Our national parks include some of the most spectacular scenery to be found in the United States. With a passion for the outdoors and photography, I've been lucky to visit over half of the nation's 58 protected areas and discover some of the most picture-perfect locations in the world. If you love to take snapshots of gorgeous scenery, here are the top seven places I've discovered to capture the best of the best.
Yellowstone National Park
At Yellowstone National Park, everyone wants to get a great photo of Old Faithful, the famous geyser that erupts about every 91 minutes. If you visit Yellowstone in the wintertime, the odds are you'll be able to capture an amazing picture of this park highlight. During the peak summer season, though, there are so many people lined up to watch that it can be difficult to get it right.
Instead, take the short hike on the Artist's Paint Pots trail to view some of the most fascinating and colorful geothermal features in Yellowstone National Park. From the boardwalk, you'll find perfect photo ops with the bright turquoise hot springs, two large mudpots, a fumarole, and a couple of geysers.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Living in Colorado for a decade, I was privileged to visit Rocky Mountain National Park during every season of the year. Fall was my favorite time, with the park's large herd of elk making an incredible display just before dusk until dawn, presenting an amazing opportunity for picture taking along with the gorgeous colors of sunset and the brightly colored gold leaves of the aspen trees.
The best places to capture a photo of the elk on the east side of the park are Moraine Park, Horseshoe Park, and Upper Beaver Meadows. One the west side, the best areas are in the Kawuneeche Valley.
Grand Teton National Park
The Grand Tetons in Wyoming may be the most spectacular mountain range in the U.S. Nature's elements have sculpted these sharply notched peaks and glaciated canyons, presenting a breathtaking sight. One of the best places to take a picture here is at the edge of one of most photographed lakes in the world, Jenny Lake.
The wildlife here, such as the majestic moose that can be seen peacefully grazing in the park's golden meadows, can also present some wonderful photo opportunities.
Kenai Fjords National Park
Kenai Fjords National Park is on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, just outside of Seward. There are almost 40 glaciers that flow from the Harding Icefield, and Exit Glacier is the most easily accessed by road, followed by just a short trail hike.
The incredible blue that is projected from the glacier is deepest in its crevasses and towers, giving photographers the opportunity to capture an amazing shot.
Mount Rainier National Park
At an elevation of 14,411 feet, Mount Rainier dominates the horizon on a clear day in the Seattle area; the view is something I never tire of now that I'm living in the Pacific Northwest. At Mount Rainier National Park, it's the highlight, and at Tipsoo Lake, you can even capture a reflection of the magnificent mountain in the translucent water that is often surrounded by colorful wildflowers. Due to snowfall, the road is open only in the summer through early fall, and sunrise is the best time to take a prize-winning photograph.
Badlands National Park
Although it may not be on many top-10 lists, Badlands National Park in South Dakota is wild, rugged, and fascinating. It's pinnacles, spires, and sharply eroded buttes are perfect for photography. Try capturing a photo at sunset, when the bizarre rock formations take on an especially eerie, yet beautiful, life of their own.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is a photography lover's dream, and of course, it's the location of famous late photographer Ansel Adams' black-and-white wilderness shots. Mirror Lake, Horsetail Fall (or Firefall), Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls all offer picture-postcard moments.
Firefall takes on a red glow when the weather conditions are just right during the last weeks of February, certainly one of nature's most amazing spectacles.