Best Wedding Venues in the Western North Carolina Mountains

The hunt for the perfect wedding venue can be daunting. We get to shoot at a lot of different venues across North Carolina and the southeast, so we thought it might be helpful to offer our perspective. There are a few near our home that we really love to shoot at. If you’re looking for a great venue, we have a handful or recommendations for a variety budgets. These are in no particular order.

Hawkesdene - Andrews, NC

Hawkesdene entrance

Hawkesdene has literally everything! Its an excellent destination wedding venue, as it has luxury accommodations for upwards of 100 guests. If you want to have a blow out weekend with all your friends and family, this is the place for you.

What we love

Hawkesdene has so much variety. Its beautifully landscaped with water features throughout. A short golf cart ride to the top of the mountain reveals spectacular Appalachian views. The staff will do whatever it takes to make your vision for your wedding come to fruition. Oh… and the food is always excellent.

Nantahala weddings venue in North Carolina

Nantahala Weddings is a budget friendly option for small to medium weddings. Located on Nantahala Lake in the mountains of North Carolina, its a great spot for those who really want to experience Appalachian mountain life with your family and friends.

What we love

If being in nature is your thing, Nantahala is a great place for you. The venue is mostly outside under the wonderful tree canopy. Landscaped with natural rocks and greenery. A few large tents are available to protect from the weather. You can have your ceremony on location or head up to the top of Wayah Bald for a real mountain top wedding! The views are stunning up there! Its a short drive to some beautiful waterfalls and hiking trails. Cabins are available all over the surrounding area for destination weddings.

The Retreat at Hiawassee River Chapel

Another great option if you want to have a whole wedding weekend with your friends and family. Not technically North Carolina, but its close enough and still close to the mountains! It has lots of cabins on the property and is convenient to lots of shopping and local restaurants.

What We Love

The Hiawassee river runs right through the property which offers a lot of opportunities for photography. You can also walk right out of your cabin and fish for trout. There are great indoor and outdoor options for ceremony spots.

Choestoe School House wedding Blairsville Georgia

Choestoe School House is both adorable and as budget friendly as it gets! If you’re a DIYer on a budget, this place is PERFECT! The venue is an old school house that has been restored and renovated for public use.

What We Love

Talk about easy on the wallet… THE RENTAL FEE IS $75! Thats insane! It’s SO cute as well. It’s nestled in the foothills and farms of the North Georgia mountains. The fields are beautiful for pictures, and its close to downtown Blairsville. Even if you do have a bigger budget, this place is worth considering due to its adorable nature and low cost. It could leave more money in your pocket for other things you want. Things like photography… 😉. You have to check it out!


So yeah this list is far from exhaustive, but hopefully you got an idea for what’s out there. The Appalachian region is full of great wedding venues, and we think its a wonderful area to make memories with your loved ones. We’d love to help document those memories, so let us know if you want to talk to us about your wedding!

Local Appalachian Mountain Jeweler- J.Mills Studio

The creativity here in our mountains is crazy impressive. The talent is as large as our forests.

When I moved to Appalachia in 2000, my prejudice was pretty strong. I told my Florida dentist that I would be back every six months for a cleaning. I was sure that there were no real dentists in the mountains that I would let in my mouth. I kept this trek down to my home town for a few years, then my eyes were opened. I realized that there was actually a local dentist that had an amazing staff, highly qualified and the technology in that office pretty much blew my mind. I collected my dental history from my beloved childhood dentist and gave my business (and trust) to a Murphy dentist. I was in good hands. AND I was at home.

There is a big push to “BUY LOCAL” and support “SMALL BUSINESS”. I am all about it. I am all about the relationship with these locals, the name with the face, the promise of a town that thrives and supports itself.

J.Mills Studio is literally in downtown Murphy, North Carolina. Juli is pounding out metal, making art on the second floor of a beautiful historical building on the square. It’s a fairytale really.

It’s a dream so many have- to love where you live, work where you love and actually run your own business. Juli is living the dream, working her butt off while doing it, (don’t get me wrong.)

