Tatoosh Range, Mount Rainier National Park

Photographing in Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier

Paradise Meadows Wildflowers Mount RainierParadise Meadows Wildflowers Mount Rainier #73268  Purchase

This post is the second of a two part article about planning and photographing in Mount Rainier National Park Paradise Meadows. Read part one here.

A trip to photograph in Mount Rainier National Park or any other national park can be a very rewarding experience. It can also be a disappointing exercise in frustration. Good planning and having enough time available to meet your photography goals will increase your chances of success.

Since I’ve already given some tips on trip planning in my previous post, let’s start talking about locations and how best to photograph them. Mount Rainier is a big park with lots of great areas to photograph in. However, for the purpose of this article I’m going to focus only on the Paradise Meadows area and a few adjacent locations.

Essential Tip #1:  All of the locations in the Paradise Meadows area provide excellent opportunities for both sunrise and sunset . In summer the sun will rise and set a bit further in the north. There will be a slightly more light hitting the glaciers on Mount Rainier at sunrise than there will at sunset. Both times can provide some excellent side-lighting to wildflowers.

Paradise Meadows Skyline Trail Mount Rainier Skyline Trail Mount Rainier #72892 

But First a Lecture

Mount Rainier National Park receives over 2,000,000 visitors every year, and that number will continue to grow every year. The park service has gone to great lengths and expense (your tax dollars!) to make the meadows accessible for everyone, while also trying to keep them from getting trampled into oblivion.

Please take a minute to read the parks Meadow Preservation page.

Many trails are paved and roped off, and all have numerous signs to keep people on the trails. Please be thoughtful and considerate to the plants and future visitors, stay on the trails!

It is absolutely 100% possible to get great images while staying on the trails. But every time I photograph here I see other photographers going off the trail and trampling the flowers just to get that seemingly better photo. If everyone did that then Paradise Meadows would be nothing more than Paradise Dust Pit.

I wish I didn’t need to say this but here it goes. Do not even think of visiting Paradise Meadows unless you plan on strictly photographing only from established trails and keeping off the meadows. If you can’t do that then you should probably stay home!!

Paradise Meadows Wildflowers Mount RainierParadise Meadows Wildflowers #73347  Purchase

Paradise Meadows Trails and Locations

There are numerous trails in the Paradise Meadows area that give access to all the best photo locations. I like to divide the trails in the area between the west and east halves of the Paradise Meadows area. Both sections have excellent photo opportunities, but the west half has a better unobstructed view of Mount Rainier. I also feel that the west half often has better groupings of flowers and opportunities for compositions.

Download the Paradise Meadows Hiking brochure and map here.

Essential Tip #2:  Scouting is an essential technique for better photography. Always scout out the best locations in advance by spending the day hiking as many trails as possible. Make notes of the best spots and how long it will take to reach them in morning and evening golden hours.

Essential Tip #3:  Keep in mind that to reach most of the best flower meadows there is an elevation gain of several hundred feet from the parking area. While the trails aren’t steep or difficult it will take some effort to reach the best spots, especially if you’re racing against time and chasing light.

Essential Tip #4: Photo compositions in the west and east sections of Paradise are sufficiently far enough apart as to exclude photographing in both areas during the same morning or evening golden hour. Stick to one area and come back the next morning or evening for the other.

Tatoosh Range, Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier National ParkTatoosh Range Paradise Wildflower Meadows #73159  Purchase

Skyline Trail: This is the main trail that makes a loop through the entire Paradise area. This scenic trail makes an excellent leisurely all day loop. However, be aware that the higher elevation part of this trail traverses mostly rocky alpine terrain. Nearly all of the best flowers meadows are at middle elevations on the western parts of this trail.

There are many great compositions to be had around 5800′ elevation by using the trail network between Skyline and Deadhorse Creek Trails.

Deadhorse Creek, Moraine,  Nisqually Vista Trails: The main attraction for all of these trails are the views of Mount Rainier, and the yawning chasm of below the Nisqually Glacier. Deadhorse Creek trail connects with the Skyline trail so a loop will offer both glacier views and great wildflower photos.

Golden Gate Trail: This mile long trail begins on the lower Skyline at Myrtle Falls, and ends at the upper Skyline trail on Mazama Ridge. There are some great flower groupings all along this trail, especially near Myrtle Falls. Make sure you check out classic compositions of both Edith Creek from the foot bridge, and Myrtle Falls from the lower overlook.

The downside of the Golden Gate trail is that views of Mount Rainier are partially obscured by Panorama Point Ridge. However this trail is great for including the Tatoosh Range in compositions instead. There are some wonderful flower groupings on the upper section switchbacks for use in such compositions.

Tatoosh Range and Skyline Trail Paradise Meadows Skyline Trail Mount Rainier Tatoosh Range from Mazama Ridge #73153

Mazama Ridge Paradise Meadows 

Mazama Ridge can be accessed by several different trails. It can be reached via the Skyline Trail from Paradise Meadows parking area, or from below at Reflection Lakes. Keep in mind that if you are starting from Reflection Lakes you will have a considerable amount of elevation to gain before reaching the best areas.

Due to the nature of the snowpack melting out many of the best wildflower displays on Mazama Ridge often bloom a bit later than elsewhere in Paradise.

Skyline Trail on Mazama Ridge:  Access is either part of the Skyline Loop or from the end of the Golden Gate Trail. I feel the upper part of Mazama Ridge on the Skyline Trail offers the best photo opportunities. This is mainly due to the more open views of the Tatoosh Range.

Lakes Trail:  While there are some good photo ops on this trail they are mostly the upper half. One of the benefits of this trail is that the views of Mount Rainier are set back a bit.

Paradise Glacier Trail: This trail begins on the upper part of Mazama Ridge. For the most part it travels through fairly barren rocky terrain. But there are some decent flower displays along the first half mile or so. The attraction on this trail is viewing the raw landscape which not too long ago was beneath glaciers.

Some of the best displays of Lewis’s Monkeyflowers are near the junction of the Paradise Glacier and Skyline trails. Here they grow alongside streams thick with bright green mosses. Unfortunately it’s difficult to include a satisfactory view of Mount Rainier or the Tatoosh Range in photos from this spot.

Mount Rainier and Edith CreekEdith Creek Mount Rainier #3522  Purchase

Myrtle Falls Edith Creek Paradise Meadows

These classic locations are only a half mile from the Paradise parking area on the Skyline Trail. Both photograph well in morning or evening light with a preference for sunrise.

Be aware that this is one of those locations that can be crowded not only during the day but during golden hour light. This is a very popular spot for photo workshops and wedding photographers. Please be considerate of other photographers, especially those photographing newlyweds.

Myrtle Falls Mount Rainier National ParkMyrtle Falls Mount Rainier #72865  Purchase

Also use caution at the overlook to Myrtle Falls. It’s a small cliffside viewing area which can be a bit dangerous for you and your gear when surrounded by overzealous visitors. Early in the season dangerous snow bridges and slippery snow pack can prove fatal, exercise extreme caution or avoid the overlook completely at this time!

Mount Rainier sunrise from Reflection LakeReflection Lakes Mount Rainier #73126  Purchase

Reflection Lakes

The roadside view of Mount Rainier from Reflection Lakes is one of the classic photographic vantage points in the park. One can easily argue it’s one of the most classic views in the entire Pacific Northwest!

To get here just take the road turnoff to Stevens Canyon just below Paradise Meadows, or follow Paradise Valley Road east from the Visitor’s center parking lot.

Essential Tip #5: This is a primarily sunrise location. Like many classic national park photo locations it attracts hordes of photographers and workshops. Plan on setting up in the best spot at least an hour before sunrise. Bring a headlamp and a thermos of coffee! And of course please heed the signs and help preserve fragile areas by staying out of closed areas.

Landscape photography doesn’t get much easier than at Reflection Lakes. Parking is right alongside the lake so theoretically you don’t even need to get out of your car! Of course getting the best photos will involve a bit more than that. It will be to your advantage to scout out the best spots the day before so you won’t be guessing in the dark the next morning.

Mount Rainier sunrise from Reflection Lake Paradise MeadowsReflection Lakes Mount Rainier #73103  Purchase

I feel the best spots are on the eastern end of the lake where small groups of wildflowers can be used in the foreground. This is also one location that will provide great photos whether you are there during of after wildflower season. On a cold fall morning there are often thin sheets of ice on the lakes that are very photogenic.

