Before I start this, I wanna say that this park is incredible, especially if you aren't the hiking type for whatever reason. It's a beautiful drive, with 70+ overlooks, along 100 miles of road, through the mountains, with very accessible and beautiful views, from very short and easy hikes. 100% worth your time. However, if you're like me and visit these places to take photos or video or whatever, Shenandoah can be incredibly stressful, but still well worth your time, if you can dodge all the people and get past the fairly bland trails. Either way, this place is amazing, so go find out for yourself, if you can. If you can't, don't worry, I gotchu.
I arrived at Shenandoah National Park on a dreary, rainy, fall day, but all of that was planned. Unlike most nature and landscape photographers, I embrace poor weather like this and the photo above is exactly why I love it. The mountain was enveloped by clouds, which made for a mystical drive through the leaf ridden road and an awesome hike along the first trail of the trip. I was hoping to find a peak to shoot from, before it got too dark, but the "beware of aggressive bears in this area" sign made me chicken out. Instead, I decided to head back to the car and get ready for the next morning, which was a good call, since the rain started to pick up as the light faded.
That night, I slept in my car at the trailhead for Blackrock Summit and it snowed. I also knew this would happen, because I incessantly watched the weather for Shenandoah, and was eager to experience snow on a mountain for the first time. That morning was incredible. The hike was pretty intense, given the temperature was in the mid 20s and it was a little winy, but the views were amazing. I was able to catch the sun, just as it peeked over the horizon to paint the mountain tops with its warm glow.
The hike down was just as magical. The autumn leaves shining warmth through the blanket of white that covered the mountain tops. Before this trip, I was questioning whether it was a good idea to go when they were calling for snow, but now, I'm SO glad I went.
After getting back to the car, I hungout for a bit and relaxed, while things warmed up. I also bumped into a Park Ranger that seemed fairly impressed that I decided to camp out in my car during a snow storm. However, he also informed me that they're technically not allowed to let me sleep in my car, which is a bummer, but whatever. After chatting for a few, we split up and I hiked down to Jones River Falls. By the time I got there, almost all the snow had melted, which was pretty surprising. Unfortunately, this was one of those hikes were there wasn't a TON to see, so I didn't get many photos. It was a nice walk though and gave me time to take in the scenery and appreciate being in the woods.
That evening was dedicated to seeing the sunset from the top of Frazier Mountain. The hike was fairly short and provided a couple different lookout spots. I settled on this one, sat, and waited for the sun to set. Most the trails leading to the peaks were pretty short, since the main road winds up and around the range. At first, this was awesome, because it made my job significantly easier. However, this scene was the last one I had to myself, due to how heavily the Park's population grew that day.
Bearfence was the location for the next morning's sunrise and was probably the most difficult trail to traverse, mostly because it wound around a couple areas made of big rocks that you had to climb around. The view at the top was gorgeous though, even though I had to share it with a couple college kids that were already there and had claimed the best spot. You would assume it would be easy to avoid them, but given the tiny space there was for this view, I was within about 5-10 ft from them, snapping away, as they attempted to carry on a casual conversation about their lives. It was SUPER awkward and I left pretty quick, which ended up in me missing some pretty awesome shots, but I couldn't take it anymore. Little did I know, this was going to be the theme of the trip...
After that awkward exchange, I decided to get some rest, eat, and ready up for my hike down to Dark Hollow Falls. The first 2/3 of this trail was pretty uninteresting and almost sent me back to the car, because there just wasn't much to see. The hike definitely paid off though, once you FINALLY made it down to where the falls were. I actually bumped into another photographer that was taking lang exposures of the falls. Kinda made me jealous, because I don't have the gear to do that yet, but it was super cool to see! I actually loved this area so much that I found myself taking the same photos over and over and over, just to have an excuse to stay. For me, it's rare to find waterfalls like these. Usually, they're the short chunky ones that are difficult to shoot, but this was just too good. I was amazed.