To make a business work in Appalachia, it takes everyone. It takes partnerships, work ethic and endurance to make a business successful. Juli- I commend you and admire you.

An Impromptu Moment with Ryan Muirhead

I brush shoulders with some pretty amazing photographers/artists. The ones that I totally connect with and stay in touch with are the ones who are just themselves. Barbara in her sweatpants. Brooke at the tea house. Emma behind a yellow Hasselblad. Shannon cuddling with Andrew at the base of a tree, telling stories. Thais all ears and open heart.

These people change my life. They push me. I am grateful.

Brooke is married to Michael. They come to the mountains and open their book of tricks, share every bit of everything and leave me encouraged. Mark actually responds to questions and answers it wholeheartedly. Alicia looks at my work and tells me she sees my heart. Twyla comments on my posts. These amazing photographers. These real people. They have let me in and see me too.

I don’t know Ryan more than the few minutes he snapped a roll of film, mostly of my Gates. But I am thankful. I am thankful for these memories. I am thankful to give so many documented moments to friends and clients. I feel important. I am doing important work. I am important.

I am deeply grateful for my husband, my lover (that is what I like to call him on social media, in hopes that my mom is reading……and his mom!!!) , my mentor- Chad. He does amazing work. He slaves over the edit. Sun up to sun down. He is why this whole thing is happening and functioning so very well. I school the sweet offspring and he edits our weddings from the weekends. He designs the websites and keeps the money organized. I like him more and more every day. He is why I am in love with my art! Everything he does allows me to do everything I love, which is shoot and raise these little people (and thrift shop!) (and cook.) (and build stuff.)

Photos of Ryan taken from his website. Black and white of me with bar of light taken by Barbara O (film). All the others are taken by Ryan Muirhead (film).

Waterfalls and Wedding Dresses

Remembering my time with photographer friends at a workshop in Fall Creek Falls State Park. I love the camera. I love nature and my wedding dress. It represents everything I am about. Thrifting, amazing finds and friends. It represents my new life with this man who amazes me every day. It reminds me that starting over can be the best thing you do, for yourself and for your loved ones.

Chad Erickson and I are merging our photography business. We are about to change names, rebrand and join, yet again, once in marriage and now in business. There is no one I would rather be with, shoot with or love.

Photo credits to the amazing Thais Fry, out of Chicago, IL and my lover, Chad Erickson, who lives in our house in Murphy, NC (hubba hubba) Barbara Oliveira, out of DC/Baltimore area, and Emma Parker, from Ohio.

The Perfect Family Reunion

I don't have a lot to say about family reunions. They are wonderful. They are hard. They are so very important, especially for the grandparents and those grandbabies. Planning time to shoot photos of the group takes planning and time away from activities for the kids. But it’s so very worth it!

When I shoot reunions, I always get asked the outfits question. "What should we wear?" 

Well, look at this sweet family and take notes! Everyone is wearing flattering clothes and even though it is late Spring, we see layers. 

It’s such nice blend of colors that it makes me think a mastermind went out and shopped for everyone. Not true. Tones were simply encouraged, and a casual feel was implied. And boy, does it look great.

I always try to get a combination of shots when shooting families. The standard group shot with everyone smiling is the favorite for the grand-mommas. Everyone is behaving for a little while and looking very content. 

My personal favorites are the ones where nobody is looking at the camera but instead, they are interacting with each other. Maybe someone just got tickled or made a stupid noise when they laughed. That is when the natural stuff happens and that is what makes me the happiest.  

Man, I love this life! Especially when I am behind my lens, watching families reunite.

Kind of a Camper

I am a camper and I have backpacked across land and camped along the way while re-hydrating food and smelling real smells and all that. 

I have packed up three little people, a tent and headed to unknown territory and just "figured it out" with tuna fish and a large bag of apples. We’ve jumped into cold water and floated where the current took us.  

And all along the way I am thinking, "Why?! Why can't I just be content to read a book on the couch? Why must we go and (fill in the blank with random adventure here)?" 

