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 Park
Yellowstone 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
Lee Lake Wind River Range Wyoming
Pronghorn 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 Wyoming
Beartooth 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.
Oxbow Bend Grand Teton National Park #67724 Purchase
A photography trip to Grand Teton National Park can be a once in a lifetime experience. It can also be one in a series of return trips to photography the park in depth, and in all seasons. Whichever it is for you, photographing this gem in the national park system can be a daunting challenge. This is especially true if it your first visit to Grand Teton.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Grand Teton National Park Trip Planning, a visit to photograph this 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 increases your chances of success.
Since I’ve already outlined trip planning in my previous post, let’s start talking about locations. Grand Teton is a big park with dozens of great areas to photograph in. However, for the purpose of this article I’m going to focus only on some of the more popular front country road accessed locations. But first.
Essential Tip #1:Nearly all photography locations in Grand Teton National Park is best photographed in early morning light and sunrise. Of course this means you’ll need to get accustom yourself to rising very early and setting up on location before dawn. However, most of those same locations are also great for evening and sunset photography. But in Grand Teton sunrise has the edge.
Essential Tip #2:Scout out your desired locations ahead of time. Leisurely walk around and previsualize compositions in advance. That way when you return in morning or evening you won’t waste precious time and light scrambling around wondering where the best compositions are.
Essential Tip #3:Throughout this post I reiterate the value of photographing during morning and evening golden hours. However certain lighting conditions can make excellent photography possible during every part of the day. Just because golden hour is over is no reason to stop photographing. Have an open mind and be creative!
Essential Tip #4:Be ready to encounter hordes of other photographers nearly everywhere you go. Plan to arrive and set up in your chosen spot an hour and a half to two hours early. Yes, that means for sunrise photography you’ll be there in position while the stars are still out. Dress warmly, you’ll be standing there for a while! And expect to be elbow to elbow and lock tripod legs with other photographers.
Essential Tip #5:Be respectful of other photographers and park visitors. For many of them this literally may be a once in a lifetime trip that they scrimped and saved for. Everybody wants to get that perfect photo from the best spot. But don’t be one of those jerks that pushes and shoves their way into the front. If you arrive late that’s your own fault, come back the next day, or better yet get creative and find a new composition nearby. And please be friendly. So many photographers can be reluctant to converse, as if they’re going to reveal a special photo secret or technique by talking to their neighbor. Grow up, we’re all here for the same reason, have fun you may make some new friends.
Essential Tip #6:PLEASE, PLEASE PLEASE, be respectful of the environment! All of our parks and wild lands are being loved and photographed to death. If there are signs prohibiting entry or are roped off for restoration, don’t ignore them, no matter how tempting it may be to get that photo. It also should go without saying, don’t alter the scene by cutting down branches that get in your way. If necessary retouch unwanted objects out in Photoshop. Read more aboutOutdoor Ethics here.
Essential Tip #7:Wildlife such as, bison, moose, and elk are abundant in Grand Teton National Park. All wildlife from bison and elk to squirrels and birds have difficult lives just trying to survive on a daily basis. Please give them a wide berth and strictly observepark regulations. Never ever, under any circumstances, for any reason, approach wildlife. They can easily be stressed and provoked into attacking. While you’re recuperating in the hospital, park officials will be busy destroying that animal. I’m sure that’s not in your trip plan.
T.A. Moulton Barn Grand Teton National Park #67410 Purchase
Mormon Row Barns / Antelope Flats
This are is one of the closest locations to the town of Jackson and offers a variety of photographic opportunities. Historic Mormon Row has several noteworthy structures, but the two iconic Moulton Barns are the biggest attractions here. Both barns are close enough that you can photograph both of them during the same golden hour session. However, if you have time available try for one and return the next day for the other. That way you can avoid rushing and finding another parking in the limited parking areas. This area also has some attractive old cottonwood trees to aid in compositions, which are especially nice in fall color.
