25 Top Locations For Nature Photography

The pros of OP share some of their favorite locations from around the world
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Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming (Mark Lissick)
Oxbow Bend on the Snake River in the Grand Tetons is a setting that works photographically at almost anytime of day, but is even more special during dawn and evening hours. The area produces a dramatic palette of new options, thanks to the reflecting waters of the Snake River, nearby Mount Moran and the Teton Range, changing colors, the presence of moose and elk, and even smoke from occasional forest fires.

As OP turns 25, we have chosen to connect with some of the pros who have made the magazine great over the past two and a half decades to discover some of their all-time favorite locations. To be sure, there are plenty of the iconic spots you might expect—Yosemite, Glacier, the Grand Canyon, Acadia and others. There are also some lesser-known places like Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland, Minnesota’s Gooseberry Falls State Park and the Lake Mead Recreation Area near Las Vegas. And we received a few locations from outside North America, like Torres del Paine National Park in Chile and India’s Bandhavgarh National Park. Did we get every outstanding destination for nature photography in the world? Not by a long shot. We set out to give our readers a selection of special places from the pros who make OP unique. We hope you enjoy seeing some of their favorite spots.

Denali National Park, Alaska (George Lepp)
The grandscape of Mount McKinley from Wonder Lake is reason enough to go there. Access is tough, with options being buses and lodges at the end of the 90-mile Park Road. With few exceptions, private vehicles aren’t allowed past Mile 15. I occasionally work as a photo resource person at Camp Denali in the Kantishna Hills. This lodge has unlimited access to the road, and the staff is great. The Park Road can bring you close to moose, wolves, grizzly bears and caribou, as well as the beauty of the tundra. I would recommend going in late August or early September when the animals are in prime condition and the tundra has taken on its scarlet and purple fall color.

Central Tower Of Paine, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile (Bill Hatcher)
The Torres can be described in a single word: wild. A remarkable quality of the Torres region is that this incredibly rugged landscape of granite towers, glaciers, lakes and rivers is so easily accessed by way of the Paine Hiking Circuit—probably one of the most scenic hiking trails in the world. My favorite place along this trail is the side hike to view the Central Tower of Paine. This photo is taken from the climber’s bivy cave looking up at Torres del Paine.

Glacier National Park, Montana (James Kay)
The huge mountains and deep valleys of Glacier National Park are essentially the southern extension of the Canadian Rockies. As I write this, I’m unpacking from a two-week trip to Glacier, where I scrambled up Matterhorn-like summits and watched grizzlies digging through talus slopes to feed on their usual August diet of moths. With massive glacier-scooped lakes fringing its perimeter and with goats, sheep and grizzly bears in relative abundance, Glacier is a photographer’s paradise. There’s no place like it in the Lower 48.

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia (Jim Clark)
Considered a crown jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System, this enclave of isolated beaches, coastal marshes and forests offers a unique experience for the nature photographer. The refuge plays host to thousands of snow geese during the fall and winter, and the spring is busy with returning shorebirds and wading birds. Located next to the refuge is the Assateague Island National Seashore, which provides amazing opportunities to photograph the true essence of a coastal barrier island.

Baja Peninsula, Mexico (James Kay)
I’ve always been drawn to desert landscapes for their stark, surreal beauty and rich, warm light. In my experience, these elements reach a climax in the Sonoran Desert environment of the Baja Peninsula. What sets Baja apart from most other desert environments is the rather unique juxtaposition of desert and sea. This combination provides a subject-rich destination for photography. The cervezas are good, too.


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Yosemite Valley, California(William Neill)
The views from Cook’s Meadow that surround you here are of Half Dome, Glacier Point, Sentinel Rock and Yosemite Falls. Walk the trail around the meadow to find a variety of landscape possibilities.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland (Jim Clark)
Located along the Chesapeake Bay, this national wildlife refuge is off the beaten track, but throughout the year it presents a menu of delectable delights for the nature photographer. In autumn, the refuge plays host to thousands of Canada geese and other waterfowl as they migrate south. In winter, the refuge is the location to photograph wintering bald eagles. The spring season is busy with returning songbirds, while the coastal marshes and freshwater impoundment become the feeding grounds for great blue herons and an assortment of other waterbirds. Add frogs, turtles, deer and the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel, and you have a great Chesapeake Bay experience awaiting you.