Essential Tip #6:  Don’t make the mistake of setting up your tripod and photographing only one composition. Pick out the best primary spot and wait to photograph it in the best light, then move on to other compositions.

Bench Lake Mount Rainier National ParkBench Lake Mount Rainier #73143  Purchase

Bench Lake

This is a great sunrise location with wonderful views of Mount Rainier that not many photographers visit. The view of Rainier from Bench Lake shows more of the lower part of the mountain than at Reflection Lake. However you are limited to a tiny stretch of sand along the lake for compositions.

Bench Lake is an extra doable location after photographing sunrise at Reflection Lake, if you still have some nice early morning light to work with. Drive about 1.5 miles east of Reflection Lakes to reach the trailhead to Bench and Snow Lakes. The lake is about 1.25 miles along the trail with some minor ups and downs along the way.

Pinnacle Peak Trail Mount Rainier National ParkPinnacle Peak Trail Mount Rainier #72992

Pinnacle Peak

If you have extra time during your trip a hike up to Pinnacle Peak is definitely worth the effort. The trail starts across from Reflection Lakes and is about 1.25 miles in length with about 1400′ of elevation gain. It feels longer than 1.25 miles but the increasingly dramatic views of Mount Rainier keeps your mind off the work.

There are several good spots along the trail for photos which include wildflowers or hikers on the switchbacks. Just west of the saddle at trail’s end there are a few spots to sit and get some pics. If you’re up for it you can continue the steep route to Plummer Peak. For the really adventurous photographer continue hiking east on a rough semi-exposed trail to a saddle above Pinnacle Glacier. The views of Mount Rainier from there are wide open.

Essential Tip #7:  Photography from Pinnacle Peak trail is best in evening light. Bring water and wear a hat, this trail can be very hot in the afternoon during the summer. Make sure to bring a headlamp for the way down if you’re planning on golden hour photography.

Christine Falls Mount Rainier National ParkChristine Falls #73210  Purchase

Christine and Narada Falls

These two waterfalls are an absolute must photograph when you’re in the area. Both are very easy short walks from the road and both offer perfect compositions from the viewing areas. As with most waterfalls they are best photographed on an overcast day, or in early morning or evening when they are in shade.

Essential Tip #8:  Like nearly every location in a national park try to avoid photographing these waterfalls during the crowded busy part of the day. Before 9:00am or after 5:00 pm is best, then you’ll probably have them all to yourself.

Narada Falls Mount Rainier National ParkNarada Falls #72871  Purchase

Camera Equipment Suggestions 

What camera gear should you bring on a Mount Rainier photography trip? In a nutshell, everything you have. Ok, maybe not everything, especially if you’re a gear junkie with dozens of lenses and camera bodies. 

If you’re using a camera with a full frame sensor the most useful focal lengths are 14mm-70mm. So basically ultra-wide to very slight telephoto should cover most compositions. The only time I used my telephoto lens was to zoom in on some glacier details.

Basic Essentials:

  • Tripod
  • Wide to ultra-wide lenses
  • Normal range lens
  • Telephoto lens; for landscapes up to 200mm would be good enough. Paradise Meadows isn’t really know for wildlife photography so long telephotos aren’t necessary.
  • Polarizing filter
  • Graduated Neutral Density Filters;  I still use these in the field in certain circumstances instead of creating the effect in post-processing. Although they are not always the best option.
  • Remote shutter release
  • Bug Spray!

Essential Tip #9:  Brush up on your focus stacking techniques. Since you’ll probably be photographing wide angle compositions with wildflowers in the foreground and Mount Rainier in the background you’ll need to use methods which increase your depth of field.

Essential Tip #10: Mosquitoes, gnats, and other flying insects will be especially bothersome during times around sunrise and sunset. Exactly the same time when you will need to concentrate on your photography. Bring insect repellant or wear netting.

Essential Tip #11:   BE CREATIVE! Use you own eyes and mind. Just because there are 20 other photographers photographing the exact same scene, in the exact same position, with the exact same gear and settings, doesn’t mean that you have to follow suit. Photographing something in a unique and creative way could be as simple as just turning around to see what’s behind you!

Mount Rainier sunrise from Reflection LakeReflection Lake Sunrise Mount Rainier #73082  Purchase

In Conclusion

Combining all the information and tips in this post and Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier Photography Trip Planning, you now should have everything you need to know to have a productive, safe, and enjoyable trip to Paradise Meadows. Now get out there and have fun!

Thanks for reading, feel free to share this post with you friends and colleagues!

Want to learn more, or have a professional photographer guide you in the field? Then take your Creative Photography to the next level with  Private Instruction and Guided Photo Tours.

All photos appearing in Photographing in Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Paradise Wildflower Meadows Mount Rainier

New Additions: Mount Rainier Olympic National Parks, North Cascades

Paradise Wildflower Meadows Mount RainierParadise Meadows Mount Rainier #73268  Purchase

The summer of 2021 has been challenging, to say the least. Record breaking heatwaves, devastating wildfires, widespread smoke, crowded parks, and the persistent COVID thing. There was so much hope that this summer would offer a return to normalcy. Well, it is better than last year, but not much.

View New Images

I can usually plan and complete successful photography trips by having various backup locations in mind. Mostly for when conditions are less than optimal. However, this year the wildfire season started much earlier than usual, and by early July thick smoke was present over all my primary and most backup locations. That is except one.

Mount Rainier sunrise from Reflection LakeMount Rainier from Reflection Lake #73103  Purchase

Backup Plans:  Mount Rainier

So far NW Washington has been, for the most part, lucky to escape all the wildfire smoke. So that gave me the opportunity to visit some great locations closer to home.  In particular I was able to make a long overdue trip to Mount Rainier National Park. For many years I’ve put off photographing in Mount Rainer for various reasons. Mainly because in August I’m usually off on more ambitious trips out of state, or in Canada. But also because of the summer crowds. And the necessity of having to drive through all the Seattle and Tacoma congestion to get there.

Diablo Lake, North Cascades WashingtonDiablo Lake, North Cascades #71713  Purchase

In addition to a very successful trip to Mount Rainier several other locations made it on my list. These included Olympic National Park, Diablo Lake, Heather Meadows, and Skyline Divide in the North Cascades. Summer isn’t over yet so hopefully there will be several more trips to be made before fall arrives.

You can see highlights from all of these locations in the New Images Gallery. For a more in depth selection check out the Washington, Mount Rainier, and Olympic National Parks Archives.

Old Growth Douglas Fir tree Olympic National ParkHeart O’ the Hills, Olympic National Park #71873  Purchase

Crescent moon over Vancouver British ColumbiaMoon over Vancouver British Columbia #7078 Purchase

Photos appearing in New Additions: Mount Rainier Olympic National Parks, North Cascades  are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Squaretop Mountain Wind River Range Wyoming

Rocky Mountains Photography Tour

Rocky Mountains Photography Tour

Backpacker on Titcomb Basin Trail Wind River Range Rocky Mountains WyomingBackpacking Wind River Range #66803  Purchase

Update 8/162021: Due to wildfires and heavy smoke and haze, this trip has been delayed.

This summer’s Rocky Mountains Photography Tour will start on July 9. I was once again hoping to head north to Alaska and the Yukon Territory. But since it looks like the border won’t be open in time, it is on to Plan B. So this year I’ll be revisiting some locations from 2019 and 2020.

These locations will mainly the Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness in Idaho, and the Wind River Range of Wyoming. I’m also planning a lengthy backpacking trip to the Chinese Wall in the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Montana. That location was on my itinerary last year but I swapped it out for Glacier National Park instead.

White Clouds Wilderness Rocky Mountains IdahoBoulder White-Clouds Wilderness  #68945  Purchase

Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness Idaho

On last summer’s visit to the White-Clouds I was only able to visit the north section. This year I’ll be backpacking in to the south half to photograph the Boulder Chain Lakes Basin and the some of the highest peaks in the wilderness. This area is also part of the popular White Clouds Wilderness Loop. For my purposes though I will be doing an out and back trip instead of the loop. I’ll also have plenty of time budgeted for layovers at the best locations along the route.

