Although great landscape photos don’t require you to be in a world-famous destination, some locations simply have something unique that make them special. These amazing places are thrilling to visit as well as to photograph. In this article we’ll look at 25 of the most surreal and unusual landscapes in the United States that can serve as spectacular subjects for photographers.
Mendenhall Glacier Ice Cave
Juneau, Alaska – Mendenhall Glacier is about 13 miles long and located just 12 miles from Juneau. A hollow cave is located below the glacier, which proves to be a stunning and surreal scene. Unfortunately, reaching the cave is not easy. It requires a kayaking or rafting in difficult conditions, plus a hike. For those who are willing and able to make the journey the sight is quite remarkable.
Coconino County, AZ – The Wave is a popular section of the Coyote Buttes within the Paria-Canyon Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. The sandstone formation with a wave pattern is a favorite location for many landscape photographers. It is located north of the Grand Canyon, not far from other popular sites like Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, and Lake Powell.
Valley of Fire State Park
Moapa Valley, Nevada – Located about 5o miles northeast of Las Vegas, Valley of Fire State Park provides stunning wilderness scenery. The park includes interesting rock formations, petrified wood, and 3,000 year-old Indian petraglyphs. The amazing red standstone was the inspiration for the parks name.
Gerlach, Nevada – Fly Geyser is a man-made geothermal geyser that is located on Fly Ranch, but it can be seen from Route 34. The geyser was accidentally created by well drilling in 1964. Although the water only spews about 5 feet, the other-worldly look of Fly Geyser makes it a sight to behold.
Grand Prismatic Spring
Teton County, Wyoming – Located in Yellowstone National Park, Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the U.S., and the third largest in the world. It is part of the Midway Geyser Baysin and is one of the more popular spots within the park. Te beautiful colors are just waiting to be photographed.
Badlands National Park
South Dakota – Badlands National Park is a vast wilderness full of intriguing buttes, spires, and pinnacles. The formations were created by erosion, and the area is also a hotbed for fossils. From Badlands Loop Road there are many overlooks that provide plenty of possibilities for photographing the unusual landscape. See our Guide to Photographing Badlands National Park for a detailed look at planning your trip.
Fort Bragg, CA – Located in MacKerricher State Park, the sea glass at Glass Beach is the result of years of dumping trash onto the beach. However, the glass is slowly diminishing because of visitors taken some, and from waves breaking it down.
Dunsmuir, CA – The beautiful Mossbrae Falls flow over a moss-covered rock face into the Sacramento River. It is an amazing site, but unfortunately it is officially closed to the public at this time (although many people still go). Reaching the falls requires walking along a railroad track and through some private property. The town is working to acquire the property needed to make public access available.
San Juan County, NM – The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness includes more than 40,000 acres and some stunning and unusual landscapes. The eroded badlands look like the scene from a sci-fi movie. There are a few parking areas, but not trails. You can explore on foot but caution is needed to be sure that you can find your way back without a trail.
Cape Perpetua, OR – Along the coast of Oregon is Thor’s Well, a sinkhole that is about 20 feet deep. As the tide comes in water pours into the sinkhole, and shoots out the top as it overflows. It is especially active at high tide, and is a popular spot for photographers.
Zion National Park
Springdale, UT – Among Utah’s many amazing parks, Zion is possibly the most surreal. Most of the parks visitors spend their time in the main canyon area, which is quite stunning. But the park also includes some amazing hiking opportunities, including The Narrows (a narrow slot canyon that is home to the Virgin River) and The Subway (a tunnel sculpted by the Left Fork of North Creek) that will get you access to the most amazing scenery in the park. See our Guide to Photographing Zion National Park. Zion is located just a few hours from Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and Bryce Canyon.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon, UT – Bryce Canyon National Park is another amazing destination in Utah. The beautiful spires and hoodoos of Bryce Canyon make it a very unusual landscape, one that is certainly worth photographing. The colors of the formations contribute to the beauty.
Utah and Arizona – Located along the border of Utah and Arizona, Monument Valley is one of the most iconic scenes in the southwest. These recognizable sandstone buttes are the subject of many beautiful landscape photos. The area is accessible by U.S. Route 163 and is located within the Navajo Nation Reservation. Parts of the valley are only accessible by guided tour.
