Are you looking for the best place for your mountaintop elopement or engagement photos? The overlooks along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park are a great option!
Skyline Drive is the 105-mile-long winding mountaintop road through Shenandoah National Park and, dotting the roadsides, you’ll find some of the best views on the east coast. Skyline Drive is home to nearly 70 overlooks which were built by the men and boys of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a popular work-relief program established by President Roosevelt in 1933.
The overlooks were designed to give visitors the full Blue Ridge Mountain experience, without ever having to set foot on a hiking trail. I wonder if the “CCC boys” had any idea, while they were building walls and planting trees, that they were building some of the best little wedding venues on the east coast.
What makes the overlooks great for photos?
- They are drive-up, which makes these views much more accessible than those found on the trails and summits throughout the park.
- The overlooks are some of the only cleared areas in the park, meaning that they are the best places for those expansive mountain views.
- You can have the look of a mountaintop bald or a rocky summit without any of the work of actually climbing to a mountaintop bald or a rocky summit.
The Best Overlooks on Skyline Drive for Mountain Elopements and Engagement Photos
(From North to South)
Hazel Mountain Overlook
MP 33.0, ELEV. 2270 ft.
Hazel Mountain is a popular overlook, and it’s no secret why! With large boulders for climbing right at the edge of the pavement, and the vast eastward views, this is basically the perfect sunrise spot.
Because this is such a popular overlook, you should plan on sunrise for your elopement or engagement photos at this overlook; otherwise you’ll be fighting crowds for the best spots!
Jewell Hollow Overlook
Mp 36.4, Elev. 3320 FT.
If you’re only going to stop at one overlook on Skyline Drive, Jewell Hollow is a great option. It has gorgeous boulders, wild grassy areas, and lots of space to move around (unlike some of the overlooks where there is really only one spot to stand.)
Thorofare Mountain Overlook
MP 40.5, Elev. 3595 FT.
Thorofare Mountain Overlook is another overlook with a lot of room for frolicking. It’s largely a grassy area, but there is a trail to a boulder with some cool views.
Spitler Knoll Overlook
MP 48.1, ELEV. 3285 FT.
Spitler Knoll Overlook gives some serious “Maria running through the field at the beginning of ‘The Sound of Music’” vibes, with a rolling grassy field backed by gorgeous mountain views. This overlook also has a short spur trail that connects to the Appalachian Trail for if you feel like taking a little hike.
Franklin Cliffs Overlook
MP 49.0, ELEv. 3140 FT.
Franklin Cliffs Overlook features rocky cliffs and a view that kind of looks like “Stony Man Lite”. This is another popular overlook, especially around sunset, so a weekday will definitely be your best bet for having your elopement or engagement photos at this overlook!
The Point Overlook
MP 55.6, ELEv. 3235 FT.
One of my favorite places in Shenandoah National Park, The Point Overlook is the perfect mini Shenandoah experience. It features a short, often overlooked trail to a great rocky outcropping with some gorgeous views.
Things to know before you go
Leave No Trace:
Even though the overlooks along Skyline Drive can feel like very “public” spaces, it is still important to know and practice the Leave No Trace principles so that these gorgeous spots remain safe and available for everyone!
Plan ahead and prepare.
Know where you’ll have access to important things like bathrooms and cell service. Download your maps so they’re available offline or use a paper map. Don’t count on your phone for directions. Know what kind of terrain you’ll be walking on, and dress accordingly.
Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
Stay on the trails and paved or gravel surfaces.
Dispose of waste properly.
There are bear-safe trash and recycling receptacles at the waysides, visitor centers, and picnic grounds along Skyline Drive. Do not leave your trash anywhere other than in those containers. Know how to go to the bathroom in the woods (yes, there’s a right way to do this), and how to properly dispose of your waste.
Leave what you find.
Skyline Drive is often lined with gorgeous wildflowers and native plants. Do not pick them.
“Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints.”
Minimize campfire impacts.
Campfires are illegal in Shenandoah National Park except at very specific, designated spots.
Drive slowly and carefully, and do not feed the wildlife. Maintain a safe distance, even if they “look friendly.”
Be considerate of other visitors.
Our public lands are just that: public. Even with a special use permit, you have no right to make people leave a given area or “reserve” space. Be courteous and kind to your fellow visitors.
The stone barrier walls at the overlooks along Skyline Drive are there for a reason.
It can be very dangerous, even deadly, to climb over those walls to reach things like cliffs, boulders, and overlooks. If there are signs posted saying to keep out of a certain area, obey them.
There is no lifeguard on duty, and often no cell service to call for help. You are responsible for your own safety and the safety of your group. Be sure to be prepared and wear proper footwear and attire even for just a short walk, and have a first aid kit handy.
No photo is worth risking your safety or your life.
The Best Views:
These overlooks are some of my favorites for photos, they’re not necessarily the ones with the best mountain views. Do yourself a favor one fall afternoon and take 3-4 hours to drive the length of Skyline Drive, from Front Royal to Waynesboro, stopping at each overlook along the way. I’d love to hear which ones are your favorites!
Pick up the park map from the entrance station, or download it from the Shenandoah National Park app on your phone.
All of these overlooks are in the Central section of the park, but there are definitely great views to be had in the Northern and Southern sections as well!
In fact, at the time this post was written in October of 2020, the Central section of the park has been dealing with an unprecedented influx of visitors looking for an escape from the COVID crisis. You may have a far safer and more enjoyable visit to the park if you stay on either end, or get to the park before sunrise and plan to leave by the late morning.
Meet The Author
Leah was born in Virginia and raised just outside of Shenandoah National Park. As an elopement photographer, she has a renewed appreciation for the beauty and versatility of the park and all of its gorgeous trails and overlooks.