Great Smoky Mountains in Autumn

As the autumn winds bring cooler temperatures to the Great Smoky Mountains the rugged hills in North Carolina and Tennessee come alive in brilliant displays of color. The mountainsides are as if they were painted with bright contrasting strokes of reds, oranges, yellows, pinks and greens. The bewildering variety of plant life in the Smokies is incredible and the Flora here is what Granite Domes & Waterfalls are to Yosemite and Geysers & Wildlife to Yellowstone.

Great Smoky Mountains has over 100 species of tree spread throughout five different forest types including Eastern Hemlock, Mountain Ash and various Maple Trees. If you’ve never witnessed the Smokies in Autumn, you might think you had just stepped foot into Candyland (remember the boardgame?). Walking along the steep, leaf covered pathways under a canopy of color is a truly remarkable experience and the photography opportunities in the Smokies are incredible in the fall.

You’ll be photographing ethereal waterfalls under brilliant leaf covered canopies as well as abundant wildlife such as Black Bear, Elk and a wealth of birds and amphibians. Macro Photography is second to none in the Smokies with ample opportunities to photograph snails, salamanders, moss covered trees and clear water droplets on newly fallen maple leaves. Excellent photography opportunities such as misty sunrises from grassy balds overlooking a sea of mountains are the norm on this trip. We’ll get some great hikes in to lesser known locales within the park and leave with a wealth of Appalachian Photographs for your portfolio.

Join Russ Nordstrand and Backcountry Journeys on our Lodge-Based photography tour/workshop this fall. Our handcrafted itineraries let you photograph the best that Great Smoky Mountains National Park has to offer without all the guesswork or logistics. This all-inclusive photography tour/workshop includes excellent accommodations in cozy lodges, a great menu and a fully immersive Smoky Mountains Photography experience in the park’s most magical of seasons.

Please note: We are excited to offer both a standard and “hiker” version of this trip for photographers who like to get out and hike! Not sure which one suits you best? Give us a call at 928-478-1521 or fill out the contact form below!


  • Incredible Fall Colors
  • Abundant Waterfalls
  • Macro Photography Possibilities
  • Beautiful Fall Hiking
  • Small Groups
  • Cozy lodges
  • All-Inclusive Trip, including top-notch meals
  • Learn from & shoot alongside a seasoned pro

Great Smoky Mountains in Autumn

6 Days

Price: from $3595 double occupancy

Deposit: $1000

+$640 Single Occupancy

Fitness Level (“hiker” trip only): “Moderate. Lots of hiking on rugged dirt trails in the mountains.”

Meals: Most meals included (see itinerary)

Lodging: 5 nights lodging

Start/End: Asheville, North Carolina

Hours: Mon-Fri 8am to 4pm Mountain Time


*trip difficulty ratings

Physical Requirements
All participants must be in good physical condition and have the ability to hike with a daypack.

Group Size
We keep groups small to maximize your one on one time with the guide / instructor.

We will be staying at cozy lodges throughout the Smoky Mountains.

All meals are included during the trip dates and we typically eat at park lodges in the evening as well as a hand picked local restaurants. We often do snacks on the trail and then return for a late breakfast during photography trips as we are often out early to capture the morning light.

Expect warm pleasant days with cold misty mornings and frigid nights. The weather can prove unpredictable in the Smokies and can change on a moments notice. Remember some of the best photographs are made before, during and immediately after a storm cycle. There is no such thing as bad weather just poor layering and gear choices – please plan accordingly! For more info on what to bring please email or call us.

Price Includes
Meals, ground transportation, accommodation during the trip dates, professional photography instruction, medically certified wilderness guide.

Price Does Not Include
Airfare, alcoholic beverages, accommodations before or after the trip dates, guide & staff gratuities

Travel Details
Departure city is Asheville, North Carolina

Please note: We are excited to offer both a standard and “hiker” version of this trip for photographers who like to get out and hike! Not sure which one suits you best? Give us a call at 928-478-1521 or fill out the contact form below!

Most meals included – (B,L,D) denotes Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 1 (Travel Day) (D)

Arrive in Asheville, North Carolina tonight for an orientation and welcome dinner with the group.

