Located in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Abrams Falls may be the most famous falls in the entire park. The water fall has more water flowing over it by volume than any other water fall in the GSMNP. It is also a dangerous waterfall for swimmers and people who get to close to the falls. You must respect the falls and not swim or put yourself in a position to fall in the water close to the falls. Death will occur. However, there is plenty of water to wade and possibly swim in around the waterfall that is safe (but really cold) and the waterfall is beautiful.
The hike is 5.2 miles round trip and is half shaded and half sunny. Take plenty of water and some lunch. Pack out what you pack in. Arrive early to avoid the Cades Cove traffic. Plan to be parked by 9 am if possible at the trailhead in order to have a nice day. Expect a delay leaving the park because you get to join the crowds circling Cades Cove.
The hike is kid friendly and our at the time 6 year old son can attest to. You should be able to walk 8 miles without issue before considering this hike. It does have some elevation gain and the trail is rocky in some spots.
Waterall location: Trailhead is located in Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountain National Park. GPS Coordinates 35.591438' N 83.852988' W
Full frame recommended focal length: 16mm for right beside the water fall to 85mm away from the fall. Longer focal lengths are welcome as you will have plenty of space between you and the water fall.
Do's: Pack a hammock, lunch, and maybe your swim gear to wade in the water far away from the falls if you can stand the cold water. Have fun.
Don'ts: Do NOT get near the water falling into the lower pool. This waterfall has been listed as one of the ten most dangerous hikes in the entire United States. This is due to the number of drownings that occur at the falls. Once you go under, you stay under. Do not get too close to the falls and do not climb to the to top of the falls.
Spruce Flats Falls is located in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP) near the Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont, Townsend, Tennessee. Or "Tremont" as us locals refer to it. Finding Tremont Road sounds easy but be on the look out for the turn onto Tremont Road. If you are not paying attention you will end up in Cades Cove, aka, a parking lot that never ends.
The hike to Spruce Flats Falls is an easy hike but does gain elevation quick within the first half mile or so. It is a two mile round trip and the hike back is super easy and goes fast. Park across the road from the entrance to the Tremont office. You will walk up the hill toward the sleeping quarters and start your hike. It is well marked. Watch out along the way for rattlesnakes. I almost stepped on a four footer while instantly jumping in the air ten feet.
As hikes go, I would classify this one as one of the more easy hikes in the park. After all, my six year old son accomplished this hike without any issue. People tend to come and go at a leisurely pace. They don't show up and leave. A lot of people park it and enjoy the view. Walking downstream a small bit gives a great view of the falls. Earlier in the day the better would be my motto for this water fall. If you disagree with this by all means let me know.
I photographed the waterfall with my Sony a7ii and Sony 16-35/4 lens. I also used the Lee Filters 100mm Lee Big Stopper ND filter. The Lee Big Stopper was too powerful in my opinion. I would suggest using the Lee Filters Little Stopper.
Lee Big Stopper
The low amount of water you will encounter at the base of the falls makes little visible mist. Unless it has recently rained, mist should not be a concern. Once you set up your tripod and camera. Be patient and don't allow anyone to rush you. People are going to be in your shot. You are going to have to blend several exposures to get one without people in it. I want to encourage you once again to walk 100' down stream and get a nice shot of the Spruce Flats Falls with another small fall in the foreground. Will be totally worth it and is missed by many (including me!).
Waterall location: Townsend, Tennessee - GPS Coordinates 35°38'4" N 83°40'55" W
Full frame recommended focal length: 21mm or wider (18mm or wider may be wiser)
Do's: Pack a lunch (and pack out your trash) and make a nice stay at the falls. Be ready to take a really long exposure with normal photos. You will need to blend in at least one extra photo to get the people out. Everyone wants their photograph taken behind the falls. You will most likely need several photos to blend the people out. Look out for snakes along the path and at the falls. They like to sunbath on the rocks.
Don'ts: Sunscreen isn't a concern as the hike is mostly shaded. It is a crowded falls but downstream is less crowded and may provide some rest. Do not be in a hurry.
GPX File: I have attached my track log of the hike for you to use. I use Minimalist GPS Tracker on my iPhone to track my hikes and later geotag my photos in Adobe Lightroom.
Lee Big Stopper
Location: 35°38'3" N 83°40'53" W
Grotto Falls located in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP) in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The hike is uphill most of the way but is an easy 2.6 mile roundtrip hike to the falls. When you arrive, you see a 25 foot tall waterfall that you can walk behind! Very neat. Be sure not to stand in the flow of water coming off the falls as rocks and other debris routinely roll over the falls with the water. Don't risk a head injury over it.
Sony a7ii with Sony 16-35/4
Lee Big Stopper
This falls is located on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It is a one way loop and parking is sparse. Get there early or prepare to just park along the side of the road. The road seems more crowded than the trail.
This waterfall is well visited and easy to access from Gatlinburg so be prepared for a social hike as you will encounter many people coming, going, and at the falls. It will be so crowded when you arrive at the falls from everyone taking photos of their friends and families standing behind the falls. Consider taking a left down into the steam once the line backs up and find a place to park it.
I would encourage you to setup up against the small pool in front of the falls. Not in the pool but right up against the pool. You will understand it when you see it. Also prepare to setup down stream a little ways looking back. This makes for a nice photos as well. I would recommend a 16-21mm 35mm equivalent focal length. Further back you may want to be around the 35 -50mm focal length range. Shooting a photo to the left of the falls, to the left looking at the falls, would also make for a nice photo.
The space around the falls is crowded. People cycle in and out fairly quick so you won't have a problem finding a spot to drop your gear on the ground and have a nice lunch. I photographed the waterfall with my Sony a7ii and Sony 16-35/4 lens. I also used the Lee Filters 100mm Lee Big Stopper ND filter.
The low amount of water you will encounter at the base of the falls makes no visible mist. Unless it has recently rained, mist should not be a concern. Once you set up your tripod and camera. Be patient and don't allow anyone to rush you. Take many photos and several regular exposures so you can blend out the people when you get back home. Keep the camera low and experiment. You may have to watch kids swimming in the shallow pool of water at the base of the falls. They may splash around a bit but generally people are courteous to you shooting photos. Especially if you look like a pro-tog.
Waterall location: GPS Coordinates 35°40'26" N 83°26'58" W
Full frame recommended focal length: 18mm or wider
Do's: Pack a lunch (and pack out your trash) and make a nice stay at the falls. Be ready to take a really long exposure with normal photos. You will need to blend in at least one extra photo to get the people out. Everyone wants their photograph taken behind the falls. You will most likely need several photos to blend the people out.
Don'ts: Sunscreen isn't a concern as the hike is mostly shaded. You may or may not find use for your Enu. It is a crowded falls but downstream is less crowded and may provide some rest. Do not be in a hurry.