2. Kings Canyon National Park, California
A comfortable, backcountry alternative to Yosemite.
Kings Canyon was conceived as a wilderness park when it was created, so they limited the number of roads. There is one road that goes into the Cedar Grove valley, which is kind of a second Yosemite but less crowded. For that alone, I would say it’s an interesting alternative to Yosemite for those who want to go to a quieter area. But most of the park is backcountry and is not accessible by road. In Yosemite, you have a road that crosses the park from west to east, but in Kings Canyon you cannot cross the park. To access the high country, you need to go hiking.
Summer is a great time to visit Kings Canyon’s high country because of its high elevation. At about 10,000 feet, those areas get snowed in until fairly late in the year. It’s not until the beginning of June that the trails are free of snow. It is possible to explore those areas on a very long day hike, but in general it is better to go as a backpacking trip.
For people who don’t have a lot of experience backpacking, I think it’s one of the best areas for a first trip. Because it is California, during the summer the weather is very stable, and you’re almost sure not to have any sustained rain. Sometimes you might have an afternoon thunderstorm, but they don’t last long, and the weather is mild, so you don’t need to bring a lot of gear. Often when I go backpacking in the Sierras, I don’t even bring a tent, which helps when you’re carrying a lot of camera gear.
My image of the reflection in the lake at sunset was taken at a place called Dusy Basin in the park. I think that’s one of the best backpacking trips for photography. There’s a bit of elevation gain, but it doesn’t take that long to hike up there. And then you have this beautiful light because that range is facing straight to the west, it’s at high elevation where it receives the last light of sunset and the alpine glow, and you have all those calm lakes that reflect the range. For someone wanting to try backpacking and go for a place with great photographic possibilities, it’s one of the best choices.