National Parks Pro Guide

Tips and insights on where to go inside some of our most popular national parks

Swiftcurrent Lake

The national parks are a treasure trove of wilderness, habitat and scenic beauty, but most visitors never venture more than 100 feet from the roads or parking areas. The bulk of the landscape in our parks is pristine and quiet, and just waiting for you and your camera. Outdoor Photographer reached out to nature photographers across the United States to get their advice on where to go for spectacular images in many of our most popular national parks.

Acadia National Park, Maine
Joe Braun

www.citrusmilo.com


Cadillac Mountain Sunrise

Cadillac Mountain Sunrise
Located along the rugged coastline of Maine, Acadia National Park is special because it has such diverse terrain in such a small area, from the beautiful pink granite shoreline to the majestic glacier-carved mountain peaks to the pristine woodlands and lakes in between. One of the iconic and most popular spots to catch sunrise is from the summit of Cadillac Mountain, the highest spot on Mount Desert Island. Allow at least an hour before sunrise to drive up to the summit and find a spot to shoot. While you'll be sharing the summit with a crowd of people, it's easy enough to wander around the summit trail to find an unobstructed view with an interesting foreground. Shooting with a tripod and bracketing or using a graduated neutral-density filter is recommended. This shot was taken with a Nikon D800 and 24-120mm ƒ/4 lens at 28mm and ƒ/8) While Cadillac Mountain is most famous for its sunrises, the sunsets from the summit can be spectacular, as well!


Ethereal Waves At Monument Cove

Ethereal Waves At Monument Cove
Another rewarding spot to shoot in Acadia National Park is the coastline along Ocean Path, where rugged granite cliffs alternate with several "beaches" of large granite rocks that have been smoothed over by the unrelenting force of the ocean waves. Sunrise is a great time to photograph the coastline, but since the Park Loop Road is one-way, it's best to leisurely scope out spots to shoot beforehand. Numerous parking areas offer convenient access to many famous landmarks, including Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Monument Cove and "Boulder Beach," a popular spot for photography located just north of Otter Cliff. Foggy days are also good opportunities to photograph the coastline in a more surrealistic light. This shot was taken with a Nikon D800 and 18-35mm ƒ/3.5-4.5G lens at 18mm and ƒ/11 with a 3.0 neutral-density filter for a two-minute exposure that turned the waves into an ethereal mist. Be extremely careful when exploring the coastline; the rocks are amazingly slippery and treacherous to camera gear and limbs. Other wonderful spots for photography in Acadia include the Bubbles from the Jordan Pond House, many of the majestic carriage road bridges, including Cobblestone Bridge, and the iconic Bass Harbor Head Light.

Glacier National Park, Montana
Chuck Haney
www.chuckhaney.com


Bowman Lake

Bowman Lake
Bowman Lake is situated in Glacier's remote northwestern corner and is one of my favorite locations to shoot in all of the park. I often go with my kayak and explore this almost perfect setting of lake and mountains. There's a great campground located right at the head of the lake and makes for a nice evening shoot. Here, a break in the clouds provided a shaft of light that gave this image the dramatics it needed to be successful. Summers are great, but the best time to shoot here is in late October when the tamarack trees turn golden and you'll have the campground all to yourself. At the edge of the park, the Polebridge Mercantile is extremely photogenic and the aroma coming from the bakery very seducing. I used a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Canon 24-105mm ƒ/4L lens at 1⁄25 sec., ƒ/8 and ISO 200.

Swiftcurrent Lake
Swiftcurrent Lake in the scenic Many Glacier Valley in the park's eastern front is a favorite for sunrise shooting. You can only hope the infamous winds aren't blowing hard from the mountains. This morning, the winds were calm and the clouds were hanging in the peaks as the sunrise light broke through, giving the image great dramatic lighting. I combined two different versions of the original image in Photoshop where I brought out some of the shadow detail while retaining the glow on Grinnell Point. For this shot, I used a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Canon 24-70mm ƒ/2.8L lens for 10 sec., at ƒ/13 and ISO 200. The Many Glacier Valley has abundant wildflowers in July and is home to fantastic wildlife opportunities, as many grizzly bears, moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goats inhabit this scenic valley.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Josh Miller

www.joshmillerphotography.com


Elves Chasm Waterfall

Elves Chasm Waterfall
This photo was created during a 21-day winter rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. Having seen a couple of snapshots from a friend's trip through the canyon, I could tell it had great photographic potential, so we made a special point to spend enough time in the location to wait for the right light. Elves Chasm is unique in that it only can be reached easily by rafting the Colorado River. The only alternative is a long dangerous backpack that involves technical climbing and rope work. While on the river, I kept my photo gear safely inside a watertight Pelican case mounted next to me on the raft. While on shore, I'm able to pull my camera bag out of the case and carry it with me as I explore side canyons and waterfalls. This shot was taken with a Nikon D200, Nikon 12-24mm ƒ/4 lens, Gitzo tripod and Really Right Stuff ballhead.