Antelope Flats Wildflowers Grand Teton National Park #52085 Purchase
Antelope Flats is a great area to photograph carpets of yellow balsamroot wildflowers in spring. They make a wonderful foreground element to the dramatic snow covered Teton Range. Some of the best displays are in the vicinity of the Gros Ventre (pronounced “Grow Vaunt”) road. Early June is the best time of the year to photograph balsamroot and lupines in the Teton Valley. Again, you’ll want to thoroughly check out the entire area the day before to find where the best displays are.
Best time of day for photography: Morning, though excellent in evening. Best season for photography: Moron Row spring, summer, fall. Antelope Flats wildflowers, late May-June.
These include Blacktail Ponds Overlook, Glacier View Turnout, Teton Point Turnout, and Snake River Overlook. All, except perhaps Blacktail Ponds Overlook, have excellent wide open views of the Teton Range. Photography at these locations doesn’t get much easier, as compositions can be made a few steps from the parking lot. As you move from Blacktail Ponds Overlook in the south to Snake River Overlook in the North the view of the Teton Range changes considerably.
Snake River overlook is the most popular since it was here that Ansel Adams made his famous 1942 photo of the Tetons. Be forewarned that over the years trees in the scene have grown considerably. Today, because of this, the Snake River is partially obscured. The view is still wonderful though.
Best time of day for photography: Morning, though excellent in evening. Best season for photography:All Seasons
Schwabacher’s Landing Grand Teton National Park #67503 Purchase
This is one of the prime locations in the Grand Teton for photography, and one of the few accessible to the Snake River. Expects to see lots of other photographers here at sunrise.
There are several excellent options here, including the iconic view of the Grand Teton framed by trees reflected in the still waters of beaver ponds. This photo is a short walk north from the parking lot at the end of the road. It’s imperative to arrive very early, as the ideal composition is within a narrow range of only about four feet wide. Be polite, your neighbor will be photographing the same scene only inches away from you.
Schwabacher’s Landing Grand Teton National Park #67383 Purchase
There are also two creekside (actually branches of the Snake River) areas that provide great photo opportunities. The first being along the trail to the beaver pond viewpoint. The second, just as interesting but less photographed, is 1/4 mile back down the road. Both of them offer compositions where the Teton Range is reflected in the calm waters. There are also an abundance of cottonwoods trees here, making fall photography an absolute must.
Schwabacher’s Landing is a location that offers so many possibilities that you can easily just photograph just here if you only have a couple of days available in the park.
Essential Tip #8:Be aware that this entire area is in a fragile wetland environment. Please observe signs of areas closed for restoration. This is also prime moose habitat. Be alert when walking through brush, I once came across a female and her calf here. If you’ve never seen a moose in person you’ll be amazed at how big they are. Don’t get in their way!
Best time of day for photography: Morning, and evening. Beaver ponds photo, mostly morning. Best season for photography: Fall,Spring, Summer. This area is closed and off limits in winter to protect wildlife habitat.
This is one of my favorite areas in the park for photography. It has excellent photographic potential but many photographers pass it over for Schwabacher’s Landing or Oxbow Bend. The views of the Teton Range here are outstanding. The western pole fencing make a great composition element. It’s also possible to access views along the Snake River, via a long walk through pastures. Occasionally you’ll see herds of elk, or horses from the nearby Triangle X Ranch grazing here, another great aid for compositions.
Nearby on the East side of Highway 191/89 is the North access to the Shadow Mountain Dispersed Camping Area of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. A wide parking lot just outside the park boundary is the only place in the entire valley available for winter camping.
Best time of day for photography: Morning, and evening. Best season for photography:All year
Oxbow Bend Sunrise Grand Teton National Park #67699 Purchase
This is arguably the granddaddy of all photo locations in Grand Teton National Park. The views of Mount Moran and the Teton Range reflected in the still waters of the Snake River are recognizable throughout the world. In addition this is a prime wildlife viewing area. You can often see Trumpeter Swans floating lazily on the water, along with moose grazing in the willows across the river. I once saw an enormous herd of elk fording the river here, a scene reminiscent of Serengeti migrations.