Squaretop Mountain Wind River Range WyomingSquaretop Mountain Wind River Range #66997 Purchase

Wind River Range Wyoming

Ah, what can I say about the Winds? This will be my seventh trip there and I still can’t get enough of this spectacular mountain range. It’s a backpackers’ dream. Thousands of lakes, 40 peaks over 13,000′, miles and miles of trails in the subalpine along the Continental Divide, plus easy cross country travel to boot!

This year my plans will include parts of the Hailey Pass-Washakie Pass Loop, Desolation Valley, and Baptiste Lake. Also on the itinerary will be a return to Cirque of the Towers and Deep Lake. I’ll also be returning to the Green Lakes area for more new photos of the Green River and Squaretop Mountain.

Castle Reef Mountain Sun Canyon Rocky Mountains MontanaCastle Reef Mountain Montana  #68136  Purchase

Bob Marshall Wilderness Montana

Known among locals and avid backpackers as “The Bob”, this wilderness destination in the northern Rocky Mountains has been on my must photograph list for decades. The Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex is a huge swath of land straddling both sides of the Continental Divide. An important part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem it is home to the largest intact population of Grizzlies in the lower 48.

Last year It was on my itinerary but I took a pass due to an unusual opportunity to obtain backcountry permits in Glacier National Park. The destination on this trip will be a multi-day backpack to the famous Chinese Wall. This is arguably the signature feature of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, a 12 mile long 1000′ high limestone escarpment on the Continental Divide.

U.S. Highway 93 Lost River Range IdahoU.S. 93 Idaho #68984  Purchase

A Flexible Itinerary

For an ambitious trip like this several caveats need to be mentioned. First of all if it becomes clear the Canada border will open before the end of July it will be back to Plan A, as in A for Alaska.

Secondly, as with all of my trips that include multiple long backpacking excursions, some locations may be modified due to weather or time constraints. There are already indications of a major wildfire season in the making, so smoky conditions or closed off areas may change my plans.

Finally, if you are in any of these areas in July or August and would like to meet up in the wilderness, or in town for a coffee or beer, feel free to contact me!

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Photos appearing in Rocky Mountains Photography Tour are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Rocky Mountains Photography Tour

Meadows of Broadleaf Arnica (Arnica latifolia) at Boulder Pass, Glacier National Park Montana

Boulder Pass Glacier National Park Part 2

Boulder Pass Glacier National Park Part 2

Meadows of Broadleaf Arnica (Arnica latifolia) at Boulder PassBoulder Pass Glacier National Park #69880  Purchase

Read: Boulder Pass Glacier National Park Part 1 here

Glacier National Park is truly one of the great gems in the national park system. It has many attributes which sets it apart from other parks. In addition to being a national park it is also a biosphere reserve, world heritage site, and international peace park.  It is the home of one of the last strongholds of grizzly bears in the lower 48. And although it contains two dozen named glaciers, the parks name reflects the sculpting of its terrain by ice age glaciation.

All of this and more attracts visitors from around the world, to the tune of 3,000,000 visitors a year, on average. The reasons visitors flock to the park are as diverse as the parks features. Some come to marvel at the beauty of the mountains. Some hope to see wildlife close up. Others come solely to escape the crushing pressures of modern day society. Unfortunately the later have little chance of doing so when touring the park by car.

Others like me come to the park to photograph the dramatic landscape of the northern Rocky Mountains. As I mention in my previous post, I’ve been to Glacier many times over the years, and photographed it in all seasons. Nearly all of those trips were to iconic front country locations. But last summer I took the opportunity to visit a remote and special corner of Glacier National Park, Kintla Lake and Boulder Pass.

First Day Along Kintla Lake

The remoteness of Kintla Lake and Boulder Pass in the northeast corner of the park looked appealing to me. It was a long hike in and passed through areas with lots of photographic potential. But first I needed a wilderness permit, and it took me a couple tries to obtain one. Even though it was August the park service just opened campsites at the pass the day before. So I was one of the first to stay there that season.

Kinnerly Peak Kintla Lake. Glacier National Park MontanaKinnerly Peak Kintla Lake  #69825  Purchase

The hike begins at Kintla Lake and reaches Boulder Pass 17.5 miles later, with about 3200′ of elevation gain along the way. Some hardcore long distance hikers can make the trip in one day, but nearly everyone splits it in two. It’s also possible to continue down Boulder Pas, down to Waterton Lake and exit the eastern side of the park. A popular loop trip would begin at Kintla Lake and exit at Bowman Lake, or vice versa. My plan was to simply do an out and back on the same route.

The first day was a pretty easy hike along Kintla Lake to Kintla Head camp. It’s a pleasant hike mostly through forest with a few views of the lake along the way. The first day or two on a long hike is sometimes the hardest since your pack is full up with food and fuel. At camp it was a pleasant to sit around the food prep area with other hikers and swap stories and backgrounds. I usually travel solo so chatting it up with others is a welcome treat.

Kintla and Kinnerly Peaks Glacier National Park MontanaKintla Peak Glacier National Park #70050  Purchase

Kintla Lake to Boulder Pass Glacier National Park

The hard work would come the next day. It was another 11 miles to Boulder Pass camp, with nearly all of the 3200′ of elevation coming in the last miles. I got an early start to beat the heat and travel at a leisurely pace. Just past the head of Upper Kintla Lake the work began. The trail wasn’t too steep or difficult, just a long constant uphill slog. At one point the trail passes through about a mile of thick shoulder high brush. Often it was so thick it was hard to see the trail or rocks and roots.

It seems to take forever to reach the point where signs of the subalpine begin. And although the view across the valley to Kintla Glacier are rewarding it’s difficult to tell where the trail tops out at the pass. It was when I was just below the pass that I saw my first grizzly in the backcountry.

I’ve been backpacking for 40 years and this is my first bear encounter, go figure. The bear was a sow with two cubs about 25 yards uphill of the trail. Since I was following the book and making plenty of noise she saw me and slowly moved away. But proceeding further would have brought me closer on the next switchback. So I waited and continued to talk loudly. The bear eventually moved on and I continued up to the pass. A couple passing hikers, who apparently felt close bear encounters weren’t anything to worry about, lightheartedly kidded me for talking so loudly to ward off the bear.

Wildflower meadows at sunset. Boulder Pass, Glacier National Park MontanaBoulder Pass Wildfowers  #69886  Purchase

At Boulder Pass Glacier National Park

Finally the trail reached the pass with all its glorious views. At this point an oddity struck me. Everywhere you go in Glacier Park you’re passing by or walking over colorful layers of sedimentary rock. However at Boulder Pass I was walking over a vast expanse of ancient lava.

Afterwards I did some geology research and found out that it was Purcell Lava.  Long ago when the area was still beneath an ancient sea molten rock squeezed up from below and flowed onto the sediment forming rocks. It was also interesting to see that this lava exposed at the pass was smooth and bore striations from past glacial activity.

Meadows of Broadleaf Arnica (Arnica latifolia) at Boulder PassThunderbird Mountain from Boulder Pass   #69907  Purchase

The Boulder Pass camp has three tent sites, a food prep area with hanging poles, an outhouse, and one very aggressive marmot. I’v never come across a marmot that was so intent on obtaining food or salt from sweaty backpack straps. You have to be on guard since marmots can easily chew through straps, shoelaces and other important items in search of nutrients and food. This guy had the appearance of having seen quite a few winters and fortunately eventually gave up on his pursuits.

I had three days to explore and photograph the area, and after a bite to eat I was eager to get to work. It turns out that Boulder Pass is a pretty big area with a few adjacent benches and basins below Boulder Peak. There was everything from lush meadows, streams and tarns, to glacial moraines and debris. Plenty of subject matter to keep me busy.

Meadows of red paintbrush wildflowers at Boulder Pass. Glacier National ParkWildflowers at Boulder Pass  #69947  Purchase

Hello Bear

After some exploring it was getting towards golden hour in the evening. The best option was to go back to the meadows teeming with wildflowers. The compositions I wanted meant shooting very low to the ground with an ultra wide angle lens.  With the setting sun shining through the trees and colors glowing all the elements were coming together. I was absorbed in photographing the moment.

