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Top 5 Best Places to Stargaze and Shoot the Milky Way in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains

A guide to East Tennessee and West North Carolina stargazing.

By: Jared Beeler + Save to a List

Stargazing and shooting the milky way is not only about the spot you choose but about the weather, too. Even if you have an amazing spot, a few clouds and some humidity can ruin the perfect shot. The best weather is a clear crisp night with a new moon or 3-5 days after the full moon when the moon is on the other side of the Earth. The best locations for these conditions is in the higher elevations with plenty of open sky to get the right angle. 

The number one spot on my list is a place near Brevard, North Carolina called Black Balsam Knob. This spot is one of the best in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Because the elevation is at 6,200 ft., the light pollution and visibility can be amazing most times of the year. Another reason it can be good is the fact that the hike to the top of the knob is only an easy half mile hike with a few different campsites at the top of the mountain. 

The second best place is Clingmans Dome near Gatlinburg, Tennessee with an elevation of 6,400 ft. Even though the elevation is higher than Black Balsam, the accessibility makes it harder to stargaze because you can't camp there or anywhere within 15 miles. The view of the milky way from here can be absolutely incredible, but the conditions are very hard to predict since it is such a high elevation.  

The third best spot in the Blue Ridge Mountains is called Huckleberry Knob. Standing tall over all the surrounding mountains at an elevation of almost 5,600 ft., it gives you a great clear view of the horizon to shoot the Milky Way. Huckleberry Knob is also a great spot because of the very easy access to the mountain from the famous Cherohala Skyway. The trail is also only a half mile, so this spot is great if you are in a time crunch. 

The fourth spot on the list is Rich Mountain Fire Tower, which is a bit farther north than most of the other spots and stands at an elevation of 3,700 ft. Rich Mountain offers a great spot with unique photo opportunities. The very little light pollution here makes up for the relatively lower elevation. Another awesome perk about Rich Mountain is you can drive straight to it and camp inside of the fire tower. 

Last but not least is one of my personal favorite spots called Max Patch. Although the elevation is 4,600 ft., it has a little bit of light pollution from nearby cities. The draw of max patch is the ease to get there and the only half mile hike to the top where you can camp and view the 360 degree views of the stars and the mountains. 

Although these are most of the best places in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains to view the stars, each spot can be special with how you frame a shot of the milky way and how you like your photos to look once they are edited. Everyone's picture is going to be different because each photographer has their own way of shooting. Where ever you go, always look up at night and see how you think the shot should look, not how the popular opinion says it should look. 

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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