“The Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses over 800 square miles in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Dominated by plant-covered, gently contoured mountains, the crest of the Great Smokies forms the boundary between Tennessee and North Carolina. The Great Smoky Mountains are among the oldest mountains in the world, formed perhaps 200-300 million years ago.”*
The Middle Prong of the Little River runs on the west side of the park. The river runs along much of Little River Road heading out from the Gatlinburg, Tennessee entrance by the visitor center. I believe the best stretches are those near the Tremont Institute and heading upstream. I have photographed in spring, summer and fall (winter would be exquisite but what is needed is the rare and short lasting snowfall – you have to be there when it happens). My favorite time is spring into early summer. There are different flower blooms (on a continuing basis) from early April through June.
The weather is usually cool to warm and rain is common but rarely lasts long enough to wipe out a whole day of shooting. As with any site, the best time of day depends largely on the weather; bright overcast and overcast days make for full shooting days. Bright sunlight (bald blue) days can be tough—it’s best to stick to shaded parts of the streams. For Sunrise and Sunset, head elsewhere in the park (Foothills Parkway is good for sunrise; Morton Overlook is great but usually crowded [get there early] for sunset.)
Along the upper reaches of the Middle Prong visit the areas upstream from the end of the road parking lot. There are numerous places to pull off the road and photograph, use your eyes and composition skills versus a list of “can’t miss places”. Many other streams will give you similar results and some have named waterfalls along them. Be curious and visit as many places in the park as you can. Roaring Fork Road, right out of Gatlinburg can be surprisingly good, despite being occasionally crowded and always so on weekends.
In the past, we have never been hassled by park personnel when photographing in the Smokies, but it is becoming more common now in most parks. Photographers are questioned about being on or running tours and workshops and/or being “professional” photographers. Due to budget cuts they are now looking for any income—like photo permits for workshop groups. This is especially true if you are with a group, even a small one. So have your photography club membership cards with you (or make one up), and don’t have a “leader” or just tell them to stop bothering you and remind them that as a citizen, you are paying their salary! Watch for Poison Ivy and other poisonous plants along streams. Take care when climbing down into streambeds. If you are not flying in, take a pair of waders or the highest waterproof boots you have, they’ll come in handy.
I’ll finish up with a quick story: I got into some poisonous plant I didn’t recognize, only to find out the next day that I had. My arms itched for the entire flight and trip home and for a few days after! On the positive side – at least I didn’t have to deal with the itching while I was shooting!! There was another trip I found a small hole in my waders (that water is cold!), but that’s why you bring a patch kit.
*Source: National Park Service: http://www.nps.gov/grsm/naturescience/index.htm
Photographers Hank Erdmann and Willard Clay provided the details and images for The Great Smoky Mountains destination.
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