It was then I heard a noise and looked up from the camera to see a large grizzly bear. It was just rounding a corner and coming up the trail about 50′ away. We both saw each other at the same time and the bear jumped back a bit in surprise. Very slowly I stood up while at the same time reaching for my bear spray. At this point I remembered the sow and cubs from earlier in the day. I carefully looked behind me to see if I was in the unfortunate position of being in between a mother and her cubs. There was no sign of them so perhaps this was a different bear.

Meadows of purple aster wildflowers at Boulder Pass. Glacier National ParkWildflowers at Boulder Pass  #69970  Purchase

After a few seconds, which seemed much longer, the bear slowly moved away down slope while watching me. Then it turned its head and bolted away. This was about as close as I ever would want to get to a grizzly. I can’t say I was terrified, but I was nervous and very conscious about keeping my wits and not making a wrong move. After a while I went back to photographing my composition.

I’ve since told this story many times and have always gotten the same question. Did you get a picture of the bear? No, I didn’t, at the time photographing the bear was the last thing on my mind.

Exposed section of trail between Brown Pass and Hole in the Wall. Glacier National Park MontanaHole In The Wall Trail  #69893 

Hole In The Wall Boulder Peak

At the east end of Boulder Pass the trail descends into the large horseshoe basin of Hole In The Wall. From there is continues to Browns Pass and Waterton Lake, or Bowman Lake. Day hiking on Hole In The Wall looked inviting but there was still a lot to investigate at Boulder Pass.

One area in particular was a series of benches on the west side of Boulder Peak. The views from there looking down to Pocket Lake and out to Kintla and Kinnerly Peaks were fabulous. In addition some wispy clouds were moving in which could make for a great sunset. Since this was my last day at the pass, and it was mostly blue sky days while there, this seemed like the best chance to get some good photos.

Rainbow Peak Glacier National ParkRainbow Mountain from Boulder Pass  #69907  Purchase

Another thing that I noticed just below the west side of Boulder Pass was the presence of Subalpine Larches. These are a special type of conifer which in the fall their needles turn brilliant gold and fall off. In all my years of looking at photos of Glacier Park I never saw any pictures of these trees in fall. So it was surprising to see them. Of course this means that a trip to Boulder Pass in late September would be well worth it.

The next day I hiked back down to the Camp at Upper Kintla Lake. The lake was pleasant and scenic but nothing like the dramatic scenery up at the pass. The following day was the long hike out to complete the trip. It was a sweet feeling to have finally made such a wonderful trip to a new section of the park. It was also a bit sad when reflecting on when or if I’ll ever return.

Upper Kintla Lake Glacier National Park MontanaUpper Kintla Lake  #70062  Purchase

 

If You Go to Boulder Pass Glacier National Park

Distance from Kintla Lake Trailhead to Boulder Pass:  17.5 miles
Elevation Gain:  ~3200
Difficulty:  Moderate
Red Tape:  National Park Entrance Fee, Backcountry Wilderness Permits

The Kintla Lake Trailhead is located about 40 miles north of the West Entrance on the North Fork Road. The last 10 or so miles is on a gravel road which can be very dusty and bumpy. There is a hikers parking area 1/4 from the lake. There is also a small campground at the lake.

The  West Entrance and Apgar area has many services including gas, groceries, dining, and a very large campground. If you have time it’s a great place to stay for a day or two before or after your hike.

Food bags hanging for bear safety at food prep area of Kintla Lake Campsite Glacier National Park MontanaKintla Head camp food prep area #69827

Bear Safety in Glacier National Park

All backpackers are required to carry bear spray. Bear canisters are not required as of this writing, as all backcountry camp areas have food prep areas with poles for hanging food. Make sure to bring about 50′ of parachute cord or similar to hang your food. When getting your permit you’ll also need to watch a short video on bear safety. Don’t take this lightly, as you’ve seen in this post there is a good chance of seeing bears on the trail or near campsites.

Sunset over Kinnerly and Long Knife Peaks seen from Boulder Peak. Glacier National Park MontanaSunset Boulder Pass Glacier National Park  #70041  Purchase

Leave No Trace

Please Please Please!  Don’t plan a trip to this or any other wilderness area unless you are prepared to strictly follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). The Wind River Range and all other wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles  and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

  • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.                 
  • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
  • Leave what you find.                                            
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.  
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

Hoary Marmot (Marmota caligata) Glacier National ParkMarmot at Boulder Pass Glacier National Park  #69980

Photo Gear Used On This Trip

Nikon D850
Nikkor Lens:
14-24mm 2.8G ED
24-70mm 2.8E ED
70-200mm 2.8E FL ED
Gitzo 1532 Tripod
Really Right Stuff B-55 Ball Head
Assorted Lee Graduated Neutral Density Filters
B+H Polarizing Filter
Vello FWM-N2 Remote Shutter Release

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Photos appearing in Boulder Pass Glacier National Park  are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Boulder Pass Glacier National Park

Sunrise at Lake McDonald Glacier National Park Montana

Boulder Pass Glacier National Park Part 1

Boulder Pass Glacier National Park

Sunrise at Lake McDonald Glacier National Park MontanaLake McDonald Glacier National Park #69738  Purchase

Glacier National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the country. It averages around 3,000,000 million visitors a year. That’s a lot of people, and you would be correct in thinking the park has an overwhelming amount of visitors. However, like most popular national parks, nearly all of those visitors only experience the park along front country roads and their iconic attractions. In Glacier the vast majority of visitors only travel along Going-to-the-Sun Road, and stay only for a day. If they get out of their car to experience the park it is most likely at Logan Pass.

Indeed, on any given summer day the line of traffic on Going-to-the-Sun Road begins well before dawn. The parking lot at Logan Pass usually fills to capacity by 9am. Soon after that there is traffic congestion similar to that in any big city, and most scenic pullouts have no open parking spaces left. Those that want a more in depth experience often choose day hikes beginning from Going-to-the-Sun Road. And a smaller percentage explore trails in other sections of the park. The smallest percentage of visitors choose overnight backpacks to more well known backcountry destinations.

It would seem that there is no corner of Glacier National Park free from crowds. This would be true if the park service didn’t have a strict permit system in place that limits backcountry campsites. This system is necessary to preserve the wilderness experience, and also to protect fragile environments and wildlife. The visitor wanting to spend a night or two in the backcountry must negotiate the online permit reservation system. This can be very frustrating as nearly all sites fill up many months in advance. Some sites can even be closed and reservations cancelled at the last minute due to bear activity.

Wilderness Permit Line Glacier National ParkWilderness permit line Glacier National Park

Obtaining a Permit for Boulder Pass

All this changed last summer. Because of the COVID pandemic Glacier was operating the permit system on an in person first come basis only. So I saw this as a chance to improve my odds of doing a multi-day backpacking and photography trip into one of the most beautiful and remote areas of the park. Nearly all photographers gravitate to several well known places in the park, such as Logan Pass, Lake McDonald. But my plan was to photograph in the Kintla Lake and Boulder Pass, a relatively unknown area for photographers.

So with time on my side I set about obtaining a permit for a six day trip. Accommodations in Glacier during the summer months are difficult to come by in a normal year. But last summer I had to work even harder to find a place, resorting to some obscure places I’ve found over the years. Fortunately I found a place outside the park only minutes away from the wilderness permit office.

It still wasn’t easy to get my permits though. The line for permits was long and people began arriving well before dawn. On my first attempt I got there around 6am and there were already at least 40 people in front of me. After waiting a couple hours I heard that my chosen sites were already filled. So the next day I set my alarm for 1:30am. Upon arriving at the office I was relieved to see there were only four others already in line. With a camp chair and my sleeping bag I got comfortable until the office opened at 9. The waiting paid off and I left with a permit for my desired sites and dates in hand.

Couple on dock at Sunrise at Lake McDonald Glacier National Park MontanaSunrise proposal on Lake McDonald Glacier National Park #69805

Extra Time in Glacier Park

After obtaining my permit for Boulder Pass I still had a couple of days to wait to start my trip. With time to kill there was no lack of ways to use it. Every morning and evening since arriving I set up to photograph at Lake McDonald. During my stay there were several very nice instances of light, making the efforts worthwhile.

One morning after arriving at the lake before dawn there was a couple on the nearby boat dock. I didn’t pay much attention to them until I saw the man drop to one knee. It was then apparent he was proposing marriage. He certainly chose the right day and time since the sky was ablaze with color at dawn.

