The long, repeating ridge crests and swelling summits of the Great Smoky Mountains look beautiful any time of day, but at sunset, they take on downright ravishing splendor. The softness of these mountains’ forest coats and the rumpled quality of the land—with lots of spurs, ravines, and canyons to collect shadows—ensure a dreamy look to day’s end.
Just about anywhere in and around Great Smoky Mountains National Park can be breathtaking at sunset, whether you’ve got a direct view of our home star going down or you’re simply seeing the shifting colors of the sky above and final sunbeams on the ridge tops.
The following places are perfect for watching the sun go down:
1. Morton Overlook
This pull off along U.S. 441 just north of Newfound Gap offers a gorgeous westward view down the forested canyon of the Walker Camp Prong. That translates to what’s arguably the best vehicle-accessible sunset vantage in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
2. Clingmans Dome
Needless to say, the highest peak in the Great Smokies is a pretty darn good place to take in the sundown show. The parking area at Clingmans Dome provides an outstanding view, but if you hike the short, steep paved path to the observation tower atop the 6,643-foot summit you’ll enjoy an even grander one.
3. The Chimney Tops
For those OK with a headlamp-illumined return hike after dark, the Chimney Tops makes a stellar sunset destination. The rugged peaks, an exposure of the Anakeesta Formation, rise over the West Prong Little Pigeon River, and the vista that they anchor—one of the most celebrated in the Great Smokies—reaches peak beauty at day’s end. (Learn more about the 3.8-mile round-trip hike to the “Chimneys” in our review.)
4. Mount LeConte
Huge pyramidal Mount LeConte is “only” the third-highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains at 6,593 feet, but its impressive rise from the Gatlinburg-area lowlands gives it the most topographic relief. That makes for an awesome pedestal from which to take in the sun’s fiery curtain call, which on this multi-peak massif is best enjoyed from Cliff Top near the LeConte Lodge.
Whichever of the multiple trails you choose to take down from LeConte’s crown, bring that headlamp and exercise caution—though the routes are well-marked and many people safely make this sunset trek. Alternatively, you could stay over on the summit at the LeConte Lodge and take in the equally marvelous sunrise show (particularly glorious from the easternmost LeConte subpeak of Myrtle Point) the next morning.
5. Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook
This popular vantage along the Gatlinburg Bypass doesn’t give you good direct views of the sunset; instead, it rewards with an amazing look at the dying sunlight colors cast on the wall of the Great Smokies towering above Gatlinburg.
6. Foothills Parkway
Multiple overlooks along the Foothills Parkway, which runs along the northwestern flanks of the Great Smoky Mountains, deliver fabulous sunset views. Walk the short trail to the Look Rock observation tower off the Parkway and you’ll be treated to another of the region’s absolutely knockout panoramas, which come the end of the day will include sundown over the Tennessee Valley and the Cumberland Plateau beyond and late light on the high peaks of the Great Smokies to the east, including Clingmans Dome and Mount LeConte.
7. Newfound Gap
Newfound Gap, which lies along the Smoky Mountain crest about midway between Gatlinburg and Cherokee, is perhaps better for sunrise views, but that doesn’t mean the sunset colors aren’t wonderful over the sea of mountains you’re gazing over here.
8. Cades Cove
All of the sunset seats we’ve described so far have been elevated positions: mountaintops, mountainsides, ridge brows. But you don’t need to go the heights to enjoy the sundown glories of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as an evening visit to the great bowl of Cades Cove demonstrates. Amid the burnished fields and groves of the valley, you’ll enjoy some wonderful light on the flanking mountains all around. (Sunset’s also an auspicious time to see wildlife in Cades Cove: You’re basically guaranteed deer sightings, and it’s not uncommon to spot black bears and coyotes this time of day.)
In the same vein, the more farflung mountain valleys of the park’s Cataloochee area have their own sunset appeal, even if the sightlines are more limited than high-country vantages. The pinnacle appreciation of a Cataloochee sunset, we’d say, comes when the resident elk herds are in view, which is most often early or late in the day. Watching these magnificent giant deer graze in the warm glow is as unforgettable as any of the more expansive sundown viewsheds we’ve covered here.
Just outside the national park in the northern foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg offers its own lineup of amazing sunset vantages (beyond the scenic overlook outside town we already noted). From Gatlinburg SkyLift Park and the Gatlinburg Space Needle to Anakeesta and Ober Gatlinburg, check out this article for the best spots in this Smoky Mountain gateway to enjoy the sun going down!
Feast on the Smoky Mountain Sunset
From the above-it-all top of Clingmans Dome to the serene embrace of Cades Cove, you’re treated to some of the most beautiful sunsets anywhere in the Great Smokies, and seeing them never gets old!