Summer brings warm weather, long days and family vacations—elements that add up to make it the busiest time of year in the national parks. That makes some folks shy away, but savvy photographers know plenty of opportunities still abound for making beautiful images in the most amazing of America’s wild places. To that end, we asked award-winning nature photographer and national parks expert QT Luong to recommend the best national parks for summer visits. He’s made more than 300 trips to the parks, and as the author of Treasured Lands—a 480-page compendium of photographs of the national parks that’s filled with useful information for his fellow photographers—Luong is uniquely qualified to highlight the best parks and special places within them to photograph wilderness unencumbered by crowds.
Here, in Luong’s own words, are his top five national parks to visit in summer.
1. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
A convenient and uncrowded mini-Yellowstone with more diverse volcanic terrain.
Lassen is one of my favorite national parks for summer visits because even in the middle of summer you will not be among the crowds. It’s only about five or six hours from the San Francisco Bay area, but it’s the least visited of all the national parks in California. It is the 40th most visited national park, so only 21 parks are less visited—and quite a few of those are in Alaska.
The park’s volcanic terrain is beautiful, but what really makes it unique is that it’s a dictionary of volcanic features, with more variety of volcanic features in that park than in any other. You have lava flows and the four different types of volcanoes there, and at the same time you have some of the thermal features that you see in Yellowstone, like hot springs. In addition to all the volcanic terrain, you have lakes, mountains and forests similar to the Sierras. It is the snowiest place in California, so if you go during the spring up to about May, most of the roads are closed. It’s an ideal summer park for that reason, too.