Black Friday crowds left their houses before dawn, filled parking lots, brought coolers to endure the long wait, and lined up for an early bird special in the Great Smoky Mountains. The bargain of the day was a free sunrise at Newfound Gap.

"I left at 4:30 this morning. It is amazing how many people don't see a sunrise, especially when you're surrounded by the beauty of a place like this. I definitely recommend it," said Benton Pittman of Nashville as he took photographs of the sunrise in the Smokies.

Benton Pittman Newfound Gap Opt Outside
Benton Pittman of Nashville photographs the sunrise at Newfound Gap.

Pittman was one of countless people who packed the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, opting to spend Black Friday in the great outdoors instead of a checkout line.

The #OptOutside campaign officially began four years ago when retailer REI announced it would close its stores on Black Friday. The store encouraged customers to spend the day enjoying the outdoors.

Pittman said he was an accidental participant in the movement.

Benton Pittman Sunrise Over Shoulder Newfound Gap
Benton Pittman watches the sunrise at Newfound Gap.

"I already made this an annual tradition to do this Black Friday, but I definitely belong in that group," laughed Pittman. "Black Friday can bring a lot of stress and anxiety and this is a great way to get away from that and skip all the people in the stores."

Pittman was clear not to criticize anyone who enjoys shopping on Black Friday. He just personally prefers to be a consumer of the breathtaking bargains on the horizons in the Smokies, finding the greatest values in the great outdoors. He also enjoys making returns.

Clingmans Dome Trail Black Friday
Crowds on the trail to the Clingmans Dome observation tower on Black Friday 2018.

"Being here, it's like looking back in time. I'm passionate about photography and I want to capture it. I mean, it doesn't get much better than this," said Pittman.

For those wanting to opt outside this weekend, there's a special end-of-year closeout of sorts in the Smokies. This is the final weekend of 2018 with easy access to Clingmans Dome. Clingmans Dome Road closes from December 1 through March 31. From next Saturday until April, those wanting to visit Clingmans Dome will have to hike seven miles.

Clingmans Dome Black Friday
Crowds filled the trails at Clingmans Dome on Black Friday.