Which national parks are at their photographic best in the summer? Here are my favorite choices, grouped by state from west to east, plus one Canadian province.
Posted July 3, 2017. Updated and re-posted May 27, 2021.
Health Notice: Due to the coronavirus you should follow all current and future CDC health and travel recommendations, as well as any specific national park regulations. Some national parks are limiting the number of visitors and some parks require an advance registration to enter the park.
Alaska – Denali, Kenai Fjords
Denali is amazing. One of our top ten national parks.
Based on the photos, I would love to go to Kenai Fjords.
Washington – Mount Rainier, Olympic
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
California has an abundance of national parks, and Yosemite is a must see. It is beautiful in the summer but very crowded so I prefer Yosemite in other seasons. However I find myself drawn there in the summer despite all the people. If you are in Northern California in the summer, you are crazy not to go.
Sequoia and King’s Canyon are the preferred summer parks to go to in California in the summer.
Arizona – Grand Canyon
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.
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 is known for its huge rock walls and unusual sandstone formations.
Capitol Reef has rock formations that look like a giant reef from the air.
Arches is right up there with Bryce Canyon as an amazing place! Just get there!
Canyonlands, like Arches and Dead Horse Point, is close to Moab Utah. Make Moab your headquarters and visit all three.
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
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of my favorite places on the planet, and especially in the summer and fall.
In addition to the splendid scenery in “Rocky”, you have an abundance of wildlife.
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 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.
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, Guide to Photography and the Smoky Mountains is essential reading.
Maine – Acadia
This place is amazing! I am using that word a lot, but is fits these amazing parks.
Alberta Canada – Banff and Jasper
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 several times since the first time I posted this article.
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!
Photo Location Guide Books
Once you get to a national park, how do you know where the best photo locations are in that park? That is where photography guide books come in. Read my article The Best Scenic Photo Location Guides. A good location guide book will tell you where the best spots are, the best time of day to be there, and give you some photo tips for shooting that location. Two books deserve special mention.
National Parks Photo Location Guides
One of the best photo location guides is National Park Photography by Tim Fitzharris. Tim’s new edition is How to Photograph America’s National Parks, Digital Edition. It is my favorite guide book to 24 of the best national parks. He tells you the best season or seasons to photograph in each national park. Tim provides you with a lot of specific location recommendations in each of these national parks along with the time of day for each location plus some photo tips for shooting that location. 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.
Treasured Lands by Q.T. Luong is far and away the best collection of photos taken in all 59 of our national parks. This is a cross between a big, beautiful; coffee table book and a photo location guide. Luong doesn’t give you a lot of photography advice and he doesn’t tell you the best season or seasons to visit each of the parks. Read Tim’s book for that. What makes it so valuable is that it gives you the location for every single photograph in the book. If you see an amazing photo and want to know where it was taken, you can look up the location.
Want to go on a road trip to several national parks? Check out the map above and the road trip link below.
The National Park Series: Where to Go and When – There are now over a dozen articles in my national park series.
The Best Scenic Photo Location Guides – A good scenic location guide can save you hours of time wandering around looking for the best spots.
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.
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