Each region of the United States is as unique as the people and culture that inhabit it. If you’re a budding photographer, there are few greater places to take landscape photos than America’s National Parks. They’re vast, diverse, and cheap to get into. If you’re a military vet, it’s even free. Heck, if you’re a senior you can get a lifetime senior pass to all the national parks for only $80. REI currently sells America the Beautiful annual pass for $80 and it covers entrance for up to four people INSIDE your car and valid at all sites that are managed by the Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation. Of course, this doesn’t cover any camping or RV fees, but if you live anywhere near a national park, it’s a cheap way to see the country as the first settlers saw it. To help kick off summer we here at Steve’s Would like to share with you our Top Five National Parks for Landscape Photography.
(West Ridge of Amphitheater Mountain; Jim Peaco; January 2013)
Yellowstone was the first National Park signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. It’s over 2.2 million acres and one of the most stunning places on earth to visit. Now here’s the biggest trick with getting good Landscapes in Yellowstone, you have to be willing to hike. The park is so beautiful and so incredible that it receives over 4 million visitors a year, which when you break down by acreage isn’t really that bad, however, most of those visitors happen within a four-month window in the summer. Most tourists to the park just want to see Old Faithful or some Bison roaming here and there and get a light experience of the park. But if you’re willing to get up early and travel about a 1/4 mile off of any trail, you can most likely get those stunning vistas you want without having to figure out how to erase all the fanny packs later on. Or you can go in the winter and get images like the one above.
(Rim of the Canyon, NPS Photo / Brian B. Roanhorse)
Bryce Canyon national park in Utah has the largest collection of Hoodoos in the world. Wait, what are Hoodoos? The park service describes them as “odd-shaped pillars of rock left standing from the forces of erosion.” Those Hoodoos and the deep canyon make for a more intimate experience than the Grand Canyon. It’s surrounded by trees, which gives it a mysterious feel. Like someone gouged out a hole in the middle of the forest. It’s been a national park since 1928 and with the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel you can easily travel between Bryce and Zion in a day, which provides more opportunity to fill up those flash cards. Utah is definitely a state that should be on your list if you want landscape images you can’t get anywhere else.
(Photo by Giuseppe Milo)
Glaciers forged Yosemite during the Ice Age, creating some of the parks iconic waterfalls. That said, if you want pictures of peak water flowing, you need to be there between May and June. By August, most of them are flowing down to a trickle as the source of the falls is melting snow. Though rain in the fall can provide new life to them. Yosemite is a California postcard.
(silhouette view of Kitty Tatch and friend dancing on the overhanging rock at Glacier Point 1890s)
It looks like all those old images of cars driving through giant sequoias with waterfalls and rocks. It’s gorgeous. It’s so diverse in its landscape that you could spend weeks there and barely scratch the surface. This is not a drive-in-and-drive-out kind of park, though. To really see it, you’ll need a few days and a campsite or an RV, but it’s so worth it.
GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
(Credit: NPS / Jacob W. Frank)
Glacier National Park is more than just a park — it’s the water source for three major river systems: the Missouri/Mississippi, and the Saskatchewan/Nelson river and the Columbia rivers. Visiting here when it’s empty is like going back in time when the country was untouched and pristine. It’s way up in Montana, but not too far from Yellowstone, so if you’ve got a car, a sleeping bag, and are ambitious, you could make an excellent trip out of it. Like a lot of these images, you’re going to need to get up early or wait until sunset to take the perfect shot. But, what else are you there for?
(milky way over Cholla garden NPS/Hannah Schwalbe)
Joshua Tree is on here for another reason. It’s astrophotography heaven. Modern cameras make it easy to get a stunning landscape with a brilliant night sky in the background. Plus it’s really the only tolerable way to explore the park in the summer. It can easily top 115 degrees on a peak summer day and even though it might only drop to 90 at night, at least the sun isn’t beating down on you while you’re trying to get proper exposure.
Joshua tree is vast like the other parks, but it’s also the easiest of the parks to get in and out of. There are also tons of Airbnbs and desert accommodations nearby so you don’t have to worry about cooking yourself in a tent. If you’ve never taken pictures in the desert, you’re missing out.