Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
© Tony Barber/Getty Image
The top of Tennessee. Nature Photography Day
If you're celebrating Nature Photography Day today, then Great Smoky Mountains National Park would be an excellent place to snap your own shots of sylvan splendor like this one. That's because you'd have two reasons to celebrate—the park turns 88 today. These misty peaks and valleys along the border between Tennessee and North Carolina were established as a national park on this day in 1934. All these years later, it may not be the most famous national park in the US, but it is by far the most popular. With more than 14 million visitors per year, it draws more people than the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite combined.
True to its name, the park is known for its persistent haze. Native Americans–the region is the ancestral home of the Cherokee people–gave the place a name that translates to 'place of the blue smoke.' The smoke is actually a fog created in part by the native vegetation. It owes its blueish appearance to humidity and stagnant air. Almost all of the park is covered in deciduous and coniferous forest, a third of it old-growth trees that predate European settlement. The thick forests, range of elevations, and abundant rainfall support a stunning variety of wildlife. There are so many black bears that about two live in every square mile of the park. Bats, foxes, skunks, otters, bobcats, and 200 species of birds also call this place home. The park is most notable for its salamanders. In fact, it's known as the Salamander Capital of the World, with 30 species living here.
But the real stars of the park are the mountains. For panoramic vistas, this vantage point—Clingmans Dome on the Tennessee side of the park—is hard to beat. At 6,643 feet, it's also the highest point in the state. To take your own version of this shot, you don't even have to hike. Simply drive to the parking lot. But after you've got your pics, keep the camera handy. If the parking lot looks this good, imagine what photos you can take in the rest of the park.