[This is an update to an earlier post about capturing photos in the Tremont area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For further detail on location and technique, please see that post, "On Location: Tremont Area (GSMNP)" .]
A Fall day in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is always beautiful, but a simple early morning trip to a surprisingly less-trafficked area will yield you almost unfair photographic opportunities! Turning right onto Little River Road from the Townsend entrance of the park, take an almost immediate left just past a small bridge (a sign for Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont will point you in the right direction).
As mentioned in my earlier post, there are endless opportunities for flowing stream pictures in this area: along the road until it's end quite a few miles up, on the trails from the GSM Institute (including the absolutely beautiful Spruce Flats Falls), and along the trails that begin from the road and those at it's termination.
Peak-color season (typically the last two weeks of October) brings an almost indescribable element to these already photogenic spots, but also courts quite a bit more traffic - even with this being a much-less popular spot than Cades Cove.
So, get up early and get there around sunrise or earlier! Not for the purpose of catching a sunrise shot (although if you choose to hike to Spruce Flats Falls before sunrise, you might in fact catch an interesting scene around a brief clearing before descending to the falls), but to avoid the crowds and catch the best light for some frothy-watered, fall-color saturated scenics. You will NOT be disappointed.
My suggestion is that you follow the road to its end, drink the rest of your coffee, get your gear together and start walking the beautiful "meditation" trail that forks left after the walking bridge. The further you ascend, the more opportunities of streamside pictures you will find! In peak, and just-past-peak color, you will find an autumn-clothed canopy to compose your scene with around streams, and interesting rock formations topped with colorful leaves for more detail. It is literally a gold-mine of photographic opportunity this time of year, and as I traveled the path for the first time I was part overwhelmed at all there was to take in, and part humbled to be in a place where every next step practically handed you an award-worthy picture.
Even with five trips last fall to get the photos featured in the Tremont album on this site, there was still so much I had to pass up, and an incredible amount I would like to still explore. If you have more than one morning you can commit to an early excursion, come on back to this beautiful area again as you will not be able to capture your fill in one trip! You might even need to use your first experience as a preview to get an idea of what you want to focus on shooting. If you have visited this area before, I assure you it will blow your mind to see it in fall color, and even if you've seen it in fall it's worth continual visits. I've observed each scene changes day to day as the intensity of color and amount of fallen leaves will vary as the autumn season moves forward.
I am continually surprised at how little this area is talked about when the Smokies are brought up. Several National Geographic books that I have covering the National Parks do not even mark it on their map (even though a beautiful picture of Spruce Flats Falls is featured in one of them - with no reference of how to locate it). One of the publications specializes in rarely-hit areas of the national parks and it fails to list it as well. Fortunately this makes it perfect for solitude, except for weekends during peak-color (during which I'm not certain ANY somewhat easily accessible area of the park is truly crowd-free). Even then, as mentioned earlier, you can escape the din of these mid-day passer-throughs by getting there before dawn and making your way "further up and further in." (Choosing a weekday morning, especially other than Friday, will yield a much more private experience as well.)
If you're up to it, along your way talk to those who ARE out that early and you may not only learn a lot, but find serious photographers share in your enthusiasm of getting the right conditions for great shots! Those of us who truly enjoy this medium won't compete with you for a composition but will affirm your efforts and trade tips from experience. I've made some awesome connections along the trail, and it only encouraged me in pursuing this dream further.
I sincerely hope you will check out this beautiful place for yourself if you enjoy pursuing exceptional pictures.