The United States is filled with a wide variety of differing climates and geography that present plenty of possibilities for landscape photographers. While it’s possible to create amazing landscape photos without leaving your local area, some places in the country offer views and scenery that you can’t get elsewhere. In this post we’ll take a look at 15 of the most iconic locations for landscapes within the U.S.
→ Related reading: 25 of the Most Surreal Landscapes in the United States
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is a favorite of many landscape photographers and there are plenty of iconic photographs of Yosemite, including those from Ansel Adams. Located in norther California, Yosemite National Park is accessible from San Francisco and San Jose, and is also reasonably close to another location that will be mentioned later, Death Valley National Park. Commonly photographer subjects include half dome (a 4,700 foot tall granite rock formation), El Capitan (a 3,000 foot granite monolith), and Yosemite Falls (the highest waterfall in the United States). Tunnel view, a scenic overlook within the park, is an extremely popular place from which to photograph.
Opportunities for beautiful landscape photos exist throughout the park, although the majority of the parks visitors stay near the main attractions and Yosemite Village. There are plenty of hiking trails that will help you to get away from the crowds and find some unique scenes, subjects, and vantage points.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park, the first national park in the world, lies mostly in Wyoming but also extends into Montana and Idaho. There is a great deal of variety within the 3,400+ square miles of this massive park. Popular attractions like Old Faithful can draw crowds, but there are plenty of opportunities to get away from the crowds and get some solitude. In addition to landscapes, Yellowstone is also a great place for photographing wildilfe including grizzly bears, black bears, gray wolves, elk, moose, bison, bighorn sheep, and approximately 150 species of birds. At Yellowstone can capture amazing landscapes, geysers, hot springs, and wildlife.
The Grand Canyon
Arizona’s Grand Canyon is a must-see, and it’s a popular destination for photographers from around the world. Grand Canyon National Park contains many of the most popular spots, like the popular south rim vistas. The less-crowded north rim also includes plenty of amazing views, but it is closed about half of the year for winter.
There are an abundance of stunning views from the rim of the canyon, but getting away from the main viewpoints or hiking down one of the trails will enable you to get a more unique perspective. For more on the Grand Canyon please see our Photographer’s Guide to the Grand Canyon.
Sedona, Arizona provides stunning views of red rock and offers plenty of opportunities for photographers. Sedona is about a two hour drive south of the Grand Canyon’s south rim, so it is a excellent side trip for anyone visiting the Grand Canyon. There are beautiful views just about everywhere you look in and around Sedona. The town of Sedona is fairly small and there are a number of trials and forest roads that will lead to some of the best views. The forest roads will require a 4-wheel drive, but you can take a Jeep tour from several different providers or rent a vehicle and explore on your own. The Jeep tours are fine for casual photography but you won’t be able to dictate your own schedule or stay in any one place for very long.
Red Red State Park is a great location that includes hiking trails and some beautiful views. The parking lot of the small airport is a great place to get a sunset view, but get there early because it can get quite crowded.
While you are in Sedona you may also want to visit Jerome, AZ, a ghost town in that is less than an hour away. Jerome was a mining town high on top of Cleopatra Hill and is an interesting place to visit. For more, see our detailed guide to Photographing Sedona, Arizona and our guide to Schnebly Hill Road.
Monument Valley, located on the state line between Utah and Arizona, is one of the most iconic scenes of the American west. The sandstone buttes reach up to 1,000 feet and provide a beautiful view that has been photographed countless times and featured in many films. The area lies within the Navajo Nation Reservation in the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. The park includes a 17-mile dirt road, although some areas are only accessible by guided tours.
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park, located in California and Nevada, lies below sea level and between the Great Basin and the Mojave Desert. It is the hottest and driest national park in the United States, but it does provide opportunities for stunning photos.
The Racetrack (which lies below sea level) is one of the most popular areas for photographers because of its sailing stones. Death Valley is also an excellent location for night landscapes and for photographing the milky way.
Acadia National Park
Although all of the locations I have mentioned up to this point are in the west, the east also includes some beautiful landscapes. Acadia National Park is located in Maine, including some islands, and is an ideal location for photographing the coast. Bass Harbor Lighthouse is one of many popular locations.