You can also observe mobs of photographers, every morning and evening, every day. Don’t even think of finding a prime spot unless you get here well over an hour in advance of golden hour. Most photographers try for a spot at the parking lot edge, however there are plenty of excellent options among the willows along the river.
Aside from the view from the river there are also a couple other spots well worth checking out. This is one of the best areas in the park for fall photography, mainly due to the abundance of aspens groves and willows. About a quarter mile east of the Oxbow Bend parking lot is another pullout at the edge of large groves of aspens. During the height of fall color these tress make spectacular frames for the Teton Range.
Also, on the benchland above Oxbow Bend, there are great views looking down to the aspens surrounding the area, and out to the Teton Range. This view is accessed from the trails on the Christian Pond Loop. If you have the time it’s well worth returning to photograph these two areas after photographing the main attraction. And of course they’re another option if the riverside crowds are a bit too much for you.
Best time of day for photography: Morning, and evening. Best season for photography:Hands down fall is best, but excellent throughout the year. Also one of the best locations in the park for winter photography.
Wildflowers Grand teton National Park #52034 Purchase
Pilgrim Creek Road
Between Jackson Lake Junction and Colter Bay Village is Pilgrim Creek Road. This approximately three mile long gravel road gives access to the Teton Wilderness in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. For photographers the first mile or so of this road gives access to some of the best spring wildflowers in the North end of the park.
Unlike wildflowers around Antelope Flats this area can be a bit more tricky to photograph. The peak bloom usually happens around early June, but a good show depends on a wet season. During a drier than normal spring there may not be a large enough bloom to make the trip worthwhile. Also, some of the best groupings may not be obvious from the road, so make sure to park your vehicle and thoroughly scout the area on foot.
Best time of day for photography: Morning, and evening. Best season for photography:Spring
This long stretch of road encompasses everything from Moose Entrance in the South to the Jackson Lake Junction in the North. Beginning in the North the Potholes and Mount Moran Turnouts offer closer photos of the Teton Range, and in particular the Cathedral Group. In June this is also a very good area for yellow balsamroot wildflowers.
The main highlights of this area are the trails along Leigh, String, and Jenny Lakes. You can park at the Leigh and String Lakes Trailhead and do the entire loop hike. Or you can park at the Jenny Lake Overlook and walk only a portion of the trail. Either way this is the best place to get up close and personal photos of the Cathedral Group and Cascade Canyon.
Further south the Taggart Lake trail will take you to stunningly close views of the Grand Teton.
Essential Tip #9: Leigh, String, and Jenny Lakes are best photographed at sunrise and early morning. The lake waters are more apt to be still and mirror-like at this time. Also, the close proximity here to the walls of the Teton Range will put most of the areas along the Teton Park Road in shade during the second part of the day.
Best time of day for photography: Morning Best season for photography:Spring, Summer, Fall. Teton Park Road is closed in winter at Taggart Lake Trailhead in the South and Signal Mountain Lodge in the North. However, in winter this road is open to cross country skiing and snowshoeing.
As mentioned earlier, this post covers only the more popular easily accessible locations for photography in Grand Teton National Park. There are many more opportunities to explore including these:
Laurence S. Rockeller Preserve
View points along the North section of Jackson Lake
Extensive trail system along Jackson Lake starting from Colter Bay Village
In the backcountry a network oftrailsgives access to the backside of the Teton Range, and includes numerous lakes, canyons, and subalpine meadows. All overnight backcountry trips require permits.
Camera Equipment Suggestions
What camera gear should you bring on a Grand Teton 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. But subject matter in the park is so diverse you’ll probably end up using everything from ultra-wide to telephoto lens.
Wide to ultra-wide lenses
Normal range lens
Telephoto lens; for landscapes up to 200mm should be fine, but much longer focal lengths if you also plan to photograph wildlife.
Graduated Neutral Density Filters; I still prefer to use these in the field over creating the effect in post-processing. Although in some situations they are not always the best option.
Remote shutter release
Combining all the information and tips in this post andGrand Teton Photography Trip Planning, you now should have everything you need to know to have a productive, safe, and enjoyable trip to Grand Teton National Park. Now get out there and have fun!
