Get your camera ready

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a photographer’s dream

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Photography stops in and near Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Known worldwide for its incredible diversity of plants and animals, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a nature lover’s — and photographer’s — dream world.
In 1976, the park, which spans more than 800 square miles in the southern Appalachian Mountains, was designated an International Biosphere Reserve — an honor only given to the world’s most important biological areas.
Undisturbed by glaciers that scoured the northern states, the Smokies have been a refuge for species many of which are found nowhere else in the world. More than 12,000 species of plants and animals have been documented within the park boundaries. About 100 species of native trees and 1,500 flowering plant species grow here. About 200 species of birds, 66 species of mammals, 67 native fish, 39 reptiles and 43 amphibians call the park home.
Elk, reintroduced to the park in 2001, thrive in Cataloochee Valley near the sleepy song-filled town of Maggie Valley. Black bears claim a population density of about two per square mile.
And at least 30 different species of salamanders can be found here making the Smokies the “Salamander Capital of the World” with the most diverse population of salamanders anywhere.
Cades Cove is one of the best places to view wildlife in the park. Drive the 11-mile loop road watching for turkey, deer and black bear. You can stop and see historic pioneer cabins, barns, and churches as well as great displays of southern Appalachian wildflowers including 10 species of trillium and many other flowering beauties.
Only about an hour’s drive from Knoxville, Tennessee, the tourist-filled town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is the closest entrance to Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Fill up with gasoline and stock up on picnic items here, as there are no gas stations and limited food and beverage options in the park.
Plan on arriving the weekend before the OWAA Knoxville conference so you can join in the festivities at the Roan Mountain Rhododendron Festival and marvel at the pink sea of Catawba rhododendrons in the State Park.
Wherever and whenever you go, just don’t forget your camera. ♦
—Ann and Rob Simpson have written many books and articles on national parks coast to coast that promote wise and proper use of natural habitats and environmental stewardship. Longtime national park advocates, their recent work has been centered on providing informative and colorful nature guides on the wildlife and wildflowers of the major parks including Shenandoah, Blue Ridge Parkway, Rocky Mountain, Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks. You can contact them at

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