The Smokies are a great place to view fall color and hike! The mix of Maple, Oak, Birch, Beech, and Pine trees create postcard scenery and a diverse pallet of yellows, reds, and orange glowing foliage (reaching peak color around the 3rd week of Oct). That can change from year to year based on weather.
Unfortunately, this area can remind you of rush hour in LA. Others have discovered my secret. Tips on how to navigate around, and see the great stuff while avoiding the crowds: Let’s start with a map.
Most viewing/hiking in the park is centered around Cades Cove (& surroundings), the Foothills Parkway, and the Rt 441 corridor (which is a very target-rich environment). If you’re doing a week trip, the best place to stay for the first two days is in Townsend, a charming small town with excellent lodging, some solid restaurants, and few crowds.
The bulk of the epic views & hiking however is off of RT 441 and Gatlinburg is closer (saving you an hour of driving each way). Sadly, Gatlinburg is like the Wisc Dells on steroids. My compromise is to stay a few minutes North of the town (Gatlinburg Falls resort/cabins) and visit the local restaurants North of the City. Ergo stay out of the downtown!
The other key point: hit the trails early (like at sunrise). That way you’ll completely avoid the traffic and crowds on the trails. Leave late morning and you’re asking for a beating.
Time to hop aboard the Snitz tour bus. Let’s start with Cades Cove. This can be crowded with cars (avoid weekends) but offers some great wildlife viewing, cool frontier cabins and the popular Abrams Falls hike. This little guy was being protected under the watchfull eye of his mom at the tree’s base.
A nearby suitor waiting to put the moves on Mama Bear.
Some of the structures in Cades cover are almost 200 years old.
Next stop, the Foothills Parkway which has some fun hikes and pull outs featuring great views ot the valley floor. Fog builds up on particularly cold mornings provide great ops for sunrise imagery.
About 20 minutes from Cades Cove is the Lynn Camp, Middle Prong trail. One of my fav hikes in the park, the first several miles follow a colorful gorge with lots of rapids and small waterfalls.
As I mentioned the 441 corridor features some fantastic views (Newfound Gap, Clingman’s Dome) and epic hiking (Alum Cave to Mt Leconte, Chimney Tops).
Toward the end of 441 lies the town of Cherokee and the Oconaluftee Nature Center. A great place to hike along the river and if your lucky see herds of Elk.
Closer to Gatlinburg is the Roaring Fork Nature Trail Road which also features some impressive views.
I couldn’t resist launching the Spritzler Drone from this winding trail to capture the crazy canopy of color from 1200 ft up.
Lot’s more photos to view. Click the link for my full gallery!
Silver Bay, Minn, a town formerly built on mining, is also a great base camp to explore the western shore of Lake Superior along with some exceptional nearby state parks that feature small inland lakes and some impressive waterfalls. I had no idea this type of diverse scenery was available in the Midwest. The area is located approx. 45 miles North of Duluth.
A great place to start exploring? Nearby Split Rock State Park has some great beaches, an additional cool rock shoreline and a photogenic lighthouse!
Fifteen minutes away lies Gooseberry Falls State Park. A rainy late fall has the rivers running “full on”.
Tettegouche State Park is similarly spectacular and impossible to prounounce…haha.
BTW, pull off almost anywhere and you’ll find a seldom travelled gravel road with amazing folliage!
This scene looks entirely different viewed from 400 ft above (The Snitz Mavic 3 drone)
Temperance River State Park offers both intimate river scenes and some massive waterfall drops with tall gorge walls!
My favorite view of the trip? Mt Oberg! Captured this after hiking in the dark @ 5:30am to catch first light. Image taken with a Mavic 3 drone to get the right vantage point.
The foliage on the way down wasn’t half bad either!
Link to the full gallery of images https://www.snitzerphotos.com/Other/Galleries/Minn-North-Woods/n-XPqRPR/
I’ve been gumshoeing around mountains most of my life. The US has some amazing scenery; the Rockies, Sierra’s, Cascades, Uintas, Denali, and Smokies. None of these places hold a candle to the scenery between Lake Louise and Jasper, Alberta. Sorry America, the Canucks have you beat.
The peaks are higher, more frequent and seem always to have some bomber lake in the foreground—a photographer’s paradise.
One of these, the Plain of Six Glaciers, takes you about 4.5 miles up a canyon (2,200 ft vert) we’re we unexpectedly ran into a tea house! Not kidding. How cool is that? They also serve a mean vegetarian Chili.
