding guests to spread out and enjoy the ceremony.

Oconaluftee Overlook

Overlooks in the Smoky Mountains offer the panoramic views we crave, and Oconaluftee Overlook will not disappoint. This overlook is easy to get to. It is located directly on Newfound Gap Road, which is the route from Gatlinburg,TN to Cherokee, NC.

The overlook is near Newfound Gap Overlook, which is also an approved wedding site inside the national park. However, Oconaluftee Overlook will be less crowded than Newfound Gap Overlook. The Oconaluftee Overlook parking area is small, so choose this site for an intimate ceremony. It is especially romantic during spring and summer when the wildflowers are in bloom.

Oconaluftee Overlook
Oconaluftee Overlook – Photo credit: Amy Morton
Primitive Baptist Church in Cades Cove

Cades Cove is one of the most popular destinations in the GSMNP, so your guests will be thrilled with this choice. Before and after your ceremony, your party can spend the day hiking and seeing the sights in Cades Cove. The park service has approved all the churches in Cades Cove, but they are in high demand. Additionally, they limit weddings to one per day. If you wish to say your vows where some of the original Smoky Mountain settlers did generations ago, submit your application far in advance and be flexible with your dates.

Churches like the Primitive Baptist Church in Cades Cove offer a nostalgia that you cannot find elsewhere. The historic buildings are set in a landscape with towering mountain views, wildlife, and a cozy atmosphere that sets the stage for a romantic ceremony. Without the glitz of a traditional venue, these churches put the focus on the wedding couple.

10. Plan a reception at a local event venue or restaurant.

As stated earlier, a special use permit for a wedding inside the national park is for the ceremony only. It does not allow for a reception of any kind unless your ceremony is in a picnic area. We recommend planning a catered reception at a nearby event venue in Gatlinburg like Margaritaville Resort or celebrating at a restaurant like The Melting Pot or Ole Red.

The Melting Pot Gatlinburg
Photo courtesy of The Melting Pot Gatlinburg

Getting Married in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

As with any government department, there are stiff regulations for activities inside the national park. Learn more here and do not be discouraged: a wedding inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is worth the extra effort.

Watch this informative video to see why with just a little more planning, you can have a spectacular wedding ceremony in the national park.

View the interactive map and see the complete list of ceremony sites in the park’s guidelines to find your perfect location. It’s the biggest day of your life, so why not go the extra mile to say your vows in the magical land of the Smoky Mountains?

Congratulations from the Smoky Mountain Wedding Association

Do you have extra questions about getting married inside the national park? Contact a local wedding planner in the Smoky Mountains for help coordinating your dream wedding.

The Smoky Mountain Wedding Association would like to congratulate you on your engagement and welcome you to the wedding capital of the South! Learn more about us here and follow us on Facebook for even more wedding planning tips.

Authored in Appalachia || Amy Morton


Comments are closed