| Places to photograph; best time
of day/year to shoot; tips about shooting there:
When it comes to photographers paradises, Great Smoky
Mountains National Park ranks up there with the best the United
States has to offer. In winter you get great snow scenes; in
spring, wildflowers; in summer, lush green flora and roaring
waterfalls; in fall, great autumn foliage. And all year long
you get breathtaking mountain views, accessible wildlife and
rustic landscapes. And its all free, as Great Smoky Mountains
is one of the few national parks that does not charge admission
Bears: The Smoky Mountains boast
one of the densest populations of black bears in the United
States, more than one bear per square mile. And theyre
used to having people around, meaning theyre less skittish
with photographers (this, however, does not mean that you should
approach them; theyre still wild and very dangerous animals
that should be photographed only with caution and respectful
Bears are usually in their winter dens by December, but can
still be seen occasionally in winter months. Most bears, including
new cubs, will be back to full activity by mid-April. As with
most animals, bears are most active (and therefore most likely
to be spotted) during early morning and toward end-of-day. Dont
look for them just on the ground; look in the trees, too.
And one last note: Your best chances to spot bears will be
at Cades Cove and Roaring
Wolves: Red wolves were reintroduced to the park from
1991 to 1998, but you wont see them. Some died, some had
to be recaptured because they couldnt fend for themselves,
and some, as a ranger told me, just wouldnt stay
put. Sometimes a wolf sighting is reported, but rangers
think those are simply misidentified coyotes. If you do get
a photo of a red wolf in the Smokies, it may be worth some money.
Itll certainly be of interest to the Parks system.
Coyotes: On the other hand, coyotes are abundant,
so much so that they compete for food with the other animals
of the park.
Other Wildlife: The Smokies house the usual repertoire
of eastern American mammals: white-tailed deer, red and gray
fox, bobcats, woodchucks, squirrels, raccoons, otters, etc.
Elk can be seen and photographed in Cataloochee
Valley, on the opposite end of the park.
They're all over the place. Most require
a hike to reach, so bring good shoes and good photo backpack.
Pick up a waterfall-specific map at a visitor's center, as
the standard park maps don't do the falls justice. Abrams Falls
and Mingo Falls are well worth the hike.
Miegs Falls is a great photo opportunity, but its challenging
to find. On Laurel Creek Road, heading east, the falls will
be in the woods to your right. Theres a long pull-off
there, but you wont see the falls unless youre really
looking hard for them; theyre across the river at about
the center of the pull-off, up a stream that goes under the
trees. If you have a GPS receiver, go to 35° 40' 164"
N, 83° 40' 565" W. As for photographing it, good luck.
Theres no path through the woods that leads to the bottom
of the falls, and the view across the river is obstructed by
trees during the leaf seasons; you could try shooting in winter,
but I cant vouch for the view.
The Smokies are so diverse that various
types of wildflowers are blooming all year, even witch hazel
in winter. In mid-April the real show begins with phacelia,
trillium, geranium, violets and so on in bloom, merging into
May and June's show of apple, phlox, lily, etc. Ask for a guide
to wildflowers at any of the visitor's centers.
A no-brainer. Everywhere is a good spot.
The only variable is how good the foliage season is, which depends
on many factors dating back all the way to the previous spring.
Also, know that because of altitude variations, peak foliage
times will vary in different areas of the park.
Sunrises and sunsets
Newfound Gap: A good spot for
photographing the setting sun can be found at the last pull-off
heading south before Newfound Gap. Also the Gap's parking lot
is a great spot to shoot side-lit mountain vistas immediately
after sunrise or before sunset.
Clingmans Dome: Great at sunrise or sunset. You won't
get a true-horizon shot because you're in the mountains, but
you can get some pretty spectacular scenes, especially if a
low fog is covering the lowlands. One unfortunate aspect is
that most of the fir trees at the top have been killed off by
an introduced insect. The best spot to shoot from, honestly,
is the parking lot. The walk to the summit is moderately strenuous,
especially with photo gear on your back, and your view from
there is mostly blocked by trees.
If this were an angling website, I'd
tell you about the great trout opportunities. But it's a photography
website, so I'll tell you that all up and down Laurel Creek
and Little River Roads, there are numerous opportunities to
photograph fishermen and fisherwomen. Also, all along both roads
are great spots to photograph from bends in the Little River.
The road to Elkmont Campground has great river views along
the road leading to it, and more great places to photograph
A loop drive in the north-central Smokies.
Head north out of the park from the Sugarlands Visitors Center,
and turn right at traffic light No. 8. Follow the signs.
Roaring Fork is easily a day's work in itself. It's a great
location to photograph fallen cedars, spring wildflowers, white
rapids and waterfalls. There's also the park-standard collection
of old wooden houses. Almost the whole of this area is under
forest canopy, so try to avoid working here in harsh light;
slightly overcast days are best.
Little Greenbriar School
You won't see this on many maps. It's
on the road to Wears Cove that branches off Little River Road.
It's an old schoolhouse in a small clearing in the woods, flanked
by an old, rustic cemetery. Shoot in slightly overcast conditions,
preferably at midday.
Outside the park boundaries, its
a great drive that is unfortunately washed out and therefore
temporarily closed half way through (you can drive up and back).
There are great views over the parks mountains to the
southeast. Best to shoot in morning (backlit, sunrise on horizon)
or late afternoon; midday will be either too harsh, or cloudy
with gray skies (but if you like that look, then have a blast).
Some wildflowers shank the road in spring. Pick it up off Route
321 near Walland or from Route 129 at the very western tip of