Photographing Appalachian Mountains: Twin Pinnacles Trail
Photographing Twin Pinnacles Trail
Location: Grayson Highland State Park, Virginia
Best time of year to photograph: Spring, Summer, and Fall
Subject Focus: Landscape, Nature, Sunset
Distance: 1.6 Loop
Located in Grayson Highland State Park, the Twin Pinnacles Trail has some amazing west-facing outlooks, which are great for photographing the sunset.
To reach the trail head, park in the Visitor Center parking lot, walk up the hill to the Visitor Center, and follow the walkway to the left of the building until you reach the Twin Pinnacles Trail. The trail is a 1.6 mile loop and gains about 600 feet in elevation. The trail is well-marked and easy to follow, but just past the trail head, the trail splits because it is a loop; both will take you to the outlooks, but the faster way to the views is the left trail. Follow the red blazes for 0.3 miles until you reach Little Pinnacles, located on the left side of the trail. In my opinion, this is best outlook of the hike. Little Pinnacles Outlook has a few rocks that you can scramble up to help get above some of the plants and trees for an unobstructed view to the west and southwest. But the view from the base of the rocks is also outstanding. The rocks can easily be used as a foreground element to add some texture to your images. This view has so many mountain ranges and valleys, which could be used to add layers and depth to your images. Little Pinnacles is an ideal location for photographing sunsets because of the views to the west and southwest.
To reach the second outlook at Big Pinnacles, follow the trail along the ridge line for another 0.1 miles, and it will be located on the left side of the trail right before the trail begins to descend. Big Pinnacles is not as large of an outlook as Little Pinnacles (ironically enough), but it also has some rocks to scramble up to get an unobstructed view of the Highlands and Wilburn Ridge to the north. And once again, the rocks can easily be used as a foreground element to add some texture to your images.
To complete the loop, follow the trail down past Big Pinnacles. In 0.3 miles, the Twin Pinnacles Trail meets the Big Pinnacles Trail. Stay right at the junction, and continue to follow the Twin Pinnacles Trail for 0.9 miles as it slowly heads down the mountain and loops back to the Visitor Center, completing the 1.6 mile loop. If you are going to be photographing the sunset, remember to bring a headlamp or flashlight for the hike back to your vehicle. Also, if you are like me and have small kids, this is an outstanding beginner hike for them. It’s short, not too steep, and has two great vistas for them to enjoy.
An alternate route to reach the Twin Pinnacles Outlooks is via the Big Pinnacle Trail. This route is a 2.4 mile hike, which is great for people looking to stretch their legs a bit more. To reach the Big Pinnacle Trail Head, park at the Massie Gap Day Parking area, and then follow the road west (away from Massie Gap) until you reach the trail head located on the left side of the road. Follow the Big Pinnacles Trail for 0.4 miles until it intersects with the Twin Pinnacles Trail. The trail to the right will lead you to the Outlooks faster. From the junction, follow the trail 0.3 miles until you reach Big Pinnacles Outlook. Continue along the Twin Pinnacles Trail, following the ridge line for 0.1 miles until you reach Little Pinnacles Outlook. Follow the Twin Pinnacles Trail for 0.3 miles until the trail splits. If you would like to stop at the Visitor Center, turn right, but if not, turn left and continue to follow the Twin Pinnacles Trail for 0.9 mile until you reach the Big Pinnacles Trail junction. Turn right at the junction, and follow the Big Pinnacles Trail 0.4 miles back to your vehicle, completing the 2.4 mile loop.
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