Great Smoky Mountain National Park, which runs along the Tennessee and North Carolina border, is by far the most visited National Park in North America. In 2016, 11.3 million visitors explored it’s 522,419 acres, which is almost double the second most visited, The Grand Canyon, which fell just shy of 6 million visitors . At that 816.28 square miles, the park is one of the most protected regions in the eastern region.
Jim and Will Pattiz, the filmmaking brothers behind ‘More Than Just Parks’ visited Great Smoky Mountain National Park and spent 15 days chasing the vibrant autumn colors that explode as the temperatures cooled. Until I saw this film, the Smoky Mountains were never on my ever-growing bucket list of places to photograph the fall colors, but as the team shows us, it should be.
We sat down with Jim Pattiz to get some more information about how this film came about, when would be the best time to visit the park, and how to best avoid the crowds.
The Autumn colors in this film are breathtaking. I had never thought of Great Smoky Mountain as a place to capture Fall colors. What time frame would you recommend to people who want to experience these colors visit the park?
Oh definitely the fall. The oaks and maples turn brilliant shades of red and yellow and seemingly carpet the ground and sky in vibrant color. Seeing the park’s historic cabins flanked by trees in peak fall color and swimming in brilliant-hued leaves is truly a sight to behold. We visited in the last week of October and stayed through the beginning of November – that’s the best time to see the park in all its fall glory. An added bonus is less crowds and none of the summer mosquitoes! It can be quite cold though, so layer up!
Being that Great Smoky National Park is the most visited in the nation, you would think that no matter what time of year, the traffic, parking, and crowds would always be an issue. Did you find this to be the case, even in autumn?
I’d say no matter the time of year, especially on weekends you’ll find the park quite crowded – it is the most visited park in the nation after all. But autumn definitely does provide some respite from the crowds, especially if you know where to go.
If we wanted to avoid the crowds, could you recommend three of the most underrated and least visited places in the park to see?
Speaking of knowing where to go! The entire park is magnificent in autumn and there are many places where you’ll find it practically deserted. The cataloochee ranger station has herd of elk and exeptional fall color and hiking trails and hardly sees any visitors. One of my personal favorite spots in the park is along Upper Tremont Road as it hugs the middle prong of Little River. Lots of little waterfalls and scenic views, and even river otters! And of course incredible fall color. One place to avoid if you don’t like crowds is Cades Cove, it’s easily the most popular spot in the park and can have cars lined up as early as 4AM just to get in.
Well, looks like we know where the Resource Travel team will be photographing the fall colors this year!