On another occasion I was sitting on the beach in the evening. A couple showed up that apparently were just married since the woman was wearing here wedding gown. They were there for some post wedding portrait photographs. I wonder how many such events take place here during the year?

During this free time there was also the opportunity to get in a day hike or two. After a quick look at the park map one hike in particular rose above the rest, Sperry Chalet and Comeau Pass.

Sperry Chalet, Glacier National ParkSperry Chalet Glacier National Park  #69749

Sperry Chalet

A few years back the historic Sperry Chalet burned in the Sprague Fire. It was since rebuilt and this summer it was again open for business. Further up the trail from the chalet is Comeau Pass with an overlook of the Sperry Glacier. Together they offered a chance for me to see a new area of the park while getting a good workout.

The hike begins at the trailhead across the road from Lake McDonald Lodge. There is a huge parking area and it too overflows with cars by noon, so I got there early in the morning. The hike to Comeau Pass and back is around 17 miles with a nearly 5000′ in elevation gain. This is definitely a full day leg burner, unless you’re a trail runner who does this kind of thing before breakfast.

Sperry Chalet cookhouse entrance during Covid 19 Pandemic, Glacier National ParkSperry Chalet Dining Hall  #69752

If you make it all the way you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views at an elevation 1500′ higher than those at Logan Pass. Most hikers on this trail however are happy to get as far as Sperry Chalet, about 12 miles round trip with 3600′ elevation gain. The chalet sits right at tree line, and the views down the valley are great, but the best scenery lies further up.

The chalet can be described as rustic elegance. Although during the pandemic only registered guests were allowed inside I was able to peak in the windows. There was a classic western lodge or cabin look to the rooms. The chalet has no electricity but there were oil lamps in the rooms, adding to the charm. There is a separate building for dining, looking in the door the aroma of freshly baked cinnamon rolls was wafting out. Sadly again only guests could enter this summer.

View from Comeau Pass, Glacier National Park MontanaComeau Pass Glacier National Park #69770

Comeau Pass

From the Chalet the trail passes numerous waterfalls, wildflowers, interesting rock layers, and two alpine lakes. Finally as you get closer to the pass it appears the trail dead ends at the base of a cliff. However when you get there a steep narrow stairway cut into the cliff awaits you. Something any fan of Lord of the Rings will enjoy. It’s kind of a short tame version of the Stair of Cirith Ungol, but there aren’t any giant spiders or Dark Tower on the other side. There are cables to assist in ascending and descending. On my hike the stairs acted like a wind tunnel gone nuts, it would have been difficult to get down safely without them.

Stairs cut in rock at final segment to Comeau Pass trail Glacier National ParkComeau Pass Stairway Glacier National Park #69777

Wildlife is another perk of this hike. On the way up to the pass a herd of mountain goats blocked my way. They took a while to move on so I played wildlife photographer for a few minutes. On the way down a passing hiker alerted me to a grizzly sow and two cubs not far from the trail. I saw them from a good distance and was happy they weren’t closer.

Mountain Goats (Oreamnos americanus) on Comeau Pass Trail, Glacier National Park MontanaMountain Goats Comeau Pass Trail  #69757

Even though I was already on several lengthy backpacking trips in the past month the last few miles back from this one were slow and tiring. It was nice to get back to camp relax and recoup before starting my six day trip to Boulder Pass.

Click here to read part two of Boulder Pass Glacier National Park

Canoeist paddling on Lake McDonald at sunrise. Glacier National Park MontanaLake McDonald Glacier National Park #69818 Purchase

If you enjoyed reading Boulder Pass Glacier National Park please share it with your friends and family. Next up Boulder Pass Glacier National Park Part 2!

Photos appearing in Boulder Pass Glacier National Park  are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Boulder Pass Glacier National Park

Pronghorn and Dragon Head Peaks reflected in pond near Lee Lake, Bridger Wilderness. Wind River Range, Wyoming

Central Wind River Range Backpacking

Central Wind River Range Backpacking

Pronghorn and Dragon Head Peaks reflected in pond near Lee Lake, Bridger Wilderness. Wind River Range, WyomingPronghorn and Dragon Head Peaks Central Wind River Range  #69141  Purchase

The Wind River Range of Wyoming is a spectacular section of the Rocky Mountains. It contains 40 peaks over 13,000 feet, the largest glacier in the American Rockies, and over 1300 named lakes. All spread over three wilderness areas.  While not as well known as other destinations such as Grand Teton and Glacier National Parks, the range nonetheless attracts an increasing amount of backpackers, climbers, hunters, and fishermen.

While popular destinations in the Winds like Cirque of the Towers, Island Lake,  and Titcomb Basin see the bulk of the crowds, much of the Winds remain nearly deserted. An extensive network of trails gives access to nearly every corner of the range, and off trail travel is relatively straightforward. All of this offers outdoor enthusiasts a lifetime of wilderness adventures.

Island Lake and Fremont Peak, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingIsland Lake Wind River Range #66386  Purchase

My first visit to the Winds was in 2002, and I’ve been coming back for more ever since. Being a landscape photography I was naturally drawn to Titcomb Basin and Cirque of the Towers on initial trips. But over time I became aware of other hidden gems in the range. Soon my list of destinations grew long with several spots rising to the top.

Last summer I returned to the Winds to check out a new area, Lee Lake and Pronghorn Peak. Both are located in the upper valley of the Middle Fork of Boulder Creek. This location, in the Central Wind Rivers, was on my list the previous summer but was nixed in favor of another location. When doing location research over the years one peak’s stunning profile stood out. This was Pronghorn Peak. Rising to 12,388′ it and the surrounding terrain has a look similar to mountains in Patagonia, or Canada’s Baffin Island.

Mount Bonneville and Raid Peak seen from Scab Creek Trail Central Wind River Range  #69072  Purchase

Backpacking into the Central Wind River Range

The Middle Fork Lake Valley is about 20 miles from the nearest trailhead at Scab Creek. This together with the variety of photographic subject matter necessitated a longer multi day trip. To allow enough time at key locations I had a budget of 9 nine days. This would give enough flexibility to stay longer in promising spots.

Stormy Sunset Wind River Range  #69049  Purchase

Arriving at the Scab Creek Trailhead the afternoon before starting I sorted through and packed all my gear. Towards evening some brief showers passed through making me think there may be some great evening light in the making. So I drove a short way back down the road to a viewpoint to scout a good spot. It didn’t take long to see my instincts were right. Several storms cells were in the area with plenty of room in between them for the setting sun to break through. The resulting light show kept me on my toes for quite some time.

The next morning my trip began early with the destination for the day 10 miles away at Dream Lake. To access the high peaks along the Continental Divide in Central Wind requires a long approach. A high rolling landscape with numerous lakes characterizes this area, and it’s usually on the second day before the high peaks are reached. So the first day was a long uneventful march with a cool dip in Dream Lake awaiting at the end.

Nylon Peak and Pronghorn Peak reflected in pond near Lee Lake Nylon and Pronghorn Peaks Wind River Range  #69083  Purchase

Middle Fork Lake/ Lee Lake Central Wind River Range

On day two the trail begins to approach the real mountains. After a gradual climb and skirting a few more lakes the trail ends at a small pass overlooking the Middle Fork Valley. This is where I finally had my first tantalizing view Lee Lake and the surrounding granite spires. From here on it was all trail-less cross country travel over wide open terrain. This is the kind of travel most backpackers dream of.

After making my way down from the pass I began to look for a good campsite close to good photo compositions. Just short of Lee Lake were some small photogenic ponds, with a decent campsite close by. With these in the foreground the imposing summits of Nylon Peak, Pronghorn Peak, and Dragons Head made for a dramatic scene. All I needed was some good light.

Pronghorn and Dragon Head Peaks reflected in pond near Lee Lake, Bridger Wilderness. Wind River Range, WyomingPronghorn and Dragon Head Peaks Central Wind River Range  #691371  Purchase

The Winds are notorious for afternoon thunderstorms followed by evening clearing, which I experienced first hand. There were rain showers that afternoon and several hours of constant hail and thunder the next day. During the three days I spent at that camp there were a few instances of decent light, but not as dramatic as I was hoping for.