Essential Tip #10: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!
Thanks for reading, feel free to share this post with you friends and colleagues!
Oxbow Bend Sunrise Grand Teton National Park #67681 Purchase
Moulton Barn Grand Teton National Park #67219 Purchase
This post is the first in an ongoing series of articles intended to help landscape and nature photographers plan photography trips to big locations on a small budget.
Photography in Grand Teton, or any National Park, can be a very rewarding experience. It can also be a disappointing exercise in frustration. Even the most meticulous planning is not a guarantee of success. It all depends on what your goals are, and how much time you have available.
In this post I’ll be offering some planning tips and suggestions which can help increase your chances of success during a Grand Teton photography trip. Whether the end results are better vacation photos or portfolio quality images, they’ll also help you obtain a more enjoyable and memorable experience.
Planning A Grand Teton Photography Trip
Theoretically you can spend as little as a day in the park and come away with a few good photos. In reality that probably won’t happen. So I would recommend at least three days to concentrate on one, or maybe two locations. A better time frame would be a week. For a comprehensive trip to include all of the parks highlights, at least two to three weeks would be ideal.
Basically, make sure you have as much time available to meet your goals. And make those goals realistic, don’t expect to create portfolio grade images every morning and evening during your stay. It’s incredibly unlikely that you will have excellent light to work with during every golden hour photo session. On my last trip I spent two weeks in the park and had only one evening and two mornings of decent light.
Of course it’s also a silly notion to think that planning on just one trip to Grand Teton you’ll come away with award winning images from every corner of the park. Just like you can’t go to the grocery store and expect to buy all the food you’ll ever need if your lifetime. You’ll need to return again and again.
Learn to go with the flow, relax, get to know and interact with your subject matter. If you only come away with one or two good photos that’s great, you can always return another time. Good photography is about much more than grabbing trophy images, it’s a lifetime learning journey that should be savored, not rushed.
Guided Tour Or Solo
Once you determine how much time you’ll have available the next thing you’ll need to decide is whether to go with an established workshop/photo tour or do the trip on your own. There are many advantages and disadvantages for either option.
Photo Tour/Workshop Advantages:
-Led by a seasoned professional photographer with intimate knowledge of the park, and the opportunity of learning new techniques from a pro.
-Meals, lodging, and transportation usually included
-Being part of a group of a group dynamic
Photo Tour/Workshop Disadvantages: -Limited freedom to photograph where and when you want
-Daily schedules can be very rigid
-Travel times and distances from lodging to locations can be great
-Cost can be prohibitive
Solo Photo Tour Advantages: -Unlimited freedom, photograph where you want when you want
-Ability to lodge or camp where you choose, cutting down on travel time to locations
-Huge cost savings
Solo Photo Tour Disadvantages: -Extra research need to find best locations
-Finding lodging on the fly on a daily basis can be difficult
-Lack of assistance from leader or group members
-No one to share ideas or experiences with
During my entire career as a professional photographer I’ve traveled mostly solo. I love the freedom and flexibility associated with this mode of travel. And I know for certain that I’ve been able to get better photos because of it. So this is the mode I’ll be giving tips on in this post.
Grand Teton Photography Trip Planning: Seasons
Many photographers consider autumn to be the best. However, Grand Teton National Park offers spectacular photographic opportunities in all four seasons.
Winter: Planning a winter photography trip to Grand Teton requires more preparation and gear. In winter the Teton Park Road is closed to vehicles, as is the popular Schwabacher’s Landing. Antelope Flats and Mormon Row Roads are also inaccessible. However all the viewpoints along Highway 191/89 from Jackson to the Flagg Ranch in the north are open, including the famous Oxbow Bend overlooks. Snowshoes and cross country skis are an excellent option to access some of the easier areas of the park.
Most of the lodging and services in the park are also closed for the season. Lodging options are mostly in the Jackson area in winter, and camping is nearly nonexistent with just a few spots open in the Shadow Mountain area. With temperatures that can dip down to -30º you won’t have much company. But with the right weather and lighting you’ll come back with some rare winter images of the park.
