One Photographer and Eleven Outdoor/Travel Writers Pick the Best National Parks for Summer

Checkerboard Mesa, Zion National Park, Utah

Summer is the most popular time to visit the national parks. With so many to choose from, where should you go? Which national parks will provide the best photographic opportunities in the summer?

National Park Photography by Tim Fitzharris

National Park Photography by Tim Fitzharris

One of the best places to start is with National Park Photography by Tim Fitzharris. It is my favorite guide book to 24 of the best national parks. He provides you with a lot of specific photography locations in each of these national parks. Tim also gives you photo suggestions and tells you the best season or seasons to photograph in each national park. Because Tim’s advice is so on target for the parks I have already photographed, I trust Tim’s advice for the places that I haven’t been to yet. His recommendations (marked with an X) are in the first column in the spreadsheet that follows.

The Best National Parks in the Spring. Click for a larger version.

I found several online articles recommending the best national parks to visit in the summer. If an article recommends a park I put an X in that article’s column opposite that park on this spreadsheet. You can quickly see which national parks are the most recommended.

I picked this set of articles because they are better than most of the other articles I found. With some exceptions, the advice they give is going to send you to the best parks to photograph in the summer.

So how do you decide where to go? I suggest you give the most weight to advice from photographers. They are more likely to know what other photographers are going to like. On the spreadsheet above I would give the most weight to Tim’s suggestions in the first column. Second, I would take a look at the most recommended parks. All 12 parks in the list that follows (Most Recommended National Parks for Summer) are excellent places to go in the summer.

Most Recommended National Parks for Summer
Sequoia/Kings Canyon              7
Zion                                            7
Grand Teton                               6
Great Smoky Mountains            6
Acadia                                        5
Crater Lake                                5
Mammoth Cave                         5
Shenandoah                              5
Yellowstone                               5
Apostle Islands                          4
Glacier                                       4
Kenai Fjords                              4

Your location also has a lot to do with where you live or travel. If you live in Colorado you should go to the Great Sand Dunes and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Parks because they are so close, even though they are on only one or two lists. If you are going to be in Alaska in the summer, Denali is a must see despite being on only one of these lists.

The Lonely Planet list (below) is the only list to recommend National Parks in Canada. Banff and Jasper National Parks, both in the province of Alberta, are excellent parks to photograph in the summer.

There are other articles on the internet recommending places to go but a note of caution is in order. I’ve had people recommend “great” places to take pictures which often turned out to be average at best. I bet that has happened to many of you too. The same is true for internet articles. People who aren’t serious photographers are sometimes quite clueless as to what photographers will find interesting. When you read an online article does it come from a well known photographer or a highly respected publication like Outdoor Photographer? If it does that is a good sign. If it is an unknown photographer or publication, be more cautious.

You could go by the pictures that accompany an article to see if it really is a worthwhile location, but that could be misleading too. An article I read on the beautiful scenery in Montana was headlined by a photo of the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. I’ve seen several other examples recently of photos that didn’t match the locations in the travel articles. Some photo editors really are clueless.

After you read an article recommending a particular place, it would be a good idea to do a Google Image search of that place and see what you turn up. Of course the photos you find are no more reliable than the people who posted them on the internet. Well captioned photos by professional photographers (“Maroon Bells photographed from Maroon Lake in Colorado in December”) are more reliable than wild guesses like “this is somewhere in Montana” and the photo might not be of Montana at all.

All of this is important so you don’t waste precious time. We all have limits on our shooting time, so you want to make the most of it. As National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson says, “If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff!” So you should spend your limited photography time at the best locations.

Lonely Planet's guide to the best time to visit the National Parks.

Lonely Planet’s guide to the best time to visit the National Parks.

It helps to know which month in summer is the best to go to a particular park. That is why this chart from Lonely Planet is so useful. This chart is second in importance only to the places recommended by Tim Fitzharris, so give this chart a lot of weight. If you are going to Acadia or Yellowstone in the summer, June is the best month.

So look at the spreadsheet above, the Lonely Planet chart, and the links below. Think about getting Tim’s book or one of the other excellent scenic location guides linked below. Then go exploring at one or more of our beautiful national parks this summer.

Where would I go in the summer? That will be the subject of my next article.

Some of my favorite photo location guides.

Some of my favorite photo location guides.

Some of the best location guides for photographers are linked below in my best scenic location guides.

My Article Links

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

The National Park Series: Where to Go and When

Articles: The Best National Parks in Summer

10 Best National Parks to Visit In Summer – Fodors

6 National Parks You Should Visit This Summer – Conde Nast Traveler

10 Best National Parks to Visit In Summer  – Metro US

Best National Parks for Summertime – AARP

Top National Parks to Visit in Summer – Trip Savvy

6 U.S. National Parks to visit this summer – She Knows

15 Best National Parks to Visit in the Summer – Local Adventure

10 Best National Parks to Visit In Summer – MSN.com

7 National Parks to Visit in June – Superfeet

Top National Parks to visit this Spring & Summer 2017 – Globetrotter

Article and Book Links

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

These links take you to my Amazon powered photography store. You get the same great Amazon.com prices, service, and guarantee. And you help support my web sites. Thanks.

National Park Photography by Tim Fitzharris

The best Scenic Location Guides for photographers.