Virginia may not be the first state you think of when you are looking for great landscapes, but it is actually full of locations that are ideal for landscape and nature photography. You’ll find plenty of amazing mountain and forest scenery, a few noteworthy waterfalls, coastal areas, and even one of the most popular caverns in the country. This page showcases many of the most noteworthy locations in the state for landscape photographers with the hope of helping you plan your own outings. The interactive map below shows the location of each spot mentioned on this page.
This page will continue to be a work in progress, so please feel free to leave a comment with your own suggestions of great places to photograph.
Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park is a long, narrow park in the Blue Ridge Mountains with the northern end of the park being west of Washington, DC. If you’re looking for beautiful mountain scenery, this is an excellent location. Skyline Drive will lead you through the 105-mile long park and provides plenty of views with easy access. Right from the overlooks on Skyline Drive you’ll be able to photograph amazing mountain scenes, and maybe even some deer or bears. There are also plenty of trails for hiking that will lead you to other points of interest, including waterfalls. The park is open year round and especially beautiful in spring and fall.
→ For many more details please see our Photography Guide to Shenandoah National Park.
Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway connects Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is over 450 miles long. Along the long route you’ll have plenty of beautiful mountain views. It is designed for slower-paced travel (45 mph or less), allowing for passengers to enjoy the scenery.
Great Falls Park
For waterfall photography, Great Falls Park presents a great opportunity just minutes outside of Washington, DC. Located in McLean, Virginia, Great Falls is easy to access and the falls can be reached with just a very short hike. There are three different viewpoints that give you great photo opportunities. There are also some hiking trails in the park, but from a photography perspective the falls are by far the most noteworthy feature of the park.
→ For details please see our guide to Photographing Great Falls Park.
Scott’s Run Nature Preserve
Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is located along the Potomac River in McLean, just a few miles from Great Falls Park. It features more than 300 acres of woodlands, with Scott’s Run and a waterfall. In the spring there are many wildflowers on the forest floor. For those in the Washington, DC area that are looking for some nature photography opportunities, Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is an excellent choice.
→ For details please see our Photography Guide to Scott’s Run Nature Preserve
Grayson Highlands State Park
Grayson Highlands State Park is located in southern Virginia in the Jefferson National Forest and near the Mount Rodgers National Recreation Area. The park offers beautiful mountain views and hiking trails to explore. It is also home to a herd of ponies that present plenty of photo opportunities.
Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge
The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is a 100,000+ acre area of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. The refuge includes Lake Drummond, which is the main attraction for most visitors. There is a great variety of wildlife within the refuge, as well as amazing swamp scenery.
Douthat State Park
Douthat State Park is located in the Alleghany Mountains north of Roanoke, providing great mountain scenery for your landscape photos. The park is home to a 50-acre lake and more than 40 miles of trails. The trails are great for hiking to get a different perspective, and the park’s trails are also very popular for mountain biking.
Falling Spring Falls
One of the most impressive waterfalls in the state, Falling Spring Falls is managed by Douthat State Park. The 80-foot waterfall is visible from an overlook on 220 just a few miles north of Covington. An alternate view is available by hiking to the base of the falls.
First Landing State Park
First Landing State Park is located in Virginia Beach and is near the site of the first landing in 1607 of the colonists that established Jamestown. The ark offers almost 20 miles of hiking trails, beautiful swamps and marshes, and plenty of options for photographers.
Cascade Falls is located on Cascades National Recreation Trail, west of Roanoke. The scenic 4 mile round trip hike will give you an excellent view of one of Virginia’s best waterfalls.
Crabtree Falls is located in the George Washington National Forest, southwest of Charlottesville. It is a series of cascading waterfalls with a total drop of about 1,000 feet, making it the highest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River. Crabtree Falls Trail offers a convenient view of the falls from an overlook near the parking lot. There are also several other viewpoints from the 3-mile trail.
Leesylvania State Park
Leesylvania State Park is located right on the Potomac River, about 25 miles south of Washington, DC. The park includes a sand beach, a few hiking trials, and a fishing pier. The pier is useful for photographing as well as fishing.
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is a 20,000 acre park that includes parts of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The Cumberland Gap is a natural break in the Appalachian Mountains, and area that was long used for transportation and hunting. The park is home to many miles of trails and awesome scenery. Within the state of Virginia one of the most noteworthy destinations for photographers is the Ewing Trail that starts at Thomas Walker Civic Park in Ewing, Virginia. The trail will take you 3.5 miles to White Rocks, which gives you a stunning view of the valley. Hike about another mile on the trail and you will be at Sand Cave (which is actually in Kentucky), which is more than one acre in size. Roundtrip, the hike will take about 9 miles to reach both White Rocks and Sand Cave.
Another popular location is Pinnacle Overlook, which if further south (near the point where Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee all come together). Pinnacle Overlook is accessible by a 4-mile winding road that starts near the visitor’s center.
Hungry Mother State Park
Hungry Mother State Park is located in southern Virginia, east of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. The 100+ acre lake and woods make this mountain setting a great place for photography.
