Savannah and Drew scratched their big wedding plans and chose to elope in the Smoky Mountains instead, getting their portraits done in front of these gorgeous mountains.

How to Elope in the Smoky Mountains

Savannah and Drew's intimate wedding at Above the Mist in Gatlinburg, Tennessee outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Lots of couples decide every year to elope the Smoky Mountains, and for good reason! Not only is the park beautiful, but it’s easy to traverse, has nice weather much of the year, and is close to tons of lodging and dining.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is actually the most visited national park in the country! 😱 That doesn’t mean that your elopement day has to be a big affair, though. It can be perfectly private! This guide will help you plan how to elope in the Smoky Mountains in the way that is exactly what you’re imagining.

About the Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established in 1934 and comprises more than 520,000 acres straddling Tennessee and North Carolina. The Smokies, as they’re affectionately called, are part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which is in turn a part of the Appalachian Mountain chain. A portion of the famous Appalachian Trail crosses through the park. The town of Gatlinburg sits at the entrance of the park, so it offers lots of tourist attractions, as do Pigeon Forge and Sevierville.

The Smokies are mountainous and forested, offering many waterfalls and diverse wildlife (black bears, deer, salamanders, lots of birds, and more — oh my). The name of the Smoky Mountains comes from the mist that often drifts among their peaks, giving them a hazy or smoky appearance. The Smokies’ elevation varies throughout the park, but the tallest peaks rise just over 6,600′, so you’re unlikely to deal with any altitude sickness! Even the summits are fairly accessible and are less prone to severe weather than taller peaks in the western United States.

Who should elope in the Smoky Mountains?

Um, anyone and everyone. 😜 I kid… kind of. Savannah and Drew were initially planning a big wedding in Indiana. They realized after a few months of planning that this big wedding didn’t really seem like them. In fact, they felt like they’d been lost in it. Savannah and Drew had always loved Tennessee, and decided to ditch their big wedding plans altogether for a cozy, small elopement in Gatlinburg with their closest friends and family celebrating alongside them.

The thing is, if the idea of a big wedding overwhelms you, an elopement might be perfect. Overwhelmed by crowds and just want a handful of your favorite people? Elope with your parents and best friends alongside you. There are certainly no rules. Want no one else there at all besides the two of you? An elopement can offer you the chance to focus just on your partner on the day, and that’s the most important person there is. Want to buck traditions and hike in a wedding dress? Perfect. Love the wilderness and feel most at home there? This might be for you.

You don’t have to be a Tennessee resident, or an avid hiker. There is no experience required, no checklist of prerequisites. In short, if you like mountains and you love each other, great. Love is all you need.

But I’m going to let you in on a secret. If you found your way to this post, the idea is already there in your heart. I’ll help you make it a reality.

Next, let’s talk about what you need to elope in the Smokies.

Savannah and Drew at their elopement in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

What do I need to elope in the Smoky Mountains?

One of the most important things you’ll need is your marriage license.

There are two different ways you can handle a marriage license for your elopement in the Smoky Mountains. One way is to apply online for your marriage license in Sevier County, Tennessee. You don’t need to be a Tennessee resident to do this, and marriage licenses can be issued up to 30 days prior to your elopement. If you live out of state, it’s $48 online. Tennessee requires an officiant to solemnize ceremonies, and there are some great ones here!

An alternative to a Sevier County marriage license is to apply for your marriage license in your home county. Your elopement in the Smoky Mountains will be symbolic, with the official paperwork and legalities done at home in a civil ceremony. I can help you with that process. Since your civil ceremony will have been done at home, an officiant isn’t a requirement in this instance.

Finally, you also need a killer photographer, and that would be me. Your photographer must have a Commercial Use Authorization to legally photograph in the park, and must have experience in the Smokies, be knowledgeable about Gatlinburg, and be trustworthy with your safety on the biggest day of your life. Expertise is important here!

You can reach out about your elopement in the Smoky Mountains here, and we can get planning!

The next step is to choose your location.

Above The Mist wedding venue in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, overlooks the mountaintops and is really accessible.

Where can I elope in the Smoky Mountains?

Great Smoky Mountains National Park spans over half a million acres, so there are tons of ceremony spots perfect for your elopement! But you can’t choose just anywhere. Within the park, there are specified, approved ceremony locations to choose from.

For example, these are some of my favorites:

  • Cades Cove
  • Newfound Gap
  • Clingmans Dome
  • Heintooga Overlook
  • Foothills Parkway
  • Maloney Point
  • Cataract Falls
  • Oconaluftee Overlook
  • Laurel Falls
  • Greenbrier
  • Spence Cabin
  • Appalachian Clubhouse

Some involve a short hike, but others are no hike at all, and the busyness of each location varies depending on the day of the week and time of year. I can help you choose the right one for you!

However, if you decide to have your ceremony outside the park and just take portraits inside the park, these are some of my favorite venues:

Note that locations inside the park require a permit, and I’ll help you figure that out.

Savannah and Drew hiked alongside a river in the National Park on their wedding day.

