The Essential Smoky Mountain Wedding Planning Guide

Majestic scenery. Fresh mountain air. One-of-a-kind venues. These are just a few of the reasons why the picturesque Smoky Mountains are the perfect place to say, “I do.” Whether you’re planning an intimate log cabin gathering or a big black-tie bash, the region’s extraordinary offerings have earned its premier reputation as “the wedding capital of the south.”

Why Choose the Smokies?
Today’s engaged couples have more choices than ever, so why select the Smoky Mountains to host the first day of your happily ever after? More than 10,000 couples annually opt to exchange vows in the idyllic mountain towns of East Tennessee’s Sevier County, including Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville. Need moresa proof? After the marriage meccas of Florida and Las Vegas, the Smokies are the third most popular wedding destination in the U.S. If you’ve been searching for a small-town feel with world-class amenities, the Smokies deliver unparalleled possibilities…with a surprisingly affordable price tag. So while Clingmans Dome may soar more than 6,600 feet into the air, a Smoky Mountains wedding is well within your reach.

Smoky Mountain Wedding Destination Ideas

The Possibilities Are Endless
Have you always dreamed of getting married on a mountaintop against a backdrop of phenomenal fall foliage? Or perhaps nestled in a twinkle-lit log cabin surrounded by freshly falling snow? Or how about standing in front of a crystalline cascading waterfall? When it comes to getting married in the Smoky Mountains, the choices go on and on. Four mild yet distinct seasons mean couples planning fall, winter, spring and summer celebrations will find just what they’re looking for in this historic haven. From quaint cabins to charming chapels situated in some of the world’s most exquisite natural settings, couples looking to think outside the ballroom will find many unique wedding venues in the Smoky Mountains.

We’ve rounded up a few favorites out of the many stunning sites that draw blissful brides and grooms to the Smokies every year:

Laurel Falls at Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Named for the lush evergreen shrubs blooming along the trail, the 80-foot high Laurel Falls offers a backdrop like no other for your Smoky Mountains wedding. A 2.6 round trip hike into the National Park leads to exceptional views and the one-of-a-kind wedding photos to go along with them. If your guests aren’t up for a stroll along this paved path, plenty of easy-access waterfalls, gazebos, lakes, gardens and other scenic spots abound in and around the National Park.

Sky Lift Weddings
One of the Smokies’ most original wedding spots, the Sky Lift spirits couples to the top of Gatlinburg for breathtaking views of Mt. LeConte. The cityscape beckons in the distance…along with a bright, beautiful future. Sky Lift brides and grooms can even get an authentic taste of a fabled Smoky Mountains institution thanks to the Ole Smokey Moonshine package.

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies Picture you and your guests being whisked along a 340-feet underwater tunnel glide-path with sharks, stingrays and sea turtles mere feet away. All this and more awaits in this top-ranked aquarium, home to 1.4 million gallons of water and 100,000 exotic sea animals. You can even arrange for a special V.I.P. guest to waddle over from the Penguin Playhouse. Here’s a hint: he’ll be decked out in his “black tie” birthday suit!

The Little Log Wedding Chapel may have “little” in its title, but this popular destination is big on charm. Located smack-dab in the heart of the Smokies, this serene spot offers anything but one-size-fits-all weddings. Choose from a wide range of packages, such as the “Mountain Dream,” “Autumn Splendor,” “Sunset Charm,” and “Enchanted Romance.” Or build your own package to plan the precise wedding that meets your needs and budget. A box of “wishing bubbles” for your just-married stroll through the bubble arch, perhaps?

Hillbilly Weddings Budget-minded brides and grooms will rejoice in this economical option which features your choice of rustic chapel, cabin, garden or mountain ceremony. Did we happen to mention it comes with your very own bearded, hillbilly ordained Tennessean minister? Looking for handfasting, broom jumping, or another special tradition? Hillbilly Weddings offers it all in laid back, local style. Packages start at just $75. (Bib overalls not required.)

The Lily Barn
With a capacity of 275 but all the cozy charm of a smaller site, this 130-year-old, 100-acre farm sits tucked into the Smoky Mountain foothills just outside of Gatlinburg. Your guests will love exploring the unique cantilever barn, vibrant perennial garden, tin-roofed outdoor gazebo, pond, and even an evergreen maze. On-site “honeymoon cabins” offer a refreshing getaway for brides, grooms and wedding parties. When it comes to delightful sites for your Smoky Mountains wedding venue, we could go on and on. Let nature be your canvas and your imagination be your guide — with a little help from us, of course — as you explore the many memory-making possibilities of getting married in the Smokies.