Canadian Rockies (James Kay)
As much as I love the Colorado, Wyoming and Montana Rockies, I have to admit that my favorite portion of this mountain chain lies north of the U.S. border where it attains its most dramatic proportions. Turquoise glacial lakes, soaring glacier-clad peaks and turbulent foaming rivers all combine to make these mountains one of the most photogenic locations in North America. Unlike here in the States, where only small fragments of the Rockies are protected in national parks, a large portion of the Canadian Rockies is held in reserve as parks.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (Jack Dykinga)
There are limitless opportunities for photography at the Grand Canyon. The crowded overlooks should be experienced, but don’t stop there. For me, the Grand Canyon is the “unsolvable puzzle.” No matter how many times I’ve photographed the canyon, there are always surprises. I’m humbled by the experience, and regardless of how hard I try, my images pale in comparison to the Canyon’s majesty. I feel I’m never done.

San Juan Mountains, Colorado (George Lepp)
Sometimes called the Switzerland of America, this mountain range produces great photography throughout the year, but I try to be there every year in late July. The mountain basins above 10,000 feet are pockets of spring with alpine wildflowers galore. Add streams and picturesque waterfalls, along with rufous hummingbirds and furry little pikas and marmots, and you have a lot of exposures at your fingertips.

Artist Point, North Cascades National Park, Washington State (Jay Goodrich)
One of the most dramatic locations in Washington state, Artist Point boasts 360º views of the Cascade Range and immediate vantage points for 10,000-foot Mount Baker to the west and 9,000-foot Mount Shuksan directly to the east. The drive to the summit travels from ocean views in Bellingham through temperate rain forest before reaching the parking lot at almost 5,000 feet above sea level. Snow lasts well into August, and the Mount Baker Ski Area holds the record for the most snowfall in a single season: 1,140 inches (95 feet).


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Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio (Jack Dykinga)
I remember my childhood days, recalling the most polluted river, which actually caught fire! The Cuyahoga, outside Cleveland, has since become the poster child for what’s possible in terms of environmental cleanup. Today, its valley comprises much of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I had the good fortune to see firsthand the many “staircase” cascades with members of the Cuyahoga Valley Photographic Society, who opened my eyes to some amazing waterfalls, like this one, Blue Hen Falls.

The Highlands Of West Virginia (Jim Clark)
As a native son of the Mountain State, I’m partial to the photographic wonders of this piece of Appalachian heaven. The Highland region is particularly a gem, and it’s considered to be one of the prime nature photography locations in the U.S. With waterfalls and wild rivers, autumn’s amazing colors painting the forest and hillsides, and spring’s abundant profusion of wildflowers, the Highland region offers something for every taste. There are hundreds of miles of country roads and a host of national forests, state parks and national wildlife refuges to explore. While more and more photographers are discovering this jewel of the mid-Atlantic, it still offers space to roam.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah (James Kay)
While Utah is home to five national parks, Capitol Reef is the most undeveloped and least crowded. Within the park’s borders are huge chunks of wilderness that few people ever visit. The convoluted and dissected sandstone canyons of the Waterpocket Fold would take several lifetimes to explore. Although I’ve photographed in the park countless times, I’ve just barely nicked the surface. It’s a treasure trove.

Acadia National Park, Maine (Jack Dykinga)
I’ve led several photo workshops here, but my most intimate encounters have brought me some of my most memorable images. Fall colors reflected in pools or coastal granite outcroppings turn magical with autumn’s color. Even poison ivy looks amazing against the blue-gray coastal boulders.

Lake Mead Recreation Area, Nevada (Rob Sheppard)
Visit the Lake Mead Recreation Area just to the east of Las Vegas, and you’ll find an amazing location for landscape photography. The area is far more than just the lake. It’s a place filled with desert mountains, badlands, volcanic rock formations and more. The Muddy Mountains run through much of it, and you’ll quickly see where they got their name. You can reach many great locations by hiking short distances from the main road, Highway 169. Remember to bring water as it’s very dry here. There are also dirt roads that will take you further into the rugged landscapes, though you’ll often need four-wheel drive.

Lake Tahoe, California (Dewitt Jones)
Few natural wonders are as accessible and as beautiful as Lake Tahoe. Azure water, golden sand beaches, granite peaks and tumbling waterfalls make this region a photographer’s heaven. Although the ecosystem in and around Lake Tahoe is under siege, it’s still one of the loveliest settings anywhere. The color of the water is unique, and it needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated.

