Hello everyone,

First I want to say thank you for reading my blog. I have so many views and subscribers. I am thrilled. Creating a blog has allowed me to document my cross country trip. How cool will it be to look back at the end of my travels? It has also helped me push my photography to the next level. I’m no pro but I am getting more confident in my photos everyday. Every photo is captured with a Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 Lens or Rokinon 14mm f/2.8. The 50mm is on my A7S 90% of the time. Having only a prime lens requires me to get creative with every shot.

After staying the night urban truck camping in a downtown Asheville, NC parking garage I arrived in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was a freezing cold morning and the night before ended up being the coldest night so far. My truck windows were iced over and I was frozen too. I didn’t realize I parked in such a cool spot until the morning. Overall I had a peaceful night minus sirens and train horns.


Heading into GSMNP from the south allowed for some great views from the Blueridge Parkway. I entered through the Cherokee Indian Reservation from the east. I was greeted by park elk at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. They had blocked traffic and it looked like a Kanye West LA spotting with all the paparazzi taking pictures.


I traveled inward towards the Sugarland Visitor Center on newfound gap road. The scenic views on this stretch were incredible. I climbed more than 5000′ to have some of the best views of the park. The sun creeped out from behind the clouds and I quickly lost all my layers. I made coffee at the Newfound Gap and enjoyed the views.

I stopped at the Sugarland Visitor Center were park rangers told me a few camping options and hiking trails nearby. I learned the park has more biodiversity than any other place in than all of Northern Europe. After being threatened from logging in the early 1900s GSMNP became the first National Park assembled from private land.

I turned right out of the visitor center and continued on the little river road that turns into laurel creek road and eventually hit Cades Cove Campground. The drive along the river was one of my favorites yet. The road winds with the river and feels as if it was naturally there. I enjoyed this drive so much I decided to exit the park the next morning from this same route.


Cades Cove Campground had 4 trailers, a rv, a popup camper, and a lone tent camper. I paid my $17 via honor system and made camp. I had a great clean sight with a few other campers nearby. The campground has no electricity or showers. It did have a nice restroom in the heart of the campground. I ate lunch and set off for my first long hike of the trip.

I decided to choose a hike that I could walk to the trailhead from camp. I set off with my pack, camera and clothing layers for the unpredictable weather. I walked 1 mile to the trail head and started up Rich Mountain. This was really the first time I had been alone in the backcountry. Less than a mile into the hike I stumbled across a family of whitetail deer. They were just off the trail path and I was able to get very close. It is one thing to see deer from the road off in a field but to be within 10 yards of a huge buck really gets the adrenaline pumping. I snapped a few shots and continued up the mountain.A few more miles into the woods my nerves calmed. I knew I was the only person out here and the feeling of happiness overcame my entire body. I always thought I would be scared alone in the woods but the high I felt was like nothing else I have experienced. I am in love with the backcountry.

I climbed over 1080′ in 4 miles and made it to the peak. As soon as I made it to the top I let out a huge battle cry. It did not echo or last. The trees simply muted it out. Soon after I did that grey clouds came rushing over the peak. It laid a cool misty fog and I knew bad weather was following. I dropped my pack. Had some water and put on my hard shell rain jacket. I started the trek down and made great time. A quarter of the way down the skies opened up and the piles of leaves on the trail made for a tough hiking surface.


Trekking through the rain I noticed I didn’t have my sunglasses on my head anymore. I had no clue when I lost them or where they could’ve been. I looked through my pack and realized they were gone. I told myself a bear was going to find them and wear. I was okay with losing them but disappointed because they weren’t cheap. I made it to the same trail head I started at and right there on the forest floor my glasses were laying.

I arrived back at camp wet and exhausted. The rain continued to fall so I made dinner underneath my truck canopy. It was very peaceful. After dinner I took a drive through the famous Cades Cove loop. I saw more wildlife in that 11 mile stretch than I have in my entire life. The loop is lined with old cabins and churches from the people who lived here a long time ago.

It was dark when I pulled back into my camp site. I brushed my teeth and went to bed. It rained through the night but I had one of the best sleeps. I woke up early. I prepared oatmeal and instant coffee. I took the river road out of the road and stopped at every scenic pull off. I exited the park from the north and turned my cellphone back on when I hit Gatlinburg, TN. Ill be back GSMNP.

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John Putrino

PS: I just stayed the coolest airbnb in Nashville. I’m now off to Hotsprings NP. Yesterday I did Mammoth Cave NP and will post another blog when I get wifi. Thanks for reading.