Smoky Mountain Wedding Destination Ideas

Smoky Mountain Wedding Outfit Ideas for the Bride and Groom

Deciding what to wear on your big day is important. You want to look good and feel good. If you are getting married in the Smoky Mountains, you will also want to make sure the attire is appropriate for the location. (You wouldn’t want to wear high-heels on a nature trail for instance).

A Smoky Mountain wedding is the perfect time to wear something casual if you prefer and veer away from more traditional attire. This is a great way to dress up without breaking the bank.

Here are some tips to follow for the perfect Smoky Mountain wedding look:

  1. Look Lovely in Lace: Lace is a wonderful option as it’s lightweight and also stunning! It is perfect for those wanting a vintage-inspired or bohemian look. Lace is also beautifully paired with a classy jewel-toned suit. If romance and whimsy are what you are going for, lace is the way to go.
  2. Casual and Barefoot: No need for fancy outfits if a more casual look is your thing. A casual look is great if you plan on hiking a bit in the park to the ceremony. Casual pants for guys paired with suspenders and a skirt with a chambray shirt for the bride create a perfect casual duo.
  3. Add Some Flair: Fringe, Sequins, or even a dramatic silhouette are always fun! Remember, a little flair goes a long way.
  4. Light & Airy: Choose flowy and light fabrics for both comfort and style. A light dress or linen suit are the perfect choice!
Smoky Mountain Wedding Wardrobe Ideas

Photos: Sarah Sidwell Photography, @jonathanborbaphoto

Smoky Mountain Wedding Reception Ideas

One of the best parts of any wedding is the after-party…or reception. Once you have shared your vows, its time to celebrate! If you are planning your wedding reception in the Smoky Mountains, there are so many possibilities when it comes to location, theme and budget. There is truly something for everyone in this area.

Here are some tips for planning a reception you will always remember to celebrate your special day:

  1. Add some rustic charm: Any Smoky Mountain reception could easily be transformed into a mountain wonderland with the addition of pinecones, acorns and other natural elements found outdoors (this also saves you some money on decorations!) Get creative and see what you can find outdoors that will be perfect for your reception.
  2. Opt for a smaller reception: If you are having a small wedding or even eloping, a small cozy gathering would be perfect. Plan a small picnic with a few close friends and family and enjoy an intimate celebration outdoors.
  3. Go Green: Use lots of greenery to create an enchanted mountain feel. (You could also use recycled paper goods and decorations to be kind to the environment while celebrating your big day)
  4. Set the mood with lighting: Candles and other light sources like string lights are a great way to add some romance and set the mood for your reception. Try using different sizes of candles and lanterns to decorate and light your space.

Smoky Mountain Wedding Reception Ideas

Smoky Mountain Wedding Dessert Menu Ideas

You can keep the food and drinks as simple or elaborate as you want at your reception. You don’t need to stick to traditional dessert options – feel free to mix it up and have some fun with it.

Check out these creative and delicious dessert ideas:

  1. Mountain Showpiece: If you want to have a traditional wedding cake, a nature-inspired cake is a wonderful option to wow your guests at your Smoky Mountain wedding.
  2. Pie Bar: If traditional wedding cakes don’t suit your fancy, a pie bar with an assortment of different flavors is a great way to provide a dessert that everyone will love.
  3. Delightful Donuts: A bit out of the box – quite literally, donuts are a unique treat to offer at your reception and so much fun!
  4. Candy Apples: Sweet, tasty and out of the ordinary, candy apples are the perfect Smoky Mountain reception treat!

Smoky Mountain Wedding Dessert Ideas

Take It From Us: 4 Tips for Planning Your Smoky Mountains Wedding

1. Get a Jump on the Competition
We’ve already covered that the Smoky Mountains are a popular wedding destination. So what does that mean for you aside from the wedding of your dreams? It also means you’ll be competing with thousands of other couples for that perfect reception venue or mountaintop ceremony spot. Most locations book quickly, so plan early to get the best pick.

