Josh Letchworth is a Florida-based photographer for some of the top outdoor brands in the world, and he also happens to be one of our brand ambassadors. We recently caught up with him after he and his wife took a road trip from Central Florida to the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina to catch some fall foliage and unwind in nature.
In this exclusive Q&A, we dive into some details of Josh's journey and share a few of the frames he was able to shoot along the way. Prepare to be transported to the Smoky Mountains to see that part of the world through Letchworth's eye.
Planning and Prep for the Trip
What inspired you to take this road trip from Florida to the Smoky Mountains?
(JL) Well, we’ve always loved North Carolina. It's still the South, we have family roots there, and obviously it has more altitude than Florida. And the Appalachia vibe is like no other.
It's an interesting story about this trip… We had plans to be in New York City for our 24th anniversary. We had tickets to see our favorite band, flights booked, and ready to roll. We just didn’t nail down a place to stay, and when we started looking, we realized there was an Airbnb moratorium in the city, and it made hotel prices spike. It was ridiculous. It was beginning to sound a bit more stressful than fun, so we did what we love doing… spontaneously just changed it up 8 hours before our flight. I canceled it all, jumped in the van, and we headed for the mountains. Best choice we ever made.
How did you prepare for the trip, especially for fall camping?
(JL) We finally got to dust off some of those flannels and beanies that we don't use in Florida very often. We don't have a heater in the van, so we bring extra blankets and lots of firewood.
What were the must-have items you packed in your Sprinter van?
(JL) Essential items included camping chairs, a bucket footrest, a camera, firewood, a Blackstone griddle, simple meals, road snacks, and a bottle of Woodford Reserve.
The Journey to North Carolina
Can you describe the route you took and why you chose it?
(JL) We prefer scenic backroads for a more relaxed driving experience - it's much more pleasant to cruise at 45mph on a two-lane road. Our journey included a stopover at Dreher Island State Park in South Carolina, about 6 hours from our home in Florida and 3 hours from the mountains in North Carolina.
Do you use any navigation tools or apps for planning your road trip?
(JL) I will do a little Google Maps and check HipCamp and The Dyrt. We really like to plan in the moment - it's super fun. So we will get to a zone and then just search for some camping ideas around there. The most important part is trusting that it will work exactly how it should. I've found that too much planning can lead to unmet expectations.
Is it your first time road-tripping to the Smoky Mountains in your van?
(JL) No, we’ve made several trips up there, and we love it. We even dream of owning land there in the near future.
What are your must-have road trip snacks?
(JL) Kinda random… apples, pork rinds, and I love pub cheese, haha. Dana makes fantastic sandwiches. We love just having everything we need in the van. It's so nice.
Did you have any favorite stops or detours along the way?
(JL) We only had one plan for going up there. Our son Max is moving to Flat Rock, NC, to start school in January. So we detoured through that city to look around some homes for rent. I wanted to feel out the area and report back to him. It's an exciting time for him, and we were happy to do some scouting for him.
Experiencing the Smoky Mountains
What did you do while camping in the Smoky Mountains?
(JL) A lot of relaxing. We wanted to get into quieter parts of the backcountry that were forest road accessible. We love finding a peaceful spot, pulling over, and setting up some chairs. The fall colors were at their peak, so it was epic. We did a little hiking, got up and watched some sunrises, found a herd of Elk, and, of course, I had to do a cold plunge in every river I found.
How did you capture the beauty of fall in your photographs?
(JL) I recently picked up a Fuji XT4. It's a great little camera, super simple, lightweight, and quality lens and sensor. That's the exact reason I got the camera for trips like this. It worked out perfectly.
Is there any area of the Smoky Mountains you'd like to explore next time?
(JL) Yes, for sure. Each time we go up there, we try to explore a new area. We are slowly working our way North. We aim to explore Jefferson County, located just south of the Virginia border, on our next visit—so many beautiful spots in the Smokies.
What was the most memorable moment of the trip for you and your wife?
(JL) The last morning, we got up and watched the sunrise over the Blue Ridge mountains. That was epic. We just sat on top of blankets and watched the world wake up. It capped off the trip for us and was the reminder of why we make trips like this together… it's all about getting quality time together, experiencing peace in nature, and coming home refreshed and grateful.
Any tips for those planning a similar road trip to the Smoky Mountains?
(JL) It's a reasonably easy place to get around because the Blue Ridge Parkway runs right through the middle of it, a scenic two-lane road, and a great place to start. It can get a little busy, so if you’re tired of traffic, pick a small forest road and see where it goes— we've found lots of great camping options that way. There are a handful of “official” National Park campgrounds that book up pretty fast—decent availability on the weekdays, but a little slim on weekends. But don’t give up. We found spots everywhere we wanted, and we were there during peak season on a weekend. Just trust, be open-minded, and be flexible. It will work out. It's all beautiful, so whatever experience you have will be the right one. And there seemed to be plenty of primitive camp areas as well that were first come, first serve for van camping. Be kind, be courteous, slow down, and take a deep breath; no need to hurry... You’re right where you wanted to be.
Where can people connect with you online?