Best Stargazing in the Smoky Mountains

If you want to see the stars shine the brightest, you need a great spot far from it all, like the Great Smoky Mountains. With over a half million acres of space across the park, you can bet on finding plenty of spectacular places to stargaze. Too many, in fact, make it hard to pinpoint just where to go for your stargazing adventures. Fortunately, we’re here to help. Just take a look at this guide on the best stargazing spots in the Smokies to find a place where you can admire the wonders of the universe.

Cades Cove

Cades Cove features a wide-open valley perfect for settling down and gazing at the stars above. To start the journey, travel down the Cades Cove Loop Road to the orientation shelter.

Then, carefully walk about 1/3 of a mile down the path to the valley beyond. Watch for wildlife along the way, pausing to let them pass before continuing down the trail.

Once you reach the valley, lay out your blanket and get ready for a wonderful show. The stars twinkle brightly overhead and often end up framed by shooting stars passing across the inky black sky.

Want to go on a guided journey and learn all you can about the stars, constellations, and galaxies in view? Plan your trip for the annual stargazing trip to Cades Cove held by the Smoky Mountains Astronomical Society each September.

Clingmans Dome

clingmans dome above green trees and cloudy blue skies

From March through December, you can climb up the observation tower at Clingmans Dome to get as close as possible to the stars. At a stunning 6,643 feet tall, this tower puts you at the highest point in the park, ensuring you always enjoy phenomenal views.

You’re welcome to arrive right before sunset to see the sky light up in a brilliant array of hues before nightfall arrives. As you do that, you have the chance to see tons of amazing wildlife, like white-tailed deer, bears, and coyotes.

As the sky darkens, the twinkling stars will come into view in full force. You’ll be close enough to see them in all their glory, although many people like to bring binoculars or a telescope for a closer look.

Prefer to keep your feet firmly on the ground while you stargaze? The parking lot for Clingmans Dome is a great place to see the stars as well.

Waterrock Knob

Waterrock Knob puts you nearly as high in the sky as the observation tower but offers a more secluded stargazing experience. Set near mile marker 451 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, this overlook brings you up to 6,000 feet where you can see the stars shining brightly.

You don’t even need to go far from the parking lot to get the best views. In fact, you can even stay in your car if you prefer. Just find a spot along the edge of the overlook and you’re golden.

If you do want to get out and smell the fresh mountain air while stargazing, bring a lawn chair or blanket to the grassy knoll by the parking area. Then, simply relax at your leisure while taking in the beauty all around you.

As you do that, try to find the most visible constellations in the area: Orion, Gemini, Taurus, and the Big and Little Dippers. Then, look out even further to see what other constellations you can identify.

Newfound Gap

Photo Credit by @caitlani9 on Instagram

Newfound Gap allows you to gaze at the stars twinkling above both Tennessee and North Carolina. Well-known as the lowest pass through the mountainside, this gap still takes you above 5,000 feet.

The fragrant evergreen forests add to the magic of the stargazing experience, especially if you come early enough to see the trees set against the fading evening sky. The sweeping mountain views are second to none as well, making it a great place to admire the natural landscapes of the Smokies.

After that, it’s all about seeing the stars light up the night as the evening fades into nightfall. Although the gap runs along the Appalachian Trail, it’s best to stick to the parking lot for stargazing.

Foothills Parkway

Photo Credit by @chandlerwebercreative on Instagram

If you want to happen upon a fun stargazing party, set your sights on Foothills Parkway. The magic starts as you travel along this 72-mile stretch while checking out the views of the mountains and Tennessee Valley. Want to see the mountainside at its best? Take this trip during leaf-peeping season, for sure.

As nightfall approaches, plan to be in the range of Look Rock, a Chilhowee Mountain favorite. You’ll find this overlook near the Happy Valley Road intersection. Once you arrive there, settle in for a great show. There are plenty of wonderful spots to sit and take in all the stars in your midst.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find many other stargazers having a blast nearby. They tend to party it up while waiting for darkness to envelope the area and serve as a wonderful backdrop for the stars.

Tips on Making the Most of Your Stargazing Adventures

No matter where you go, use these tips to enjoy the best stargazing experience possible.

  • Plan to visit on a super clear night to avoid clouds blocking the view overhead
  • The peak stargazing experience begins after 11 pm when all the light leaves the sky
  • Let your eyes adjust to the darkness before walking out to your preferred spot
  • Use a red-tinted flashlight to see the path ahead without ruining your night vision
  • Have a star chart on hand if you’d like to identify the constellations you see
  • Use bug spray to keep the mosquitos and other critters from interrupting your fun
  • Bring a jacket since the mountain weather can feel chillier than the surrounding areas
  • Put your camera on a tripod, turn off the flash, and aim to capture long exposures of the stars
  • Take binoculars or a telescope on your adventures to look even deeper into space

If you want the stargazing to never end, consider renting a cabin in the Smokies and staying for the weekend or longer. With that move, you can simply walk outside and enjoy the beautiful views all around whenever the mood strikes.