Redwall Cavern

Redwall Cavern
While rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, we made a lunch stop at Redwall Cavern. Having read about the cave in John Wesley Powell's account of the first descent of the Colorado River, I was excited to spend a little time exploring it with my camera. Knowing there was no way for a single exposure to hold the tonal range of the rock deep in the cave as well as the sunlight outside the canyon, I bracketed multiple exposures. At the time, HDR was in its infancy, but I could see its potential for situations like this. It wasn't until several years later that the technology matured enough that I was able to pull the exposures together successfully. But it proved to me the value of capturing for the future because we never know what future technology will make possible.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Bryan Hansel

www.bryanhansel.com


Brooding Badlands

Brooding Badlands
Unzipping my tent to a chilly February morning in Badlands National Park, I found a sky covered with clouds. I had come to the Badlands to photograph the full moon rising and setting over the jagged Badlands formations. With the dense clouds, it didn't look like I'd get a picture I wanted. Just before the moon set, a sliver of sky broke through the clouds above the formation I had scouted the day before. A moon pillar, a type of atmospheric phenomena created by ice crystals, jetted out from the clouds toward the ground. While not the moonset, I knew I had the picture I wanted. I shot the picture at 135mm on my Nikon 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 VR and my D800. One of the reasons why I love winter in the Badlands and a reason why I teach an early winter workshop there is that few people visit in the winter. In the summer, you'd share a full campground, and the scenic waysides overlooking the otherworldly landscape feel crowded. In the winter, you have the park to yourself, save a few park rangers and herds of mule deer, bison and bighorn sheep.


Castle Trail

Castle Trail
My boots slid on mud hidden under the dried and cracked surface of a Badlands formation while I balanced precariously on the side of a steep drop-off. For a second, I thought, "This isn't going to be a fun fall." But, then, I caught my balance. I waited in the bitter cold on the side of that formation, entranced by the seemingly endless views, until the sky turned the same orange color as the 30-million-year-old mud I stood on. To make the shot, I used a Nikon D800 and a Nikon 24-120mm ƒ/4 VR lens at 48mm. To balance the exposure between the sky and the ground, I used a 3-stop Singh-Ray Daryl Benson Reverse Graduated Filter stacked with a 2-stop soft Galen Rowell Graduated Neutral-Density Filter. Because the contrast between the sky and ground is so great in the Badlands, I recommend bringing a full set of ND grads. Make sure to bring warm-weather clothing along with your down parka. The day after I took this shot in March, the daytime temperature reached the 60s. On a first visit, drive the Badlands Loop Road, the main route through the park, but if the ground is frozen or dry, make sure to hike into the formations. My favorite hike is a one-way trip from the Door and Window area to Saddle Pass along the Castle Trail. During the summer months, the light can be harsh in the midday, but winter months offer all-day golden hour light.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
JW Johnston

www.jwjohnston.com


South River Falls

South River Falls
In the case of Shenandoah National Park's South River Falls, greater effort can yield greater reward. The park's third-highest waterfall can be stunning. An easy one-and-a-third-mile, downhill walk from the trailhead takes you to an overlook with a good view, from a distance. But if you literally go the extra mile, you can get to the South River Falls base. So I stayed on the trail, turned right onto a fire road, and took a narrow, rocky and sometimes steep path, climbing over and crawling under fallen trees. As the path opened up, before me was a breathtaking 83 feet of cascading water and craggy rock. Going to the base transforms an easy hike into a moderately difficult one. A two-and-a-half-mile round-trip hike becomes four-and-a-half miles, with an estimated 1,300-foot total climb. Set aside the whole day. Take a lunch, plenty of water, a hiking pole and wear good hiking boots. It helps if you're in good shape. And, remember, wet rock is slippery. My equipment for this August 1997 photograph was a Toyo 45AII, Schneider 90mm lens, 81A polarizer and Kodak E100S film.

