Drew Wolford
Drew Wolford

Best Hikes in Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains

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Top 3 hikes in Virginia for landscape photographers

Read along to learn about some of my favorite hiking spots in Virginia and capture stunning landscape photographs while you’re out exploring.

For those who want to jump around quickly, here is a table of contents:

Table of Contents

Mount Rogers - Damascus, Va

MOUNT ROGERS

About the landscape

There are multiple ways to get up to Mount Rogers, but the easiest is definitely through Grayson Highlands State Park. This is also my favorite way to go and I think it provides the most scenic views for photographers looking to capture the perfect landscape photograph. From a biologist standpoint (I’m a biologist and a bit of nerd), Mount Rogers is a cool place to visit for both it’s unique geological history and high elevation (5,729 ft at summit) that allows for spruce-fir trees to grow. Along with volcanic rock and fragrant trees, there are WILD PONIES. Yes, you read that correctly, there are wild ponies that roam around eating grass (and my friend’s pants). 

This is definitely a longer hike, but the views are some of best I have ever seen (especially in the winter). I have done this hike three times, in the spring, summer and winter; each season provides a completely different experience that is unique and worth every mile climbed. 

Hiking in the Rain, Heat & Snow

Spring

Bring a rain jacket and some good waterproof boots, it’s going to be WET. That said, this doesn’t mean it’s a bad time of year to go hiking or camping (if you don’t mind getting a little wet). My friend and I went on a little two day camping trip and it was by far one of the best experiences. 

Summer

Unfortunately all of the photos I took at Mount Rogers in the Summer of 2017 burned up on a hard drive… So, here are some beautiful shots from various photographers. Click on the photo to see the original source.

So what do I have to offer? 
I can tell you when not to go hiking here. During a thunderstorm. Yeah, I know, great advise.
Short story: I hiked up to the Rhododendron Gap right before a MASSIVE thunderstorm (I would highly advise against this from a safety standpoint, it’s also just a terrible idea because it’s an open field…), but if you’re looking for incredible photos of a lightning storm, this is a pretty good spot. AGAIN, I am not recommending this, don’t do it.

Summer is also an incredible time to visit Mount Rogers because you will see so many different animals and wildlife roaming around. This is probably my favorite time of year to visit. 

Winter

Great photo spots:

When driving into Grayson Highlands State Park, set your GPS for Massie Gap. Before getting to the top of the mountain, you will find an overlook on the right-hand shoulder. This is a great spot to get some shots of the mountains or a sunset. Park at the Massie Gap parking lot. From here cross through the gate and hike up through Massie Gap towards the Rhododendron gap to get some pictures of the ponies. Sometimes you don’t actually have to hike that far to see them. The photos below were taken right after you pass through the gate near the parking lot. 

Things to note:

Getting up to Grayson Highlands State Park in the winter time can be a bit of a challenge, especially if there is snow on the roads. I highly recommend a vehicle with 4WD or AWD. And of course, this should be pretty obvious, but bring plenty of food and water just to prepare for the worst! 

Hay Rock - Daleville, Va

Hay Rock

About the landscape

This hidden gem of a hike is tucked in the hills of southwest Virginia and offers stunning views of Carvins Cove, the 5th largest city park in the United States! This massive 12,000+ acre park allows outdoor activities such as boating, fishing, horseback riding, mountain biking, birding and hiking

Shots of Carvin Cove

The Hike & When to Go

This is definitely a good hike if you enjoy uphill climbs. I love this hike for so many reasons, one for example is when you hike up early in the morning before sunrise and you’re lucky enough to witness a fog inversion on top of the water, it’s the coolest thing. 

My favorite time to photograph the landscape: FALL
Fall in Virginia is absolutely gorgeous, the foliage here is some of the best on the east coast.

If you decide to go hiking here in the summer, I recommend going early in the day because it gets pretty hot! 

Various shots along the hike

McAfee Knob - Catawba, Va

McAfee Knob

About the landscape

Nestled about 20 minutes away from Downtown Roanoke, McAfee Knob is perhaps one of the most iconic spots on the Appalachian Trail (AT). If not the most iconic, it is for certain the most photographed portion of the entire AT. Don’t believe me, check out this article on Roanokeoutside. The views at the top are incredible; with nearly a 270 degree panorama view of the landscape you can see Roanoke Valley off to the east (right ), North Mountain off to the west (left), and Tinker Cliffs to the north (middle). 

North Mountain

Tinker Cliffs

Roanoke Valley

Shots Over the Seasons

The Hike & When to Go

I have done this hike over 10 times and it never gets old. I have hiked here through the rain, snow, hail storms from hell, blistering heat, and pure bliss called fall. So, when is the best time to photograph and hike here? It’s hard to pick, but I really love fall.
The weather in late September through October is perfect sweater weather and usually when the leaves change colors

Congrats! You made it this far, here are some more shots at McAfee Knob

Thanks for reading! Let us know your favorite hiking spots to photograph in the comments section below (not limited to VA)!

Blue Ridge Mountain Photography

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