By Michael Lanza
In the last couple hours of a recent 34-mile backpacking trip through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I was walking along Noland Creek when I saw yet another captivating scene of tumbling water, rocks, and fallen leaves. I stopped, set up my camera on my tripod, and captured the image above. I was hiking a loop on the North Carolina side that took me from lower elevations near Fontana Lake up to the park’s crest, traversing a stretch of the Appalachian Trail over 6,643-foot Clingmans Dome and the park’s highest bald, 5,920-foot Andrews Bald, where I enjoyed classic Great Smokies views of an ocean of blue ridges.
But well before I reached Noland Creek, I had already come to understand that these rounded, ancient mountains hold many of their best secrets below the treetops, in the cascade-rich streams that plunge energetically down through some of the most diverse forest found anywhere in America.