Staggering cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and single-lane roads are what make Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park a gold mine for photography. From north to south, there are hundreds of striking overlooks and gratifying hikes to explore along the infamous Skyline Drive. Whether you are an Instagram enthusiast or an experienced travel photographer looking for the best shot, this is everything you need to know about photographing Shenandoah.
Interested in finding wildlife on your photography adventure in Shenandoah national park? Check out this piece on searching for bears in Shenandoah! Never been to a national park before? Read our first-timer’s guide. New to photography? Here are the basics.
Where to go: From North to South
A good photographer is always willing to scramble for the perfect shot, perhaps literally in this case. Scaling a “rock scramble” at an elevation of 4,000 ft is what it takes to reach the summit of Stony Man Mountain, but the view is completely worth it. Make sure to keep your camera gear safely tucked away in your bag, away from sharp edges and corners. After slipping through crevices and avoiding precarious edges for 3 miles, you can finally stand on a flat surface with two feet. Pull out your camera and start shooting. The picturesque peak boasts a gorgeous 360° view of Virginia. Of course, the best (and busiest) time to visit is during fall, when the leaves are at peak color. The foliage creates a wonderland of rich reds, oranges, and yellows that make for a great photo op.
Divided into upper and lower sections, Doyle’s River Falls is a can’t miss attraction for photographers. A scenic, moderate 4-mile round trip hike will take you to see both falls, which are less than a mile away from each other. An effective way to photograph waterfalls is to shoot from a low angle, which means getting a little wet. A well-prepared photographer should wear waterproof hiking boots to avoid the classic wet-sock mishap. Make sure to also bring your tripod and shoot with a slow shutter speed. Arrive at sunrise or sunset during low light for the best results.
It would be an understatement to say that Humpback Rock is popular in Shenandoah. After gaining significant traction on social media, Humpback has become a crowd favorite, and for good reason. Though you should avoid weekends at all costs and prepare to get your cardio in, the hike is quite a breeze. There are two trails: a long trek with a gradual incline, and a shortcut with a steep incline. Either way, the view at the peak is stunning. Often hikers will bring lunch to have a picnic at the top and enjoy the view–and of course, snap a few photos as well.
Noted as an easy and convenient stop, Falling Spring Falls is a must see in Shenandoah National Park. The 80- foot falls is located right off the road, making it a quick 1- minute walk from the parking area. Photographers come prepared; there is only one viewpoint of the falls, and it is a good distance away, so a wide- angle lens won’t work. Instead, opt for a mid- range zoom lens, like a 24-70mm. Also, the adjacent mountain can create funky shadows in the late afternoon, so it’s best to check out the falls in the late morning/early afternoon. This old mining site-turned-waterfall is the perfect pit stop to get a quick snap for the ‘Gram.
The 215-foot natural phenomenon known as Natural Bridge is located at the southernmost point of Shenandoah National Park. The organic limestone formation sits amid a gorge and spans 90 feet across Cedar Creek. Although Natural Bridge is the main attraction, visitors can spend hours exploring other trails and parts of the park. $8 per person for that view seems like a good deal. Pro tip: for the best light, arrive 30-45 minutes before sunset to allow plenty of time to get the shot.
- When photographing water, use a tripod + slow shutter speed for a smoothing effect.
- Sunrise and sunset offer the best light; give yourself plenty of time.
- Bring at least two different lenses, because you never know what the moment will call for.
- Tall landscapes (like mountains and waterfalls) require a wide-angle lens.
- Bring backup batteries and memory cards.
- Use a UV lens filter for darker, richer colors.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment! Try different angles, frames, or a low aperture setting to set the focus of the picture.
- Get uncomfortable. No great photograph was ever made from sleeping in. Catch the sunrise, scale the cliff, get dirty. The best way to stand out as a photographer is to find a unique frame. If you prioritize one practice as a photographer, let it be to ‘stretching yourself.’