I don't have an answer. I do know that when I was growing up, we didn't do the normal family trips. We headed to islands and camped. 

We camped at Disney World. We never went into actual Disney Theme Parks, we just camped there and used all the cool trams and boats and pools. I do know that fun was jumping off of sailboats. Fun was building rope swings and blazing trails in the woods.

Because the truth is, I would rather be “glamping.” I like real sheets and clean feet when I sleep. I like walls between me and the kids so I can't hear them breathing and moving. So, I am really only partially a camper. 

But I do it sometimes, all the same. To smell the real smells and all that.

Tiny Wedding

Anything "tiny" is cool right now. Tiny car. Tiny house. Tiny cakes. Tiny spending... now we’re talking!

When I met my husband, he lived in a van. He had just sold his tiny house and was slimming down his life. He was about to leave North Carolina and head out west to live the simple life. I was captivated. Not enough to live in a van with three kids, but to enjoy simplicity more!

Fast forward a couple years. We have a beautiful (modest but not tiny) home we live in, work in and homeschool in. 

We also have a tiny house on our property that is our  photography studio and doubles as a rental for guests that are traveling to our lovely mountains. We rent it through Airbnb, HipCamp, and We call it The Holler House.

When we considered the possibility of hosting tiny weddings or an elopement at The Holler House, it just fit. 

Everything about it fits. 

Tiny crowd, Tiny budget, Tiny plans. Big Rewards. 

Plus as photographers, we are right there to capture it all.

We couldn't be happier with our first Tiny Wedding. Pizza was served for the meal. The mother of the bride decorated the cake while the bride was getting her hair and makeup ready. Whimpsy Flower Farm provided all the flowers, which the bride and groom went and picked the night before. 

Just dreamy.

Shaun and Naava, the groom and bride, were a perfect match for The Holler House. 

Family arrived and hung out while the bride finished getting ready. Everyone gathered in front of the on-site teepee and the ceremony began.  

Naava's mother walked her out the door of The Holler House and down the aisle to her sweet groom.  The crowd enjoyed the lights and the music as the evening continued. The wedding was simply beautiful. Naava made her dress and I can't get enough of it! 

The setting was amazing with the forest surrounding us. The reception was elegant with a collection of vintage china and glassware. The lights of the candles and the party lights made it easy to kick back and enjoy the celebration where the bride and groom danced to Irish music on the porch.

Sometimes tiny things are big things, just made simple.

(If you haven’t headed over to Facebook and liked The Holler House already, then now is the time. We love to keep in touch and hear from you there!!! The Holler House is on Instagram too and in November GlampingHub is working with The Holler House for their “give away” and featuring the tiny house on their blog. We are so stinking excited about all of this!)

Maddie, Western North Carolina High School Senior- Ocoee River Shoot

Meet Maddie, an early graduate of high school. She finished home school at 16 and is now off to college.

Maddie brought her love for fashion, color and spunk to her senior session. We decided on shooting at the Ocoee White Water Center on the Upper Ocoee. Those rocks and that backdrop are unstoppable.  

Maddie is an explorer. Now killin' it at Appalachian State, I am sure!

Super Cool

I like to think I am super cool. Truth is, I *might* be cool but super cool… probably not. 

I was never cool enough to learn how to skate on a half-pipe...or even a quarter-pipe. But I do know how to use a skateboard.

 Years ago, I lived on the Indian River Lagoon for several years and would jump on my neighbor's windsurfer and just go and go and go forever until my arms were about to fall off. That same river is where, in my first years of college, I practiced with the rowing team and watched the sun rise. That was cool.

I grew up in Florida and have never surfed. So embarrassed to say that out loud. Never had the courage to surf. I think I was scared I wouldn’t have the strength to push down the surfboard under the waves to get out past the surf. 

I feel stronger now.

Here I am 20 years later. Living in the mountains in NC and I feel so SUPER COOL. I think it is because I love what I am doing. 

I adore homeschooling my kids although it has its challenges and I feel like a bad teacher sometimes. 

