I’m lucky. The Smoky Mountains National Park are just a little over three hours from my house. That means if I wanted a really long day that I could head over in the morning and be back in my bed that night. To be honest, I don’t take advantage of that fact as much as I should. The Smokies are brilliant and on an overcast day the best.
The Roads in the Smoky Mountains
If you are going during a high traffic time then be prepared to just drive really slow, 5-10mph, and enjoy the scenery. Even when the traffic is not slow driving 30mph can seem fast on the roads that twist and turn. Often you can’t see around corners. So alway be aware because besides the human element you can also have bears, deer, and other various wild animals.
Also keep your eye on the pull outs in the road. If you are driving super slow and you have a line of cars behind you please be considerate and let them pass. The bonus is a lot of the pull outs are also amazing areas for taking photos. The road side streams usually have easy access down to them.
Cades Cove is my favorite part of the Smoky Mountains. Most people who visit would say no trip would be complete without at least one go round the 11 mile loop road. People drive, walk, and bike the loop, so keep your eyes out.
Cades Cove was first settled around 1820. One thing that makes the Cove so special are the amount of historical buildings still around the park. There are several churches, houses, a working mill, and barns. You can go in each one and see what life was like for the brave people who settled in the valley.
Bears are common place during certain times of years. Just be mindful of the wildlife and keep your distance. The rangers are pretty good and keeping the roads clear of traffic jams when there is a bear sighting.
Don’t Forget To Shoot Video
The Cove is a great place to shoot video. I was lucky enough to get some people singing hymns in one of the old churches to use as a soundtrack.
What Camera Gear to Take into the Smoky Mountains
Be sure and bring the right gear for shooting pictures. Here is what I would recommend:
- Good camera body that you know how to adjust your settings
- Wide angle lens – for inside the buildings and sweeping meadow shots
- Telephoto lens – for the bears and wildlife
- Macro – in the spring and summer for all the amazing wild flowers
- Tripod — this is a must for capturing those silky streams
- ND filter – I would recommend a 10 stop but a 6 stop would probably be enough.
- Graduated ND filter – This is not as important but it sure will help with sunrises and sunsets. If you are good in Lightroom you can do without this most days
- Cable release or set camera to time delayed start
- Extra batteries and memory cards
Important Tips for the Smoky Mountains
- Don’t be afraid to get in the streams. Most of the time the water is flowing slow enough that you can walk out on the rocks in the middle of the streams to set up your tripod.
- If you have a 10 stop ND filter you can keep your aperture around 8 and your iSO at either 100 or 200 to get incredibly beautiful shots of the streams.
- A long exposure calculator can come in handy. I have one on my phone. Just be sure and download it before you get there since there is no cell phone service is the majority of the park.
- Have fun and explore! There are so many parts of the park I still have not seen even though I have been many times. I want to explore a different area each time I am in the park.
If you have questions about shooting inside the park or anything I wrote about please leave a comment or connect with me on social media.