Starfish, Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park, © 2012 Chris Nicholson

Top 5 National Parks for Photographing…

Tide Pools

One of the best aspects of photographing ocean coastline is how dynamic the landscapes and seascapes are—the ebbing and flowing tide creates a different aesthetic by the hour. The receding water may also reveal a whole new world underfoot, in the form of tide pools: puddles of all sizes that support temporary microecosystems until the tide covers them once more. Especially under a gray sky, tide pools make for a fertile photography subject and a wonderful reason to get the macro lens out of the bag.

1. Olympic National Park

The Olympic coastline is beautiful in any direction you look, including down. Photograph giant green anemones, spiny sea urchins, hard shelled limpets, crustaceans, rock crabs, eels, and purple, red and yellow starfish. The tidepools are great at just about any of the park’s beaches, but especially at Shi Shi Beach, Kalaloch Beach 4, Mora’s Hole in the Wall, Second Beach and (my favorite) Ruby Beach.

2. Redwood National and State Parks

Redwood is most renowned for its large trees, so much so that few people realize it also has 40 miles of pristine coastline accessible via 70 miles of trails. And among the rocky sections of that shore are what many California naturalists consider to be the best mainland tide pools in the state, home of everything from crabs and limpets to sea stars and anemones. Particular noteworthy are Hidden Beach and Enderts Beach.

3. Channel Islands National Park

If the best of California’s mainland tide pools are in Redwood, the best of its sea-locked tide pools are in Channel Islands. Each will require a boat ride and possibly a hike to reach. In addition to the standard fare of west coast intertidal wildlife, the still waters of the pools are also great for photographing reflections of the surrounding rocky shores topped by oft blue skies. Some of the best relatively accessible tide pools are at the south shore of Frenchy’s Cove (on Anacapa Island), Smugglers Cove (Santa Cruz Island) and the eastern end of Cuyler Harbor (San Miguel Island).

4. Acadia National Park

In Downeast Maine, the tide pools look a little different than on the west coast, but are just as fruitful for photography. Look for starfish (surprise!), mussels, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, snails, hermit crabs, seaweed and rockweed. Little Moose Island, Ship Harbor and Wonderland are perhaps the best places for Acadia tide pools, but the most accessible is right in Bar Harbor, on the quarter-mile sandbar leading to Bar Island.

5. Kenai Fjords National Park

The coast of Kenai Fjords is not easy to reach, but once you’re there you can explore miles and miles of shore by foot or watercraft, often without seeing another person. (Though you might share space with a black bear or two.) The tide pools are home to countless species of intertidal invertebrates, such as sea stars and lugworms, plus crabs, barnacles and seaweed and such. Staying at the Aialik Cabin (permit required) will grant you easy access to a mile of cobblestone beach.

Editor’s note: If I didn’t include your favorite national park for photographing tide pools in this Top 5 list, please be assured it that was No. 6.

 

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Cascading Ridges, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, © 2013 Chris Nicholson

Top 5 National Parks for Photographing…

Mountains

Mountains have long served as a primary subject and an inspiring backdrop for landscape photographers. They are photogenic in all their forms: jagged or weatherworn, rocky or forested, dry or snowy. And the U.S. national park system comprises some of the best mountain scenery in the country.

1. Kings Canyon National Park

Lest you need proof of the photographic potential of Kings Canyon, just know this: Ansel Adams was instrumental in it being named a national park, preserving it for the cameras of countless generations to come. The park’s best Sierra Nevada landscapes are found in the remote eastern section, in a backcountry accessible by such iconic walks as the John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, and the Woods Creek Trail through Paradise Valley.

2. Rocky Mountain National Park

Nestled high in the heart of the Rocky Mountains range and straddling the Continental Divide, Rocky Mountain National Park contains sixty 12,000-foot-plus peaks. In between are glacier-made valleys and tundra, many with placid alpine lakes perfect for photographing reflections of the snow-capped mountains. The Bear Lake region is great for finding many of these features among a network of moderate day-hike trails.

3. Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve

The northernmost park in the U.S. protects a portion of the Brooks Range, the northernmost portion of the Rocky Mountains. Within lie mountains ranging from 4,000 to 7,000 feet, flanked by foothills to the south and Arctic tundra to the north. Two of the park’s more famous peaks are the proximate Frigid Crags and Boreal Mountain, which form the “Gates of the Arctic,” as named by early-20th century explorer Robert Marshall.

4. North Cascades National Park

The least visited park in Washington state, and one of the least visited overall, North Cascades is a showcase of some of the best mountain scenery offered by the Cascade Range. Its nickname, in fact, is “the American Alps.” Moreover, much the scenery is more accessible than at some other alpine parks. Particularly noteworthy is the aptly named Artist Point and the surrounding area.

5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The east coast also offers great mountain scenes, particularly in Great Smoky Mountains. The name is derived from the often smoky appearance of the landscape, a phenomenon caused by the massive volume of moisture evaporating from the forests. From many vantage points in the park, most notably from the top of 6,643-foot Clingmans Dome, you can photograph a seemingly endless array of ridges and gentles peaks cascading into the horizon.

Editor’s note: If I didn’t include your favorite mountain-photography park in this Top 5 list, please be assured it that was No. 6.

 

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