Pronghorn Peak and Lake Donna. Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingPronghorn Peak and Lake Donna #69194  Purchase

Pronghorn Peak Central Wind River Range

Moving up to a higher camp directly across from Pronghorn entailed some tiring bushwhacking through thick brush. From a campsite at 11,000′ directly below Nylon Peak I was able to spend a day exploring and scouting out photo compositions. From one pass I was able to gaze out to Bonneville Peak and down into Bonneville Lakes, which was one of my destinations from the previous summer.

Lake Donna Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingLake Donna Wind River Range  #69193  Purchase

Following a moraine down from the pass to Lake Donna I found the compositions I was looking for. The dramatic vertical split spires of Pronghorn Peak began right at the shore of the lake. A large boulder field at the outlet framed the scene perfectly. Again, good light would be the key to great photos. And since you never know if you’ll get another chance I made several photos on the spot.

My plan was to return before dawn the next morning but the sky was empty of the dawn clouds I was hoping for. Although I was ready and waiting the light never came. Nylon Peak cast a predictable harsh shadow across Pronghorn instead. All I could do was watch that shadow slowing move down at the sun rose higher against an empty blue sky.

Pronghorn Peak and Lake Donna. Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingPronghorn Peak and Lake Donna #69198  Purchase

My few photos from the evening before were the best opportunities for that particular composition. It was disappointing, but thinking positively there was another future excuse to return to this stunning location.

Nylon Peak Noel Lake. Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingNylon Peak Wind River Range  #69254  Purchase

Noel Lake and the Continental Divide

By now I’ve already been in the area for four days with only one more day left before needing to head out. The last destination to visit was Noel Lake, a lonely body of water sitting right on the Continental Divide below the eastern face of Nylon Peak.

If you are in the area or passing through on the Wind River High Route it would be a shame to not check it out. For me it was a short hike, only about one mile further and 500′ higher. Despite the close proximity it was slow going. Most of the route is across a seemingly endless boulder field. Once at the lake, which is 11’500′ up on the Divide, the goal is to find a campsite. The entire vicinity around the lake is more boulders. The few places big enough for a tent are on an inconvenient slope. However, a bit of scouting came up with possibly the only suitable open and level spot.

Nylon Peak Noel Lake. Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingNylon Peak and Noel Lake Wind River Range  #69254  Purchase

Several yards from camp is the actual Divide, with a tiny pass bearing the name Col De St. Michaels. The view southeast to Lander Peak and its glaciers is spectacular, as is the view northeast to Roberts Mountain and moraine lake far below. Rock cliffs and water in every direction.

At Noel Lake I was facing the usual prospect of have some great photos lined up, only to wait and hope for good light. Unfortunately, except for some mid-day clouds my envisioned photos of Noel Lake and Nylon Peak didn’t appear. However, there was some very nice light at sunset looking down and over the Middle Fork Valley.

Sunset over Middle Fork Basin seen from Noel Lake on the continental Divide. Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingSunset from Noel Lake Wind River Range #69259  Purchase

Hiking out of the Central Wind River Range

From the Middle Fork Valley there are some outstanding alternative return routes. Some of them involve negotiating passes in other valleys, while others take little used trails across the benchland. I chose to return on the same trails I came in on, with one last camp again at Dream Lake.

Aside from the first few miles on the first day I came across very few other parties. So if you’re looking for backcountry solitude this is a good place to find it. I came across quite a few parties starting out in last five miles, about half of them were horse packing. The easy way to explore in the Winds.

I should also mention that of all the people I encountered I was probably the only one without a fishing pole. Most of those 1300 lakes have fish in them, and many rarely see a line dropped in. I’m not a fisherman but I can imagine there are some trophy fish out there just waiting to give an angler a thrill.

Boulder River Bridger Wilderness Wind River Range Wyoming Central Wind River RangeBoulder River Central Wind River Range #69349  Purchase

If You Go to Middle Fork and Lee Lake

Distance from Scab Creek Trailhead to Lee Lake:  15 miles
Elevation:  ~3200 gain from trailhead to Lee Lake
add another 1000′ and 3 miles for Lake Donna and Noel Lake
Difficulty:  Moderate-Difficult
Red Tape:  As of 2020, no permits needed

Totals for my nine day trip including side trips and photo scouting
Distance: ~38 miles
Elevation: ~4200″ not including numerous elevation gains and losses

The Scab Creek Trailhead is located 28 miles south of Pinedale. The last six miles are on a good gravel road. Adjacent to the trailhead there is a small campground. Like most trailheads in the Winds parking can be at a premium, get an early start.

Make sure you take along plenty of insect repellant. The Winds are notorious for its ravenous hordes of mosquitoes and flies. Although they weren’t too bad during my trip in early August. Also be prepared for dramatic changes in weather. Summer thunder and lightening storms are very common along the Continental Divide. Because of this stay off high ridges and summits during this time of day.

The town of Pinedale makes a great base for multiple trips into the Winds. It has everything you’ll need, from good food and lodging to one of my favorite outdoor recreation stores, the Great Outdoor Shop. It’s stocked with everything needed for a successful trip, including a very knowledgeable and friendly staff. Don’t visit Pinedale without dropping in! Right next door to the great Outdoor Shop is the best place to got for a post-trip meal, the Wind River Brewing Company. They have excellent burgers and great brews!

Stormy sunset from Scab Creek Trailhead. Bridger-Teton National Forest Sublette County, WyomingStormy Sunset Wind River Range  #69042  Purchase

Leave No Trace

Please Please Please!  Don’t plan a trip to this or any other wilderness area unless you are prepared to strictly follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). The Wind River Range and all other wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles  and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

  • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.                 
  • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
  • Leave what you find.                                            
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.  
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

Photo Gear Used On This Trip

Nikon D850
Nikkor Lens:
14-24mm 2.8G ED
24-70mm 2.8E ED
70-200mm 2.8E FL ED
Gitzo 1532 Tripod
Really Right Stuff B-55 Ball Head
Assorted Lee Graduated Neutral Density Filters
B+H Polarizing Filter
Vello FWM-N2 Remote Shutter Release

Backcountry camp below Pronghorn Peak. Bridger Wilderness. Wind River Range, Wyoming Central Wind River RangePronghorn Peak Camp Wind River Range  #69170  Purchase

If you enjoyed reading Central Wind River Range Backpacking please share it with your friends and family. And make sure you check back soon for Titcomb Basin Island Lake Part 3!

All photos appearing in Central Wind River Range Backpacking are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Central Wind River Range Backpacking

Eagle Cap and Mirror Lake Eagle Cap Wilderness Orergon

Eagle Cap Wilderness Wallowa Mountains

Eagle Cap Wilderness Wallowa Mountains

Eagle Cap and Mirror Lake Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonEagle Cap reflected in Mirror Lake  #68776  Purchase

As part of the Summer 2020 Photography Tour my first destination was the Eagle Cap Wilderness in northeast Oregon. Over the years I’ve repeatedly passed over this rugged wilderness while on my way to other destinations further east. Every time I would drive by on Interstate 80 I’d glance at them and promise to visit them next time. This went on for over twenty years! However, on this trip the stars aligned and I finally worked it into the schedule.

The Eagle Cap Wilderness sprawls out over most of the Wallowa Mountains. At over 360,000 acres it is the largest wilderness area in Oregon. That’s quite a lot of territory for such a small mountain range. A couple of other things also sets the Eagle Cap apart from other Oregon wilderness areas. First is it’s geology. Nearly every other mountain wilderness is Oregon is made up of various forms of volcanic rock. In contrast the Wallowas contains mostly granitic rock. Secondly, the Wallowas are a higher range. Many of the peaks are  1000′ – 2000′ higher than those in the Cascade Range to the west. And of course due to its eastern location the climate is drier, although the peaks still receive copious amounts of winter snow.

Eagle Cap, Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonEagle Cap #68862  Purchase

Backpacking In The Eagle Cap Wilderness

Since this was my first trip, and I wasn’t sure how long it would be before a return visit, I wanted to photograph in the most scenic locations. After poring over maps, online trip reports, and searching for photos of specific areas I settled on two destinations.

