The United States is a mecca for outdoor photography. Yes, our country is known for concrete jungles and urban centers like New York City or Los Angeles, but there are outdoor destinations as diverse, beautiful, and jaw-dropping as any on the planet.
Each of the 50 states, while different and unique, has opportunities to offer photographers and content creators who crave the outdoors, but a few stand out above the rest, and are true icons in the photography world.
Here are the eight best states for outdoor photography:
Alaska, or as it is affectionately nicknamed, the “Last Frontier,” is the wildest of the 50 states. Large enough to be its own country, Alaska spans over 660,000 square miles, and inside its borders, it is home to eight incredible national parks, as well as the tallest mountain in North America, Denali, at 20,310 feet. Alaska’s mountains are big, its wilderness is vast, and its natural wonders are plentiful. The most intriguing aspect of Alaska is that there areas of the state that have yet to be photographed, and “blank spaces” on the map waiting to be filled. For anyone searching for adventure and opportunity, Alaska is the state for you.
California is one of the most sought after states in America, known for its cities and beaches. However, California for outdoor photographers is a true mecca, and offers some of the most incredible and diverse destinations on the planet. From the massive granite walls and formations of Yosemite National Park, to the towering Redwoods and Sequoias in the north and south regions of the state, California boasts a gorgeous coastline, massive mountains, and unforgiving desert. It is truly magical, and can offer so much for any photographer in love with the outdoors.
When you think about mountains, you think of Colorado. The heart of the Rocky Mountains runs through this incredibly beautiful state, and it offers some of the most iconic mountain destinations in the United States. From the Elk Range and the iconic Maroon Bells in Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park in the Front Range, or the magical San Juans in the southwest corner of the state, Colorado is a dream to shoot, and offers endless opportunities. There’s even a giant mountain sandbox, Great Sand Dunes National Park, which is great to play in, and offers some of the wildest shots in the west.
Wyoming might not be the first state you think of for photography opportunities, but trust me when I say it’s worth a trip. Especially if you head to the northwest corner of the state, you’ll find two of the most legendary outdoor photography spots: Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. Grand Teton offers some of the most iconic mountains on the planet, and both parks are home to some of the best wildlife America has too offer. And, if you’re up for more of a secluded, backcountry trip, the Wind River Range is a wild and stunning section of the Rockies just south of the parks, that offers some of the most dramatic peaks in the region.
Utah is one of the wildest places on this list. Not only does it have the “Mighty Five,” or five national parks including Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches, but it is home to some of the most incredible colors, textures, and landscapes you will ever see. From slot canyons a few feet wide, to vast canyon overlooks, Utah offers opportunities to feel incredibly close to these amazing places, and shoot some of the best photographs of your career.
Of course this list wouldn’t be complete without the states in the Pacific Northwest. Oregon is absolutely alluring, and like many on this list, quite diverse. People best know Oregon for its magical and rugged coastline, but it is also home to some of the most beautiful forests, lakes, and mountains you’ll see in this region. The rows of Douglas firs and lush, temperate vegetation is enough to pique many photographers’ interest, but Oregon is also home to some of the most beautiful and epic waterfalls in the country, from the Columbia River Gorge to down south near Eugene. Add a stop to the famous Bend, Oregon area for high desert landscape at Smith Rock State Park, that will surely take your breath away. Oregon has it all, so it’s no wonder many move to this state to pursue their photography careers every year.
Washington is very similar to Oregon in a lot of ways. It is teeming with beauty that is unique to this region. Washington is home to three national parks that are truly incredible: Olympic, North Cascades, and Mount Rainier.
Olympic is one of the most diverse national parks in the country, offering a rugged coastline, some of the biggest and best temperate rainforests in the country, and the Olympic Mountain range, great for alpine enthusiasts. North Cascades, centered in the northern part of the state, is in one of the most impressive sections of the Cascades, and is frequently called the “American Alps” due to its incredibly dramatic and picturesque peaks. Mount Rainier, the biggest and most iconic mountain in the Pacific Northwest, calls Mount Rainier National Park home. This park is truly remarkable, not only because you get to photograph one of the best mountains in the country, but because the surrounding area and mountains provide some of the best mountain layers you will ever shoot.
Washington is amazing, and outside of these parks, you will find endless mountains, lakes, and waterfalls. Even in the eastern part of the state, it is beautiful, with rolling hills near Palouse County, that remind of Tuscany, Italy. Washington is a state that is remarkable to shoot, and is a must visit for serious outdoor photographers.
Hawaii is truly incredible. This is a state that feels like it belongs in the South Pacific, and is so different from the rest of the United States. It offers relaxation and luxury for some, but for the adventurous outdoor photographer, Hawaii is brimming with opportunity.
The Hawaii Islands offers some of the most unique and epic outdoor destinations out there. From the 3,000-foot tall sea cliffs of the Nā Pali Coast on Kauai, thousand-foot waterfalls of Big Island, or Haleakalā National Park and Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Parks that show the power of the volcanoes that made these islands; there is so much to see and photograph. Then, when you’re done with the more adventurous side of the islands, you can find one of the many pristine beaches, home to crystal clear waters, teeming with marine life you will only see in Hawaii. These islands are remarkable, and the natural wonders, beautiful culture, and “spirit of Aloha,” you will experience while visiting here will keep you coming back again and again.
Honorable Mention: Montana
While Montana missed out on the top eight, it had to be mentioned due to Glacier National Park, which is one of the most beautiful national parks in the country, and many will argue it is the most aesthetic. With it’s glacier-carved lakes and mountains, it is a place that outdoor photographers flock to, and planning a trip to northern Montana into Waterton Lakes and Banff, Canada is a must, as this section of the Rocky Mountains are home to some of the most beautiful mountains in the world.