North Carolina & The Great Smoky Mountains Fall 2015
With autumn fast approaching I began trying to plan a short trip to visit and shoot as many locations with the fall color as I possibly could in a few short days. I settled on a stretch in North Carolina from Rosman to Highlands to Cherokee and into the Smoky Mountain National Park.
Traveling from Atlanta we went through South Carolina and near Rosman, our first stop was at Eastatoe Falls. This is a very interesting falls as it is literally in someone’s back yard. You pull into their drive way and there is a sign directing you to parking behind the owner’s home. As you exit the car you can already here the roar of the falls and it is just a short walk back to the falls. When we arrived the sun was still above the falls but we used this to our advantage and included the sun to help add interest above the falls. Furthermore the light really helped to pop the fall colors of the leaves on the trees high above the falls. The fallen leaves sitting on the rocks surrounding the falls really helped cap off the autumn feel.
We still had a few hours of day light so we made our way to Highlands and to the start of the Glen Falls trail. This trail is very easy going in and has 3 stopping points at different points of the falls. The 2nd and 3rd stops are the most impressive. Hiking back out is mostly uphill so be prepared.
The next morning I set out to arrive at Dry Falls in Highlands just before sunrise. This was perfect timing as 1) I was the first one at the falls and 2) the light was just perfect just before and after sunrise for shooting this fall. I spent about 45 minutes shooting it from various angles as it is quite photogenic from multiple angles.
I also wanted to shoot Cullasaja Falls which was just a few miles from Dry Falls so I cut the shooting at Dry Falls a bit short and headed over to Cullasaja so that I could capture it while the light was still very nice.
Approaching Cullasaja Falls from Dry Falls is basically impossible as there is a very small pull off on the opposite side of the road when coming from Highlands. It is also along a series of curves so trying any type of U-Turn here is ill advised. Going down the road about a mile however there is a nice spot to turn around and I was able to come back and approach from the other direction and pull off safely with no troubles. From here you literally just get out of your car and walk to the edge here to view Cullasaja Falls. Again a great view awaited me thanks to the beautiful autumn colors surrounding the falls. Options for shots are limited however as there’s only so much wiggle room where you are viewing the falls.
With the morning light waning we headed north to Cherokee, NC where we decided to use the day time to check out the Cherokee Museum. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I was very impressed with just how many artifacts were on display here. In general they were displayed in chronological order as the museum takes you through a journey of the Cherokee Indian’s history. Additionally they had several wax figures throughout in various scenes that were applicable to the time period. Some of these had voice overs which added context. You could likely finish the entire museum in around an hour if you are rushing but we took our time reading all the information on each of the displays and spent nearly 3 hours exploring the museum which we found both fun and informative.
From here we decided to head into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. There were tons of great places to stop off but we were in a hurry to make it to Clingmans Dome for sunset. We arrived with around 1 hour and 15 mins to sunset which was plenty of time. The hike to Clingmans Dome is only half a mile on a paved path from the parking lot. However, it is all uphill and quite strenuous. It does offer gorgeous views off the side of the mountain. Additionally the smell from the fir trees was amazing. Better than even the best scented candle! Once you reach the top you ascend a manmade structure that allows for a 360 degree view from the top of Clingmans Dome – the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park at an elevation of 6643 feet! The sunset was absolutely beautiful despite no clouds in the sky to add additional interest. Even after the sunset the colors hung on the horizon for quite some time until we decided to make the hike down. Even 45 minutes after the official sunset time the views from the side of the mountain continued to impress and dazzle.
The following morning I was up early once again to arrive at Soco Falls before sunrise. This is another waterfall with parking on the side of the road but with much more space to park than Cullasaja Falls. Again you can hear the falls from the “parking lot” as you hike down a short path to a viewing platform to view the falls from above. To reach the bottom of the falls there are a series of ropes you must use to help you get down. It is quite steep so these ropes are very useful; though it would be nice if they built something a bit more accessible – the ropes do not inspire much confidence. Still the effort to get down to the bottom is well worth it as the upper view doesn’t do the falls justice. Again I was able to shoot from several different spots that allowed the falls to take on a different personality with each shot.
Wanting to take advantage of the morning light I left Soco Falls and headed for Mingo Falls. To reach Mingo Falls you must hike .4 miles and 159 stairs to the top of the trail which takes you to its base. There is a bridge that goes over the creek allowing you to get a great view. I found the logs and foliage in the foreground here to be particularly interesting which is great for wide angle photography. Of course the falls themselves are very intricate and offered some great details for some telephoto shots.
Unfortunately, like all good trips, this one too was already at a quick end as we left the gorgeous Smoky Mountains and made our way back to the city of Atlanta.