November 7th, 2018
Northern Virginia is deceptive when it comes to finding locations to photograph. Primarily those of the nature variety. There is more green space in the area than one might think and a quick review of Google Maps reveals parks, nature preserves, and walking trails all over. The challenge comes in finding which areas to visit, especially if visiting the area for the first time. In no particular order, below is a list of six destinations to consider for photography in Northern Virginia.
For wildlife photography, there are few places better than Huntley Meadows Park. What makes Huntley Meadows Park unique is the Central Wetland. This wetland includes a boardwalk that allows for easy access to the diverse population of flora and fauna that inhabit the area. Herons, ducks, and other marshland birds and animals often seem within arm's length and, due to frequent visitors, are typically tamer than other marshland areas. As if often the case morning and evening are the best times to go. Google Maps.
Dykes Marsh is a small nature preserve along the Potomac River that has an out and back trail with great views of the Potomac River and marshlands. The treed backdrop of the riverfront offers not only great birding but also plenty of opportunties for landscapes anytime of the year. In fact, the same can be said for most of the area that parallels the George Washington Parkway. There are numerous viewing pull-outs and parks that offer plenty of photographic opportunities. Google Maps.
Washington D.C. is certainly known for its grand presidential monuments and memorials, but the memorial for President Theodore Roosevelt is easily the most unique. An entire island on the Potomac River is dedicated to the 26th president and an ideal place for photography. With a healthy network of trails, the island is easily walkable with enough diversity to yield plenty of compositions. The island is EXTREMELY popular so it's necessary to get there early in the morning to beat the rush of people. Google Maps.
There are plenty of 'runs' that parallel the Potomac River, but Scott's Run is one of the more fruitful options photography wise just due to the variety of trails that offer different perspectives of the wooded surroundings. First there is the small waterfall at the end of the main trail, which is always popular, but it's the riverfront trail that is particularly worthwhile with scenic views of the Potomac River and sheer rock faces that are popular with local climbers. The trail eventually winds itself back up towards the parking lot so there are plenty of woodland photography options as well. It goes without saying that parking fills up quickly on the weekends so it's best to get in early as possible. Google Maps.
Another 'Run' on the list if Difficult Run. Part of the greater Great Falls National Park complex, Difficult Run includes the Difficult Run River with its rock and boulder riverbed that is prime for photography. The trail itself parallels the Difficult Run River as it makes its way towards the Potomac River. Along the way the topography changes quickly from moderate gorges to lazy meandering. So depending on the time of year, the water level can dramatically change. Either way, it's an easy recommendation. Google Maps.
Last, but certainly not least, is the Great Falls National Park complex. Including both Virginia and Maryland, the Great Falls is a massive waterfall that is a must visit for any photographer. There are river trails that offer great views of Mather's Gorge and plenty of woodland trails for some more low-key walking and photography. There are two entries into Great Falls National Park: one entry is from Virginia and the other is from Maryland. Both offer slightly different views of the waterfalls and both views are equally satisfying. The Virginia side of the park is more sprawled out while the Maryland side is more contained around the immediate area of the C&O Canal. Something to keep in mind, however, is that the Virginia side offers easier access to Mather's Gorge versus Maryland. The Billy Goat Trail in Maryland, which parallels the gorge, can be a difficult hike in places. The bulk of the trail is boulder hopping so it does offer a challenge to get from point A to point B. The Virginia side of the gorge is far less strenuous and, in some ways, more accessible to photography. Google Maps.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Some of the larger state and regional parks are not included on this list simply because I have no experience photographing them. However, these suggestions are at least a place to start in the event that you might be unfamiliar with what the Northern Virginia area has to offer for nature photography.