Spring: Since the Teton Valley sits at an altitude of just over 6000′ winter conditions can last well into spring. May would be about the earliest I would consider visiting for spring photography. Late may through June is the best time to visit for wildflowers. During this time many areas of the valley are blanked with brilliant yellow balsamroot and blue lupines, to name a few.
Antelope Flats and Gros Ventre (pronounced “Grow Vaunt”) roads, along with Pilgrim Creek Road near Colter Bay are among the best areas for spring wildflowers. Most of these areas are also wide open to include the snowy Teton Range as a dramatic backdrop for compositions.
Wildflowers Grand Teton National Park #52086 Purchase
Summer: This is the high season for tourism in the park, and possibly one of the most challenging for photographers. This is not only because of having to deal with crowds, but also because of weather conditions.
During the height of summer high pressure ridges can create beautiful warm sunny weather, which unfortunately keeps the sky free of clouds. Most photographers consider blank blue skies and gray rainy days as some of the worst conditions to work with. With global warming in full swing these conditions can last well into September.
Along with those warm sunny days comes the yearly threat of wildfires. In recent years the park’s blue skies are often hazy with thick blankets of smoke. Another consideration of summer photography is that as the season progresses the Teton Range gradually looses its white cloak of snow. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that snowy mountains look more attractive than bare rock.
Fall: This is arguably the most popular season for photographers in Grand Teton National Park. Although the crowds of tourists and vacationers are mostly absent, there are now throngs of photographers to take their place. And for good reason. In a good year the changing colors of aspens, cottonwoods, and willows can be as outstanding as autumn in New England.
In addition to the lively colors of foliage, the changing seasons bring back storms that not only clear the air but also dust the range with a fresh coat of snow. Quite possibly some of the most sought after national park images in the country are those of the Teton Range in full autumn color after a snow storm.
Location, location, location. It’s all about location. And Grand Teton is no exception, it’s a big park with many great locations spread throughout it. Generally you’ll have time to photograph only one location during morning or evening golden hour. By the time you can reach the next spot the light will most likely have faded. And remember this isn’t a race or contest, slow down and appreciate where you are!
The closer you stay to your subject matter the better chance you have at being in right place at the right time. And you will be more relaxed and focused when you get there.
Absolutely nothing is worse than planning on being at a certain spot before sunrise than being late because of hitting the snooze alarm one last time, and then having a long drive ahead. Stopped for speeding, or worse, hitting a moose in the dark during your haste? Ughh!
No matter where you stay, be it in a national park or forest service campground, or in a motel or resort, be prepared to make reservations well in advance or your trip, if possible. Even in the shoulder seasons vacancies in lodging and campgrounds can be difficult to find. Popular campgrounds will fill by early morning. Research and plan ahead. It’s no fun driving around in the dark after a long day trying to find a place to sleep.
In the Town of Jackson: If you crave luxury and have deep pockets then look no further than the town of Jackson. Some of the most opulent hotels and resorts in the West are in this town, as are many chain and mom and pop motels. However, be aware that all of them will have a considerably higher price due to their location.
Also keep in mind that distances from the town of Jackson to many of the most scenic park locations can be anywhere from 15-35 miles. Not a terribly long drive, but back and forth to a motel over several days can really add up. And don’t forget that ideally you’ll need to be at your desired location before sunrise and until after sunset. So you won’t be sleeping in that expensive bed for very long.
Shadow Mountain Dispersed Camping Area #67195 Purchase
In Grand Teton National Park: There are seven lodging options within the park boundaries. These range from rustic cabins and ranches all the way up to the full service luxury hotel of the Jackson Lake Lodge. Depending on where in the park you want to orient your photography efforts, these facilities can put you just a few minutes from some of the most dramatic vistas in the park.
There are five official front country campgrounds in the park with varying amenities. At the time of this writing none of them are available for advance reservations. Most of them will fill to capacity before 10:00 a.m. Jenny Lake is one of the best and most sought after campgrounds. If you choose Jenny Lake campground be prepared to line up for a site well before sunrise, it routinely fills by 6:00 a.m.!
