What are the best months to photograph our best national parks? Truth to be told, the best national parks can be photographed just about any time of the year. But parks do have some months when they are at their photographic best. So what are the prime months? This park by park article is based on my own experiences as well as the advice of the photographers I most trust.
Posted July 11, 2017. Updated February 12, 2018.
Two parks in Canada and one state park have been included just for good measure. If you are in Glacier you might as well head north to Banff and Jasper. If you are at Arches and Canyonlands you would be crazy not to stop at Dead Horse Point State Park.
The timing for flowers, cactus blooms, and the peak of fall color varies from year to year. If your schedule is flexible, call the park headquarters before your visit and check on the best time to catch the flowers or fall colors.
For flowers the best plan is to call a month ahead of the expected peak, just to make sure things haven’t started really, really early. That can happen in some unusual years, especially in the desert. Then call once a week to check on things. When things are getting really good, head out in time to catch the peak. For fall colors start calling two weeks ahead.
If you happen to be close to a national park and it’s not a prime photography month for that park, go anyway. Even if it is not one of the best months to be there, you should still have some nice photo opportunities.
Acadia – Maine
Mid-May – mid June, September – mid-October
Peak fall color is in the middle of October.
Arches – Utah
April – mid-May, mid-September – early November
Wildflowers bloom in April and May. Cacti bloom in May and June (yes it will be hot). Fall color is late October to early November.
Badlands – South Dakota
The impressive bison rut is in July
Banff – Alberta
Mid-May – June, September
Big Bend – Texas
Depending on the rain. Flowers bloom in February and March. Cacti bloom in April. Call ahead to be sure.
Bryce Canyon – Utah
April – early May, October
Canyonlands – Utah
April – early June, August- October
Cacti bloom in May and early June. August is beastly hot but provides the most dramatic weather. The limited fall color is in October.
Capitol Reef – Utah
Dead Horse Point – Utah
April – mid-May, mid-September – early November
Death Valley – California
February – March
Depending on the rain, wildflowers bloom in February and March. Call ahead.
Denali – Alaska
June – mid-September
June is spring in Denali. Fall color arrives the last week of August. Winter can arrive in September.
Everglades – Florida
December – April
March and April are prime months for bird photography.
Glacier – Montana
June – early October
Wildflowers are best in July and August. Fall color is in late September to early October.
Grand Canyon – Arizona
April – May, September – October
Grand Teton – Wyoming
May – mid-June, September – October
The last half of June is good for wildflowers. Peak fall color is around the middle to end of September.
Great Sand Dunes – Colorado
April – May, September-October
Great Smoky Mountains – Tennessee/North Carolina
April – June, September – October
John Netherton’s Guide to Photography and the Smoky Mountains is a must read. Different flowers bloom at different times and elevations from late April to July. John will tell you when each kind of flower will most likely bloom.
Fall color starts in the higher elevations and moves down to lower elevation in mid to late October. Expect tons of crowds so it is best to avoid weekends.
Jasper – Alberta
Joshua Tree – California
March – April, September – October
Cacti bloom in the spring but the arrival is highly unpredictable. Call ahead.
Mount Rainier – Washnington
June – September
July and August is the time for wildflowers. Fall color is in September.
Olympic – Washington
May – October
Looks for flowers in the alpine regions in the summer months. Fall color is in September and October.
Redwood – California
March – October
Wildflowers in March-April, Rhododendrons in late-May to early-June. Fall colors in October.
Rocky Mountain – Colorado
June – July, mid-September – early October
June is the month for flowers in lower elevations. Mid-July is best for flowers above timber line. Fall is the last 10 days of September and in some years it can last through the first week of October. The fall color starts at the higher elevations. As the color ends in the higher elevations it is reaching its peak in the lower elevations. Late September and early October is also the time of the fall elk rut. Check my Colorado Fall Color Travel Guide for details.
Sequoia/Kings Canyon – California
April – early June, September – October
Saguaro – Arizona
October – April
March and April are ideal for flowers. The cactus bloom in May and June. The timing varies each year so call the park headquarters.
Shenandoah – Virginia
April – May, September – mid-October
April and May are best for flowers. Fall is usually in mid-October.
White Sands – New Mexico
April – May, September-October
Cacti near the dunes bloom in May. The white dunes themselves are the same any time of year. Beat the heat and go in the spring or fall.
Yellowstone – Wyoming/Montana
May – June, September – October
Yosemite – California
Yosemite Valley: April – May, September – October
Wildflowers in The Valley from mid-April through May. Fall in the valley is usually mid-October to early November.
Tioga Pass: July – August
Wildflowers peak from mid-July into August.
Zion – Utah
April – May, October – early November
April to June is the time for flowers with May usually being the best flower month. Fall is late October to early November.