I absolutely love photographing weddings and being a part of that process with my clients.  

And I must be cool because my husband takes pictures of me all the time (although sometimes I suspect he is just geeking out over a new lens or camera and I am a willing and convenient model). 

I guess what I am trying to say is this: I feel so good in the spot I am in. I look back on some pretty rough patches in my life and I know where I am at this moment. 

I see happy kids. I see a flourishing business and a full calendar. I see happy guests at our Airbnb and treehouse. 

I want to pinch myself. I am not just cool. I am SUPER COOL. Right now. At 40. I. Feel. Super. Cool. 

I want to go hang gliding sometime this year. Who wants to join me? I have no interest in jumping out of a plane. I want to own a paddle board but I don't want to plunge myself under the raging rapids of the Ocoee in a kayak. Ok, maybe I will settle for just… cool.

What does an "In-Home Family Session" look like?

In-Home Photo Sessions are where it is at. I say this as a photographer who loves to document real life and real things. I love to get immersed in my clients’ actual yard, pets, playground and home… rather than dressing the kids up to go somewhere pretty but unfamiliar, with everyone posed on a blanket smiling at the camera.

Here’s the difference

It is so sweet to walk into a play area and see what little hands are touching during the day and capture that in pictures.

Plus, my clients love the idea of planning a flexible schedule to make sure we work together after nap and meal times. 

I tend to set all of my shoots for about an hour. That gives us enough time to play, to change outfits and take little people for potty breaks. More than an hour and everyone is exhausted from all the interaction with the camera. Less than an hour and we miss a hug or a kiss.

Here’s what an hour with this Jennifer and Phillip’s family meant: Porch with family and dogs, tent play in living room, kids in the playroom, plus reading, playground, sprinklers. That was the plan. We mixed the order around with a storm approaching but were able to catch it all.

I was totally in love with the session. Dogs were stubborn, parents comforted each other, the toddler guided the session (or so he thought). But, everyone was happy in the end. Especially me! 

There is nothing like ending a session in the sprinklers shooting Dad doing handstands to entertain the family. 

Life is delightful. Delight in it!

Documenting Life, Documenting Love

Every year I have the honor of working with my friend, Bridgette. She lets me know months in advance that she wants an anniversary or family shoot. 

She makes me wait. Months of waiting for the shoot. Sometimes seasons! 

You see, I am happy to wait because I love to work with her and her sweet family. They make me laugh. They push me to my creative limits with their height (what tall boys!). 

I love the way Bridgette's husband looks at her. 

And the best part is her smile.

In fact, I know deep down that I should probably pay her to take photos of her, instead of the other way around.

This year I asked Bridgette to come to The Holler House to take some lovey pictures of her and her man. He is a shy guy, so this is as open as he wanted to get in front of the camera. 

I loved every second of this shoot. What a treat to watch this family grow together over time.

Family session pics will be posted separately (because I have to drool over Bridgette a bit longer.)

Figuring Out Life

When my friend asked me to shoot her family portraits, I was excited. I just didn't know (nobody knew) that she would be diagnosed with breast cancer a few weeks after mentioning the idea of a family shoot. 

After her diagnosis, we hurried to get her on the calendar. This turned in to very serious session, not only for her but for her girls. 

This was the last celebration together before the big surgery. 

This was the last nursing for her youngest child. The baby years had come to a close. The next chapter in childhood was about to begin.

I watched, while looking through my lens, a teenager comfort her mother as she looked her straight in the face and said nothing. She just held her. There were no words needed to show her support.  

I watched a mother say goodbye to the baby years knowing that her body would no longer supply nutrients to her daughter. 

I saw three lovely females be still and breath each other in; all so different yet all the same. 

This shoot changed my way of seeing things. We only get what we get and then it is gone. 

Love deeply. Love fully. Be loved.

If you need a family shoot and don't think you have the means to make it happen, write to me. We can make it happen. It’s important. Don't let time pass you by.

