Many of you living in America may be planning a staycation instead of travelling abroad or as travel restrictions are relaxed, Brits might be thinking about a trip across the pond, so I’ve made a list of places that will inspire you to explore with your cameras. Compiling a list of my favourite landscape locations in the United States is no easy task as there is just so much to choose from. It was difficult to restrict it to only 10 locations and I’m sure you will point out places that should be on this list. To make it a little easier, I’ve based my decision on two factors:
Landscape photography for me is all about the experience and enjoyment of a location. If I have to share my tripod space with too many other photographers, I tend to walk away and find a quieter place. At this point you might be thinking, why has he chosen some of the busiest national parks? Even at some of the most popular national parks I manage to evade the crowds by going out of season and photographing at dawn, which helps as most tourists don’t hit the hotspots until after the obligatory bacon, eggs and a short stack of pancakes smothered in maple syrup. There are some locations that didn’t make the list because the experience is horrendous, such as the slot canyons near Page, Arizona and Mesa Arch, Utah. I’ve enjoyed these locations years ago before social media turned them into a circus, making them the worst experience now and near impossible to get decent images.
Variety is the spice of life, so being able to capture a multitude of compositions in an area was an important factor when deciding which landscape locations to include on my list. This could be at the specific location or nearby.
There is a good reason Yosemite is number one on my list. It’s such an iconic place that the father of landscape photography, Ansel Adams, immortalised. It is a landscape photographer’s paradise with so many wonderful locations to choose from. There are iconic views such as Tunnel Viewpoint pictured here, that are easy to photograph. The car park is right there at the viewpoint so no hiking involved. Because of this you most likely won’t be alone, but the view is worth sharing. I made this image after a clearing rain storm one afternoon in January. As popular as Yosemite is, I always manage to walk a short distance and have the place to myself. Many of the classic viewpoints such as Glacier Point, Valley View along the Merced River, Half Dome and Yosemite Falls (the highest waterfall in the USA) are easy to photograph from or near the road, but once you get away on one of the many hiking trails you soon discover so much more Yosemite has to offer. I like following the course of the Merced River that weaves through the valley to find reflections of iconic rock faces such as El Capitan.
The best time of year to visit Yosemite is in the autumn when the summer crowds ease and autumn trees light up the valley. With the change of seasons, you are more likely to get mist at this time of year. Saying that, I went in January when I made these images and the temperatures were much warmer than usual. Instead of snow, which I was hoping for, I had rain, but as the rain cleared it left this beautiful mist in the valley. February tends to be the coldest time so you’re more likely to have snow, which adds a very special dimension for landscape photography. Check out more images.
Bryce Canyon National Park is one of my favourite places for landscape photography. The colours of the dramatic rock formations are like no where else in the world. Millions of years of weathering and erosion have transformed giant amphitheaters into unusual structures called hoodoos. It was named after a Mormon pioneer, Ebenezer Bryce who settled in the area in 1874. You can drive along the 18-mile drive to Rainbow Point, the highest part of the park at 9,105 feet. You can photograph from the many viewpoints along the rim or hike down into the canyon for awe inspiring views. From my experience, if you do want to capture the sunrise over the canyon, go to Sunset Point overlook as the view over Silent City is stunning.
Because the average elevation is around 8,000 feet, I would recommend going in the autumn when the quaking aspens turn a golden hue. Winter is also a great time to go as there are no crowds and the snow gives a beautiful coating to the hoodoos. There are so many other great locations nearby such as Zion National Park, Escalante and Capital Reef National Park you could easily spend several weeks exploring the area. Check out more images.
Used in countless westerns and commercials, Monument Valley optimises the American West with its famous buttes and mesas. From my first visit to Monument Valley back in the early 80’s to most recently, I’ve seen a huge change in accommodation. The standard has increased immensely with The View hotel being built on the overlook into the valley so every room has a view of the iconic Mittens. You can literally shoot from your room, but I would suggest getting out to explore the valley. There are classic locations along the 17 mile loop road such as The Three Sisters, North Window and The Totem Poles. You can drive yourself long the dirt road or take a guided tour. I would recommend going in September or October when the temperatures are not too hot. Check out more images.