Southwest of Lake Louise lies the very remote area around Lake Ohara. It took us two years to get a cabin in the Park: only 13 cabins and very limited camping. You basically have this crazy area to yourself. Did I mention we showed up after they got hit with 3 inches of snow (in late June)! The view below taken from the lake’s North Shore.
Speaking of altitude, I got the bright idea to hike about 1,500 ft up another drainage to get this waterfall at dusk. Fortunately I had my trusty flashlight for the hike down as things darkened significantly. No bears however!
All aboard! The Canadian Pacific railroad runs what seems like 30+ trains a day through the mountains. If you are patient enough, you might catch one! This shot captured at the well known Morant’s Curve vantage point.
Slightly up the Glacier Parkway (heading North) is Bow Lake. I arrived as another snowstorm was just breaking leaving more snow on the mountain and surreal skies.
That’s Mrs. Snitz standing atop Peyto Lake one of the other most photographed spots in the area.
There’s lots more. Check out the link below.
These Slavic countries offer some wonderful unspoiled scenery, a little like the Italian Dolomites. Punctuated with historic (I mean 500+ years old) small towns they’re inhabited by a friendly populace that likes American tourists! Plus, you can walk anywhere at night and feel safe. The price to stay in great lodging and enjoy bomber dining is substantially less than in the States—a comparative bargain.
So what’s there to see? Let’s start with one of the craziest massive waterfalls on the planet, Veliki Slap which falls 300ft. (Plitvice Lake National Park, Croatia). Why they call waterfalls Slaps is beyond me.
Yes, the fishermen are getting wet.
Sibenik, a coastal town (also in Croatia).
And the very old City of Dubrovnik. How old? Like 7th Century.
As we drive North we enter the nation of Slovenia. Lake Bled reminds me of the Sound of Music. Some fun shots taken from the footpath that circles the lake. The Church of Mary the Queen dates back to 1534.
Ok, time to fire up the Spritzler drone. Pictured immediately below is Bled Castle (circa 1011).
High above the church. I’m getting a nose bleed.
And Bohinjsko, Slovinia
Continuing to head North we reach the Soca River Valley.
What a cool place to Kayak!
Link below to high res gallery of photos
Wondering how to get the full moon to show up on cue? Ans. you need to be a tech geek. I use a program called the Photographer’s Ephemeris to figure out when the moon will be full and, more importantly, when it will be setting to the West around sunrise (sky not too bright or dark). Ergo, I want the sun coming up behind me and the moon in front of me. I also, need to figure out how to get the angle of the moon just right (in relation to what I’m photographing). I told you this requires a photo geek!
The next morning I tried another Zion spot (just behind the Human History Museum) and BAM.
Death Valley, of course, has a bunch more to offer! Portions of the desert floor flooded last August causing the mud bottom to dry into a mosaic of fantastic shapes.
There are also miles of cool looking sand dunes, bracketed in the rear by the Cottonwood Mountains. One of my buddies shown below to put things into perspective.
The pictures above are literally taken at sea level. Parts of the park sit almost 5,000 ft higher, offering spectacular views.
About 90 minutes West of the Park lies California’s Alabama Hills. At the base of Mount Whitney, this area was home to hundreds of westerns. Pictured below is the iconic Mobius Arch.
Hey, gotta keep moving. Time to start heading back. On route is an other worldly place called Goblin Valley. The early morning sun creates some long shadows across the desert floor. Those funny looking sculptures down there are called “hoodoos”.
Last stop, a Martian landscape in the Utah Badlands. Ironically at ground level the scenery looks very uninteresting. Boring in fact! But fly a drone 1,600 feet above and you see some incredible patterns.
Coming in for a landing we angle the camera up a little to see the surrounding neighborhood.
There’s plenty more to see! Click the link below to check out the entire gallery:
About 700 miles separate the Ozark and Smoky Mountains. Both are spectacular places to leaf peep, bike and hike. Two differences:
- The Smokies are a little more vertical & perhaps contain a slight edge on iconic trails/views.
- Smoky Mntn NP is the most visited park in the US! It’s more crowded. Don’t even think about staying in the popular park destinations of Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg. They’re grossly, overbuilt resort towns. Townsend, Tn, is the place to be (quiet, gorgeous).
My time in the Ozarks centered around Buffalo River River NP. The park was the first national river to be designated by the Park Service and flows for over 135 miles. With that extended shoreline the possibilities seem endless.
After several days exploring the Ozarks, I started the 10 hour drive to the Smokies, stopping along the way to hike out to Machine Falls, just outside of Tullahoma, Tn. Yep, out in the boonies. Zero crowds!
