7 Best Places for Nature Photography in Tennessee

waterfall photography Tennessee

Photography in Tennessee offers diverse and captivating opportunities for both amateur and professional photographers alike.

photography Tennessee

Many people know the state of Tennessee as the home of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the United States. It also includes a variety of lesser-known but compelling landscapes for the adventurous photographer to discover.

Tennessee is horizontally oriented from west to east and includes three distinct geographic regions. The western portion of the state includes the Mississippi River delta along with oxbow lakes and rivers lined with beautiful cypress trees.

The central section of the state transitions into rolling hills and is bordered by the western edge of the Cumberland Plateau, which is full of dramatic waterfalls, wildflowers, and rugged gorges.

The crown jewel, though, lies in the eastern region, which is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, part of the ancient Appalachian mountain chain that stretches from Georgia to Maine.

With so many compelling landscapes to photograph in Tennessee, it can be difficult to decide where to go next. So, here’s a working list of places to prioritize.

Read more: National Parks in North America – A Photographer’s Guide

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

At the top of your photographic bucket list for Tennessee should be the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the most biologically diverse national park in the United States and holds UNESCO World Heritage status for its exceptional natural beauty and world importance.

The Smokies are also known as the salamander capital of the world and one of the few places to view and photograph the synchronous firefly.

The variety of landscapes is nothing short of extraordinary. You’ll be able to photograph beautiful stacked mountain ridges, scenic valleys, hardwood forest coves, waterfalls, wildflowers, and much more.

smokey mountain national park photography in Tennessee

If you can choose one time of year to visit the Smokies, consider visiting from late April to early May. This time of year, the cascades and waterfalls are at maximum flow and the moss on the boulders will be electric green.

Blooming dogwood trees line the creeks, and wildflowers paint the forest floor in abundance. The leaf canopy emerges and will be at its brightest green color of the entire year. There’s also a chance for fog in the valleys and forest coves to add a little magic and mystery to your photographs.

For cascades and waterfalls, you’ll find endless opportunities to make images along the Middle Prong trail in the Tremont area. There is a new photograph to make every three steps.

You’ll also enjoy similar scenes around the creeks in the Greenbrier section and Big Creek in the northeast region of the park. Be sure to take your wide-angle lens, a sturdy tripod, and a polarizer to make the most of the early morning light.

And don’t forget that the Smokies are best when it’s raining, and some of your most compelling perspectives will be from standing in the middle of the creeks.

photography in Tennessee

Drive up to Clingman’s Dome for a sunrise view of the stacked mountain ridges and visit Cades Cove or Cataloochee for some early morning fog in the valleys. Sparks Lane in Cades Cove is a classic scene not to miss at sunrise.

Don’t leave any lenses at home.

Longer focal length lenses will be great for wildlife and the stacked mountain ridges, and a macro lens will help you explore the tiny worlds of wildflowers, fungi, and mosses.

Your mid-range zoom is perfect for the infinite number of forest scenes. Be prepared for snow, rain, and a variety of temperatures in spring, so bring layers!

2. Roan Mountain

If you’re thinking of visiting Tennessee in mid-June, then you’ll want to experience the incredible landscape around Roan Mountain.

Although the timing will vary slightly from one year to the next, the middle of June is the ideal time to photograph the blooming rhododendron and flame azaleas with the surrounding mountaintops as a background.

The Roan Mountain area is located just outside of Elizabethton, Tennessee, and borders the state of North Carolina.

photography in Tennessee

For some of the best photography, park at the Carver’s Gap trailhead and hike east on the historic Appalachian Trail toward Round Bald and Jane Bald. Hit the trail before sunrise for potential images with colorful clouds or fog in the distance.

Wide-angle and mid-range focal length lenses will be great for photographing near-far compositions.

Backcountry camping is available in shelters along the Appalachian Trail and at Grassy Bald, just off the trail past Jane and Round Bald as you’re hiking east. And even if you’re not interested in camping, a day hike out to Jane Bald or Roan Mountain State Park will offer some wonderful photography.

Read more: 6 Top Tips for Hiking Photography

3. Fiery Gizzard Trail

The Fiery Gizzard trail is part of South Cumberland State Park and is located in a remote area of southeast Tennessee. It is a wild and rugged gorge with big views of the valleys after a steep climb to the overlook.

photography in Tennessee

The trailhead is located just outside Tracy City, which is on the western edge of the Cumberland Plateau.

Both spring and fall are excellent seasons to visit, and you’ll find wildflowers in bloom from early April through May and brilliant fall color in late October to early November in most years.

