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  • Writer's pictureCraig Zerbe

5 Great places near Boone, NC to get some great winter images

Updated: Sep 1, 2018

Location: Area around Boone, Blowing Rock, Banner Elk and Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. On and near the Blue Ridge Parkway.

So it's snowing...where do you go to see this magical winter wonderland? Often the Blue Ridge Parkway is the location of choice for beautiful scenery in the Boone/Blowing Rock area. But, in winter, sections of the Parkway are often closed because the Parkway is not normally plowed.

1. Beacon Heights - Blue Ridge Parkway - milepost 305

Grandfather Mountain (paid attraction) can be and great spot for winter viewing but on days with fresh or falling snow it is likely to be closed. Not far away, there is an entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway from Highway 221 at milepost 305. After getting on the Parkway, the Beacon Heights pull off is only about a 100 yard drive to the south. On many winter days the the Parkway is closed both to the north, towards the Linn Cove Viaduct, and South past the Beacon Heights parking lot. So, essentially about a 200 yard stretch is open, just enough to get to the parking lot. Here is the view from the parking lot.

Lens: 16-35 zoom, Focal Length: 35mm, Aperture: F13, Speed: 1/1250 second, ISO: 400, Filter: None Additional Note: given the amount of light, I should have changed back to ISO 100 for minimum noise.

The trailhead is down the embankment and across a little road. The hike is around 10 minutes, and is moderately steep - do not follow the turn off for the Mountains to the Sea trail). Near the top, the trail splits. The left takes you to an opening that looks back on Grandfather Mountain as well as the east, the right is a grand overlook of the valley to the east and Grandmother Mountain (with the big tower) to the south. Both are a popular spots for sunrises and other long range shots.

The wind was blowing some, so I needed to keep the shutter speed up to reduce foliage movement in the nearby trees and bushes.
Lens: 16-35 zoom, Focal Length: 30mm, Aperture: F16, Speed: 1/90 second, ISO: 100, Filter: None

View to the south of Grandmother Mountain

Lens: 24-105 zoom, Focal Length: 43mm, Aperture: F16, Speed: 1/200 second, ISO: 200, Filter: None

2. Otter Falls in Seven Devils, NC

Otter Falls (PDF guide) is in the Seven Devils community, on the way to the Hawksnest Ski Resort. This winding road, off of Highway 105, is steep in places, but is generally well plowed, as the ski resort has an interest keeping the road easily passable. It's about a 10 minute hike, down a well kept trail. There is a bench or two at the end as well as a viewing platform. Use walking sticks for extra security on the snowy trail. While there is a fairly large "main" fall with a 20-25 foot drop.

Lens: 16-35 zoom, Focal Length: 23mm, Aperture: F11, Speed: 1/160 second, ISO: 1600, Filter: None

I personally found the smaller cascades both above and below the main drop to be more interesting photo subjects. The image below as taken in an area a little way above the main falls.

Lens: 16-35 zoom, Focal Length: 32mm, Aperture: F13, Speed: 1/80 second, ISO: 800, Filter: None

3. Watauga River in Foscoe, NC

The Watauga River always makes a nice backdrop for a photo. The Valle Crucis Community Park has a nice stretch of the Watauga River running through it and it's just behind the Mast Store Annex where you can replenish your candy supplies, your outdoor gear or a little of both.

The river also runs along Highway 105 south of the turn off for Valle Crucis. It can be difficult to find a safe spot to pull over. A great access point is just across the street from the Echota Resort entrance. There is a very short gravel road that leads to a small gravel parking area. You can hike down to the river at multiple points along an obvious path or just continue a 100 yards to a very nice foot bridge across the river.

With the early morning overcast, I found I needed to bump up my ISO in order to keep the shutter speed fast enough for the falling snow to look right. Even at 1/80 sec there is more streaking than I think is ideal.

The shot below was taken from the bridge. Please be respectful, as the property belongs to the Echota Resort neighborhood, which by the way, is a great place to rent a vacation house or condo.

Lens: 16-35 zoom, Focal Length: 18mm, Aperture: F7.1, Speed: 1/80 second, ISO: 1250, Filter: None
Lens: 16-35 zoom, Focal Length: 23mm, Aperture: F11, Speed: 1/60 second, ISO: 1250, Filter: None

4. Julian Price Lake and Picnic Area - milepost 297

Another little stretch of the Parkway that I was able to access was at the Holloway Mountain Road entrance. On Highway 221, between Blowing Rock and the Beacon Heights area turn onto Holloway Mountain Road (Grandfather Country Store is at the "T"). After a short drive, you come to the Parkway entrance. The photo below is taken from Holloway Mountain Road, just before the Parkway entrance. I have taken good photos here in the fall as well.

Lens: 24-105 zoom, Focal Length: 83mm, Aperture: F16, Speed: 1/200 second, ISO: 250, Filter: None

Get onto the Parkway and travel north about 1 mile. I looked around Price Lake and snapped as few photos.

Lens: 24-105 zoom, Focal Length: 46mm, Aperture: F8, Speed: 1/1000 second, ISO: 400, Filter: None

I continued north a short ways and pulled over on a little rise, just before the picnic area entrance. There is a nice fence in the foreground and across the park, a view of a large field with one lone oak tree. The Parkway was closed beyond this point.

Lens: 24-105 zoom, Focal Length: 90mm, Aperture: F13, Speed: 1/200 second, ISO: 400, Filter: None

Looks nice in black and white too.

Lens: 70-300 zoom, Focal Length: 300mm, Aperture: F13, Speed: 1/200 second, ISO: 100, Filter: None

5. Bass Lake in Blowing Rock, NC

On Highway 221, less than a mile south of Blowing Rock is the turn off for Bass Lake. There is a parking lot with restrooms. If you walk counterclockwise around the lake, about a quarter of the ways, you will be able to see Cone Manor up on the hill across the lake. The path is level and smooth. The wind was whipping around a fair amount, so the water was quite rough. I tried an ND filter for a longer exposure to smooth the water, but ended up preferring just a standard exposure.

Lens: 24-105 zoom, Focal Length: 98mm, Aperture: F7.1, Speed: 1/100 second, ISO: 800, Filter: None

The sun was beginning to go down on my right.

Lens: 24-105 zoom, Focal Length: 38mm, Aperture: F9, Speed: 1/160 second, ISO: 400, Filter: None

Bonus sunset suggestion:

  • Flat Rock - Blue Ridge milepost 308 - 10 minute easy, well marked hike to great sunset views. Try the Roseboro Road entrance to the Parkway if it is closed to the north. FYI, if it is breezy out elsewhere, this place can extremely windy.

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