Photographing Shenandoah NP: Frazier Discovery Trail
Photographing Frazier Discovery Trail
Location: Shenandoah National Park-Southern District
Best time of year to photograph: Year Around
Subject Focus: Landscape, Nature, Sunset
Distance: 1.3 mile loop trail or 3.7 mile out and back
If you are looking to for a great location to photograph sunsets in Shenandoah National Park while enjoying the view by yourself, then you need to hike the Frazier Discovery Trail.
(Second outlook looking West, 18mm, 1/3sec, F/16, ISO 100)
There are two ways to the summit: the first is a 1.3 mile loop that starts at the Loft Mountain Wayside parking lot at mile marker 79.5 off of Skyline Drive in the southern district of Shenandoah National Park. The second way is a 3.7 mile hike out and back from the Loft Mountain Campground, but keep in mind the campground is only open certain months of the year-usually May through October. If you plan to photograph from the outlooks atop Frazier Discovery Trail during the off season, then you will have to park at the Loft Mountain Wayside.
(Second outlook looking Southwest, 200mm, 4sec, F/16, ISO 100)
Both trails are well-marked and easy to follow. If choose to hike the 1.3 mile loop, start at Loft Mountain Wayside. Hike across Skyline drive, and the trail loop starts about 0.1 miles from the parking lot. It doesn't matter if you go left or right, but I chose to take the left trail up to the top. Follow the blue blazes as it winds up the 473 feet up to the summit. In 0.6 miles, you will be at the first of two rocky outlooks. This outlook looks mostly Northwest to North making it ideal to photograph this first outlook during the late spring and summer around the summer solstice, June 21, when the sun sets in the Northwest. During this period, the sun will set directly behind the Blue Ridge Mountains facing this outlook. If you are photographing Shenandoah National Park during the fall or winter, then you are able to capture some nice side light on the mountain ridges, which will help illuminate the textures and the fall colors. If you are photographing Shenandoah National Park during the late summer through mid spring and want to actually capture the sun setting behind the mountains, then I suggest hiking to the second outlook.
(First outlook looking North, 16mm, 1/60sec, F/13, ISO 100)
The second outlook is atop the Frazier Discovery Trail 0.1 miles from the first. Hike back to the Frazier Discovery Trail, and turn right at the junction with the Appalachian Trail. Follow the white blazes of the Appalachian Trail 0.1 miles along the ridge line. This part of the trail is relatively flat. The second outlook will be on the right hand side of the trail. If you reach the second junction on the Appalachian Trail and the Frazier Discover Trail, you have gone too far, so backtrack up the trail about 300 yards to locate the unmarked side trail that leads to the second outlook.
(Second outlook looking Southwest, 16mm, 30sec, F/16, ISO 100)
The Frazier Discovery Trail’s second outlook looks mostly West to Northwest. This outlook is ideal anytime of the year to photograph sunset in Shenandoah. But if you are photographing the Shenandoah from late summer to mid-spring, then I suggest photographing at this outlook in order to photograph the sun dipping behind the Blue Ridge Mountains. Both outlooks offer a very large greenstone outcropping, which can easily be used as a foreground element. The greenstone also allows photographers a way to get above the trees. If you are going to be photographing the sunset, remember to bring a headlamp or flashlight for the hike back to your vehicle.To complete the loop, hike back to the Appalachian Trail, and turn right. In about 300 yards, you will reach the Appalachian Trail and the Frazier Discover Trail junction. Turn right at the junction, and follow the blue blazes 0.6 mile down the mountain back to the Loft Mountain Wayside parking lot.
(Second outlook looking Northwest, 18mm, 1/2sec, F/16, ISO 100)
The Frazier Discover Trail is a great hike in the park if you like to enjoy nature by yourself. I was there on a free park entry weekend and only saw one person on the trail. I photographed both outlooks for a few hours and saw no one. Also, if you are like me and have have small kids, this is a outstanding beginner hike for them. It’s short, not too steep, and has two great vistas from them to enjoy. If you would like to add another short hike, check out Blackrock Summit, which is located 5.3 miles south off of Skyline Drive. Blackrock Summit is a great location for sunrise pictures. Click here to learn how to photograph Blackrock Summit.
(Second outlook looking Northwest, 16mm, 1/160sec, F/8, ISO 100)
Learn More: Essential Landscape Photography Tips, Photographing Shenandoah National Park
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The trail meanders through a beautiful gorge and then climbs up to an overlook point where you can see all of the trails that lead out of the park into the surrounding mountains on both sides of the river valley. There are several little streams running down from these mountains into the valley below which make excellent subjects for landscape photography because they add interest to your pictures without being distracting or confusing for viewers when printed at large sizes (prints).
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