Heading out to the West Coast for my next two locations, I start with one of the most impressive mountains in the West, Mt. Rainier, which is actually an active volcano. In fact, it is potentially the most dangerous volcano in the Cascades because of its height, frequent earthquakes and extensive amount of glaciers. As its the highest mountain in the Cascade Range at 14,410 feet, it often has unique atmospheric conditions that produce lenticular clouds over the mountain. On one occasion I photographed a cloud that looked like a ring had been placed on the mountain. There are several lakes in which you can capture the reflection of Mt. Rainier in the lake, most notably, Reflection Lakes as they are right next to the road with a carpark. My favourite lake location is Tipsoo Lake as its a bit more remote at the far eastern boundary of the park. On the morning I did the short hike to the lake, I was surprised there was only one other photographer there. We were rewarded with a spectacular sunrise when the clouds lit up in the West.
My favourite times of the year to visit are in the summer for the wildflowers and autumn when the huckleberry turns a crimson red. I was making this image in Paradise Meadows from the footpath when a black bear passed by behind me grazing on the huckleberries totally oblivious of the numerous tourists only a short distance away. Check out more images.
The Oregon coast has some of the best beaches and sea stacks with some of the most dramatic coastline along the 12-mile long Samual H. Boardman Scenic Corridor, which was named after the first Oregon Parks superintendent. There are several parking areas with viewpoints such as Natural Bridges Viewpoint, Arch Rock Viewpoint and Thunder Rock Cove, but I would recommend exploring along the Oregon Coast Trail to really appreciate the stunning coastline. Further up the coast, there are numerous beaches, but one of the most beautiful is Bandon Beach with the distinctive sea stacks. The weather along the coast can be unpredictable with sea fog. This image of the Wizard’s Hat took me 5 attempts before I had the right conditions. I was there in October, but have heard the wintertime produces the best sunrises and sunsets. Check out more images.
The Grand Canyon is probably the most iconic landscape location in America with nearly 6 million visitors a year, making it the second most visited national park followed by the Great Smoky Mountains. The South Rim is the most popular with various viewpoints along the 22-mile Desert View Drive. My favourite viewpoints for photography are Yavapai Point, Mather Point and especially Hopi Point as it extends the furthest out into the canyon so is perfect for sunrises and sunsets. The North Rim is less visited but is equally dramatic. Its elevation is 1000 feet higher than the South Rim at 8,148 feet and as there are aspen trees there they add a splash of yellow in the autumn. It’s best to avoid the Grand Canyon in the summer due to the temperatures and crowds, so I would recommend autumn and winter as the best time for photography. Check out more images.
When it comes to the Rocky Mountains, Maroon Peaks reflecting in Maroon Bells Lake has to be one of the most recognisable mountain images in America. It’s nestled in a glacial valley between the city of Aspen and Snowmass Village down at the end of Maroon Creek Road. The popularity of this wilderness area has made it a victim of its own success. When I first photographed the lake in the ’80s, you could access the area anytime for free. Now you have to make parking reservations for $10 if you access before 8 am and after 5 pm, which are the best times for photography. I guess they realised this is when all the photographers go so they could make more money. Any time of the year is good, but autumn is especially popular when splashes of yellow aspens line the lake.
Another location in the area which is a bit more difficult to get to is Crystal Mill or Deadhorse Mill as it’s sometimes referred to as, on the upper Crystal River in Gunnison County. It’s located 5-miles down a very rugged four-wheel-drive road near the ghost town of Crystal. Built of wood, it’s amazing that it’s lasted all these years especially being subjected to the harsh mountain elements in the winter. It’s now on the National Register of Historic Places to protect it for posterity. When I made this image, I met the owner who was there to protect it from being vandalised. He explained, one day a guy in a jeep drove across the river, hooked a chain around the bottom of the mill when fortunately the owner turned up just in time and asked him what he was doing. The man said he wanted to watch it fall. The owner pointed out who he was and if he were to pull it down he would get a huge fine and a prison sentence. The man quickly unhooked the chain and left. Check out more images.