Everglades National Park, Florida
Constance Mier

www.constancemierphotography.com


Great White Egret

Great White Egret
From November to April, the Everglades is one of the most popular locations for bird photography. From May to October, the mosquitoes and heat are intolerable to most, and several migrating birds don't reside in the Everglades. For the adventurous wildlife photographer, however, summer in the Everglades can be rewarding. As an example, shown here is a nesting great white egret flying back to its nest (handheld Sony a77v camera and 70-400mm F4-5.6 G SSM Sony lens). It's one of the many species of birds that live in the Everglades year-round. I captured this image while in my canoe on Chokoloskee Bay. Wading birds are out in the open in large shallow bays, so a canoe or kayak is the best way to access them. During early-morning hours, you can avoid the mosquitoes, heat and frequent afternoon storms. On the northern end of the park, you can access Chokoloskee Bay and the gulf waters from the Gulf Coast Visitor Center. In addition, wading birds can be found in great numbers during low-tide conditions on Florida Bay, accessed from the Flamingo Visitor Center located on the southern end of the park. If you're lucky, you may spot an American crocodile in the water.


Storm Clouds

Storm Clouds
Everglades National Park is a unique combination of freshwater marshes, coastal prairies and mangrove swamps. It has two seasons, wet and dry. Summer brings much rain, which makes it the most rewarding and yet most challenging time to photograph the Everglades. For many, the relentless heat and mosquitoes are intolerable. But, if you can manage these, you'll be rewarded with beautiful scenes, and most of these will be accessible to you within a short walk from your motor vehicle. The Everglades doesn't have lofty peaks, mighty glaciers, or rushing streams, but it has an amazing summer sky that fills with dramatic storm clouds in the afternoon, spreading wide over the low-profile landscape. In the image, dark clouds offer a rainbow to accompany the frontlit saltwort prairie (handheld, Sony a77v, DT 16-50mm F2.8 SSM Sony lens). Along the Ingraham Highway, a 38-mile paved road through the park, you can choose from a variety of unique landscape subjects, including pine rocklands and dwarf cypress swamp. Pine rocklands are seriously threatened by development outside of the park, so the privilege to photograph these areas is worth the trouble. Bring bug repellent, a mosquito head net, sun screen and water.

Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming
Sandy Sisti

wildatheartimages.photoshelter.com


Sunrise Over Alum Creek

Sunrise Over Alum Creek
Known for its spectacular scenery, incredible thermal features and wealth of wildlife, Yellowstone National Park is an unparalleled photographic destination. With all the park has to offer, it's no wonder Yellowstone receives over 3 million visitors each year. Since summer is Yellowstone's busiest season, you may want to schedule your photo adventure during the early-morning and early-evening hours. Not only will you avoid the crowds, but you'll be shooting in the magic light of the golden hour, after sunrise and before sunset.

During midsummer, temperatures often dip below freezing in Yellowstone's Hayden Valley, causing mist to rise off the rivers and creeks in the early morning. When this phenomenon occurs, a popular location to photograph sunrise is along Alum Creek on the north end of Hayden Valley. On this particular morning, the low-lying fog, combined with smoke from distant wildfires, created a dramatic sunrise. This image was photographed using a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon 100-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens and a Gitzo tripod with a Wimberley head.


Bull Elk And Brown-Headed Cowbird

Bull Elk And Brown-Headed Cowbird
When visiting Yellowstone, it's best to pack multiple lenses along with a sturdy tripod and a beanbag or window support for shooting from your vehicle. A supertelephoto lens and a medium-range telephoto zoom lens are recommended for wildlife shots, and a wide-angle lens is a must for both landscape and environmental photos. With these lenses in your camera bag, you'll be prepared for almost any situation you encounter while visiting America's first national park.

If you visit Yellowstone during July and August, chances are, you'll find bull elk feasting in the lush summer meadows. You'll also find flocks of brown-headed cowbirds following the elk as they graze. Cowbirds often perch on or near elk and other ungulates to collect the insects they attract. In this case, a persistent cowbird made numerous attempts to land on a bull elk's antlers, perhaps mistaking them for tree branches. After a while, the tenacious cowbird finally gave up and decided to perch in a nearby pine. This image was photographed from a vehicle using a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L IS II USM lens and a bean bag for support.