The sunset spot for this day was Upper Hawksbill Summit and it was gorgeous. Even though there were a ton of people constantly up there (I even saw a couple having their engagement photos taken while I was there), it was incredible. The colors, the mountains, the sky, it was all too good. Some of the people I ran into were pretty cool too; there was an older man that was big into cameras, but not on a professional level. We chatted about cameras, the different between Canon and Nikon, lenses, mirrorless, full frames, everything. I also bumped into a couple that was there to checkout the peak, one of which was a photographer that was shooting film. She was too busy running everywhere, but I talked to her significant other for a while and joked about the engaged couple a bit. Around the time the sun hit the horizon, everyone else had left and I was stuck with two groups that didn't speak english; one Russian and one Asian. Seeing as how I couldn't communicate with any of them and didn't know what to do, I just left. Halfway down the mountain I got a peek of the sky. It was absolutely gorgeous and I was missing it. Oh well. It's the price you pay, I guess.
The next and last morning was a complete bust. I planned to shoot the sunrise from a lookout right next to the only tunnel on the road, but the clouds ruined everything. Even though I was bummed, I couldn't be too upset, because I had been shooting the night sky from the lookouts and getting awesome results. Although this park is surrounded by cities, you can still get a gorgeous view of the night sky. Like I mentioned earlier, there are 70+ overlooks along this road, so most of the views are pretty much the same, but there were some hidden gems that were absolutely incredible.
Since the sunrise failed me, I decided to just relax this morning. It was my last day there, so why not take some time to chill? After having a bit to eat and playing on my phone, I decided to head to my sunset location. I didn't really have anything planned for midday, so I was just going to take it easy. However, as I was driving along the winding road, I realized the clouds were starting to roll over the mountain. I stopped at the first viewpoint trail I could find; Little Stony Man Summit.
I was just in time, as the clouds started to gracefully slip over the peaks. It was incredible. I've been in the middle of suuuuper thick clouds and I've even been above these clouds as they've rolled through, but I've never been on the edge of them, as they came over me. It was an amazing experience. I even made a friend, while I was there.
Everyone, meet Richard Dawson. He was hiking by himself, down to NC, and was cooking breakfast when I bumped into him on Little Stony. We hungout and talked for probably an hour and a half, about everything under the sun. He was an incredible dude and really inspired me to strive for everything in life; happiness, nature, compassion, well being, love, all the things that make life and humanity worth being part of. He even offered me some of his food! This dude. If you see him while you're out hiking, tell him I said hey and thanks for the inspiration.
The last hike of the trip was to the ACTUAL Stony Man Summit and the view was gorgeous. You could see around the entire park and watch the sun cast over the surrounding towns and cities. I was prepped for an awesome show. Unfortunately, I chickened out AGAIN and didn't get the shots that I wanted. A group of high school students (MAYBE college freshmen) showed up. Like, 10 of them. And they posted up right in the middle of where I was. Once the sun disappeared, I left and completely ignored my "always wait 15 more minutes" rule. I just couldn't stand how uncomfortable it was to be by myself, around a group of kids, that I didn't know, on top of a mountain, while trying to get the perfect shot. And again, it cost me some INCREDIBLE photos. I'm still kicking myself for leaving. I actually RAN down the mountain, trying to catch whatever I could, but it was way too late.
I can't complain too much though, because I was still able to catch some really beautiful images of the gorgeous leaves in this part of the park. See, Shenandoah may be littered with tourists, but it's still absolutely gorgeous. Even in the worst and most awkward conditions, it was difficult to not get a beautiful shot. Next time, I will do better. I will learn from this experience and take that with me to the next journey. Because what is an adventure if nothing is learned in the process? I'm super glad I made it out to Shenandoah and I can't wait to go back. I'm also super excited I get to share this experience with all of you. If you would like to see the rest of these images, please feel free to follow me on Instagram and catch them as the go up. If you're not on Instagram and still want to follow along, I have YouTube and Facebook pages that also share my content, so make sure to check them out too. Thanks for checking this out and I hope this inspires you to get out and find some little treasures around you.