Mono Lake, California (George Lepp)
For 25 years, I ran spring and fall workshops in the Mono Lake area. The lake and the surrounding mountains offer such a variety of photographic opportunities that a five-day workshop could hardly do it justice. Great landscapes, tree-nesting birds, interesting small mammals and wildflowers are all at their peak in June, and snowcapped mountains and brilliant foliage color the fall. Mono Lake is located on the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains at the junction of Highways 395 and 120.


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Bandhavgarh National Park, India (Art Wolfe)
Two words: wild tigers. The magnificent beasts are some of the most endangered on the planet, and this is one of the few places left where you can see them in the wild. Bandhavgarh is situated reasonably close to Jabapur, and it’s part of the rugged Vindhyan mountain range in the central part of the country. Beyond the tigers, there are populations of many other rare animals. Prepare to be patient, and have a good telephoto lens.

Big Bend National Park, Texas (Jack Dykinga)
Big Bend is a park that continually draws me back to its lush (by desert standards) Chihuahuan Desert. The sky island Chisos Mountains harbor stratified life zones and endless opportunities to juxtapose harsh desert agave and cacti with delicate floral displays. All this with the meandering bend in the Rio Grande and the Sierra del Carmen beckoning from across the river in Mexico.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming (Mark Lissick)
The Norris Geyser Basin contains the hottest water in all of Yellowstone National Park. With the cold autumn air, the Back Basin is oriented to take advantage of the rising sun shining through the steam from the hot springs. In fall, the bull elk are in full rut and occasionally can be spotted in the basin as they gather their harems. I like to sit on the boardwalk as the dawn paints the scene while listening to the sounds of steam percolating from the vents. The haunting sounds of elk bugles in the distance make the basin one of the most perfect places to photograph.

McNeil River, Alaska (Moose Peterson)
With only the sound of the river rushing by and with big, brown bruins lounging right beside, there’s no other place on this planet like the McNeil River. This sanctuary for coastal grizzlies has been preserved for decades, and each year a few by lottery are afforded the honor of sharing four days with these big ol’ teddy bears.

Gooseberry Falls State Park, Minnesota (Rob Sheppard)
Minnesota’s most visited state park, Gooseberry Falls is a phenomenal location. Within a short distance, you can access waterfalls of varying size, depending on rainfall, but they’re great subjects anytime of year. A valley below the falls has many photo ops, a trail along its southwest side overlooks the Gooseberry River, and at the end of the valley, you reach Lake Superior. You can hike there or drive through the park. Terrific rocks line the shore, plus the huge expanse of water provides good sunrise and sunset photos.

Playa del Carmen, Mexico (Jay Goodrich)
Mexico is becoming a worrisome place along the southern U.S. border, but further south, in towns like Playa del Carmen, things are still safe for travelers. A recent trip highlighted stunning beach sunsets, and the color palette is mind-boggling—one evening boasted seven different rainbows in a 30-minute period. The white sand beaches give way to the emerald waters of the Caribbean, which lead your view right to the pink hues of sunset. In addition, there are cenotes, temple ruins and jungle paradises that keep you longing for return trips.

48 Comments

    It is amazing that twenty of the 25 were in the usa and the others were close by. if it wasn’t for art wolfe going to india you would not have left the americas. maybe your guy should travel more or call the article favorites in the usa and a some other areas not the usa. go Art.

    I agree with Darren. I just came back from 2 weeks in East Africa and it was a fantastic photo holiday. There is also Petra, Jordan. Been there twice to photograph it. Victoria Falls, Africa. Could go on and on and on.

    I am travelling 1 – 2 times a year to the US so I am glad for this choice. It is a great inspiration. But I travel also to other places and I suggest You rename this article the Top locations of the USA and bordering countries. As there are so many photogenic places EVERYWHERE!

    WHen I read the title I thought it would include sites from around the world. Then after reading the first age I thought it must be about North America. Then came Art Wolff and I thought it was an anomaly! Yes Darren is right on, this article seems to say that their usual hangouts is in the USA.

    It is a shame that you guys don’t get out more. Save for a couple of examples all were shot in the US. Maybe you should call yourselves “Outdoor Photographer USA”. Your loss, you and your readers are missing so much here!

    Brian Carey

    Agree with these comments. I travel the world looking for good foto locations and leaving out the karst formations of China, the Himalayas, the outback, Kakadoo Park in Ozland, Bhutan, Tibet etc etc doesn’t make sense. OP has a growing international following and this article just doesn’t cut it. Although it is great for USA 25.