If you are looking for an excellent workshop or photo excursion to give a big boost to your photographic skills, go to JimDoty.com. My next workshop and photo excursion is in gorgeous Rocky Mountain National Park at the peak of fall color with the added bonus of the fall elk rut.
This article is part of the National Park Series: Where to Go and When. Be sure to check out the other articles in the series.
Colorado Fall Color Travel Guide – This is my guide to Colorado in the fall. It has over 100 pages of information on the best places to go, the best times to be there, plus suggestions for places to stay and eat.
The Best Scenic Photo Location Guides – This list with notes includes guide books to the individual national parks, as well as photo location guides for the rest of the country.
Photo Guide Links
You can find all the books listed below in the Scenic Photo Location Guides section of my photography store which is powered by Amazon.com.
Photo Guides to the National Parks
How to Photograph America’s National Park, Digital Edition (the new edition) by Tim Fitzharris.
AAA’s National Park Photography (older edition) by Tim Fitzharris.
Treasured Lands by Q.T. Luong
Photographer’s Guide to the Grand Canyon & Northern Arizona by Joseph K. Lange, If you are going to the Grand Canyon, this is the book to get. For all of Arizona get Photographing the Southwest, Vol 2 by Laurent Martres which is described below.
Photographer’s Guide to Yellowstone and the Tetons by Joseph K. Lange. If you are heading to Yellowstone and/or the Tetons, this is the book to get. An award wining photographer, Lange is also the author of my favorite introduction to landscape photography.
Guide to Photography and the Smoky Mountains by John Netherton. My favorite guide to the Great Smoky Mountains, plus it is an excellent book on nature photography, even if you never make it to the Smoky Mountains.
The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite by Michael Frye. This is one of my two favorite photography guides to Yosemite National Park. If you only have a day or so to spend in Yosemite, get Hudson’s book. He hits the highlights. If you have more time to spend, or if if you already know Yosemite, get this book by Frye. Frye is a photographer’s photographer and he will tell you in a lot more detail what you need to know. This is the book to get if you are serious about spending some quality photo time in Yosemite. This is the more detailed of the two books.
PhotoSecrets Yosemite by Andrew Hudson. This is one of my two favorite photography guides to Yosemite National Park. If you are new to Yosemite or only have a day or two to photograph Yosemite, get this book. Hudson hits the highlights, has photos, maps and diagrams, and suggestions as to where you should be and when. If you have more time to spend, or if you already know Yosemite, get Frye’s book. If you are going to get PhotoSecrets San Franciso and Northern California, also by Hudson, don’t buy PhotoSecrets Yosemite because every page of the Yosemite book is included in the San Francisco/N. California book.
Photographing Acadia National Park: The Essential Guide to When, Where, and How by Colleen Miniuk-Sperry. This is an award winning five star book. If you are going to Acadia, this is THE photo guide to get. This book is the winner, of the 2014 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards “Travel Book” category and winner of “Best Travel Guide/Essay,” and “Best Interior Design” in the 2014 International Book Awards. Check out the glowing reviews at Amazon.
Scenic Photo Guides which Include National Parks
Photographing the Southwest, Vol 1 (Southern Utah) by Laurent Martres
Photographing the Southwest, Vol 2 (Arizona) by Laurent Martres
Photographing the Southwest, Vol 3 (Colorado & New Mexico) by Laurent Martres
Photographing California, Vol 1 (Northern California) by Gary Crabbe and Laurent Martres
Photographing California, Vol 2 (Southern California) by Jeffrey Sullivan
Photographing Washington by Gregg Vaughn and Laurent Martres
Photographing Oregon by Gregg Vaughn and Laurent Martres
Colorado Scenic Guide: Northern Region by Lee Gregory
Colorado Scenic Guide: Southern Region by Lee Gregory
Canadian Rockies Guidebooks
Darwin Wiggett wrote a excellent photography guidebook for the Canadian Rockies. It was already out of print when I discovered it and I couldn’t find a new copy on Amazon for less than $150 or a used copy for less than $50.
Fortunately for me, Darwin turned his print book into a series of eBooks that you can buy at his site, one for each national park. The original printed book was 144 pages and covered all the parks. Each eBook covers one national park, each book costs $10, and they are about 90 to 200 pages in length. The coverage of each park is a lot more detailed than was possible in the original printed book. Such a deal! If you get all 8 books at once, the cost is $60.
I was planning a four day photography trip to Banff National Park, so I bought his guide for Banff (114 pages of information). It was a great decision. If you are headed for one of Canada’s national parks, get Darwin’s photo guide for that park.
A photographer’s tip: I put the eBook on my laptop, but I didn’t want to carry the laptop with me during the day. Each night when I planned the next day’s excursions, I took my iPhone and photographed the pages of the book I would need right off my laptop screen. That way I had what I needed on my phone.
How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies – photo guides by Darwin Wiggett