This month’s Instagram Takeover features Tennessee-based photographer and explorer Kristi Parsons. One look at Kristi’s feed and you’ll find yourself longing for a visit to the mountains of eastern Tennessee. Her speciality is capturing the beauty of her home mountain range, the Great Smokies in Tennessee, but she’s constantly exploring the nooks and crannies of the North Carolina side of that range as well. Check out a few of her favorite photos below, stay up to date with her adventures here, and read our Q and A with Kristi at the bottom of this post.
This recent shot comes from Hemphill Bald. I’ve done both sides of Hemphill, both the Hemphill Bald Loop at the Purchase Knob to Swag hike. I loved this shot because earlier in that week, I had been all over Lexington, KY (Horse Capital Of The World) trying to snag the perfect shot of a horse for a project that I’m working on, then, that following Sunday, I went to my mountains to soak up the day and walked upon this capture. I’m pretty certain that it was just proof of where I belong. This shot comes from a portion of the Appalachian Trail on Roan Mountain, on the way to Grassy Ridge Bald. It had absolutely monsooned on us that day, but when we came back down the fog and the sun made the already magical looking forest even more enchanting. I couldn’t pass up a shot. Max Patch is my old nemesis, and this will always be one of my favorite shots from there. After experiencing tundra-like conditions there on New Years Eve Day morning along constant fogged in visits and a midnight storm that brought 40 mph wind gusts and lightning, she finally decided to show me her beauty.
Forney Ridge Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the trail that will also take you to Andrews Bald. I love trail shots because to me the trails hold thousands of memories and stories. They absorb not only the rain but also our stress, thoughts, frustrations, worries, and sadness.
BRO: How long have you been exploring the Smokies?
KP: I grew up in East Tennessee, so I’ve visited the Smokies my entire life. However, they’ve become a constant part of my life over the past year and a half. I returned to them after a very traumatic time in my life and found indescribable peace and positivity in them. There will never be a time again that I don’t think of them as home and make time to roam their hills.
BRO: When did you start capturing the beauty of these mountains in photographs?
KP: Just after returning to the trails and truly experiencing their magic, I decided that I had to find a way to encourage others to experience it as well. That was my reason for beginning to photograph my adventures and write about them. For the past year and half, I’ve shared my discoveries on social media in hopes of inspiring others to go outside and play as well.
BRO: Other than photography, what’s your favorite way to get out and explore the mountains of East Tennessee?
KP: I’m a nature nerd in every way possible. If it’s outdoors, I’m happy. I love hiking, camping, backpacking or just exploring the forest for hours to find all the things that many others seem to overlook.
BRO: Where do you go when you’re not exploring the Smokies? Got any other favorite haunts in the Southern Appalachians?
KP: One of the things I love about living in Knoxville is that I’m 2 hours from amazing places in every direction. From the waterfalls of Middle Tennessee to Western North Carolina, Northeast TN, Chattanooga and North Georgia and the corners of Kentucky and Virginia. I’m absolutely in love with Western North Carolina, Roan Highlands and Grayson Highlands. Those are definitely 3 of my top favorite spots to explore outside of the Smokies.
BRO: What are your five favorite trails in the Smokies?
1. Any trail in the Tremont section of the park, it’s all just gorgeous. Lush, green, filled with waterfalls and tranquility.
2. Charlie’s Bunion. It has it all: The AT, red squirrels, insane views.
3. Alum Cave to LeConte. It was my first trail to LeConte. Gorgeous views, fantastic rock features and of course Mount LeConte at the top.
4. Rainbow Falls, but only crazy early in the morning to beat the crowd. It’s just perfect, regardless of if you’re going to summit LeConte or just getting in a quick hike to the falls.
5. Trillium Gap. Again, a beautiful trail that will take you to Mount LeConte. Trillium also features the only waterfall in the park where the trail actually takes you behind the waterfall. And of course, it’s the trail of the LeConte Llama train. Who doesn’t love seeing llamas on a hike?
BRO: Tell us about the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you while out in the field.
KP: Thankfully, nothing too insane yet, however, as i mentioned before, Max Patch is my nemesis! From tundra like conditions and freezing fog on New Years Day morning to being blown off the top at midnight on my birthday by 40mph wind gusts and distant lightning to multiple fogged in visits. She’s my nemesis but sure is beautiful when she’s happy!