One of the best spots in the Shenandoah Valley for mountain engagement photos is Cole Mountain.
Cole Mountain is one of those spots that is kind of a local gem. I wouldn’t call it “hidden” since there always lots of people there, but the space is so wide open you feel like you have it to yourself – no matter how many people are up there.
Sometimes called “Cold” mountain, this hike is one of the iconic spots on the Appalachian Trail. Situated in the George Washington National Forest, the summit is pasture-like with 360 degree views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I’ve done a ton of exploring in Virginia, and the only other public space I know of like this is Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park.
Cole Mountain is located about 20 minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway and 35 minutes from Lexington. Both Lynchburg and Staunton are about an hour away. Roanoke is an hour and twenty minutes away. It’s one of those perfectly situated hikes.
The full hike is just shy of 6 miles and can be completed as a loop. But the bald summit can be reached with less than a mile hike from the access road.
Note that Google Maps currently dumps you out maybe a quarter mile before you actually get to the trailhead. Instead input “Hog Camp Gap” into your GPS — that’s the main backcountry campsite for Cole Mountain. Camping is prohibited at the summit itself. The service road is bumpy — four wheel drive is recommended especially after heavy rains, but I’ve made it up there in a minivan before and Emma and Chris drove a teeny tiny smart vehicle to their session and made it with no problems.
There is no dedicated parking lot. Instead the road widens slightly with enough room for maybe a dozen vehicles. Overflow parking is done parallel style down the mountain. I don’t think it’s a spot where parking fills up per se, but it definitely can get busy on weekends so plan accordingly.
I met Emma and Chris at the parking area before dawn for their engagement photos. We donned headlamps and walked up the trail in hiking clothes. At the summit, Emma changed into this gorgeous Selkie dress and Chris put on a floral button up shirt.
It was cold. But they were adventurers and were game for anything.
People always worry about being awkward in the engagement photos, but the most important thing you can do is let go and play. Just be yourself. Allow yourself to have fun with the person you love.
One of the things I love about photographing engagement sessions at Cole Mountain is the 360 degree views. It’s a perfect spot for either sunrise or sunset. You get both mountain and meadows vibes. It’s easy to get away from other visitors – even if there are a lot people.
Looking for more ideas for your engagement session location? Check out this blog post The Best Engagement Session Locations Near Roanoke or Five Hikes to Consider for your Shenandoah National Park engagement
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