National parks provide some of the most iconic views and beautiful landscapes. As a result, the parks are a tremendous resource for photographers as well as tourists. But with so many parks it can be quite difficult to choose which ones you want to visit. In this article we’ll take a look at 7 of the United States’ best national parks for landscape photographers. The National Parks Service includes a wealth of destinations for photographers, so there are plenty of other great parks as well, these are just a few that stand out.
1. Yosemite National Park
About the Park: Photographers like Ansel Adams have made Yosemite an extremely popular destination for landscape photographers, as well as tourists. The park is located in California, about a 3-hour drive from San Francisco. It covers more than 1,100 square miles, including a stretch of the Sierra Nevada mountain chain.
What Makes it Great: Yosemite is home to iconic landmarks like Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, and Bridalveil Falls. Spots like Tunnel View lookup point have been visited by countless photographers. But Yosemite is more than just a collection of popular spots for photographers. There are amazing opportunities for hiking to get a views and photos that will be more unique, and the park if full of natural beauty that is worth capturing. Things like the giant sequoia trees of Mariposa Grove, spring flowers along the banks of the Merced River, Mono Lake are just a few of the possibilities.
Plan Your Trip: Colby Brown has written an excellent guide – A Photographer’s Guide to Visiting Yosemite.
2. Grand Canyon National Park
About the Park: Arizona’s Grand Canyon is a popular destination that you really need to see to believe. A popular park that draws visitors from all around the world, Grand Canyon National Park offers plenty of opportunities for landscape photographers. There are many easy-to-access viewpoints, several other worthy viewpoints that are more difficult to access, and loads of space to explore on foot.
What Makes it Great: The Grand Canyon is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world, and with the size of the canyon and all of the different viewpoints and trials, there are countless possibilities to capture amazing photos of your own. The south rim is open year round and the most popular spot for visitors of the park. But despite the crowds there are plenty of possibilities for getting away from the crowds that stick primarily to the most popular and easy-to-access viewpoints. The American southwest is full of beautiful landscapes, and the Grand Canyon is right at the top of that list. Great spots for photographers include Horseshoe Bend, Cape Royal, Toroweap, and many viewpoints along Desert View Drive and Hermit Road. In addition, the Grand Canyon is relatively close to several other great spots like Sedona, Zion National Park, Lake Powell, and Antelope Canyon.
Plan Your Trip: Loaded Landscapes has a detailed guide – The Photographer’s Guide to the Grand Canyon.
3. Yellowstone National Park
About the Park: America’s first national park is still one of the gems of the National Parks Service. Yellowstone is mostly located in Wyoming, but also reaches into Montana and Idaho. The park is an amazing destination for both landscapes and wildlife, including grizzly bears, elk, bison, and wolves.
What Makes it Great: Geothermal features like Old Faithful Geyser and Grand Prismatic Spring provide photographers with opportunities that can’t be found anywhere else. More than half of the world’s geysers are located within Yellowstone National Park. The park also provides beautiful lakes, rivers, mountains, plateaus, waterfalls, and canyons that are waiting to be photographed. Yellowstone is beautiful in any season, although the parks interior areas are difficult to reach in winter. The combination of beautiful landscapes, abundant wildlife, and amazing geysers make Yellowstone one of a kind.
Plan Your Trip: The Luminous Landscape has a geotagged map of the best photography spots in the park – Yellowstone National Park Photomap.
4. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
About the Park: Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most-visited national park in the United States. It’s located in Tennessee and North Carolina and is the only park east of the Mississippi River that is included in this article. The park features mountains (of course), rivers and streams, waterfalls, and wildlife.
What Makes it Great: Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a great place to photograph in any season. Spring is great because of the wildflowers and rushing waters, in summer everything is easy to access, fall offers stunning colors, and winter provides opportunities to capture beautiful snow-covered scenes. Some roads within the park are closed during winter months, but the majority of the park is accessible year round. Popular spots for photography include Cade’s Cove, Clingman’s Dome, many viewpoints along Newfound Gap Road, and several waterfalls that can be reached by hiking trails. The trails provide the best opportunities because many of the most scenic spots in the park cannot be reached by car, and most of the park’s visitors never wander beyond the easy-to-access viewpoints.
Plan Your Trip: Loaded Landscapes has a guide that will help you to plan – Photography Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
5. Glacier National Park
About the Park: Glacier National Park is located in Montana and stretches to the Canadian border (Waterton Lakes National Park is just on the other side of the border). Glacier includes more than one million acres filled with beautiful landscapes and wildlife. Don’t let the name fool you, the park is much more than snow and ice.
What Makes it Great: Glacier National Park is home to mountains, hundreds of lakes, waterfalls, beautiful spring wildflowers, and plenty of wildlife. Take “Going to the Sun Road” for a 50-mile winding tour that provides some of the best views in the park (warning: this is a very winding road with steep cliffs just off the side of the road). There are also plenty of trails and hiking opportunities that will lead to great photographs. You may even spot a moose or a bear.
Plan Your Trip: Photographer Mike Mikkelson has a very helpful guide – The Photographers Guide for First Time Visitors to Glacier National Park.
6. Zion National Park
About the Park: Zion National Park is one of Utah’s amazing national parks, and is located within a few hours drive of the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and Bryce Canyon National Park. Zion is not a large park by national park standards. The park is over 200 square miles in total but the vast majority of visitors stay within the Zion Canyon area (the canyon is 15 miles long). Because of Zion’s close proximity to other parks many visitors hit Zion and a few other parks on the same trip.
What Makes it Great: Zion National Park is a beautiful place that has an otherworldly feel when you arrive after driving through the desert. The park is home to many impressive rock formations, slot canyons, and the beautiful Virgin River. Formations like The Watchman, The Great White Throne, and The Three Patriarchs are the subjects of many amazing photos. Views from Angel’s Landing and the Canyon Overlook Trail allow you to capture the beauty of the canyon. Hikes like The Narrows (hiking in the Virgin River through the narrow canyon) are challenging and amazing.
Plan Your Trip: Loaded Landscapes has a guide that will help for planning a trip – Photographing Zion National Park.
7. Olympic National Park
About the Park: Olympic National Park is unique because it includes several different ecosystems. Located on the Olympic Peninsula or Washington, the park features a beautiful stretch of Pacific Coast. In addition to the coast, the park includes mountains and glaciers, temperate rainforest, and drier forests.
What Makes it Great: Olympic National Park is home to Mount Olympus, 11 major rivers, lakes, waterfalls, and flower-filled meadows. The rainforest includes old-growth trees more than 200 feet tall. From Hurricane Ridge you can catch a great view of Mount Olympus. Of course, the coast is extremely popular with photographers.
Plan Your Trip: Seattle Met has a guide to the park – Insider’s Guide to Olympic National Park.