Are you planning a spring photography trip to some U.S. national parks? Where should you go? Which parks will provide the best photographic opportunities? Which parks are at their best in the spring?
Posted April 22, 2017. Updated and re-posted March 20, 2020.
Health Notice: Due to the coronavirus outbreak you should follow all current and future CDC health recommendations and practice social distancing. For many Americans that means to stay home. For some it may mean a short trip to a nearby park and avoiding other people. Your health is more important than taking photos in a national park.
I postponed my spring national park trip this year. If I lived within two hours of a national park I would drive there early in the morning, shoot where there were no people or were well spread out, and head home at the end of the day.
You can start with National Park Photography by Tim Fitzharris, or his updated version, National Audubon Society Guide to Photographing America’s National Parks: Digital Edition. It is my favorite guide book to 20 of the best national parks, plus a few extra locations. Tim provides you with a lot of specific location recommendations in each of these national parks. He 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 places I have already photographed, I trust Tim’s advice for the places I haven’t been to yet. His recommendations are in the first column in the spreadsheet that follows.
I found several good online articles recommending the best national parks to visit in the spring. If an article recommends a park, I put an X in that article’s column opposite that park. You can quickly see which national parks are the most recommended in the spring.
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.
I picked this set of articles because they are better than most of the others I found. With some exceptions, the advice they give is going to send you to the best places to be.
Your location has a lot to do with where you go. If you live in Florida it makes great sense to go to Everglades and Biscayne (even though only one author recommends either of them in the spring). You are already in Florida, just go to these parks. If you are going on a business trip to Denver and you have a couple of extra days to do your own thing, you should go to Rocky Mountain National Park even though none of these writers recommends Rocky in the spring. You are only two hours away from Rocky. If you love photography you would be crazy not to go.
There are other articles out there on where to go in the spring, but some of the advice isn’t very good. A note of caution is in order about travel and photo location advice on the internet. I’ve had people recommend “wonderful” 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. Be cautious about the advice that is given. 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 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 descriptions like “this is somewhere in Wyoming”.
All of this is important so you don’t waste precious time. Most of us have some limits on our shooting time, so you want to make the most of the time you have by going to the best places. As National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson says, “If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff!”
It helps to know which month in spring is the best to go to a particular park. That why this chart from Lonely Planet is so useful. If you are going to Bryce Canyon in the spring, April is the best month. On the other hand if you are going to Grand Teton in the spring, May is a better month.
So look at the spreadsheet above and the links below. Think about getting Tim’s book (links above or below) or one of the other excellent scenic location guides linked below. Then go exploring at one or more of our beautiful national parks this spring.
What are my favorite national parks in the spring? That is in my companion article to this one: The Best National Parks to Photograph in Spring.
The Best Photo Location Guides
Once you get to a national park, how do you know where the best photo spots are in that park? A good photo location guide can save you hours of wandering and send you to the best photo locations. Some will tell you the best time of day and give you some photo tips.
One of them is the book by Tim Fitzharris at the top of this article.
The rest of my favorite scenic location guides are in this article: The Best Scenic Photo Location Guides.
Be sure and read about Treasured Lands by Q.T. Luong. It is far and away the best collection of photos taken in all of our national parks. It doesn’t give you a lot of photography advice, like Tim’s book above. What makes it so valuable is that it gives you the location for every photograph in the book. It also covers all 59 national parks while Tim’s book covers 20 of the best national parks plus a few additional locations.
The National Park Series: Where to Go and When – There are now over a dozen articles in my national park series.
Photo Guide Purchase Links
All of my favorite photo location guides are in the Scenic Photo Locations Guides section of my photography store which has direct links to Amazon.com. If you use the links in my store you get the same great Amazon prices, delivery, and guarantee and you help support my photography web sites. Thanks!
National Audubon Society Guide to Photographing America’s National Parks: Digital Edition by Fitzharris. Updated edition.
National Park Photography by Tim Fitzharris, older edition.
Treasured Lands by Q.T. Luong
My Article Links
The Best Scenic Photo Location Guides – A good scenic location guide can save you hours of time wandering around looking for the best spots.
Articles: The Best National Parks in Spring
Top 10 National Parks to Visit During Spring – US Parks
8 national parks that are perfect for spring trips – Business Insider
10 National Parks Worth a Visit This Spring – NBC News
16 Most Spectacular Parks to Visit in the Spring – The Active Times
10 Great National Parks to Visit in the Spring – The Active Times
The Best National Parks for Spring Break – Travel Pulse
The Best National Parks for Each Season – Airfare Watchdog
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 Two Favorite Introductions to Landscape Photography. If you only get two books on landscape photography, these are the books to get.