Occoneechee State Park
Occoneechee State Park is located in southern Virginia (near the North Carolina state line) on the John H. Kerr Reservoir, or Buggs Island Lake. The lake, woods, and trails provide plenty of natural beauty.
Kiptopeke State Park
Kiptopeke State Park is located in eastern Virginia at the south end of the Chesapeake Bay. The park provides water access, 5 miles of hiking trails, and is a major flyway for migratory birds.
Spy Rock is located north of Lynchburg and southwest of Charlottesville, a few miles from Crabtree Falls. Spy Rock provides an amazing view, although it does require a hike to reach. The hike to Spy Rock is about 3 miles each way with a significant elevation gain.
Smith Mountain Lake
Smith Mountain Lake State Park is located in southern Virginia, southeast of Roanoke. The park only covers a portion of the large reservoir. The area features amazing mountain and lake views that are waiting to be photographed. There are 13 different trails in the park that will lead you to various vistas and through hardwood forests.
Mabry Mill is a commonly-photographed mill in southwestern Virginia. It is located at mile post 176.1 of the Blue Ridge Parkway. As you can see in the photo below, autumn colors make the area even more beautiful.
McAfee Knob is located northwest of Roanoke on the Appalachian Trail. It is said to be the most photographed spot on the entire Appalachian Trail. There is a 4 mile hike (each way) to McAfee Knob that starts on VA Route 311. At the top you’ll find an amazing rock ledge with a stunning view.
Virginia Creeper Trail
In southwestern Virginia the Virginia Creeper Trail runs 35 miles from Damascus to Abingdon. The trail runs through a beautiful forest area and cross the Appalachian Trail. it is a very popular biking route and provides plenty of opportunities for great photos.
Channels Natural Area Preserve
The Channels Natural Area Preserve is a really unique place that is well worth the visit. It is located north of Abingdon, not far from the Virginia Creeper Trail. Channel Natural Area Preserve is located within the Channels State Forest and is an area of sandstone boulders and eroded crevices that can be explored and photographed. To reach the channels you will need to hike about 3 miles each way.
Prince William Forest Park
Prince William Forest Park is located in northern Virginia not far from the Potomac River and about 30 miles south of Washington, DC. This is a great location for forest photos, and the park includes more than 30 miles of hiking trails for exploring. This page includes details of the various trails.
High Bridge Trail State Park
High Bridge Trail State Park is located southwest of Richmond. It includes more than 30 miles of trail, with the focal point being High Bridge. High Bridge was originally built in 1854 across the Appomottox River. It is 2,400 feet long and up to 125 feet high. The bridge was partially destroyed during the Civil War and then rebuilt. The bridge is the subject of many photos, and also provides a nice vantage point for photographing the river and surrounding area.
Big Walker Lookout
Located in southwest Virginia, Big Walker Lookout is a privately-owned 100-foot observation tower, providing a nice view of the surrounding area.
Luray Caverns is an amazing sight located just west of the northern part of Shenandoah National Park. The caverns were discovered in the 1800’s and have been a popular destination, now attracting around half a million visitors per year. For some unique underground landscape photos be sure to visit Luray Caverns.
Assateague Island and Chincoteague Island are located on the coast. The northern part of Assateague Island is in Maryland with the southern part being in Virginia. Chincoteague Island lies just to the south. The islands are popular for the Chincoteague ponies that, despite the name, actually live on Assateague Island. Assateague Island includes parks and wildlife areas with no permanent residents. Chincoteague Island does have a small population and is a popular destination for people who want to visit Assateague Island. If you are planning to visit be aware that no road connects the Maryland and Virginia sides of Assateague Island. Although there are limited roads on each side they will need to be accessed from the mainland.
Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is located in southeastern Virginia, south of Virginia Beach (and north of the Outer Banks of North Carolina). The refuge includes more than 9,000 acres and is a temporary home to many migratory birds. The marshes, sand dunes, and ponds provide plenty of photographic opportunities.
Arlington National Cemetery is located in Arlington, Virginia just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC. The 600+ acre cemetery is the resting area for thousands who died in war, including the Civil War. It is also the home of the Tomb of the Unkowns and the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater.
Manassas National Battlefield
Manasssas National Battlefield is located about an hour’s drive southwest of Washington, DC. The battlefield is well maintained and a nice place for photography.
The Yorktown battlefield is part of the Colonial National Historical Park. It is located along the York River, north of Newport News. Yorktown was the site of the last major battle of the Revolutionary War.
Want to learn more about neighboring states? Please see:
- The Best Places to Photograph in Maryland
- The Best Places to Photograph in West Virginia
- The Best Places to Photograph in Kentucky
- The Best Places to Photograph in Tennessee
- The Best Places to Photograph in North Carolina
- The Best Places to Photograph in Washington, DC
Photo license links: CC0, CC BY 2.0, CC BY-ND 2.0, CC BY-SA 2.0, CC BY-SA 3.0
The supposed photo of Smith Mountain Lake is actually a photo of Abbott Lake taken from Sharp Top Mountain at the Peaks of Otter.
Thanks for your opinion. What about the architectural value of the buildings though…
Do you think there is a way that conserved heritage buildings can generate growth?