Acadia National Park, Maine
John Munno

www.johnmunnophotography.com


Magic Of Acadia

Magic Of Acadia
Summer is my favorite time to visit Acadia National Park. Air temperatures are warm and the days are long, providing for many hours of photo shooting and recreation. Acadia is famous for its seascapes. While there are many elements of nature to photograph in Acadia, the seascapes are out of this world. Many shots are easily accessible via a short walk or drive, yet speak of timeless places and raw beauty untouched by the hand of man. Plan your trip using moon and tide charts. A full moon adds a dynamic and magical element to your photos. "Magic of Acadia" is a photo of the moon rising over the Atlantic. Taken the day before the full moon, the time is right for the moon and surrounding light to be in the same tonal range. This shot was taken with a Nikon D7000 with a Nikon 12-24mm ƒ/4 lens and 800 ISO. Exposure was 30 seconds shot at ƒ/16. This photo was taken almost at full darkness. With such a long exposure, you can capture the moon beams on the water and motion blur of the water. Shooting at such times, one is on the cusp of daylight and darkness, and one can shoot in almost total darkness. It's a magical time to be taking photos and experiencing life!


Awakening

Awakening
Summer is the most popular time to visit Acadia so be prepared for lots of people. At the same time, I do most of my shooting in the early mornings and early evenings when the coast and roads are quiet. Often, it's just me, the sea and sound of the waves crashing upon the rocks. This photo "Awakening" is an example of the amazing sunrise seascape photos that can be taken at Acadia. The Park Loop Road between Sand Beach and Otter Point provides unlimited seascape shots and sunrise photos. This shot was taken at approximately 5:00 a.m. For these morning shots, I usually get up at 4:00 a.m. to get the coast by 4:30 in the dark and ready to shoot as the sky just starts to turn light. Make sure to have a flashlight. You'll need it to scramble over the rocks to the coast in the dark.

Accommodations can be made at the Black Rock Campground for a short drive to the coast or at hotels in Bar Harbor. This photo was taken with a Nikon D7000 and a Nikon 12-24 ƒ/4 wide-angle lens. Exposure time was 1 second at ƒ/18 with ISO 100. Split neutral-density filters are a must, as well as polarizing filters, a tripod and a cable release or remote.

Glacier National Park, Montana
Luke Tingley

www.luketingley.com


Evening Symphony

Evening Symphony
Rugged. Wild. Inspiring. Glacier National Park is a magical destination that offers something for everyone. Easy to access iconic vistas, secluded and remote backcountry, wildlife at every turn, pristine turquoise lakes, glaciers by the dozens, and thundering waterfalls all beg to be explored and photographed. Glacier will leave a lasting imprint on your soul. Standing along the shores of Saint Mary Lake with Wild Goose Island in the background, I braced against a chilly fall wind as waves assaulted the chiseled rock in my foreground. As the storm front broke apart, the clouds opened briefly, allowing a warm burst of light to add depth, scale and awe to the scene unfolding before me. For this shot, I used a Canon EOS-1DS Mark III, 16-35mm II ƒ/2.8L at ƒ/16 for 0.6 seconds and ISO 100, and a Gitzo tripod.


Lullabye

Lullabye
Visiting Glacier, be sure to bring a wide-angle lens for the sweeping grand landscapes, and keep your telephoto lens ready to go as wildlife is abundant and diverse. Visit the icons of Two Medicine Lake, Logan's Pass, Going to the Sun Road, Hidden Lake, Avalanche Creek, Wild Goose Island and Swiftcurrent Lake. If you want a popular and diverse trail, be sure to check out Upper Grinnell Lake for multiple opportunities to see wildlife, glaciers, meadows of bear grass and jaw-dropping views. After a couple of days of very windy conditions at Two Medicine Lake, I was finally treated to a perfectly calm morning. Just before sunrise, Earth's shadow and the Belt of Venus put on a dazzling show of color as Sinopah Mountain began to light up with alpenglow. Here, I used a Canon EOS-1DS Mark III, 24-70mm II ƒ/2.8L at ƒ/11 for 6 seconds, and a Gitzo tripod.

4 Comments

    I tend to agree with Ralph. I appreciate knowing the exposure, shutter speed, ISO and filters used, but I really couldn’t care less the brand of the ball head, for instance. I think OP magazine gets some sort of commission for including it. Good info otherwise, though.

Leave a Reply

Main Menu