Bridger-Teton National Forest: There are several national forest campgrounds outside the eastern boundaries of the park. These include a couple on the Gros Ventre Road and on U.S. Highway 26-287.
In my opinion the most ideal national forest campsites are in the Shadow Mountain camping areas of Bridger-Teton National Forest. This area is in an ideal location just outside of the eastern middle edge of the park. These sites are always my first choice when visiting the park. I know of at least one site here which has an incredible elevated view of the entire Teton Range and valley.
Camping in the Shadow Mountain area is free on a first come first served basis. Stays are limited to five consecutive nights. However it is primitive camping with only vault toilets and no running water. In addition, parts of the roads can be very difficult to negotiate, high clearance is advised and some can be impassable to trailers. As with everywhere else in the park vicinity these sites fill up early.
Highway 191 Grand Teton National Park #49386 Purchase
Fees Passes Provisions Cell Signals
The entrance fee to Grand Teton National Park is currently $35 for a private vehicle and is good for seven days. An annual pass exclusive to Grand Teton National Park is $70. Note that both of these passes are good only for Grand Teton, they do not carry over to neighboring Yellowstone National Park.
Consider an America The Beautiful annual pass if you photograph in many national parks and federal recreations areas throughout the year. This pass costs $80 and is good for National Parks, BLM lands, National Forests and more.
Various amenities like gas, groceries, showers, and laundry services are available in several areas of the park. However, if you are on a budget plan to make a trip into Jackson to stock up on supplies. Park concessioners charge a premium for their goods. Although sometimes the cost of driving all the way back to Jackson is more than an inflated price for goods in the park.
Grand Teton is one of the few national parks where you can get a decent cell signal in most areas. In the vicinity of visitor’s centers and lodges you should be able to receive a signal strong enough to surf the web, and transfer small files. Further out it will probably be only one or two bars strong.
Oxbow Bend Sunrise Grand Teton National Park #67700 Purchase
The final group of new images is now online and ready to view. This group represents close the second half of my Rocky Mountains photo tour, and includes three national parks.
After a full month of backpacking in the Sawtooths and Winds I was originally planning only a brief stop in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. The next major destinations were to be the Beartooth Highway and eastern Montana. However, weather forecasts and other circumstances presented opportunities in these parks that I could not pass up.
Mammoth Hot Springs Yellowstone National Park #68021 Purchase
Therefore, in the end I spent nearly two weeks in Grand Teton, and about a week in Yellowstone. After leaving Yellowstone it became apparent that deteriorating weather patterns would bing the trip to an early close. Consequently there was only enough time to make a quick drive to Glacier National Park before storms set in. Although during my short stay in Glacier I was presented with several more great photo opportunities.
As mentioned in previous posts, I’ll soon be writing more detailed posts on all aspects of the trip.
Grand Teton National Park:Mormon Row Barns, Schwabacher Landing, Oxbow Bend Yellowstone National Park: Geothermal features of Lower Geyser Basin, Yellowstone Falls and Canyon, Mammoth Hot Springs Montana: Rocky Mountain Front Range near Augusta and Choteau, Sun River Canyon Glacier National Park: Saint Mary Lake, Saint Mary and Virgina Falls
Oxbow Bend Grand Teton National Park #70448 Purchase
When I announce my planned list of locations at the start of a lengthy photo tour I always stress the subject to change factor. Now that I’m over eight weeks into this trip it’s very apparent that factor has long ago come into play.
For example, the Grand TetonYellowstone segment of this trip was originally going to last for around 5-7 days. However the abundance of subject matter, changing seasons, and weather patterns extended my stay to nearly three weeks! When I return to the office I’ll be posting more details on these two iconic locations. Suffice it to say these parks were a definite change of pace from the quiet solitude of backpacking in the Sawtooths and Winds. I’ve now had my fill of park traffic jams, and crowds of selfie obsessed young women!
