A few weeks ago, I spent a several days exploring and photographing Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. I had been to the park before a long time ago, but that visit was just a quick stop during a trip to the Northeast. I have been meaning to properly visit the park for a few years and going there during spring seemed like a perfect time as I expected the park to be lush and green, the wildflowers to be in bloom and the park’s many streams and waterfalls to be in full flow. A few weeks before leaving, I reserved a few nights at the Big Meadows Campground and started looking into places to go in the park.
The departure date for my trip unfortunately coincided with the gas shortage resulting from panic buying in the wake of the cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline. Unsure of how easily I would be able to find gas along the way as well as in or around the park, I briefly considered not going. After some consideration, I decided not to let uncertainty ruin my trip and left as planned. I took extra caution while driving, though, stopping every hundred miles to top off my gas tank. The plan worked well until I got close to the park, where I could not find any fuel at all. Still, by the time I arrived at Big Meadows, I had more than a half tank of gas. That ended up being enough to get by over the next several days as the gas supply began to improve.
Shenandoah is a long and narrow park positioned atop the crest of the Blue Ridge. The magnificent Skyline Drive spans the entire length of the park, running north to south for 105 miles. Shenandoah National Park was created in 1935 as automobile ownership and travel was becoming more popular, and the park was expressly designed to be enjoyed by car. There are dozens of scenic overlooks along the road, accessible by convenient pullouts situated on both sides of the road seemingly every few hundred yards. Due to the orientation of the park road, the majority of overlooks face east or west, making them ideal for viewing (and photographing) sunrise and sunset.
Although Shenandoah is centered around Skyline Drive, it also rewards exploration on foot. There are many hiking trails within the park, including the Appalachian Trail, which runs the entire length of the park and follows the same crest as Skyline Drive. Other trails of varying length and difficulty often lead to summits with scenic views or waterfalls.
I spent three days in Shenandoah, which was enough time to leisurely explore all of Skyline Drive, stop at many of the overlooks and hike a few trails. My days consisted of waking up early to photograph sunrise from one of the overlooks, spending the daylight hours scouting new locations and exploring the park, and then hiking or driving to another scenic overlook to photograph during sunset. Since the sun rises around 6:00 a.m. and sets after 8:00 p.m. during May, this schedule made for very long days, especially factoring in driving times to and from my campsite. The ease of getting around the park, abundant roadside overlooks and the short length of hikes to even more scenic views, however, make it easy to shoot multiple locations in a single day. The beauty and convenience of Shenandoah make it a wonderful and rewarding place for landscape photography.