Looking to ignite your passion for travel photography? Then, you should travel through the beauty of the United States' most picturesque national parks.
From the soaring cliffs of Yosemite to the raging waterfalls of Zion, these nine stunning parks offer dramatic landscapes and vibrant colors:
- Yosemite National Park, California
- Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
- Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
- Zion National Park, Utah
- Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina
- Acadia National Park, Maine
- Glacier National Park, Montana
- Denali National Park, Alaska
Short hikes through these parks unveil one breathtaking vista after another — a true photographer's paradise. So, without further ado, learn more about the nine most scenic U.S. national parks that should satisfy your creative photography cravings.
1. Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite National Park is home to some of the most stunning natural landscapes in the United States and has inspired countless photographers over the years.
One of the most iconic landmarks in Yosemite is Half Dome, a granite dome that rises about 5,000 feet above the valley floor.
Another must-see destination in Yosemite is El Capitan, a massive granite monolith that towers over the valley floor at 3,600 feet. This formation is a popular spot for rock climbers but also a great subject for photographers.
But Yosemite is more than just these two iconic landmarks. The park is home to various natural wonders, from towering waterfalls to serene alpine lakes.
Mirror Lake offers stunning views of Tenaya Canyon, Mount Watkins, and the Washington Column, giving hikers a different perspective of Half Dome, looking directly up at it.
Plus, the lake offers beautiful mirrored views of the surrounding cliffs.
Here are a few bonus tips and things to expect when you visit:
- Be cautious of smoky conditions in late August, which can impact visibility.
- Winter visits require checking trail and activity availability and preparing for changing weather.
- Plan ahead, avoid peak times, and bring your own food for a more enjoyable visit.
- Expect delays, especially when Route 120 is closed, and consider an annual pass.
- Arrive early for parking and shuttle services.
Look through more pictures of Yosemite National Park here: 21 Yosemite National Park Pictures [A Trip Down Memory Lane]
2. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the United States.
It is in Wyoming and spans over 2.2 million acres of pristine wilderness. The park is home to grizzly bears, wolves, and bison herds.
One of the most popular attractions in Yellowstone is Old Faithful, a geyser that erupts approximately every 90 minutes. Visitors can watch this natural wonder shoot water up to 184 feet in the air.
Another must-see attraction is the Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in the United States, with vibrant colors ranging from bright blue to deep orange.
Yellowstone National Park is also home to several scenic hiking trails like the Lamar Valley Trail, the Mount Washburn Trail, and the Fairy Falls Trail.
Just a heads up, these visitors share potential inconveniences to look out for:
- The park is vast, so be prepared for extensive driving and unforeseen gate closures.
- Expect traffic delays due to wildlife watching and animals on the road.
- Plan ahead for construction-related delays.
3. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
The Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is a must-see in our list of stunning photography destinations.
This park is home to the world-famous Grand Canyon, one of the most spectacular examples of erosion.
The park is open throughout the year, and you can visit the South Rim and the North Rim. The South Rim is open all year round, while the North Rim is only open from mid-May to mid-October.
The park is also home to many other natural wonders, including pine and fir forests, painted deserts, sandstone canyons, mesas and plateaus, volcanic and geologic features, the Colorado River, perennial streams, and waterfalls.
Many of the park's scenic vistas are located on the South and North rims, and some are accessible by car, while others may require hiking.
The South Rim is the park's most popular area, offering many different activities for visitors.
You can take a scenic drive along the South Rim, hike on one of the many trails, or take a mule ride down the canyon. The North Rim is less crowded, offering visitors a more peaceful experience.
While planning your visit, save these TripAdvisor tips from previous guests:
- Bring lots of water.
- Plan a 30-minute drive to the 'village' with hotels and attractions.
- The large Visitor Center may be closed, and information or help may be limited due to the training of new park rangers.
- Visitor centers may have limited hours due to staff shortages.
- Shuttle services are available with different routes, and buses can be crowded.
- Stunning views year-round, even after snowstorms.
