View Full Version : Smoky Mountains - Good Spots and Best Week?

Sheri Amici
02-22-2012, 09:36 PM
Hello Everyone,

This is my first time posting, and I wasn't sure if I should add to an existing thread or start a new one. I hope I've done it right.

I'm in the process of planning a photography trip to the Smoky Mountains in April or early May. It's been over 30 years since I've been there, so I'm not familiar enough with the area to know where to go for the best photography spots. Any suggestions?

Also, which week in April or early May would be the best for birds and other wildlife?

Thanks so much for any help you can offer!


Bill Jobes
02-23-2012, 02:16 PM
Hi Sheri,

While I don't have any direct knowledge of the region, hopefully someone who does will step forward and lend a hand.

Meantime, here's a link to the Audubon Society's Smokey Mountains site:


- Bill

Sheri Amici
02-23-2012, 10:35 PM
Thanks, Bill!

Eric Silvi
02-26-2012, 09:53 PM
It all depends in what you want to photograph. To me, April-May is wildflower photography in the Smokies and of course, waterfalls.
Find a copy of "The Smoky Mountains Photographers Guide" by Bill Campbell and Nye Simmons. The book divides the park into the
main areas and what there is to photograph by season.

Sheri Amici
03-20-2012, 10:05 AM
Thanks, Eric!

Michael Pancier
03-22-2012, 07:52 PM
Frankly, anytime is a great time to visit the smokies. Just stay away from Gatlinburg. Do not stay or drive through there; it will ruin your trip. Better to stay out in Sevierville or Pigeon Forge and take the bypass into the park; Cades Cove is great for birds and wildlife if you get out there really early; of course lot of great landscape ops there too; waterfalls; etc. Laurel Falls trail is good and good chance you can see bears out there. But the best place for birds is cades cove. I was there in June and tons of songbirds; bluebirds; etc.

Sheri Amici
03-23-2012, 08:46 AM
Thanks, Michael! Would definitely love to see some bears. I've heard and seen the name "Cades Cove" several times since I started planning the trip. I'm going to move it to the top of my list. :S3:

Mark Fuge
04-01-2012, 10:32 AM
One note on Cades Cove. If you are there with tourist, which is likely, it is a long drive in so plan your time to get there. Of course there are things that might catch your eyes on the road in, but at a minimum allow time. We were there in the fall, peak season and it took well over an hour to get to the cove and then parking was almost non existent. It was bumper to bumper then all the way, with little chance of stopping along the way. But well worth it once you get there. There is a one way road out (you make a right as you exit the parking area and another right about a mile or so beyond, it is labeled as a rugged road I believe) that is very rugged, but has a lot of streams and nice quiet dirt road scenes. But if you don't have 4WDrive, drive slow. We didn't and we made it through, but it was a real ride! :Whoa!: It was our first and only trip there, but we will be back.

Sheri Amici
04-02-2012, 04:41 PM
Good info to have, Mark. Thanks! With gas prices so high, we've been trying to decide if we should take my compact car instead of the SUV. Sounds like we might need the 4WDrive, though.

04-12-2012, 01:50 PM
Here's another vote for the book by Bill Campbell and Nye Simmons. It's by far the best guide to Smokies photography.

Cades Cove is a very good location for landscapes, historic structures, and wildlife. For early morning photography, the line to enter the park starts well before sunrise. When the line starts depends on the time of year - peak weekends in April and late October have a line that starts more than 2 hours before sunrise. But weekdays are not too bad outside of peak periods. The gate opens just after sunrise - meaning that for a sunrise shot in Cades Cove you need to hike in with a flashlight before sunrise. That's generally okay because the best images are when the sun first hits the early morning fog and foliage. Early in the day deer are plentiful but by 9:30 or so they disappear into the fields and the woods. Wild turkeys are plentiful - and best early in the morning in the horse pastures near the entrance to the Cove. Black bears are a bit more of a challenge. Early morning and late afternoon are best. You'll need to keep your eyes open and ask for help. The best time of year for bears is when the wild cherries are ripe in August. The bears climb the trees and feed on the fruit.

