Shenandoah National Park, located a few hours west of Washington, D.C. in the Blue Ridge Mountains, is a treasure of incredible vistas stretching forever, mixed with more intimate scenery such as waterfalls, meadows, and rock formations. There's something for everyone in this park. There are hikes to various mountain peaks, waterfalls, and other natural features all over the park, including a section of the Appalachian Trail. Don't like hiking? Skyline Drive, a 105-mile long stretch on the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is one of the most scenic roads you'll ever see, with lots of scenic overlooks to pull into and take a break, enjoy the view, and take in the vastness of it all.
Trip Report: Shenandoah National Park
Me, I enjoy a mix of both. I love a good hike, especially one with lots of gorgeous scenery, maybe a waterfall or two, and a good view from the top of a mountain. Kristen Wilkinson and I arrived on Thursday evening, and headed straight into the park on Friday morning before dawn, having researched a few different sunrise locations. The lead image in this journal entry, Shenandoah Dream, was taken at Jewell Hollow Overlook, just as the sun crested the Blue Ridge Mountains on Friday morning. We originally photographed at another overlook, but after feeling like we did all we could with that view, decided to move on. It turns out the timing was perfect at Jewell Hollow. I hiked down the trail from the parking area a ways to get the angle I wanted. It took a little doing to try and find a spot that didn't have a tree obscuring what I wanted to photograph! But I did manage to find a spot. It took a little bushwhacking, but wasn't bad at all.
On Saturday morning, we decided to photograph Old Rag Mountain from Pinnacles Overlook (above).The sunrise was mostly clouded over, but there were some low hanging clouds and a little mist in the valley, so there was plenty of drama, if not color.
Saturday evening, we headed down to The Point Overlook, a bit further south near the Elkton entrance to the park. A short hike down the trail brought us to a rocky outcrop where we watched the sunset with a bunch of new friends. I love the way the mountains seem to continue on forever, layered on top of one another as they fade into the distance. The mist in the valleys seems to catch the light perfectly and add just enough separation between them. There is no shortage of these views in Shenandoah.
Blue Ridge Sunset, above, was also taken from The Point Overlook. The sun was setting fast and I noticed it dipping behind the mountains and quickly reached for my other camera and attached a telephoto zoom lens to zoom in on the sunset. It was happening fast and I didn't want to miss it! I didn't even think to check all the settings on my camera, but luckily, I had left them set from a previous shot I had taken with it and it was just how I needed it. It's amazing how quickly the sun moves when I'm not ready for it!
Did I mention Shenandoah has some waterfalls? On Friday afternoon we hiked down to Dark Hollow Falls. This is a beautiful set of falls, about ¾ of a mile from the trailhead. It's a fairly steep descent, which means coming back up is going to take a toll! I'll take a moment here to mention my least favorite feature of Shenandoah. Because Skyline Drive runs along the crest of the Blue Ridge, most of the hikes have you starting off heading downhill. That means that at some point you have to come back up again! Well worth it most cases, but something to consider when you're not as fit as an Olympic athlete.
Jones Run Falls is another waterfall that makes you work for it. The hike from the trailhead is about 1.7 miles each way, and the descent is about 1200 feet, so that means you have to climb 1200 feet- the equivalent of 120 flights of stairs! Good exercise, and well worth the view. Jones Run falls were flowing well, but I struggled to find a composition I was happy with to capture the entire waterfall, and much preferred the moss-covered rocks, so I took several smaller intimate photos at this location. The Canada Violets growing next to a small cascade seemed like the perfect photo!
Shenandoah National Park, and the surrounding valley, is absolutely stunning in its own way. It's well worth a visit. I'm glad I finally got back.