The Best National Parks to Photograph in Summer

Pika, Rock Cut, Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

What are the best national parks to photograph in the summer? 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.

Balanced Rock, Arches National Park.

Balanced Rock, Arches National Park, Utah

 

Alaska – Denali, Kenai Fjords

Denali and Wonder Lake

Denali and Wonder Lake, Alaska

Denali is amazing. One of our top ten national parks.

Denali Sunrise, Reflection Pond, Denali National Park, Alaska.

I would love to go to Kenai Fjords.

Washington – Mount Rainier, Olympic

Last Light on Mt. Rainier

Last Light on Mt. Rainier, Washington

Mount Rainier is one of our best summer parks. Mt Rainier is spectacular in any season of the year, and there are a number of classic views from the park roads.

The Olympic Peninsula has the most amazing green colors.

California – Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon

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. IT is way overcrowded in the summer so I prefer Yosemite in other seasons. But if you are in Northern California in the summer, you are crazy not to go.

Gates of the Valley. Yosemite National Park, California.

Gates of the Valley. Yosemite National Park, California

Sequoia and King’s Canyon are the preferred summer parks to go to in California in the summer.

Arizona – Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon at Dawn, Arizona

The Grand Canyon is amazing any time of year. I’ve only been there in the winter, as you can see from the snow in this photo. I am overdue a summer trip.

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

Oh my! Southern Utah is amazing! Summers in Southern Utah can be beastly hot, but if you don’t mind the heat, this is as good as it gets.

Bryce Canyon after Sunset, Utah

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, Utah

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 so I am adding it anyway.

Colorado – Rocky Mountain National Park, Great Sand Dunes

Sunrise, Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of my favorite places on the planet, and especially in the summer and fall.

Elk, Moraine Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

In addition to the splendid scenery in “Rocky”, you have an abundance of wildlife.

Great Sand Dunes

Great Sand Dunes, Colorado

Dunes 700 feet tall are the prominent feature at Great Sand Dunes National Park. 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, New Mexico

White Sands is a great location if you can take summer heat. I prefer spring and fall. But if I am in New Mexico I head here any time of year. The low angled sunlight can turn the white gypsum sand into wonderful colors.

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.

Wyoming – Grand Teton, Yellowstone

It has been too many years and it was before my photography days, but these two parks are amazing. Yellowstone is one of America’s top five national parks.

Montana – Glacier National Park

I was in Glacier National Park the same year as Yellowstone. I need to go back with a camera.

South Dakota – Badlands

Too long since I was in the Badlands, and that was in my pre-photography days.

North Carolina /Tennessee – Great Smoky Mountains

I love the Great Smoky Mountains in the summer and fall.

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

Maine – Acadia

They tell me this place is amazing. Can’t wait to go there.

Alberta Canada – Banff and Jasper

Mount Rundle, Two Jack Lake

Mount Rundle, Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park

A few years ago I spent four glorious days in Banff National Park. Magnificent place. If you are thinking about heading to Canada, these two parks are worth the trip.

The Best of the Best

Of the best national parks to photograph in the summer, which are the best of the best? In  other words, if I could go anywhere with no limitations on time and costs, where would I go? That’s a tough call, but here’s my list. 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 changed the order two times since posting this article.

Denali
Yellowstone
Yosemite
Banff
Glacier
Rocky Mountain
Grand Canyon
Bryce Canyon
Grand Teton
Arches
Mount Rainier

More Places to Go

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

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

National Parks Photo Location Guides

One of the best photo location guides is 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.

Treasured Lands by Q.T. Luong is far and away the best and most beautiful collection of photos from all 59 of our national parks. In the back of the book it shows you the location of every photo taken in the book so it is an excellent location guide to some of the best spots to take pictures in every national park. It is not a guide to the best seasons for each national park, but it is the most comprehensive location guide.

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

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

National Park Photography by Tim Fitzharris

Treasured Lands by Q. T. Luong

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