Photographing Elk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Where, When and Why

Bull elk bugling during rut
Bull elk bugling during rut

Story & photos by Tom Croce

As a nature photographer, one of my favorite things is showing someone a picture of a beautiful elk bull, and then asking them where it was taken. They usually guess the Rocky Mountains or somewhere out west. It’s fun to see their expression when I tell them no, it was taken in North Carolina!

Perhaps one of the most important things we do as nature photographers is educate and help bring awareness to the plight of animals in the wild. Equally important is highlighting the programs where thoughtful, patient intervention has helped ensure that these wild places remain wild for future generations. One such program is the United States National Park Service’s reintroduction of the majestic elk to the Great Smoky Mountains. That’s the why. But where are the best places to photograph elk and when are the best times?

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Getting Off the Main Road: The South Dakota Badlands

Storms move across the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands.
Storms move across the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands.

Story & photos by Tom Croce

Typically when I mention the Badlands of South Dakota, the National Park is the first place that’s comes to mind. That’s quickly followed by a comment that goes something like “I drove through there once.” But the term Badlands has a geological definition that extends far beyond the park boundaries. The Badlands National Park and surrounding Buffalo Gap National Grasslands cover approximately 925 square miles and make up the largest protected mixed grassland prairie in the United States. Although it would take a lifetime to explore all of this vast area, it if definitely worth getting off the main road to exploring some of the more remote areas of the Badlands National Parks South Unit, the surrounding Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, and some of the surrounding small towns.

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