- South Rim in late April is a must-see.
- Tread lightly in winter, as trails can be icy and slippery.
For a more in-depth guide on Grand Canyon's vistas, read: The 6 Most Stunning Vistas in Grand Canyon National Park
4. Zion National Park, Utah
Zion National Park in Utah is a is known for its incredible canyons, towering cliffs, and unique geological formations.
One of the most popular attractions in Zion National Park is the Zion Canyon, which is over 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep.
The canyon is surrounded by towering cliffs over 2,000 feet tall, making for a truly awe-inspiring sight. Plenty of hiking trails in the canyon, ranging from easy to strenuous, offer stunning views of the canyon and its surroundings.
Another must-see attraction in Zion National Park is the Emerald Pools. These pools are a series of three, each with unique beauty.
The Lower Emerald Pool is an easy hike that takes you to a tranquil pool surrounded by lush greenery. The Middle Emerald Pool is a bit more challenging, with a steep climb that rewards you with a stunning canyon view.
The Upper Emerald Pool is the most challenging of the three but also the most rewarding, with a stunning waterfall that cascades down into the pool.
The park is also known for canyoneering, which involves rappelling down cliffs, wading through streams, and navigating narrow slot canyons.
Plenty of guided tours are available if you're new to canyoneering, or you can go independently if you're experienced.
(Safety note: A Wilderness Permit is required for all technical canyoneering trips.)
Here are some more things to expect:
- Arrive early and expect crowds, especially in the summer.
- Dress in layers due to variable temperatures.
- Hike the diverse trails like the Narrows and Angels Landing.
- Stay in the lodge to access the canyon easily.
- Crowded shuttles can be inconvenient.
- Spend more than a day to make the most of your trip.
5. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
With its towering mountain peaks, glistening alpine lakes, and diverse wildlife, Rocky Mountain National Park offers endless photo opportunities.
One of the best ways to see the park is by driving along Trail Ridge Road, which takes you through some of the most scenic parts of the park.
As you wind up to the top of the Continental Divide, you'll be treated to breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
For a more immersive experience, consider taking one of the many hiking trails in the park, like the Bear Lake Trail, the Emerald Lake Trail, and the Sky Pond Trail.
If you're looking for a place to base yourself during your visit to the park, consider staying in the nearby town of Estes Park.
This charming mountain town offers a range of accommodations, from cozy cabins to luxury resorts, and is just a short drive from the park entrance.
Popular destinations include Nymph Lake, Emerald Lake, Bear Lake, and Alberta Falls, each offering unique natural beauty. The park's scenic drives, such as Trail Ridge Road, provide expansive views of the landscape.
Visitors can also enjoy serene spots like Sprague Lake and explore various visitor centers for a comprehensive experience of the park's diverse environments.
6. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina
If you're looking for a national park rich in natural beauty, history, and culture, then Great Smoky Mountains National Park should be your staple.
Between Tennessee and North Carolina, this park is home to an incredible diversity of plant and animal life and some of the most stunning landscapes in the country.
One of the park's most distinctive features is its position as a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains.
While closely related to the Blue Ridge Mountains due to proximity, the Great Smokies are a unique geological entity within the larger Appalachian system.
One of the best ways to experience the natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is by hiking one of its many trails. With over 800 miles of trails, there's something for hikers of all skill levels.
The park also has several historic structures, like log cabins, churches, and grist mills.
These well-preserved sites offer a tangible connection to the early settlers' lives and the area's historical narrative.
Check out these insider TripAdvisor tips from past park visitors:
- Hike early to avoid crowds on popular trails leading to stunning waterfalls.
- Drive scenic routes for amazing fall colors and mountain vistas. Fog can limit visibility.
- Visit in winter to see a spectacular "winter wonderland." Trails for all ages/abilities.
- Check out the Little River Gorge area for less crowded paths and scenery.
- Park has no admission fee, so that's one less problem to worry about.