The area is also full great rivers to explore. BTW, the spiral brown formation in the lower right section of the photo actually consists of leafs stuck in a whirlpool. I took a long 10 second exposure which blurred those bad boys.
Lots more fun photos to see. Click the link: Click for more!
People frequently ask me “how” do I get “those shots.” Some inside scoop, specifically for leaf peeping, follows.
Basically, to get good fall color, you first gotta get there “at the right time.” Unfortunately, in the Rockies, it’s almost impossible to predict when the fall color will explode. You’re typically looking for that crazy 7-day period when the lights go “on.”
Unfortunately, the variability of summer rain, fall temps, and big wind storms (that can strip the trees bare) all make predicting pretty much impossible. Meaning I plan very last minute and start driving in when it’s “just right”.
So getting there is half the battle. The other half is catching great light and even better, an overnight snowstorm before the leaves disappear. You want just the right amount of clouds to catch the early morning rays or sunset. Clear blue skies suck!
Every once in a while, I get lucky. Got up early to catch this shot after it snowed all nite. Was this view visible from the road? Nope. That’s where the drone comes in.
Drones have become a leading edge tool to grab unique shots from vantage points previously requiring a helicopter. Kind of the new frontier for adventure photography.
Some other shots taken in flight. BTW, I use a DJI Mavic 3 Cine as my UFO.
That’s not to say, I’m not willing to go low. This photo was taken about 2 inches off the ground. For our photobugs out there, it’s actually two images blending together. One focused in on the nearby leaves, the other focused on the further away trees. I used a small aperture (F22) to create the Sunstar.
I used the same technique below (focus stacking) to get the nearby leaves in sharp focus (shot 1) and then focus out long for the mountain (shot 2).
Ok, now for getting rainbows. When I see it raining, but there’s a clear sun sky behind me, I start looking around!
What makes a great woodland shot? Occasionally, you chance upon some very white, large-diameter Aspens with the foreground covered in ferns. Yellow fever!
Let’s not forget the wildlife!
No, not the moose, the Holstein(or whatever). I was standing about 8 ft from that girl. Actually taken with my iPhone. BTW, I was not close to the moose. Don’t have a death wish. Taken with a big telephone lens.
Finally, it doesn’t hurt to be tenacious. I’ve been trying to get a great shot of Mount Crumpet (Rabbit Ears) for years. Some Steamboat buddies, helped me find the right vantage point (thanks to the Clarks!). Finally got all the elements together. Great sky, changing trees & hint of sunlight on the mountain.
Oh, yes…how to get a good photo of a lake? Two things really help. Go when it’s dead still, so the lake becomes a mirror. II: Have a great sky. The sky becomes the main event!
Check out the link below to see the full gallery. https://www.snitzerphotos.com/Other/Galleries/Fall-in-the-west-2022/n-rrc2QX/
“What’s the best location you’ve ever photographed?”. I get asked that a lot! Usually, I look stumped and can’t answer. Now I can; the Western Coast of Norway.
Part of my attraction is the scenery. You have vertical peaks jutting out of an endless supply of lakes. You find yourself driving from one fjord to another, through an amazing system of tunnels as you pass under mountains to successive bomber views. Nuts! Along the way, every 5-10 minutes, you pass a quaint fishing village.
BTW there are zero billboards and practically no stop lights. Just unspoiled postcard views.
But that’s not the most compelling part.
It’s the light! Located very far North (further than most of Alaska) in late summer, it never gets dark. The sun sets around 11 pm and comes up again around 3 am. During that time the sky can stay red for hours. Sunsets and sunrises never seem to end. Magic for a photographer.
And amazing hiking? Try treking up a 2,500-foot mountain at 930pm, arriving as the sun sets and seeing nobody. No crowds! Pretty surreal.
Ok, what’s the catch? Well, it typically rains every 3rd or 4th day. You can get slammed by weather. And as you may have guessed, to take advantage of this great “light” you’re staying up through the Norweigan nights (basically remaining on Central Standard Time). And yes, the food is crazy expensive (however the fish is top-notch).
My trip started in the Village of Senja, a quiet fishing village.
11 pm and families are out enjoying the great color!
A few hours later it’s still red out there, and the tide is out, creating this great river effect. Normally the entire foreground would be underwater.
The tidal action creates these cool lines along the beach.
Taken with a drone over 1,000 feet up. A perspective you seldom see from the road.
Talk about getting a different perspective! Here’s the view atop Mt. Husfjellet. The climb up takes about 90 minutes (& can be pretty muddy after a rain)!
With the frequency of rain and cool lighting it’s pretty common to see rainbows. Lot’s of rapidly changing weather.