The Grand Canyon
Arizona – The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long and up to 18 miles wide. It is a popular destination for tourists from around the world because of its amazing beauty. The area is very large and there are plenty of things to do within the park, including many viewpoints and overlooks, many trails, river rafting, horseback excursions, helicopter tours, and more. Certain parts of the park are easily accessed and others require more work and adventure to reach. See our Guide to Photographing the Grand Canyon for details of the area.
Located about 2 hours south of the Grand Canyon’s south rim, Sedona is one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. Just about everywhere you look you will find stunning views of the red rocks. Sedona is a great spot for landscape photographers, and also for outdoor activities like hiking and off-roading. There are several companies that offer Jeep tours that will take you to places that you can’t reach without a 4-wheel drive vehicle. See our Guide to Photographing Sedona for details of the area.
Arizona – Havasu Falls is located within the Grand Canyon, but it is not easily accessible. It is on the Havasupai Indian Reservation and is only accessible by a 10-mile hike, by a guided horseback trip, or by helicopter. Those who make the trip are rewarded with the beauty of a 90-foot waterfall that flows into amazing blue water.
Crook County, Wyoming – In the Black Hills of Wyoming, Devil’s Tower abruptly rises more than 1,200 feet. It’s a popular destination for climbers, and also a great spot for photographers to capture and unusual landscape.
Death Valley National Park, CA – Within Death Valley National Park is the Racetrack, a dry lake bed with “sailing stones” that leave imprints. The geometrical patterns of the dry lake bed and the sailing stones make this a one-of-a-kind destination.
Sequoia National Park
Tulare County, CA – Sequoia National Park is home to some of the largest trees in the world, with General Sherman being the most well-known tree. The massive and impressive trees are an amazing sight, and a great subject for photographs.
Klamath County, Oregon – Crater Lake is the main feature of Crater Lake National Park. At almost 2,000 feet, it is the deepest lake in the U.S. The lake has two islands: Wizard island (visible in the photo below), which as formed by an eruption, and a smaller island called Phantom Ship. The lake is known for its beautiful blue waters. Not only is the lake itself beautiful, but the surrounding trees and landscape make it a perfect destination for photographers.
Watkins Glen State Park
Watkins Glen, NY – While there are plenty of beautiful waterfalls in the U.S., the scene at Watkins Glen State Park is among the best. The gorge and a total of 19 waterfalls give it a very surreal feeling. Three different trails give visitors and photographers plenty of opportunity to enjoy its unique beauty. See our Guide to Photographing Watkin’s Glen State Park.
Koke’e State Park
Kauai, Hawaii – Koke’e State Park is located on the northwest side of the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The park includes over 4,000 acres of amazing mountainous terrain. The scenic cliffside views are a great subject for landscape photographers. The colorful wildflowers and views of Waimea Canyon are also among the park’s highlights. The park includes many different trails for exploring and taking in the scenes.
Page, Arizona – Antelope Canyon is a very popular destination for landscape photographers. The amazing slot canyon is located on Navajo land and includes two different canyons. Upper Antelope Canyon is the more frequently-visited of the two because it is easier to enter, and because of the light beams that may be present. Lower Antelope Canyon is much narrower and requires climbing some stairs, but is still popular with photographers.
White Sands National Monument
Alamogordo, New Mexico – The white gypsum sand dunes of White Sands National Monument are both unique and spectacular. There are a few short trails, and exploring the area on foot is also possible. The edge of the dunes include some limited plant life, but further in to the monument there is little to no vegetation. The beautiful white sand sparkles in the sunlight and is an amazing sight at sunset.
Bonneville Salt Flats
Tooele County, Utah – Located west of the Great Salt Lake, the Bonneville Salt Flats cover more than 40 square miles. At some spots the white salt flats look as though they are covered by snow. The area is both unique and interesting. As well as being a great place for photography, it’s also home to the Bonneville Speedway, the location of several land speed records.
Photo license links: CC BY-ND 2.0, CC BY 2.0, CC BY-SA 2.0, CC0
Been to some of these but was glad to learn of new places I wasn’t aware of. Thanks!
Good article Marc,
Goodie, there are 3 close enough to me, 2 I didn’t know about, the guizer is one. Pretty cool!