The Best National Parks to Photograph in Spring

 Ocotillo. Big Bend National Park. Texas.

Ocotillo. Big Bend National Park, Texas.

If I could go on a fabulous spring photography trip to the national parks of my choice, with no time limit and all expenses paid, which ones would I pick? Here are my choices, grouped by state from west to east. This list includes the favorites I have been to and want to go back to again, plus the ones I haven’t seen and most want to photograph.

Desert (Tufted Evening) Primrose, Southern Utah

Desert (Tufted Evening) Primrose, Southern Utah

Some of this list will look familiar. The same desert parks I prefer in the winter are the same desert parks I prefer in the spring, with the added plus of spring wildflowers.

California – Yosemite, Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Redwood

Lower Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California.

Lower Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California.

California has an abundance of national parks, and Yosemite is a must see in the spring.

Death Valley is horribly hot in the summer, so spring is a great time to beat the heat and photograph this fascinating high desert landscape. It is also remote so keep your gas tank well above half full.

Redwood and Joshua Tree are two very different but excellent parks to visit in the spring, especially if you catch them when the wildflowers are in bloom.

Arizona – Grand Canyon, Saguaro

The Grand Canyon, Arizona

The Grand Canyon, Arizona

The Grand Canyon is amazing any time of year. I’ve only been there in the winter. I am overdue a spring trip.

The giant saguaro cactus in southern Arizona are impressive. This is high on my must do list.

Utah – Bryce Canyon, Zion, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Dead Horse Point

Oh my! Southern Utah is amazing! Any of the desert parks are well worth your while. Temperatures can range from quite pleasant to pretty chilly (especially Bryce). I am all for quite pleasant. Summers in Southern Utah are just to hot for my tastes.

Bryce Canyon after Sunset

Not surprisingly, Bryce Canyon is one of the most the most recommended national parks to photograph in spring, fall, and winter. It is one of my most favorite places. If you haven’t been there already, put it at the top of your travel list.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park

Zion is known for its huge rock walls and unusual sandstone formations.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Capitol Reef has rock formations that look like a giant reef from the air.

Turret Arch at Dusk, Arches National Park, Utah

Turret Arch at Dusk, Arches National Park, Utah

Arches is right up there with Bryce Canyon as an amazing place! Just get there!

Grand View Point, Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Grand View Point, Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Canyonlands, like Arches and Dead Horse Point, is close to Moab Utah. Make Moab your headquarters and visit all three.

Dead Horse Point, Utah

Dead Horse Point, Utah

Dead Horse Point is a state park, not a national park, but it is one of the most stunning viewpoints on the planet.

Colorado – Great Sand Dunes

Dunes 700 feet tall are the prominent feature at Great Sand Dunes National Park. And it is lightly visited in the spring.

Great Sand Dunes

Great Sand Dunes

When it gets really late in the day the normally light toned sand dunes darken to almost a chocolate brown.

New Mexico – White Sands, Carlsbad Caverns

White Sands

White Sands

White Sands is a great spring location, and you can beat the summer heat. The low angled sunlight can turn the white gypsum sand into wonderful colors. Spring temperatures range from chilly to warm and balmy.

Claret Cup Cactus. White Sands New Mexico.

Claret Cup Cactus. White Sands New Mexico.

While you are in southern New Mexico you should also go to Carlsbad Caverns, one of the most impressive cave systems in the United States. The temperature down in caverns hovers around 56 degrees year around.

Texas – Big Bend

Like everything else in Texas, Big Bend National Park is seriously BIG. I generally prefer mountains to deserts, but Big Bend and White Sands in New Mexico are the exceptions. Like the rest of the desert parks in the southwest, spring temperatures vary widely from chilly to hot.

Boquillas Canyon, Rio Grande River

Boquillas Canyon, Rio Grande River

I recommend you go to Santa Elena Canyon in the morning, Boquillas Canyon for late afternoon light and sunset, and go everywhere else in between.

North Carolina /Tennessee – Great Smoky Mountains

I love the Great Smoky Mountains in the summer and fall. Spring is on my to do list. It is highly recommended as a spring destination.

Book Note: If you are going to the Great Smoky Mountains, John Netherton’s book is essential reading.

Virginia – Shenandoah National Park

I’ve crossed Shenandoah National Park several times going east and west, but never when I have had time to stop. It is reported to be one of our best national parks to photograph in the spring when everything is in bloom. It is on my list.

The Best of the Best

Of the best national parks to photograph in the spring, which are the best of the best? That’s a tough call, but here they are. Keep in mind I am a mountains, canyons and deserts kind of guy. These are really close together on my priority list. Ask me tomorrow and the order will be different. In fact, I have already rearranged this list several times.

Yosemite
Death Valley
Great Smoky Mountains
Bryce Canyon
Grand Canyon
Saguaro
Arches
Big Bend
Shenandoah
Carlsbad Caverns

More Places to Go

For more suggestions, be sure to read the companion article to this one, One Photographer and Nine Outdoor/Travel Writers Pick the Best National Parks for Spring

Now it is time for you to plan your next trip and work on your own favorite spring places list!

Road Trip

A road trip to the national parks in the lower 48 states. Click for a larger version.

A road trip to the national parks in the lower 48 states. Click for a larger version.

Want to go on a road trip to several national parks? Check out the map above and the road trip link below.

Links

One Photographer and Nine Outdoor/Travel Writers Pick the Best National Parks for Spring

When is the Best Time of Year to Photograph the National Parks?

The National Park Series: Where to Go and When

A Road Trip to All of the National Parks in the “Lower 48” States

The best Scenic Location Guides for photographers.

Nature Photography Books: The Three Essentials. If you only read three nature photography books, put these on your “must read” list.

My Favorite Introduction to Landscape Photography. If you only read one book on landscape photography, this should be it. This is my favorite to recommend to new landscape photographers.

The Best “How To” Nature Photography Books