Locations: Springtime In Shenandoah National Park: A Photo JourneyAalong The Skyline Drive

Jill Rahn's picture
Straddling a beautiful stretch of the Blue Ridge Mountains of northern Virginia, Shenandoah National Park is a hiker’s and photographer’s delight. Located only 70 miles from the nation’s capital, Shenandoah provides an oasis of nature surrounded by ever-encroaching civilization. Long and narrow, the park runs north/south along a ridge crest characterized by rolling hills and mountains, quiet hollows, rushing streams and waterfalls, and verdant forests. Running through the park is Skyline Drive, a 105-mile scenic roadway that meanders along the crest of the Blue Ridge. Along this roadway are 75 overlooks offering unparalleled views of the piedmont to the east and the valley and mountains to the west. The park is also host to a 101-mile segment of the venerable Appalachian Trail as it winds its way from Georgia to Maine.

Crescent Rock Overlook
Located halfway between Skyland and Big Meadows Lodges in the Central District of the park, Crescent Rock Overlook provides spectacular views of Hawksbill Mountain, the highest peak in the park. The view faces west, making sunset the ideal time to photograph the scene. Pictures may be made either from the overlook or from two other vantage points that are short strolls from the car. In either case a wide-angle lens works best for encompassing both Hawksbill and Naked Top Mountains in the scene.
Picture info: Nikon D300, Nikkor 12-24mm f/4, f/6.3 with five exposures, combined in Photomatix.
All Photos © Chris Murray

The Point Overlook
The Point Overlook is located four miles south of Big Meadows Lodge. Facing west, this overlook offers a splendid view of the Massanutten Range towering over the Shenandoah Valley. The Point is also best at sunset, when the setting sun creates layers of silhouetted ridgelines from foreground to back. A normal to short telephoto lens works best here for shooting into the ridges and valleys.
Picture info: Nikon D300, Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8, f/11 at 1/15 sec.

Jewell Hollow Overlook
Jewell Hollow Overlook is located five miles south of the Thornton Gap Entrance Station, at the north end of the Central District. The view here is to the north and west, making this location good for both sunrise and sunset photography. The overlook has a large granite outcrop from which to shoot or include in the foreground.
Picture info: Nikon D300, Nikkor 12-24mm f/4 with polarizer, f/18 at 1/15 sec.

While beautiful in all seasons, Shenandoah is particularly stunning in springtime. In April the trees spring to life in hues of emerald green and yellow. Wildflowers bloom in April and May, beginning with the large flowered trilliums that carpet the forest floor. Pink azaleas bloom in May closely followed by mountain laurel in June. The swollen streams and waterfalls rush forth with a majesty and power unparalleled the rest of the year. Spring in Shenandoah National Park also provides great opportunities to see wildlife, most notably deer and black bears. Best of all, the park is far more quiet and peaceful than during the widely publicized fall foliage season when traffic jams along Skyline Drive are common.

The Overlooks
There are 75 scenic overlooks located along the entire length of Skyline Drive, offering countless photographic opportunities within steps of the car. While that may not sound ideal to the inner naturalist, it does make it easy to be on location for the golden hours of sunrise and sunset. Simply put, the overlooks offer excellent photographic reward with minimal effort. They are split roughly in half between those facing east toward the piedmont and those facing west toward the Shenandoah Valley, thereby providing equal and ample opportunities for morning and evening shooting. Shooting at these hours requires either a graduated neutral-density filter or exposure bracketing to control the high dynamic range between the bright sky and shadowed foreground.

Skyline Drive, Mile 35.5
Rounding a bend on Skyline Drive between Pinnacles and Jewell Hollow Overlooks is an area where the forest floor is carpeted with interrupted ferns. Best photographed in overcast or lightly sun-dappled light, the scene is especially magnificent when enshrouded in fog. A wide-angle or short normal lens works best here to capture the expanse of fern-covered forest floor.
Picture info: Nikon D300, Nikkor 28-70mm f/2.8 with polarizer, f/22 at 2.5 seconds.

Skyline Drive, Mile 35.5
Rounding a bend on Skyline Drive between Pinnacles and Jewell Hollow Overlooks is an area where the forest floor is carpeted with interrupted ferns. Best photographed in overcast or lightly sun-dappled light, the scene is especially magnificent when enshrouded in fog. A wide-angle or short normal lens works best here to capture the expanse of fern-covered forest floor.
Picture info: Nikon D300, Nikkor 28-70mm f/2.8 with polarizer, f/22 at 2.5 seconds.

Whiteoak Canyon
The Whiteoak Canyon Trail is a beautiful yet strenuous hike that passes several beautiful waterfalls of varying sizes. If your interest is photographing waterfalls and streams then this is the trail for you. There are a couple of different ways to access the canyon, both of which are located just south of Skyland Lodge. Overcast and/or foggy conditions are best for photographing the falls. As always a polarizer is key for reducing glare off the water and foliage.
Picture info: Nikon D300, Nikkor 28-70mm f/2.8 with polarizer, f/22 at 1.6 seconds.

Big Meadows
Located in the Central District, Big Meadows is an open expanse of land across Skyline Drive from the namesake lodge. The area is also home to a visitor center, camp store, and camping area. The meadow offers sanctuary to a variety of wildlife, most notably deer, which can normally be seen in great abundance in the early morning and evening hours. This oasis for wildflowers and other flora and fauna usually located on lower lying meadowland is only achieved through carefully planned manual intervention. Otherwise, the natural cycle would allow the forest to take over. Consequently, the wide-open vista of Big Meadows offers a contrasting photographic opportunity from the rest of the park.
Picture info: Nikon D300, Nikkor 28-70mm f/2.8 with polarizer, f/11 at 1/60 sec.

Dark Hollow Falls
Dark Hollow Falls is one of the park’s most popular and easily accessible waterfalls. The trailhead is just shy of Big Meadows on Skyline Drive. A short 0.7-mile hike leads to the base of this beautiful 70-foot waterfall. The trail follows the Hogcamp Branch stream as it leaves the Big Meadows spring and eventually drops over the falls. Like all the waterfalls in the park, the falls are never more stunning than in spring, when Hogcamp Branch is swollen with the spring runoff.
Picture info: Nikon D300, Nikkor 12-24mm f/4 with polarizer, f/18 at 3 seconds.

Author Bio
Chris Murray has been practicing landscape photography for 15 years. His work has appeared in several magazines, including Nature Photographer, Photo Techniques, and New York State Conservationist. Murray’s interest in photographing landscapes is derived mainly from his love of the natural world, the same love that led him to choose geology as his first profession. The skills he has learned as a scientist, the attention to detail and careful observation, have also helped him immensely as an artist. Murray resides in Syracuse, New York. You can find him online at Chris Murray Photography, www.chrismurrayphotography.com.

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