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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.