    Give ’em a break, guys. It is a U.S.-based magazine, so naturally most sites are going to be in the U.S. Most Americans just don’t have the time or money to go overseas most years.

    That’s fine Bob. But then the title of the article should change. In US this seems to be quite common. Like calling a championship of american teams ‘world series’.

    “The pros of OP share some of their favorite locations from around the world”

    That’s the clincher for me. I don’t care if this is a US based magazine. Once you say “the world” most expect at least two or three continents to be represented. Either rename the title “The pros of OP share some of their favorite locations from around the US” or choose a more diverse collection of photographers. It’s not like the US has a monopoly on the world’s best landscape photographers.

    I looked forward to this article but was disappointed that 4 out of 5 locations are in the USA so its hardly a world wide portfolio is it?

    1st tip for Americans: The globe is planet earth on which sits 195 countries. The USA is just 1 country, not the only country.

    2nd tip for Americans: if you hold a competition with the word “World” in the title, it might be more competitive if you invite more than 2 other countries.

    I am a dedicated OP reader living in Jordan. I often look for articles or locations outside the US but am more often failed than not. Glad to read somebody up there has visited Jordan not once but twice. I am impressed. Give me a shout next time you visit. I can show you a lot more. Hope to see more international presence in the magazine in the future.

    Great spots all but yes I agree there are some ‘obvious’ top 20 spots missing, such as the Okavango Delta in Northern Botswana or all of Northern Botswana for that matter.

    For all you people saying it should be labeled “Top 25 North America” technically it is. It’s under the following link:
    OP Home > Locations > North America > 25 Top Locations For Nature Photography

    Thanks for pointing out some new places I didn’t know about, I feel a need for a road trip this summer.

    Nice locations, but wrong sub-title. Should be “Favorite American locations” instead of “Favorite locations from around the world”

    Not a single location in Europe, not a single location in the Middle East and really astonishing not a single location in Africa. For me Africa is clearly the most beautiful continent on this planet.

    So point 6 on the list “20 Things I’ve Learned From Traveling” from Gary Arndt seems to be true.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-arndt/20-thing-ive-learned-from_b_673264.html#s131325

    Seems like OP goes to the same few photographers every magazine… as if they are the only nature photographers out there.

    you should visit Mt. Bromo National Park or Krakatau or Sumba Island, Lake Kelimutu, Raja Ampat and many others in Indonesia. Our tropical (archipelago country and located at ring of fire Indonesia is ideal for nature photography

    While I certainly agree that North America does possess great beauty, I can’t believe that 24 of the world’s top 25 locations for shooting nature are located on one continent. What happened to the Jiuzhaigou National Park in China? How about the Sahara desert? There are certainly some amazing things in that three million square mile place. Does anyone else believe that Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania might belong on this list? Mt. Kilimanjaro is close by there. And I don’t see a single tropical island location, like Hawaii or Dominica. I don’t see Madagascar in the list either. Maybe they haven’t been there to photograph the Baobab tees or The Labyrinth of Stone from a balloon, so how would they know? http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ec/Tsingy_de_Bemaraha.jpg

    If this list is just about places good for landscape photography of mountainous regions, I would say that there must be some beautiful places to shoot in the Dolomites of northern Italy or the Andes mountains in South America, close to a rain forest or maybe a waterfall, like Angel Falls.

    Of course, how can anyone choose just 25 locations when you’re talking about the whole world? It should probably be 100 Top Locations For Nature Photography, or they could replace the location in India with a location in Canada, and then they could call it 25 Top Locations For Nature Photography In North America.

    One of the most over-rated photo sites being Denali National Park, Alaska (George Lepp)…

    Unless, you have special priviledges to gain access to Denali, don’t expect this place to be a ‘must visit’ place.

    Even the resident park service rangers gripe about their limited ability to explore Denali, (only three passes a year, I was told).

    Being restricted to just 15 miles of such a large park reserve borders on the insane!

    Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming gets my vote for sure. I have taken better pictures of Oxbow than the one Mark posted. Check out my Marvelous Oxbow Sunset on this site. A close tie & with Oxbow is Schwabacher’s Landing, Tetons.

    I think that this article does not include other wonderful locations. Indeed, here there are about 20/25 locations that are american. How can you define the article “The pros of OP share some of their favorite locations from around the world”?
    It was better if you say “The pros of OP share some of their favorite locations from around US”!
    Anyway, OUTSIDE the US there are a lot of wonderful locations for landscape and nature photography. Where I live, in Italy, for example there are the Dolomites Mountains… have you ever heard about them?

