Perhaps Dolly Parton said it best. In the fall, our Great Smoky Mountains turn into God’s coloring book. And if you haven’t seen it for yourself in the last several years (or heaven forbid ever!), don’t put it off any longer. This autumn promises to be awesome in terms of spectacular scenery, and literally everyone I know that lives outside East Tennessee has been asking me where the best places are to see the fall colors.
It’s relatively easy to find great tips on this subject – the website for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is always a good place to start, and the University of Tennessee extension service site offers information on what types of trees turn which color. But I always want to know the best place to capture these colors with my camera and preserve these memories forever.
So I went to an expert: my friend Brad Justice. By day, Brad is the Senior Operations Manager at the Dollywood theme park, but he could make a living as a professional photographer if he wanted. He was kind enough to take time out of his schedule making sure things run smoothly at Dollywood’s Harvest Celebration to give me some photography pointers and suggestions for places he personally likes.
“The Smoky Mountains provide one of the most beautiful areas in the world for photography, “Brad said, “and autumn is especially beautiful here. These mountains and surrounding areas are home to more than 100 species of native trees, most of which are deciduous. I’ve been photographing the Smokies and this area for the past 12 years, and fall is by far my favorite time to capture the stunning beauty of the mountains. I want to share a few of my favorites with you; I’ve chosen these locations as they are generally quieter and provide the best opportunity to connect with nature.”
Greenbrier, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Greenbrier entrance to the national park is just six miles east of Gatlinburg on US 321. Greenbrier is home to the Little Pigeon River, and the access road provides plenty of pulloffs to take you to the river for photography opportunities. The area also has a few picnic locations where you can refuel while taking in the natural beauty. A few years ago, I was fortunate to capture this image with fresh snow on peak autumn leaves.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
To access Roaring Fork, turn off the main parkway in Gatlinburg at traffic light #8 and follow Historic Nature Trail Road to the Cherokee Orchard entrance to the national park. Roaring Fork is home to a few historic structures from original homesteaders as well as some old growth forest. These provide plenty of great photography opportunities. It is also a great place to spot a black bear – I’ve had plenty of sightings over the years.
Some of my most memorable moments in fall photography have come from driving around looking for great subjects to photograph. Sevier County provides some of the most incredibly beautiful fall photography opportunities, as there are many old barns, covered bridges, dirt roads and spectacular mountain views in the community perfect for photographing. I found this image on a drive in to work at Dollywood one morning.
Brad’s final tip: always remember to take photos of your family and friends!
Another piece of advice as you plan your trip to savor the Smokies’ autumn splendor: stay somewhere with great views of the fall colors and you can take even more photos. The trickiest part is choosing between Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa or one of the more than 100 Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Cabins. There’s really no memory that will last longer than relaxing with family and friends in a cabin among the fall colors here in the Smokies. The only thing I have found that rivals a cabin view is the one of Mount LeConte from the resort’s rocking chairs on the back porch. That view is nothing short of spectacular, and the relaxing atmosphere is the best bonus vacation time ever.
If you want to see more of Brad’s work, just stroll down the halls in the conference area at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort – you’ll be transported back into your Smokies’ photograph adventure.