Day 2 (B,L,D)

Our inn-based Great Smoky Mountains photography tour starts with a pre-dawn drive from Asheville to the East side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our hike today takes you to one of Smoky Mountain National Park’s most spectacular waterfalls and compliments it with amazing high-country views. Along our hike we will pass through diverse old growth forests and ecosystems, with opportunities to see wildlife such as black bears, deer and elk. Our trail passes literally beneath Grotto Falls (the only waterfall in the Park that you can walk behind). After the falls, we’ll continue to the top of Brushy Mountain, where we’ll soak up views of Mount Guyot, Charlies Bunion, Mount Chapman, Mount Sequoyah and a lot more. Mount LeConte, where the lodge with the same name sits high on its mountain perch, will dominate our view south. This evening we will work on compositions from one of the high vantages in the park and then return to Gatlinburg in the evening.

Day 3 (B,L,D)

Once again, we’ll be up early to catch the sunrise on the Great Smoky Mountain divide. Our morning session will be from Newfound Gap. It was here that Roosevelt dedicated the Park with a speech in 1940. Today’s hike takes us along the famous Appalachian Trail to Charlies Bunion, one of the Park’s most celebrated rock formations. Fantastic views of the endless rolling ridges of the Smokies abound on today’s hike. We’ll enjoy a picnic lunch with the incredible views as our backdrop before hiking back to the trailhead.

On our way to tonight’s lodging we’ll spend some time photographing Clingman’s Dome (the highest peak in the Park at 6,643 feet) and Oconoluftee Valley which is usually a fantastic place to Photograph Elk.

Day 4 (B,L,D)

We’ll hit the trail early – our goal being the quiet, yet beautiful Cades Cove side of the park. We’ll spend the morning photographing the changing leaves and gorgeous Autumn colors of the Smoky Mountains in historic Cades Cove. After shooting we’ll have a picnic breakfast in the Cades Cove picnic area. This area has excellent opportunities for wildlife so we’ll keep an eye out for some of the Park’s many types of wildlife (black bear, deer, elk, turkeys, and more).

Today’s official hike is a forested creek-side hike to a stunning waterfall that is arguably the Smokies’ most scenic hike. We’ll keep an eye out for otters as we make our way along the creek, eventually arriving at the most voluminous waterfall in the Park. We’ll relax for a picnic lunch on a beach in clear view of the torrent of water spilling over a sandstone cliff. We’ll spend ample time photographing this waterfall and eventually hike back to the trailhead. A short shuttle ride to our hotel, a tasty Southern dinner and a cozy night’s sleep top off another rewarding day of Smoky Mountains exploration.

 Day 5 (B,L,D)

Our photograph session this morning will be along a beautiful creek, surrounded by colorful, mist-clad mountains. We’ll spend the morning photographing waterfalls during our hike. Today’s hike is one of the most diverse and in many ways fulfilling as we dive into enjoying all the Smokies’ has to offer! Our hike takes us past stunning cascades, through forests bursting with an incredible array of plant and animal life, and along charming mountain creeks. Tonight’s dinner – an outdoor evening picnic dinner prepared by your guide – is enjoyed in the stunning Cade’s Cove area after a refreshing shower and a bit of down time at our hotel. We’ll spend time photographing the Cade’s Cove area during dinner.

Day 6 (B,L)

The final day of our Appalachian Experience brings us to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Our final morning of photography in the Smokes will be from one of the most breathtaking vantage points in the park as we photograph the surrounding Smoky Mountains at dawn from an excellent vantage point.

After our hike we’ll settle in for a short, scenic shuttle back to Asheville, giving us time to contemplate the natural beauty, invigorating hiking, phenomenal biodiversity, and fascinating history we’ve had the privilege to explore for the past 5 days. We will arrive back in Asheville by 2 pm.

Please note that the exact sequence of the itineraries on all photography trips will be based on weather and lighting conditions. The goal on these trips is to make sure we are at the right place at the right time for the perfect light on our subjects. Also, itineraries can change for a variety of other circumstances including floods, forest fires, national park closures, road closures and more. Due to the nature of wildlife and nature photography we do not guarantee any specific sightings or specific compositions regarding wildlife or natural phenomena. 

“Russ runs an incredible workshop in the Smokies. Safety is evident and paramount in the operation but it is also fun and informative. You will learn a lot about shooting the fall colors down here by traveling with Backcountry Journeys. The scenery is mind blowing this time of year and you stay at some really cool properties during the trip. A full immersion in Appalachian Mountain Country!”

Other Recommended Trips

Yosemite Fall Colors

Colorado Fall Colors

Yellowstone & Grand Teton in Autumn