2. Weather the Weather
The best word to describe the weather in the Smoky Mountains? Unpredictable. While the area is celebrated for its mild climate, the weather can also fluctuate — particularly in the late fall and early spring months when sunshine and snowfall are possible in the same day. Work with your wedding planner or venue to determine a back-up plan in case of inclement weather. And don’t forget what they say: rain on your wedding day means good luck! (Who’s saying it? Rainy day brides and grooms, of course!)

3. Traverse the Terrain
The Smoky Mountains harken back to simpler times…and that includes when it comes to getting around the area. The region’s old winding roads and other unique geographical features can trip up modern GPS systems so be sure to confirm directions to all sites in advance and share this information with your guests. If you’re marrying in the National Park, be prepared for rocky terrain when traveling on foot. Save your stilettos for the reception and stick with flat shoes for the ceremony; encourage your guests to do the same for both comfort and safety.

4. Go Local
The Smokies are known for their astonishing views, and who knows the insides and outs of where to go for the very best vantage points? Locals, of course. Area wedding planners, photographers and videographers can offer unique insights into where to go to capture the scenery in its full glory. They are also used to working with the logistics of the region’s terrain, including lighting, composition and other factors that will affect the quality of your keepsake photos and video.

You Ask, We Answer: Your Smoky Mountains Wedding FAQ

Q: “Can we hold our ceremony in the Smoky Mountains National Park?”
A: Yes, you can, but you’ll need a permit and will be required to follow specific guidelines. Call 828-497-1930 for more information on obtaining a permit. Keep in mind that while a permit gives you permission to hold your ceremony in a designated location, all park areas are open to the public. In other words, a permit does not give you rights to exclusive use. And remember: while there are many pre-approved ceremony locations, including historic churches, mountain vistas, and waterfalls, rivers and streams, only two weddings are allowed per day at each of these sites so if your heart is set on a particular location or date, move quickly.

Q: “How do we get a marriage license?”
A: If you’re planning to be legally married in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, you will need a Tennessee marriage license. It’s a piece of (wedding!) cake to obtain a license in Sevier County. No waiting period or blood tests required! Simply visit one of three county clerk locations in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg. Just be sure to check the hours first as they vary between locations. Both parties must be present, at least 18, and have a legal form of identification. Time is tight for today’s brides, so why not save a few minutes by filling out an online pre-application directly through the Sevier County’s Clerks Office website? Want to save a few dollars too? Tennessee couples with notarized proof of pre-marital counseling receive a $60 discount on their marriage license fee.

Q: “How do we know what the weather’s like in the National Park on our big day?”
A: For a current Smoky Mountains National Park forecast, call (865) 436-1200 extension 630.

Q: “Can we afford a Smoky Mountains wedding?”
A: Many couples have learned the hard way that making a wedding budget and sticking to it is an essential part of wedding planning. Luckily, the Smoky Mountains offer something for everyone at every price point so there’s no need to give up on your dream wedding to stay within your financial comfort zone.

Q: How do we choose between venues, vendors and other wedding planning options?
A: While following your heart is a large part of the equation, due diligence is also important. If you are working with a wedding planner, he/she should have a list of vetted professionals guaranteed to meet your expectations. For an additional level of confidence, ask for references from Smoky Mountains brides and grooms who have gone before. If they were dissatisfied with a particular venue or vendor, you may be too.

Your Smoky Mountains Wedding Planning Checklist

So you’ve decided to join the elite group of brides and grooms who choose Smoky Mountains wedding destinations? Congratulations! Now comes the hard/fun part: planning. This comprehensive checklist is designed to ease your path to wedded bliss. After all, why should you sweat the small details when we can do it for you? Have you… Decided on a budget? Picked your wedding party? Started making your guest list? Hired a wedding planner, if necessary? Download our wedding checklist below to get started!

Smoky Mountain Wedding Checklist

Wedding Planner Checklist

We’re pretty sure that covers it. If you’re ready to start your married life on a high note, the Smokies deliver no shortage of creative venues, lodging, and destinations. We’re delighted that you’re considering saying, “I do,” in the Smoky Mountains, and we’re sure the wedding of your dreams awaits in our mountains, valley, cabins, gardens, forests, farms, barns and beyond.

Just how satisfied are Smoky Mountains couples? Countless anniversary getaways, second honeymoons, family vacations and more give all new meaning to the phrase, “Many happy returns.”