Backyard the Beautiful
I've recently been listening to Matt Payne's new podcast called "F-Stop Collaborate and Listen" where he interviews the most talented and thoughtful photographers he can contact. One episode in particular grabbed me and brought me back down to earth in a way I was not expecting. He was interviewing Zachary Bright, a phenomenal photographer from Ohio. Zach mentioned, and was very passionate about, the fact that beauty, uniqueness, and originality is everywhere. Although Ohio is not typically at the top of many landscape photography bucket lists, he has managed to build a very impressive portfolio comprised of beautiful landscape photos with over half coming from his home state of Ohio.
I say that to say this: while we all may dream of spending our lives traveling in a VW bus around the western United States or where have you, there is an impressive amount of natural beauty to be explored right here in our own backyard. It sure is healthy to have travel aspirations for traveling; I have plenty of that myself. But, let's all take a little bit to be thankful for the natural playground we've got right here within an hour in nearly any direction. So, let me show you a few of my favorite locations for both photography and hiking right here in our beautiful state of Tennessee.
Just a short drive from downtown Chattanooga is a spectacular vantage point for sunrise positioned perfectly in the middle of a horseshoe bend in the Tennessee River Gorge. Go in the summer and you'll see the sun rise in the middle of the scene. Go in the cooler parts of the year...well just make sure there's a hot beverage involved. Whenever you decide to go, you will not be disappointed. Afterwards, head a little further down the road to check out the old tree farm on the right (can't miss those rows).
Savage Gulf State Natural Area
Whether you make the short 1 mile walk to see the Great Stone Door, or make an entire day out of it and do one of the many loops possible in Savage Gulf, you can't go wrong. Get there early and you might get to see a fiery sunrise like I was lucky enough to witness last year, or take your climbing gear and go to town on the fantastic rock for which our area is known. Whether you're looking for waterfalls, sunrises, or a solid day at the crag, Savage Gulf is sure to exceed expectations.
Can't leave out the big city can we?! What you're seeing here is my artistic representation of the Chattanooga Riverfront area. It's an awesome place to spend an evening, whether you're taking pictures or out on the water having some SUP fun.
Having lived on Signal Mountain my entire life, this one has to be included in any list I create. Nestled down in the Middle Creek Gorge is Rainbow Lake, a popular hiking destination for round about a century. Make sure you check out the Bee Branch Loop as well!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
And now for the obvious choice...our beloved Smokies. GSMNP is, by far, the most visited national park in the United States. Being within a day's drive of over 60% of the population doesn't hurt, but it is dang pretty as well. Make sure you get your tourist fix by driving the Cades Cove Loop. Once you've got that out of your system and if you feel confident about your physical condition, embark on any of the 900 miles of trails in the park. Everything from roadside quiet walkways to 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail are up for grabs. Those who enjoy more chilled out days in the woods will enjoy Porter's Flat and the Walker Sisters' Cabins for some history and streams. Those looking for a challenge will delight in taking on the climbs up Mt. LeConte, Rocky Top, Mt. Sterling, and Mt. Cammerer (and many more). No matter what you decide to do, there's something for everyone in the most visited and most biodiverse park in the country. Truly a gem and truly a blessing to have it in our own state.
Elijah Bankhead is a Modern Day Tennessee Explorer from Signal Mountain