What permits do I need to elope in the Smoky Mountains?

If your wedding ceremony will take place in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a special use permit is required. I can help with the application process or submit it on your behalf. It’s $50, although some locations may have an additional fee. You can reserve any of the approved locations inside the park for your ceremony. That cost includes approval of your vendors as part of the special use permit, so no extra photography permit is needed.

If you decide to have your ceremony outside the park and just venture into the park for portraits, a Commercial Still Photography permit is required. It’s $50. Your photographer (hello, it’s me) must have a Commercial Use Authorization to legally photograph in the park.

I know all the details involving permits can be a bit confusing, but I’ll help you get all the necessary approvals!

Savannah and Drew eloped in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and they had their dream day.

Getting to the Smokies

If you’re not local to Tennessee or North Carolina, getting to the Smokies is a wonderful trip in and of itself! It’s driveable from most midwestern and southern states.

However, there are also several close major airports to allow easy travel from far away.

  • McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville is your best option and is the closest airport to Gatlinburg. It’s only about an hour’s drive.
  • Asheville Regional Airport is about an hour and forty minutes from Gatlinburg.
  • Tri-Cities Regional Airport is under two hours from Gatlinburg.
  • Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport is close to three hours from Gatlinburg, but is closer to the portions of the Smokies located on the North Carolina side.

Lucky for you, there are lots of gorgeous places to stay when you get here.

Where to stay in the Smokies

Gatlinburg has so many adorable cabins ranging from the cozy and made for two, to the massive mountaintop edifices with room for more than 20 people to sleep. A cabin is a great place for you to get ready for your elopement day and celebrate with food and champagne, whether it’s just the two of you or if family and friends celebrate too. A cabin is also a fun place to stay and celebrate officially being married.

Here are some of my favorite Airbnbs for your elopement in the Smoky Mountains. Not only do these cabins have stunning views, but they’re large enough to fit a group, and many of them also offer outdoor spaces that are perfect for celebrating, having a bonfire, or even hosting your ceremony.

You’ll simply need to reach out to the host to ask about your plans! Most are really welcoming to hosting your elopement ceremony.

Where to stay for your Great Smoky Mountains elopement

What to do on your elopement day

Your elopement day should feel like you, and there are tons of ways to infuse your favorite things and personality into the day. It’s not an all day long photo shoot, but should be full of fun celebration.

For example, hiking is a fun way to get to the most gorgeous locations in the park on your elopement day. I recommend packing a cute picnic. Did you know you can even hike with llamas? You can.

Meanwhile, taking a skylift ride treats you to good views and makes for cute photos.

Horseback riding is an amazing way to see the Smokies.

On the other hand, white water rafting, for the true thrill seekers, is a blast. Yes, you can go rafting on your wedding day. Why not?

Tennessee has great barbecue, and celebrating your marriage at a barbecue dive like Savannah and Drew did is a great time.

Further, moonshine tasting has every flavor under the sun.

After that, you can end the night with stargazing. If the weather is clear, you’ll see gorgeous constellations and feel like this has all been written in the stars.

What to pack for your Smoky Mountains elopement

After all your planning is in place, all that’s left is to pack for your Smoky Mountains elopement.

Here’s what to bring:

  • Your marriage license (and nice pens!)
  • Your wedding outfits and accessories (dress, nice shoes, jewelry, veil, suit, suspenders, belt, cufflinks, watch)
  • Socks
  • Rain jacket
  • Clothing layers (sweater, scarf, hat, coat for cold weather)
  • Hiking boots, for walking between locations and when it’s muddy
  • Rings
  • Flowers
  • Flashlight or headlamp
  • Backpack
  • Park map
  • Power bank for your phone
  • Champagne
  • Letters from any loved ones at home (this is a great way to include folks who won’t be present!)
  • Sentimental items (family heirlooms, jewelry, meaningful trinkets)
  • Tissues
  • Bells (for tying to your backpack; the constant jingling alerts black bears to your presence and keeps them away) or bear spray. (Note that seeing bears isn’t likely, and is in fact quite lucky! They’re shy and small.)
  • Towel
  • Makeup kit
  • Hair spray or gel
  • Downy anti-wrinkle spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Afterbite
  • Ibuprofen
  • Bandaids, especially the kind for blisters
  • Toiletries, including deodorant
  • Chapstick
  • Waste bags to leave no trace
  • Snacks
  • Water

Finally, all that’s left is for us to get the ball rolling and work together.

Savannah wore sparkly cowboy boots on her wedding day in the Smoky Mountains

Let’s get your elopement booked

I’m so excited to hear how you got engaged and what you’re excited about! Firstly, are you a barbecue person or a moonshine person? A waterfall person or a skylift person?

Above all, there’s something for everyone, and the Smokies are calling your name.

Reach out here so that we can get started planning!

Savannah and Drew wore cowboy boots for their elopement in the Great Smoky Mountains.

I'm an elopement photographer here to help you create a wedding day that feels like you: fun, adventurous, and a little untraditional. Your next adventure begins now.

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