Talented, Talented Friends

The act of creating beautiful photos means so much to me. And living in a community surrounded by art and beauty brings out the best in me. 

Recently, I was hiking to Panther Top, a local mountain, with two close friends. There, we met a sweet family that has a vacation house in our community. 

The lady said how much she loves it here and how inspired when she visits this place. The air, the freedom to be who you are, and the slower pace of life let her completely express herself in her art.

I think of friends who create and I stand in awe. They are regular people who create unreal work. Meet Allison Haigler, owner of Pelagic Art.  Allison creates one-of-a-kind, handmade books and journals. She is also an amazing teacher. 

I can't wait to make a leather journal using Allison’s lessons and place my family pictures in it. A hippy journal that will stand the test of time.

What kinds of things are on your creative bucket list?

What is your favorite medium to work with?

And what will creating them mean to you?


A Nature Lover's Wedding

Rock climbing- check.

Endless mountain views- check.

Marry your best friend- check.

Amazing clouds- check.

Lovey time together- check.

Wayah Bald is public land (Nantahala National Forest) set high up on top of a mountain overlooking the rest of the world. North Carolina is perfect for destination weddings. Get married and honeymoon here in the mountains. Plus there is an amazing lookout tower that looks like a castle.  When you choose to get married up there, you are saying yes to adventure. Yes to the most amazing clouds and open spaces to take in together. Yes to your budget. And yes to the freedom to explore!

Please marry your love in the mounains!



Learning to Family

I still hear the boys talking downstairs about their book (if you want to call a graphic novel a book) and clicking their slap bracelet on each other's wrist. They are having a slumber party in the downstairs common area in front of the wood burner. I couldn't resist going down in the dark and snapping a few of these precious moments. I think that all the kids might become "readers" in spite of me. I am grateful.

Gates is soaking up a new book. She didn't even know I came in to take a few of her as well.

I hesitate to share how much I love homeschooling sometimes for fear of others feeling like they can't or that they would not measure up but I have to tell you.....I love it. It is so hard. It is so rewarding. It forces me to be someone I don't want to be all the time. I sometimes have to pull from the depths and try to keep my cool just to ask the question in another way just hoping that a light bulb will glow. Even glow a little. Other times, I see the children learning, sharing and loving so much that I can't believe they are mine. 

This semester we are focusing on three things: receiving, giving and honoring. In that order, we are memorizing scripture of love and covenants, everyone is reading to Bryant every day by themselves to have special time with him, and we are running about a mile every day. We being the kids. I do get out there but never make it a mile.

What's that something special that you are thinking of sharing with me? I wish you would.

Random thoughts to end. I think I have booked two weddings this week. 2018 is going to be rad. We are making headway on the Airbnb/studio. The whole family insulated the ceiling and some of the walls. We are so excited about this place and all the coolness it is going to bring. And we made Karah Thomspon's spring rolls and every bite made me love living (especially the desert ones with peanuts, frozen strawberries and apples slices.) Dead.

Deciding to Love

I have been reminded recently that my father is still alive. We still have opportunities to have a better relationship, chances to talk, opportunities to do projects together and for me to ask him advice.

He lives an hour from me on the other side of the river. 

After talking to one of my brides, I learned that both of her parents are deceased. I can not imagine. This has nudged me to work on communication problems, to try again and to keep my hands open and my heart humble. 

Life is short. Let's love this year. It will take work but it's the work worth doing.

Thanks Dad for letting me shoot a few of you after our talk on the Ocoee River, especially the image I shot for Mom. It's a keeper!!! And so are you.

Freezing Day/Warm Hearts

So many couples wait to see each other until the first look or the walk down the aisle. Hollie and Mary Beth came to me for the first time, arm and arm to the ceremony site. It was the first time I laid my eyes on them. 

There they were. Walking to their wedding. Take a moment and soak this in. Best friends walking to their wedding together. It was so sweet and intimate... and cold. About 45 degrees on top of that Bald.

This day was full of special moments, laughter and high winds. Handfasting, promises of truth and care and real times filled hearts.