The hiking and photography become immediately compelling as the trail meanders along the creeks with numerous waterfalls and cascades. In early April, you’ll find hepatica and bloodroot in bloom, and you might even find some rare pink lady’s slippers on display around the first week of May.

photography in Tennessee

You can hike the entire 10-mile loop, but you’ll find it hard to leave the gorge in the first 2 miles of the trail. Sycamore Falls is a classic waterfall not to miss, just off the main trail about 1.5 miles from the trailhead.

Bring your macro lens for the wildflowers and wide-angle lens for the waterfalls and cascades. A sturdy pair of hiking boots will be key in making your way through the rocky gorge.

Read more: How to Photograph Wildflowers

4. Natchez Trace Parkway

Old Natchez Trace has been used by humans for more than 10,000 years and is one of the oldest transportation routes in North America. Today, the modern Natchez Trace Parkway stretches across 444 miles and three states, including Tennessee.

It was designated as a unit of the National Park System in 1938. It’s a hidden gem and provides photographers with numerous trails, waterfalls, creeks, and forest areas to explore.

flower photography Tennessee

One of the best seasons for photography along the Natchez Trace is early spring, during the first two weeks of April. In most years, the redbud and dogwood trees bloom at the same time and make for a photogenic pairing just as the surrounding forest starts to establish a bright green canopy.

A midrange focal length zoom lens will be perfect for these scenes along the edge of the forest. The idea is to look for an uphill area to shoot from so that you’re shooting slightly down into the forest rather than up and into the sky.

Target the section of the parkway between milepost 405 and 427 for dogwood and redbud scenes in early April.

Read more: Why You Should Use a Telephoto Lens for Landscape Photos

5. Big South Fork

The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area might be lesser known but offers some of the best fall color in the state of Tennessee. The area is situated within a remote region of the Cumberland Plateau and protects the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries.

The Big South Fork is located just outside of Jamestown, Tennessee.

The Twin Arches Trail provides a great place to photograph fall color and includes the massive stone arches, some of the most impressive in the eastern half of the United States.

waterfall photography Tennessee

During the fall season, you’ll find plenty of red and gold maple leaves to photograph in the forest and along the creeks. Other highlights to investigate are Angel Falls and the rugged Honey Creek trail.

And be sure to drop by and photograph Northrup Falls, a classic scene located next to the Big South Fork.

6. Walls of Jericho

The Walls of Jericho is an 8-mile, out-and-back hike on the border of Tennessee and Alabama. The best time to visit is from mid-April to early May when the forest canopy is bright green.

walls of Jericho photography Tennessee

Plan to spend some time photographing in the creek, and bring some footwear that you don’t mind getting wet but has good traction. Although the water is very shallow, the wet and rocky creek bottom can be quite slippery.

Plan to visit after a heavy rain if you can. The creeks and waterfalls will be full and offer a variety of compositions.

When you reach the limestone amphitheatre known as the Walls of Jericho at mile eight, you can scramble up and over the saddle in the wall where you’ll find a hidden waterfall about 50 yards up the creek.

photography in Tennessee

Definitely bring a wide-angle and midrange zoom lens and a polarizer. Experiment with compositions low to the water and rock formations for images with dynamic foregrounds that lead the viewer’s eye through the frame.

Read more: The Essential Guide to Filters for Landscape Photography

7. Radnor Lake

Radnor Lake State Park is a fantastic place to photograph all year round, but the most beautiful seasons are spring and fall.

photography in Tennessee

It’s remarkable to have such natural beauty that’s been preserved in a large metropolitan city like Nashville, with two million people living within an hour’s drive of the park. Parking is very limited, so arrive at sunrise and target the spring season for wildflowers.

Early to mid-April is likely the best time when you’ll find wood poppy, Dutchman’s breeches, larkspur, and many more woodland wildflowers in bloom.

The South Cove Loop trail and the Ganier Ridge trail are best for forest scenes filled with wildflowers.

photography in Tennessee

Bring your macro lens and midrange zoom to enjoy a variety of early spring forest photography. And if you’re interested in wildlife, bring your telephoto lens for a chance to photograph deer, otters, and the occasional nesting pair of bald eagles.

Read more: How to Improve Your Lake Photography

In conclusion

Tennessee offers some extraordinary landscapes to photograph that would take a lifetime to experience.

The Great Smoky Mountains are an obvious top priority, but there’s so much more to photograph along the Cumberland Plateau and beyond.

Use this list as a launching point to discover all the beauty that Tennessee has to offer.

Visit Dusty's website

Dusty Doddridge is a Nashville-based landscape photographer renowned for his ability to capture the ethereal beauty of untouched landscapes. He conveys his artistic vision through various mediums including workshops, writing, speaking engagements and the production of fine prints. Dusty’s signature style embraces minimalist and graphiccompositions, involving a profound sense of awe and wonder in his viewers.

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