Set just 10 miles south of Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park has some major competition, but still manages to draw in nearly 2.8 million visitors a year—many of which visit to capture breathtaking images. The park provides ample opportunity for shooting large wildlife and dramatic landscapes, which are often most intense at sunrise or dusk. Named for the young mountains that shoot out from the ground and soar into the sky, Grand Teton National Park is perhaps most famous for the iconic barn photo, taken in Mormon Row, but there are no shortage of incredible vantage points throughout the park.
“Nature never ceases in her capacity to surprise,” said photographer and guide author Mike Oswald of Arches National Park. Home to the largest concentration of natural stone arches on the planet, the red rock formations are popular subjects themselves, but also serve as natural frames for shots of the greater landscape. Photographers hoping to capture stunning images of a dark night sky will have a tough time finding a more perfect venue and time lapse photography is also an extremely popular option at Arches National Park.
The only subtropical preserve in North America, Everglades National Park is astonishingly diverse despite almost no change in elevation. Although much of the landscape consists of marsh, a closer look will reveal an abundance of plant and wildlife. Bird photographers will enjoy the many large, eye-catching species in the park, adventurous photographers can get shots of alligators and those looking for something a little less tangible can settle in on a chilly morning to capture scenes of fog floating just above the water.
The tenth most visited national park in the country is also a favorite of photographers from all over. One photographer in particular, Quan-Tuan Luong, has captured all of the national parks with a large format camera and said that Glacier National Park is home to “maybe the most beautiful alpine scenery in the country and certainly the most intact ecosystem.” Lakes, waterfalls and wildflower meadows are made more beautiful by the mountainous backdrop and at times it seems as though everything is perfectly preserved as it once was. Photographers who want to capture this park first-hand should do so sooner rather than later, as climate change is taking its toll on the park.
With an abundance of breathtaking landmarks, like Half Dome, El Capitan and Yosemite Valley—to name a few, it’s no surprise that Yosemite would make the list of most photogenic parks. What is surprising though, is that many visitors and photographers spend all their time capturing the infamous Yosemite Valley when there’s so much more to explore. “The valley is only 5% of Yosemite and the rest of the backcountry is also full of gems,” said Luong.
The most visited national park in the country and one of the most picturesque spots in the southeast, Great Smoky Mountains National Park easily earns a top spot for its mountainous views, world class diversity of animal and plant life and its accessibility. Though there are no shortage of trails in this magnificent 522,419-acre park, most people take in the view from the scenic highway that runs along the mountains and affords breathtaking photo opportunities.
The stunning natural beauty of Zion National Park is enough to prompt a visit, but getting the truly breathtaking shots here will require some work. Two of the most photographed formations in the park—the Narrows and Angels Landing—will take some trekking and possibly wading through some water. Check the conditions at the park before you go to ensure you can access these areas and so you’ll know what to bring.
Described by photographer Quan-Tuan Luong as “vast and wild,” this Alaskan park is home to the tallest peak on the continent, incredible wildlife and some of the most stunning natural scenery anywhere. “During my two-week solo climb of the coldest mountain on earth, I experienced some of the most spectacular high camps in my life,” said Luong. “As glaciers delicately illuminated by the midnight sun stretched to the horizon.”
Craigs and spires shoot up in spectacular fashion in this 244,000-acre park that draws landscape photographers from around the world. The rock formations here are some of the most striking, but they’re also some of the fastest eroding landscapes on earth. Visit Badlands National Park to capture the eccentric rock formations, rich colors and changing light that makes the park so spectacular.
It’s no surprise that the infamous Grand Canyon National Park would make it on the list of most photogenic parks. As one of the most frequently visited—and photographed—natural attractions in the U.S., the Grand Canyon has earned an elite status among tourists and professional photographers alike. The colossal canyon has beckoned people to its cutaway gorges for hundreds of years—from Native Americans who considered it a holy site to the masses of tourists that visit today to take in the grandeur, the Grand Canyon and it’s almost two billion years of geological history is a landmark whose importance is evident at first sight.
“Despite modest size and scale, compared to the western parks, I am always delighted by the harmony and diversity of coast, mountains, ponds and forest,” said Luong of the diverse natural environment in Acadia National Park. The park with a little bit of everything hosted 2.5 million people last year, making it the ninth most visited in the country and although Cadillac Mountain is among the most popular spots for photos, there are many other places worth checking out.
The world’s first national park, Yellowstone was initially preserved for its abundance of geysers, hot springs and volcanic activity. While the concentration of these natural features continues to draw photographers from around the world, there’s so much more to see and photograph. With an incredible population of protected wild life and brilliant mountaintops reflected in alpine lakes, Yellowstone is an outdoor photographer’s heaven.
The northernmost national park in the U.S., the entire boundary of Gates of the Arctic is north of the Arctic Circle. Devoid of roads, campsites and marked trails, this park is the epitome of a wilderness experience and it’s the second least visited national park in the country. For the most adventurous photographer, this national park offers unspoiled natural beauty at its finest.