The park also includes mountains and lakes that offer plenty of photographic opportunities. The 27-mile Park Loop Road is open from mid April through November and will give you views of the coast, mountains, and forest.
Denali National Park
Denali National Park in Alaska covers more than 6 million acres, although much of it is extremely difficult to get to. There is a 91 mile road, although much of it is unpaved and closed to private vehicles. The park included Denali (Mount McKinley), the highest mountain in North America. The snow-covered mountains and wildlife within the park make it a destination worth the effort to get there.
Zion National Park
Zion National Park in Utah is located about an hour and a half from Bryce Canyon National Park and about 2 and a half hours from the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Zion is a relatively small park in comparison to some of the other popular national parks, but it has amazing scenery and will make you feel like you stepped into another world. The most popular areas of the park are in the main Zion Canyon and there are a number of trails that will get you away from the crowds. The park can get quite crowded and a shuttle will take you to all of the stops in the main canyon. The trails vary greatly in terms of length and difficulty. One of the most popular hikes involves walking through the Virgin River in The Narrows, a gorge with walls up to 1,000 feet tall. See Photographing Zion National Park for a detailed guide to the park and tips.
Great Smokey Mountains National Park
Great Smokey Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina is another favorite for photographers, and it is America’s most-visited national park. The main entrances are in the towns of Gatlinburg, Tennessee and Cherokee, North Carolina. The park is beautiful in all scenes but autumn is especially stunning. There are several waterfalls, although most of them will require a hike. Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in the park at well over 6,000 feet and can be reach by car and a short walk up a paved ramp. There are beautiful views throughout the park and plenty of viewpoints for easy access.
One of the most popular areas of the park is Cade’s Cove, located in a beautiful valley where a small town/settlement reached it’s peak in the 1800s. There is an 11 mile loop that leads you around Cade’s Cove and several different trails that can be hiked. There are several buildings, including homes and churches, still standing, as well as cemetery. Getting to some of the homes requires a hike, but the churches and other homes are along the road. Cade’s Cove is an ideal place to photograph the valley and it is also know as one of the better places in the park for viewing wildlife like deer and black bears, although I didn’t see any while I was there.
For detailed information to help with planning your trip, please see Photography Guide to Smoky Mountains National Park.
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, located just south of Yellowstone, provides stunning mountain views, along with lakes and wildlife. Grand Teton, at more than 13,000 feet, is the tallest mountain in the Teton range. The park also includes several small glaciers.
Over 200 miles of hiking trails will allow you to access much of the park. There are also some old ranches within the park that are great for exploring and photographing.
The Oregon Coast
The coast of Oregon is filled with spectacular views including lighthouses, wildlife, and even some shipwrecks. There is no shortage of great locations including Ecola State Park, Oswald West State Park, Haystack Rock, Hug Point, Cape Perpetua, Yaquina Bay Bridge, and Astoria-Megler Bridge.
Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon located near Page, Arizona, and like Monument Valley is located on Navajo tribal lands. It consists of the upper canyon and the lower canyon, both are excellent for photographs. The upper canyon is at ground level and requires no climbing. Beams of light are also more common in the upper canyon, particularly in the summer. Entering the lower canyon is a little more difficult and involves some narrower areas.
Access to Antelope Canyon is available only by guided tours, in part due to the risk of flash flooding. Tickets can be purchased in Page. Antelope Canyon is located very close to Lake Powell and Horseshoe Bend, two other locations worth visiting.
Arches National Park
I already mentioned Zion National Park, and Arches National Park is another must-see in Utah. Visiting several national parks while in Utah is possible, with only about 30 minutes separating Arches and Canyonlands National Park.
The natural sandstone arches within the park provide a great subject for photographs. Some of the most popular formations include Delicate Arch, Balanced Rock, and Courthouse Towers. The dark skies also make it an excellent location for night photography.
Joshua Tree National Park
Southeast California’s Joshua Tree National Park provides photographers with amazing wilderness and the beautiful Joshua trees that can result in photos you can’t get anywhere else The park also includes rock formations like Arch Rock and Skull Rock. There are many trails for exploring the park, but beware of summer heat at over 100 degrees. The dark skies of the park also make it a good place for night photography.