There are plenty of other options - too many to respond to in a single post. The Smokies does not have huge waterfalls but does have a lot of small waterfalls that are easily reached. Better still are the streams of Tremont, Roaring Fork, and Greenbrier.

As far as the time of year - the Smokies has something to photograph throughout the year. Peak color is in late October or early November. The wildflower season is during April and early May. Flowering rhododendron and laurel are in May, June and July. The elk rut is in October and November. The deer Rut is in November through early January. Outside of October, July is the month with the heaviest crowds. June and August are right behind.

Sheri Amici
04-14-2012, 09:47 AM
Thanks for all the helpful information, Eric! We just got back from the Smokies, and it was a great trip. Saw several Black Bears...a mom with three cubs running behind her, a cub up in a tree eating leaves, and others. Such an amazing experience!

Unfortunately, my photos of the bears aren't very good. All were shot in the evening, and the bears were in the woods. Just couldn't catch a break on the lighting. Hopefully, next time! :S3:

Thanks again to everyone who replied!

J. R. Weems
12-07-2012, 11:16 PM
Sheri - July is Black bear mating season. Last week or so of July, 1st week of August the black cherries become ripe, the bears love them. The trees however only bear fruit in the EVEN numbered years. CARE is advised when photographing the bears. Here is one shot I got a couple years ago and a link to some more of my BEARS. :)


John Lentz
03-24-2013, 12:58 PM
I'm going back to the Smokey Mountains, specifically Cade's Cove to shoot wildlife and wanted to know if one can camp within the Cove? I know there is a camp site just outside the Cover but wanted to take my collapsible blind and tent into the Cove to see if I could catch more animals without all the traffic? thanks.

03-24-2013, 01:18 PM
Yes - you can camp in Cades Cove but you need to reserve a space as early as possible. Elkmont is a good alternative. Weekdays are much easier than weekends - and summer is very tough.

You certainly can use a blind - but I'm not sure you'll need it. The turkeys and deer are pretty acclimated to people - especially if you let them approach you. The peak for turkeys is in the next month or so. Deer are better in the late summer or fall. Fawns are better in June. Bears are most easily seen during the week in the Summer and Fall.

Your car can be a good blind - some animals are skittish of people but comfortable with cars. Blinds may or may not be helpful. Getting out of the car and walking is a wonderful experience. There are nice trails in Cades Cove that make it easy to get away from people and traffic.

Don't forget abiout Cataloochee Valley for elk. It's much quieter than Cades Cove.

John Lentz
03-24-2013, 01:49 PM
thanks Eric, I appreciate the information

J. R. Weems
11-15-2014, 07:53 PM
Bit of an update here-- black cherries come EVERY YEAR, guess that ranger thought it was funny to misinform people. July 4th, or there about is Blackberry time. Cherries, about the end of July, or maybe a bit sooner. WEATHER takes a great hand here. This year they were late due to all the rain and I missed the time frame. :( A few Bears here ,captured down through the last few years. ENJOY!!!! :)


Mark Fuge
11-16-2014, 09:07 PM
Update on my last post. We were there this past April 2014, the week after Easter. The traffic situation has improved from the main entrance into Cades Cove, due to the road improvements since our previous visit a few years ago. But like everyone says, avoid the weekends if possible, the loop road around the Cades Cover area is still narrow and people do stop to photograph, so if there is a crowd, it can take time to make that trip. But there are nice landscape images to be had around that valley. As for critters, we saw turkey, a doe with her fawn, a small buck and some other deer throughout that area. We didn't see any bear though. There were Elk at the south end of the park on the main entrance road from Cherokee, about 12 in that herd, that were resting next to the highway in the edge of the woods. Easy shots for anyone wishing to get photos. The flowers were fair, but not great. We plan to go back again this next year, a little later in the month and maybe in fall again.