For more thrifty national park adventures, read our list: 9 Budget-Friendly National Parks: Save Money and Still Have a Blast
7. Acadia National Park, Maine
Along the mid-section of the Maine coast, Acadia National Park is home to some of the highest rocky headlands along the Atlantic coastline of the United States.
The park preserves about half of Mount Desert Island, part of the Isle au Haut, the tip of the Schoodic Peninsula, and portions of 16 smaller outlying islands.
Acadia National Park is a photographer's paradise, with plenty of opportunities to capture breathtaking views of the ocean, mountains, forests, and wildlife. Here are some of the top spots to check out:
This is the highest point on the eastern seaboard and offers stunning sunrise and sunset views.
This is a popular spot for photographers due to its crystal-clear waters and the surrounding mountains.
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
This lighthouse is located on the southern tip of Mount Desert Island and offers a great opportunity to capture photos of the rugged coastline.
This is a popular spot for photographers due to its dramatic cliffs and the ocean's crashing waves.
This is located on the Schoodic Peninsula and offers stunning views of the rocky coastline and the ocean. But before you pack your bags, consider these real-life tips from TripAdvisor:
- Visit in early October for fall foliage. Stay in Bar Harbor to enjoy the charming town.
- Visit in late fall after peak season for empty trails and easy parking. The park is beautiful year-round.
- A reservation is required to drive up Cadillac Mountain, but many other attractions exist.
- Stargaze at night due to the dark, quiet surroundings.
8. Glacier National Park, Montana
Glacier National Park's most famous feature is its glaciers, which formed during the last ice age and continue to shape the landscape today.
With over 700 miles of hiking trails, Glacier National Park boasts impressive natural wonders for landscape photography. But glaciers aren't the only thing that makes Glacier National Park so photogenic.
The park is also home to diverse wildlife, including grizzly bears, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep. You might even spot a moose or a wolf if you're lucky.
For the best photo opportunities, visit during the summer months when the park's wildflowers are in full bloom.
Check out our guide on wildflower season for various national parks: National Parks in Bloom: 11 Top Spots for Wildflower Sightings This Spring
The park's many lakes, including Lake McDonald and Saint Mary Lake, also offer stunning reflections of the surrounding mountains and forests.
Before you visit, here are some friendly tips to keep in mind:
- Visit in July-August for sunny weather, open roads, and more activities.
- Take the train tour to see mammoth mountains and glaciers up close.
- Drive Going to the Sun Road and do short hikes with kids.
9. Denali National Park, Alaska
The Denali National Park has six million acres of pristine wilderness, with towering mountains, glacial rivers, and abundant wildlife.
At the heart of the park is Denali, the tallest peak in North America. One of the best ways to explore the park is on foot. Many hiking trails wind through the wilderness, offering stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
Be sure to bring a pair of binoculars and a telephoto lens for your camera to get a closer look at these incredible creatures. If you're feeling adventurous, you can also take a flightseeing tour over the park.
From the air, you'll get a unique perspective on the landscape, with sweeping views of the mountains, glaciers, and valleys below.
Safety tip: Since Denali is mostly a wilderness without trails, backcountry hiking here requires careful planning and the ability to find your way.
Here are extra TripAdvisor tips from experienced guests of Denali National Park:
- See wildlife like moose up close by driving your own car before shuttle buses start.
- Join a guided bus tour to see Denali's vast wilderness and try to spot the peak. See wildlife and learn from guides.
- Appreciate the park's careful ecosystem management. Visit the informative visitor center.
- Hike trails near the visitor center. Suggest improving ranger-led walks.
- Budget time and money for adventure activities like ATVs, rafting, and helicopters.
Prep for Picture-Perfect Memories!
You've just explored some of the most scenic national parks in the United States for stunning photography. Each park has its unique beauty, and you'll be amazed at how much you can capture with your camera.
Remember always to respect the environment and wildlife when taking photos in these national parks. Follow park regulations and guidelines to ensure these beautiful places remain unspoiled for generations.
So grab your camera and head to one of these national parks for an unforgettable photography experience. You won't be disappointed!