For Day 2 of our Fall Photo Excursion, we headed out to Mingo Falls, Soco Falls and also drove on the Parkway and into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
Our morning started off with a bang as we headed down our mountain and out to the main road. While passing some corn fields, we saw this:
Some of you looking at these might think we “saturated” or enhanced the photos. You have my word we didn’t. This is exactly what the sky looked like for about 5 minutes this morning. The only edit to my photo (the second one) was that I cropped it a bit to focus on the sky and not the dark corn field.
Beautiful way to start the day!
We started our morning off with a hearty breakfast at The Maggie Valley Restaurant. Funny we’ve lived in the Maggie Valley area for more than 5 years, and have never eaten there. We were impressed. Great breakfast, and we left really full! Definitely a place we would recommend if you’re in the Maggie area.
We decided to hit Mingo Falls in Cherokee first, so we caught the Parkway in Maggie, and headed towards Cherokee. The weather was much better today, than our trip yesterday. We stopped at a few overlooks and took a few pictures. On the Maggie side of the parkway though, the elevation is a little lower, and many of the trees area still pretty green, and just now starting to turn.
We didn’t stop and take a lot of “view” pictures, as they all pretty much looked like this one. We took the Parkway, as it slowly descended and arrived in Cherokee 20 minutes or so later. The drive was just gorgeous with the sun coming up and many of the leaves along the parkway were really showing some yellows and oranges.
Mingo Falls is located off of Big Cove Road in Cherokee, NC. We came off the Parkway and turned left onto 441. Drove to the next stoplight right there in Cherokee, turned left, and then took and almost immediate left onto Big Cove Road. The turn for Mingo Falls is a few miles down the road, just watch for the small sign near a campground that says “Mingo falls”. As soon as you turn right at the sign, you’ll see the parking lot and the stairs up to the falls directly in front of you.
We did have a little excitement just after turning onto Big Cove Road, two Elk (females) were crossing the road right in front of us. I slowed down to let them cross, and just as I started to go, Jenn yells “WAIT!”. I look to my right, and there is another cow (female elk) and right behind her, a small bull. They were right next to our car, and I thought the bull was going to run into the side of my truck, but they both went around in front. Guess they were crossing the road to get over to the Oconaluftee River.
We couldn’t get our cameras out fast enough for a good shot, but here’s a photo of the young bull going into the woods after crossing in front of us:
We’ve been to Cataloochee many times, but that was the closest we’ve ever been to Elk. They were literally right in front of the hood of my truck! Beautiful and BIG animals. Jenn and I had been hoping to see some wildlife this week. Now, if we can just see a bear…
We arrived and parked at Mingo falls, and immediately saw the 150 stairs up. Jenn looks at me and says “A few stairs huh?” I snickered. We grabbed our photo gear and started up. We were a little winded at the top, but not too bad. I promise, the falls are worth the stairs.
At the top of the falls is a small bench to rest on, and Mingo falls is just a little down from that at the end of a short, but rocky path. The path leads to a bridge that gives you a fantastic view of the falls. We stayed for almost 40 minutes admiring the falls and taking pictures. About 5-10 other people were there with us, many of them photographers.
Here’s some of the better photos we captured:
Along the trail to Mingo falls are numerous smaller falls, that can make for some great photos. Here’s one example:
Mingo Falls is definitely worth a visit. The falls are gorgeous, as is the surrounding area. If you are a photographer, be aware that when taking time lapse photos, the bridge moves as people walk on it. So be patient, and take lots of photos in case you get a little movement in yours. I ended up deleting about 1/2 of mine due to motion from people walking.
While in Cherokee, we decided to drive up 441 a bit to see how the colors in the Park were coming and see if any additional areas had been opened since our last update. All areas off of 441 area still closed, but the Newfound Gap overlook is now open. I did notice that the electronic sign at the entrance to the park now says “No OVERNIGHT parking next 35 miles” instead of “No Parking” as it did before. I guess that means you are welcome to park along the road and take pictures, you just can’t park overnight.
The colors, especially at the higher elevations are at or very near peak. As we approached Clingman’s dome road and Newfound Gap overlook, the views and colors were breathtaking. Lots of yellows and bright oranges. The next two weekends should be really gorgeous. I was sad to see Clingman’s dome road closed. We always enjoy the drive and climb up to the top :-(.
Now for the bad news – the park is packed…and I mean packed. We had trouble even getting into overlooks and the number of people standing around taking photos was shocking. We tried to get into a few, but honestly were very afraid of getting hit by other cars. So we skipped taking any photos and just drove back out and headed back towards Maggie Valley to visit Soco falls. To give you some idea on traffic, we had car after car in front of us as far as we could see and behind us as well.
We’re going to try to leave early tomorrow morning and head straight over there to not only get the better morning light, but also to avoid the tourists and try to get some pictures for you.
We caught the beginning of The Blue Ridge Parkway there in Cherokee, and headed back to Maggie Valley. We got off at route 19 exit and headed to Cherokee. Soco falls is no more than a mile or two from the Parkway. Just watch for the small signs, and the pull over located on the left if you’re heading towards Cherokee on 19 from Maggie Valley.
We hadn’t been to Soco in a while, and noticed some changes. A chainlink fence is now up, that forces you to follow the trail (a good thing). A really nice wooden deck overlook has been built that gives you a decent view of the falls without having to climb up or down any steep embankments (another good thing).
While the view from the deck is really good, the best view of the falls for serious photographers is from the bottom of the falls. Unfortunately, that isn’t an easy climb up or down. Some kind climber was kind enough to leave rope and loop grabs to help you make it down without seriously injuring yourself. Jenn and I slowly climbed down. The first part wasn’t bad, but the climb down to the very bottom was pretty tough, at least for this old guy.
We really like Soco falls, although it would be nice if it was a little more easily accessible. Soco falls is really two falls in one, as you get two separate creeks falling next to each other. The mist from the falls is cool and crisp.
We made it though, and came away with some great photos of Soco Falls:
With the sun high in the sky, and making it difficult to get any good photos, we wrapped up Day 2 of our Photo Excursion. We had to get back and pick up our kids from school anyway.
Overall a really great day, and for me (Lar), there really isn’t anything better than the combination of a beautiful water and fall colors.
We had planned to head out to Big Creek in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park tomorrow, but with the Government Shutdown and associated National Park closures, Big Creek is closed. To be honest, that really irritates me as we had been planning all summer to visit the area in the fall! *sigh*
So, instead, we decided to try to beat the crowd, and catch the exceptional morning sunlight in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park instead. If we have time, we’ll also head back towards Graveyard fields on the Blue Ridge Parkway and try to get some “less cloudy” photos.
We had a blast today on Day 2 of our Fall Photo Excursion, and we sincerely hope you enjoyed following along with us as well!