For nearly everyone the central Lakes Basin is the prime spot for day hikes and  overnight trips. This area is where the highest peaks and most of the alpine lakes are situated. Consequently it is also the area that receives the most visitors. I chose two areas for this trip, and due to practicalities divided them into separate trips. The first would be an extended stay at Mirror Lake and several adjacent lakes, by way of taking the East Lostine River Trail. The second trip was to be a shorter one to Ice Lake via the West Fork Wallowa River Trail. Both trips would ensure excellent photo opportunities. The one uncertainty was the fact that despite it being nearly mid-July there still appeared to be a good deal of snow pack left in the alpine.

Since this was my first trip, and I wasn’t sure how long it would be before a return visit, I wanted to photograph in the most scenic locations. After poring over maps, online trip reports, and searching for photos of specific areas I settled on two destinations.

For nearly everyone the central Lakes Basin is the prime spot for day hikes and  overnight trips. This area is where the highest peaks and most of the alpine lakes are situated. Consequently it is also the area that receives the most visitors. I chose two areas for this trip, and due to practicalities divided them into separate trips. The first would be an extended stay at Mirror Lake and several adjacent lakes, by way of taking the East Lostine River Trail. The second trip was to be a shorter one to Ice Lake via the West Fork Wallowa River Trail. Both trips would ensure excellent photo opportunities. The one uncertainty was the fact that despite it being nearly mid-July there still appeared to be a good deal of snow pack left in the alpine.

Lostine River Trail, Eagle Cap Wilderness, Wallowa Mountains OregonEast Lostine River Trail  #68765  Purchase

Hiking In To Mirror Lake

This trip was also to be my introduction into the realities of traveling during the COVID 10 Pandemic. Driving up the long, bumpy, and dusty Lostine River Road, where I was to spend the first night car camping,  I found nearly every campsite was occupied. At the time I thought it was due to being the weekend. Later on I would find out that the where or when didn’t matter, crowds were everywhere. After finding a decent spot I sorted through and prepared all my gear for an early start in the morning.

The next day I hit the trail bright and early and brimming with excitement about the views and pictures awaiting me. The first half of the East Lostine River Trail is fairly uneventful and typical of a forest approach hike. The second half, however, is very pleasant and scenic. This is due to the fact it enters a very long nearly flat sub-alpine valley with wide open views for over a mile. During this section the trail skirts along open meadows, ponds, and the lazily flowing Lostine River. At the head of the valley looms 9572′ Eagle Cap Peak. This is where I first worried about the timing and feasibility of my two trips.

Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonEagle Cap Wilderness Cairn  #68822  Purchase

There were still numerous spots of avalanche snow left melting on the trail, and Eagle Cap, and the pass to Mirror Lake was nearly covered in snow. This left me thinking about the chances successful photography, and of being able to visit all the lakes on my itinerary. The last mile or so to the pass was mostly over deep snow, although it was firm and post-holing was at a minimum. It was a pleasant surprise to find more open ground at the pass. Conditions at Mirror Lake was my main concern though.

Backcountry camp Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonMirror Lake Camp Eagle Cap Wilderness  #68804  Purchase

Mirror Lake Camping And Photography

On approaching Mirror Lake at 7595′ I saw that its surfaces till had about 75% ice on. Most of the open water was along the shoreline, which was good news for me. Also, the majority of designated campsites were still under snow. However one especially attractive site near the lake was completely snow free.

There probably wasn’t a better spot in miles. The view across the lake to Eagle Cap was outstanding, and if the light cooperated I was sure to come away with some great photos. As usual I spent the rest of the afternoon scouting the area in advance for photo compositions. And while I found a few good ones the one near my camp was clearly the best, at least until all the snow melted.

Eagle Cap and Mirror Lake Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonAlpenglow over Eagle Cap  #68793  Purchase

Up until that time my plan was to move on the next day over another pass to Glacier Lake. But it was obvious the way would be entirely over snow, and since Glacier Lake was even higher up it was certain to be nearly frozen over. Because of this I reluctantly made the decision not to go, and spend more time in the immediate area instead.

During the course of the afternoon the sky had clouded over,  and I thought I would be out of luck for a photo session with good evening light. But towards sunset it became apparent that the clouds were starting to clear in the west. Soon sun rays began to stream through and illuminate the lake area and Eagle Cap.

Backcountry camp Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonMoccasin Lake Camp  #68814  Purchase

Moccasin Lake And Out

Since Glacier Lake was now out of the picture I went scouting higher up on the open slopes behind the camp and on the way to the other lakes in the basin. There was still too much snow to make the other lakes worthwhile so I went down to nearby Moccasin Lake. Even though it was only a few hundred feet lower there was considerably less snow. But unfortunately I found only one established campsite. It was on a rock shelf above the lake with a great view, but it was also sorely overused. This must be the only site in the area since there was enough bare dusty ground for several parties.

I wasn’t as fortunate here with the light and compositions so I took advantage of clear skies to do some night sky Milky Way photography. The next day my decision was to move back down the trail to the open meadows along the Lostine River. On my way in I saw some great photo opportunities in this area so I made this my final destination on this hike. After finding a hidden out of the way campsite I was able to make several more evening photos.

Milky Way over Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonMilky Way Over Eagle Cap  #68819   Purchase

The next day I headed out with mixed feelings. On the one hand I was able to spend some time in one of the best locations in the Wallowas, and make some wonderful images to boot. On the other hand the lingering snow pack prevented me from photographing at some other great areas.

Afterwards I drove into Joseph Oregon to have a good meal. I also had to decide if it would be worth doing the second trip Ice Lake. After agonizing over the decision it was apparent that it was still too early in the season to make it worthwhile for the photographs I had in mind.

So the next morning I began the drive to the second major destination of the summer photo tour, the Cecil D. Andus-White Clouds Wilderness of Idaho. Check back to read a post on that incredible area!

Eagle Cap, Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonEagle Cap Reflection  #68866 Purchase

If You Go:

Round trip to Mirror Lake from Lostine River Two Pan Trailhead:  14 miles
Elevation Gain:  about 2200′
Difficulty:  Moderate
Red Tape:  Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass required
Map: Green Trails Wallowa Mountains Eagle Cap Wilderness Map

The Two Pan Lostine River Trailhead is located about 18 miles south of Lostine Oregon, on Forest Road #8210. The last 10 miles are unpaved and can be rough in several places. Along Forest Road #8210 there are numerous small campgrounds and a few opportunities for primitive dispersed camping.

Note that Mirror Lake is only one of many backcountry destinations from this trailhead. Mirror Lake can be the only destination or be part of extended backpacking trips into the Wallowas. Check out the map in the link above for all the exciting possibilities.

The town of Joseph Oregon at the head of the very scenic Wallowa Valley makes a great base for trips into the Wallowas. It’s also a great jumping off town for adventures in the Hells Canyon Recreation Area. It has everything you’ll need, from good food and lodging to brew pubs, a distillery, and outdoor recreation stores. There are also numerous local artists displaying their work in Joseph’s galleries. Make sure to check out the Josephy Center For Arts & Culture while you’re there.

Eagle Cap reflected in Mirror LakeEagle Cap Mirror Lake  #68801  Purchase

Leave No Trace

And now for a short lecture. As I’ve been saying in previous posts, don’t even think about visiting this or any other wilderness area unless you are prepared to follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). The Eagle Cap and all other wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to tread lightly and help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles  and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

  • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.                 
  • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
  • Leave what you find.                                            
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.  
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

Photo Gear Used On This Trip

Nikon D850
Nikkor Lens:
14-24mm 2.8G ED
24-70mm 2.8E ED
70-200mm 2.8E FL ED
Gitzo 1532 Tripod
Really Right Stuff B-55 Ball Head
Assorted Lee Graduated Neutral Density Filters
B+H Polarizing Filter
Vello FWM-N2 Remote Shutter Release

If you enjoyed reading Eagle Cap Wilderness Wallowa Mountains please share it with your friends and family.

All photos appearing in Eagle Cap Wilderness Wallowa Mountains are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Purcell Mountains Larches British Columbia

North Cascades Larch Madness

North Cascades Larch Madness

Purcell Mountains Larches British ColumbiaWestern Larch (Larix occidentalis) #25781  Purchase

Just about everybody knows that some of the best fall color can be found in New England, or for that matter just about anywhere east of the Mississippi. The Colorado Rockies and California Sierra have their own spectacular displays of aspens, And even the Southwest can put on a good show with their cottonwoods. But in comparison the Pacific Northwest isn’t exactly known for dazzling fall color.

