With over 75 overlooks, it can be hard to determine the best place to view sunrise in Shenandoah National Park. I spent quite a bit of time reading blog posts and review websites to figure out our viewing location. After my research, I narrowed down my options to three Central District overlooks: Buck Hollow, Tunnel Parking, and Hazel Mountain.
The Central District of Shenandoah National Park is the area between Thorton Gap Entrance Station (Route 211) and Swift Run Gap Entrance Station (Route 33). All three of my final options in the Central District are located just South of the Thorton Gap Entrance Station. Which is super convenient for visitors making the early drive in from DC.
I read online that Tunnel Parking Overlook is the most popular sunrise vista in the park. However, I also read that sunrise is better at Buck Hollow close to the summer solstice. Honestly, this was just mentioned once in a post and like a good internet sleuth, I rarely take advice from a single post. In this case, however, our visit was just past the summer solstice and it tipped our choice to Buck Hollow.
Buck Hollow Overlook
Buck Hollow Overlook actually has one of my favorite viewpoints in Shenandoah National Park. I love this viewpoint because a large tree and some bushes frame the perfect stack of mountain ranges. We were the first to arrive at the overlook and I was able to setup my camera in that exact location. Please note that this is a smaller overlook with room for only 5 or 6 vehicles depending on how they are parked. If you are looking to recreate this image, be sure to arrive early to secure the location at the north end of the overlook. Buck Hollow Overlook is located near milepost 32.8 on Skyline Drive. Its approximate elevation is 2,545 feet.
Tunnel Parking Overlook
After watching the initial sunrise at Buck Hollow, we backtracked north to the Tunnel Parking Overlook. As it is close in proximity to Buck Hollow, you can easily visit both within a few minutes of each other. This is a large overlook, so there should be plenty of room for numerous cars without crowding each other. If you are looking to recreate this image, be sure to arrive early to secure the location at the center area of the overlook. Tunnel Parking Overlook is located near milepost 32.5 on Skyline Drive. Its approximate elevation is 2,840 feet.
Hazel Mountain Overlook
With both Buck Hallow and Tunnel Parking Overlooks under our belt, we continued our drive south on Skyline Drive. The next overlook with a sunrise view is Hazel Mountain Overlook. This overlook has a large rock outcropping, which can enhance your photography. If you are looking to recreate this image, be sure to arrive early to secure the location at the center area of the overlook. Hazel Mountain Overlook is located near milepost 33 on Skyline Drive. Its approximate elevation is 2,770 feet.
Tips for Photographing Sunrise in Shenandoah National Park
- Pad your drive time! The roads to the park are curvy and require detailed attention while driving, especially in the dark. Once you arrive at the park, be sure to leave time to navigate Skyline Drive to get to your desired overlook.
- Arrive early! This is especially important if you are unfamiliar with the park and its overlooks. You will need time to select your viewing location and set up your camera.
- Be prepared for a crowd! Sunrise is a popular time to photograph parks, therefore expect at least 3 or more people to be sharing your vantage point. Please be respectful of others looking for solitude and keep your voices to a low volume.
- Pack a blanket! Skyline Drive sits on/near the ridge of a mountain. It is windy and can be cool, even in summer.
- Bring snacks! For the overlooks above, there isn’t a convenient breakfast shop nearby. So, grab your coffee and something to munch on if you are inclined from home. Just remember to take anything you brought with you when you leave.
- Respect the field of view! Please be mindful of the location and field of view of other photographers. They have carefully set up their shots and that should be respected. If someone enters your field of view, ask them politely to move.
- Pay attention to the weather! Sunrise photos look great with a partly cloudy sky. Too many clouds and your view of the sun can be obstructed. Not enough clouds and you don’t get to see the colors reflect and spread.
Interested in Shenandoah National Park? Check out my other posts about the park.