Plus a good share of hidden waterfalls.
My family joined me mid trip and we proceeded South to the Lofoten Islands.
Great to see kayakers out exploring the fjords. We spent a half day doing the same!
Lots more to see. Click the gallery link. https://www.snitzerphotos.com/Other/Galleries/Norway-2022/n-FX5WwV/
I’ve never had the chance to photograph some of my favorite Colo Mntn spots covered in snow. Ergo the San Juan Mountains located in Southwest Colo (think Telluride/Crested Butte).
For instance, I’ve shot Mount Sneffeles many times, but getting back there in the winter isn’t easy. Requires a snowcat or a Jeep with some massive tires. Worth the effort!
BTW there are more uncharted jeep roads (with about 2ft of untracked snow on them) to explore. The shot below was taken with a drone (about 30ft above the road).
The drone provides a pretty unique perspective when the sun is about to set. Love the shadows!
Speaking of sunset, it was full moon time on my trip. Everything lined up just right!
The two shots below were both taken about 35 minutes before sunrise (just outside the town of Ridgeway).
Interesting, how different some iconic views look when covered with the white stuff!
Then there are those crazy (& I do mean crazy) ice climbers. This dude was going up an 800ft high ice flow (just outside of Ouray, Colo). Any fall would be a game-changer (& not for the good).
Next stop, the Moab area (which includes Arches and Canyonland NPs).
A previously hidden view I discovered while flying the drone. I had no idea what this plateau looked like till I got approx. 800 ft above the trailhead.
The photo below (Arches NP) looks like it’s taken at a lake. Nope, the image was created by getting down really low and photographing across a 3 x 4ft pond.
Another bomber reflecting pond.
Yes, every so often you can find a waterfall in the desert!
This place is aptly named Goosenecks State Park. Looks even better from above.
On to Arizona! My exploration focused on two areas, Lost Dutchman State Park and the Kofa National Wildlife Preserve.
This image was taken near my tent at 4 am. The cacti in the foreground are called Cholla (actually jumping Cholla). If you brush up on them, they release their barbed needles. Good luck getting them out. Incredibly nasty plants. I was darn lucky to avoid any accidents!
BTW, for our photo enthusiasts. The photo below was taken by shooting 13 images of the Sky (ISO 8,000, F 2.8, 17 secs) and stacking using Starry Landscaping Stacker Software. The foreground was shot 90 minutes later during twilight. The images were then merged in Photoshop.
The Cholla make great foreground objects and almost glow during sunrise or sunset!
This guy is a Balloon Cactus plant.
This shot features the Saguaro cactus (the really big guys).
Sedona, Ariz is one of my fav places to hike. Gorgeous scenery, awesome weather (excepting summer), and little driving required (most hikes 10 mins from town). It’s also a great place for nature photog! Some of my favorite places to shoot include:
Crescent Moon Picnic Area: Great views along Oak Creek overlooking Cathedral Rock. https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/arizona/crescent-moon-ranch-at-red-rock-crossing
Upper Red Rock Loop: Several awesome pullouts provide a view of Cathedral and Bell Mountain.
Airport Mesa Viewpoint (& attached trail): Not to be confused with the airport viewpoint above. This hiking spot has only about 8 parking spaces. It provides trails with 360-degree panoramic views of the entire valley! After a rain, reflecting pools form on the rock face providing great ops to shoot low and reflect the mountains. https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/arizona/sedona-airport-loop-trail
Don’t be afraid to use your telephoto lens to capture some far-away action. This shot was taken shortly after dawn with a 300mm lens.
Boyton Canyon to the Subway: The Subway is a detour off the main path that while impressive may prove a bit hair raising for some hikers. Requires a good level of fitness and some climbing experience. https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/arizona/boynton-canyon-trail
Seven Sacred Pools hike. Great foregrounds. After a rain look for reflecting pools (shoot low). https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/arizona/soldier-pass-to-brins-mesa-loop
Some of my favorite hikes also include:
Long Canyon, Deadman’s Pass, Mescal Loop https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/arizona/mescal-mountain-long-canyon-deadmans-pass-mescal-loop
Secret Slickrock (easy short/great for sunset) https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/arizona/secret-slick-rock-trail?ref=result-card
Devil’s Bridge via Chuck Wagon Trail (great view, overrun with tourists…everyone flocks to this, I’d skip) https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/arizona/devils-bridge-via-chuck-wagon-trail
Bear Mountain https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/arizona/bear-mountain
Click here to see my original gallery photos: https://www.snitzerphotos.com/Other/Galleries/Sedona-2021/n-XpLtXs/