Those not familiar with the Northwest may not know about the magical displays of yellow and gold put on by two kinds of trees. I’m referring to the Lyall’s or Subalpine Larch and the Western Larch. The needles of these two unusual coniferous trees turn a brilliant gold every fall before they are shed. Both varieties are grow in very specific areas. And with the right lighting they can put just about any Vermont forest to shame. But you’ll have to do your homework and legwork to find the best displays. In this post I’ll be concentrating on the subalpine larch variety.

Liberty Bell Mountain North CascadesLiberty Bell Mountain North Cascades  #64568  Purchase

Locating the Subalpine Larch

The Lyall’s Larch resides in subalpine and alpine areas, generally above 5500′ on colder northeast facing slopes, in a narrow band from the eastern slopes of the North Cascades to the Purcell and Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia. They can also be seen in the Canadian Rockies, with Lake Louise roughly being their northern limits.

In the North Cascades you’ll have to do some hiking to get to see the best displays. Some spots, like the Enchantments of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, demand a strenuous multi-day trek gaining over 5000′ feet of elevation along the way. Although there are some more accessible areas, such as hikes around Rainy Pass and Washington Pass on North Cascades Highway.

Hiking and photographing during the peak larch season on a calm sunny day is an experience you won’t soon forget. The sky at this altitude can be an intense blue contrasting beautifully against the vibrant gold of the trees. Tolkien fans will easily associate this experience with Lord Of The Rings chapter on Lothlorien.

Pasayten Wilderness larches, North CascadesPasayten Wilderness North Cascades  #56448  Purchase

Timing Is Everything

Aside from finding and hiking to the desired location timing and weather is crucial. The Lyall’s Larch generally start turning color in the last week of September. The colors peak in the first week of October, and  is gone by middle of the month. The peak of the season can last anywhere from two days to a week, depending on the weather.

Since the needles of this tree are very soft and delicate, once they start changing color they can easily fall off in a wind rain or snowstorm. Of course this is also the time of year when the weather can be very unpredictable. However seeing the larches on a clear day just after a fresh snow can be a very rewarding experience.

Lake Ann North CascadesLake Ann North Cascades  #64599  Purchase

A good plan would be to stay in a prime location for several days near some lakes. Clear sunny weather followed by cloudy weather and then a light dusting of snow is optimal. This happened to me one year when visiting the Purcell Mountains of B.C. After six days I came away with a wide variety of alpine landscape images. I was a bit nervous on the last day since it was snowing heavily. I wasn’t sure if my vehicle at the trailhead would be snowed in! It turned out to be a close call, several more inches could have prevented my escape.

Leave No Trace

And now for a short lecture. Larches grow in sensitive easily damaged alpine environments.  With an ever growing crush of people seeking them out these areas can soon show signs of overuse. As I’ve been saying in previous posts, don’t even think about visiting a wilderness area unless you are prepared to follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). All wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. So please do your part to tread lightly and help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles  and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

  • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.                 
  • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
  • Leave what you find.                                            
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.  
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

Purcell Mountains Larches British ColumbiaPurcell Mountains Larches British Columbia  #25762  Purchase

If you enjoyed reading North Cascades Larch Madness please share it with your friends and family.

All photos appearing in North Cascades Larch Madness are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Boulder Pass wildflowers Glacier National Park

New Images: Montana and Wyoming

New Images: Montana and Wyoming

Boulder Pass wildflowers Glacier National Park New Images: Montana and WyomingBoulder Pass Glacier National Park  #69886  Purchase

I’m happy to announce that the next group of new images from my recent summer trip is now online! This group represents the second half of the trip which includes some of the most scenic locations in Montana, and Wyoming.

A selection of highlights is ready for viewing, licensing and print purchases in the New Images Gallery.

Especially noteworthy are backcountry photos of Boulder Pass made during my visit to Glacier National Park. This was my first visit to this remote area, and it was also my first backpacking trip in Glacier in many years. This was certainly one of the highlights of the entire summer trip. Also, after many years I was finally able to return to Beartooth Pass and the Missouri River Breaks for new images.

Locations Included

  • Grand Teton National Park
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Glacier National Park
  • Beartooth Highway/Beartooth Pass
  • Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument

Antelope Flats lupines and sagebrush. Grand Teton National Park New Images: Montana and WyomingGrand Teton National Park  #69380  Purchase

Judith Landing, Upper Missouri Breaks National MonumentUpper Missouri River Breaks Montana  #69674  Purchase

To see even more new images please visit my Archives at the following links: Montana Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming. In addition you can also Search the Archives by location and or keywords.

In the coming weeks I’ll also be writing multiple posts detailing all the locations. Additionally, these future posts will include location specific photography tips.

Mud Volcano Yellowstone National ParkMud Volcano Yellowstone National Park  #69421  Purchase

Lake McDonald Glacier National ParkLake McDonald Sunrise Glacier National Park  #70125  Purchase

Beartooth Mountains seen from Beartooth Pass, Custer Gallatin National Forest MontanaBeartooth Mountains  #69605  Purchase

Mountain Goats Glacier National ParkMountain Goats Glacier National Park  #69791  Purchase

All photos appearing in New Images: Montana and Wyoming are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints.

Want to learn more about Landscape & Nature Photography? Take your Creative Photography to the next level with  Private Instruction and Guided Photo Tours.

Wind River Range Sunset, Wyoming

Summer Photo Tour 2020 Update

Summer Photo Tour 2020 Update

Lake McDonald Glacier National ParkLake McDonald Glacier National Park

Final On The Road Update 8/19/2020:

This brief addition will be my final on the road update of the summer photo tour. I’m still in Glacier National Park and since my last post I’ve witnessed a sunrise marriage proposal on Lake McDonald, completed a 40 mile 6 day backpacking photo shoot, and seen seven grizzly bears in the backcountry, on one occasion only about 25′ away from me. So yes, it’s been a busy adventurous visit!

By this time next week I should be back home in the office. For many weeks to come I’ll be there catching up on business and processing all the new images. During that time I’ll be posting groups of new images to the website and updates on the blog. 

Original Post:

Wind River Range Sunset, WyomingWyoming Sunset

Sitting right now just outside of Glacier National Park it seems time to post another Summer Photo Tour 2020 Update. Since my last post I’ve visited and photographed lots of new and old locations. And once again although Grand Teton and Yellowstone weren’t on my list, necessity had me briefly drive through both parks. And once again I’m glad I did, because I added several wonderful new images to my files from them!

Grand Teton National ParkGrand Teton National Park

Sunrise at Mud Volcano geothermal area, Yellowstone National ParkYellowstone National Park

Since my last post I’ve added lots of exciting new images from the following locations:

  • Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range Wyoming, Middle Fork/Lee Lake vicinity
  • Grand Teton National Park
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Beartooth Pass/Highway Wyoming
  • Upper Missouri River Breaks Montana
  • Glacier National Park: Comeau Pass/Sperry Chalet; Lake McDonald, Kintla Lake/Boulder Pass/Hole In The Wall

Lee Lake, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingLee Lake Wind River Range Wyoming

Pronghorn Peak Lake Donna, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingPronghorn Peak Wind River Range Wyoming

There was one major change to the Summer Photo Tour 2020 itinerary. This was a decision to take a pass on the Chinese Wall in the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Montana. Instead I’m opting to spend the remainder of the trip backpacking in Glacier National Park. Although I’ve visited and photographed in Glacier many times over the years this will be my first major backpacking trip there since I was a teenager.

Beartooth Lake WyomingBeartooth Lake Wyoming

Beartooth Mountains seen from Beartooth Pass, WyomingBeartooth Mountains Wyoming

Appearing in this post are some of the photo highlights. These photos are quick on the road edit and processing with the final image to come later when I’m back in the office. Image licensing and fine art prints are available for all of them, but print orders may be delayed several weeks.

Missouri River Breaks near Judith Landing, MontanaUpper Missouri River Breaks Montana

Missouri River Breaks near Judith Landing, MontanaUpper Missouri River Breaks Montana

All photos appearing in Summer Photo Tour 2020 Update are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints*.

*Print orders may be delayed several weeks until I return to the office.

Want to learn more about Landscape & Nature Photography? Take your Creative Photography to the next level with  Private Instruction and Guided Photo Tours.