Cascading Ridges, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, © 2013 Chris Nicholson

Top 5 National Parks for Photographing…


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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