    Bye,
    Marco

    I’m glad to have this listing. It looks like OP has been challenged to get out there and find the best outside the US. Go for it OP!

    Just because you can’t afford to go see the places around the world. It doesn’t justify to eliminate them from being on the list of “25 Top Locations For Nature Photography” as they have so boldly stated. Ever heard of dreaming!

    What a wonderful collection of photographs!! I’ve found that my favorite places to photograph are places that I can visit repeatedly to learn and capture perfect conditions. Outdoor Photographer has been my bible as I’ve explored the joys of photography since I retired in 2003. My first trip was to Alaska; an article about a grad filter made it my first filter and allowed me to capture many scenes I would have otherwise missed.

    My mantra is to focus on health, love and joy so I find it interesting that a scornful first comment so shaped the tone of comments about this beautiful feature.

    Surprised to see Lake Mead NRA made the list. Never knew it to be so photogenic. Such a large area though…thinking I ought to check it out again on my next trip to Valley of Fire.

    I believe GREG (from Nov.17th) made the best observation i.e. LINKS ABOVE SAY: OP HOME>Locations>North America>25 Top Locations for Nature Photography. It looks like someone added the sub-title “from around the world” after seeing the India, 2-Chili, and Mexico locations. Maybe bump the India location and title it TOP LOCATIONS FROM THE AMERICAS or Western Hemisphere.Ya Think?
    As for the Cuyahoga Valley Park in Ohio…it’s great that they’ve rebounded from such a horrific environmental ordeal but a better photographic location in Ohio would have been Hocking Hills/Old Man’s Cave Park in Southeastern Ohio. I have photographed that region for decades and still find new and awesome sites to photograph. Multiple parks, forests and lakes overlapping and nearby too.

    Freaking grow up you bunch of babys. It’s about the pictures and the beauty they captured. I don’t care if they call it 25 pics of a monkey’s butt, I like the photos.

    Unlike many of these site, but would to see more places in the north east. All to often we see things out west but so little in the NE except New England during the foliage season

    What a pitty not living at USA, I thought best landscape places were distributed all around the world, OP told me how wrong I was. I will throw away all my landscape photos in order to replace with OP suggested places.

    Everyone is focusing on “the world”. Maybe they should focus on “their favorites”. For most of the photographers’ names I saw here, I have seen articles and photos they did from different countries. Maybe it just happens that their personal favorites are right here in the states??

    Agree with the majority of comments here. While I like the location tips and images, it’s a very narrow view of the world. I expected better from a magazine of OP’s stature.

    Are the critics here saying that OP should have told the photographers “sorry, you have to change your favorite because our readers want more diversity”? These are the favorite locations of the photographers, not the magazine. One of the photographers chose India so the term “world” had to be used. We are all suitably impressed with your world trotting ways but if a photographer’s favorite place happens to be outside of Cleveland, Ohio that is just the way it is. Please assume he apologizes for not being sufficiently worldly for the rest of you.

    I agree with Laurence Parent!! I don’t believe the Article intended to take anything away from all the other locations in the world. I certainly enjoyed viewing the photos presented, and have no problem with the title of the Article. Perhaps to satisfy some readers ego problems, it could have been, “25 Of The Top Locations For Nature Photography In The World”, but then some
    one would complain for some other unrealistic reason!!

    Frankly, I had hoped there would be a number of locations in the USA — places that I might have time and money to visit. Thank you Outdoor Photographer.

    This is a sad list. Definitely need to change to top places in the US and even then it’s leaving out some great locations and including some “are u kidding me” locations. Very sad for what I thought was a good magazine. I understand we all have different likes/dislikes but this one is pretty simple.

    Those are some amazing photography locations. Have you ever heard of http://www.pashadelic.com . It’s a great company, that I work for, that makes the life of photographers easy. You can search for new photography locations anywhere in the world and predict the sun/moon position to get the photo that you want.

    I really liked the article because it is informative and interesting too. I am a photography lover and going to enjoy a Silicon Valley bus tour and will love to remember these tips during my tour to make every capturing brilliant for me.

    Photography is a cool way to see the beauty of any region closely. I love to see the beauty of world and for that ging to have fun yosemite tour from san jose and very happy that it will be fun time for me.

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