Ever since I first saw Pink Floyd’s album cover Wish You Were Here in 1975 of the diver in Mono Lake, I just had to photograph these unusual tufa formations. Tufa is formed underwater when calcium-rich fresh spring water seeps up from the lake bottom to mix with lakewater rich in carbonates resulting in calcium carbonate or limestone. So how did these amazing formations end up rising out of the lake? The need for water to service Los Angeles resulted in the building of the California aqueduct which diverted water in northern California between 1940 and 1970. This resulted in the water level of Mono Lake severely reducing leaving the tufa formations being exposed above the water level. Since then, a restoration project to save Mono Lake has been growing stronger, so the water level is increasing. It took me numerous visits to finally capture this incredible colourful sunrise over the tufa formations.
The best of the formations are on the southern side of the lake, but also check out Navy Beach further east along the shoreline. There are some interesting formations on the beach. There is so much to photograph in the Owens Valley such as Bodie State Park, which is a fantastic ghost town just north of Mono Lake. The eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park is right there at Lee Vining, check to see if it’s open as winter snowfalls and frequent rockfalls tend to close it. Further south of Mono Lake is Mammoth Lakes, Mt. Whitney, and the bristlecone pine trees in the White Mountains. This only begins to touch on the number of landscape locations in this area, so you could easily spend a couple of weeks exploring here. Any time of the year is good for photography, but I prefer the autumn and springtime. Snow tends to close access to the White Mountains and the eastern entrance to Yosemite up until May-June depending on the amount of snowfall over the winter. Check out more images.
We can’t forget the East Coast and the New England states offer so much to photograph especially in the autumn when the landscape turns golden yellow and intense red. When it comes to landscape photography locations, Acadia National Park is my go-to area. It has so much variety in such a small area. Classic New England fishing villages, stunning views from Cadillac Mountain, cascading waterfalls, rugged coastal scenery and even a lighthouse. Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is one of the more popular lighthouses to photograph along the Maine coastline especially at sunset in the autumn, so it’s advisable to arrive early and choose a spot where no one can stand in front of you. I used a 4-minute exposure using a Lee Big Stopper to smooth out the water improving the reflections.
A popular location to photograph the sunrise is at Boulder Bay with the Otter Cliffs in the background. Take care when negotiating on the boulders especially at low tide when the rocks are wet and dangerously slippery. Autumn is the favourite time of year to visit for the autumn colours, but it can become very crowded. Coastal photography isn’t reliant on autumn colours so if you go in the winter, you will most likely have the place to yourself. Be aware that many of the hotels close for the season as they turn off the water on Mt. Desert Island. Check out more images.
Chances are you haven’t heard of Ricketts Glen State Park, and as such it’s a hidden gem in northern Pennsylvania. If you love photographing waterfalls then this is the place to go. There are 21 waterfalls along the 7.2-mile loop trail and in my experience, I would say 15 of them are worth photographing so there is plenty to keep you busy. The height of the waterfalls range from 11 feet to an impressive 94 feet. I would recommend entering the trail from Lake Rose and allow a full day for hiking and photography. Take food and water as there are no facilities. Don’t forget to use a polarising filter to remove the reflections from the rocks and foliage, which will increase the saturation in the greens. If you like the smooth, silky water effect then try using a Lee Little Stopper to reduce the exposure time. The best time of the year to visit is in the spring and summer. Autumn is great for the colours, but many of the waterfalls are not at their best because of the lack of water. You could combine your visit with a trip to New York City as it’s only a 3-hour drive away. Check out more images.
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