Great Fountain Geyser Yellowstone National Park #70539 Purchase
It’s also apparent that I most likely will not be continuing to the Canadian Rockies. After Leaving Yellowstone National Park I’ll be making my way up the Rocky Mountain Front Ranges into Glacier National Park. This will probably be the final destination for the trip. Since by the time I arrive fall color should be close to peak, and I’ll be working hard to take advantage of it.
Moulton Barn Grand Teton National Park #69714 Purchase
*The photos appearing on this post are quick on the road edits. However they will be reprocessed and made available for sale when I return to the office.
*Please note, due to being out of cell or WiFi range for most of this trip I may not be able immediately to respond to any licensing requests, or blog comments. Print orders that are placed while I’m away on this trip will not be shipped until I return to the office. Thank you for your patience and understanding!
Little Redfish Lake Sawtooth Mountains Idaho #56176 Purchase
Summer Photography Tour 2019 is about to begin! This year’s trip is very exciting as I’ll be photographing some of my favorite destinations in the Northern Rocky Mountains. Beginning in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho I’ll be backpacking in to some of the most dramatic mountain wilderness areas in the lower 48 states and Canada.*
Many of these locations have been on my schedule for several years. However, due to several summers where wildfire smoke hampered photography I had to put them on the back burner. The Wind River Range in particular suffered greatly from these fires. My past two trips to the Winds were frustrated by smoke filled skies, and I came back with only a few photos.
This year, however, is turning out to be mostly free of major wildfires. So I’m going to fully take advantage of the opportunity and hit as many locations as I can. Of course fire smoke is only one obstacle to good landscape photography. I’ll also need good light and some interesting clouds at the right time and place. That’s not too much to ask, is it?
*Please note, any print orders that are placed while I’m away on this trip will not be processed until I return to the office.
The Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho will be a very exciting segment for me. In the past I’ve photographed these mountains from various viewpoints looking into the range. This will be my first foray on trails into the interior. While the exact destinations are not set, at this point I’m planning two separate backpacking excursions, of three to four days each. And of course I’ll also be taking full advantage of the numerous natural hot springs while in the area!
Cirque of the Towers, Wind River Range #49203 Purchase
The Wind River Range of Wyoming will be the central focus of this trip. This spectacular section of the Rockies contains 40 peaks over 13,000 feet, the largest glacier in the American Rockies, and over 1300 named lakes, all spread over three designated wilderness areas. While a few areas can get downright crowded with hikers and climbers, there are numerous trails that rarely sees any boot traffic.
If all goes well I will be making three backpacking trips in the Winds, keeping me busy for around 10-14 days. Destinations on my agenda include the Hailey Pass Washakie Pass Loop, Deep Lake, the ever popular popular Cirque of the Towers. Titcomb Basin will be next, and lastly the Green River Lakes area.
After a brief visit to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks my next destination on the schedule is the spectacular Beartooth Highway. One of the highest roads in North America it tops out at 10,497′ on the Wyoming Montana border. Although I don’t have any specifics spots in mind yet, I plan to spend several days exploring and photographing.
North of the Beartooth Highway I’ll make my way through the Missouri River Beaks country. Most people associate Montana with soaring mountains, cool forests and crystal clear lakes and streams. However the eastern half of the state is open grasslands, badlands, cattle ranches and wheat farms. This is Big Sky country, a region where the antelope truly play! Although I love mountains, this wide sprawling country captures my imagination, and I’m always excited to return.
Moving westward the next stops are Glacier and Wateron National Parks. Glacier was the second national park I visited, while in my youth on a family vacation. It is also the location of my first true backpacking adventure, accompanied by two high school classmates just after graduation. Unfortunately that was the last time I did a backpacking trip in the park. All my return visits have been road and day-hike based trips.
Glacier is one of the more heavily visited national parks in the country. Parts of the park, such as Logan Pass, can get so crowded during the summer months that parking lots can be overflowing by 8:00 in the morning. I’m hoping that by the time I get to Glacier it will be after Labor Day weekend , and the crowds will have thinned considerably.
Although I’ve visited and photographed in Glacier several times over the years, I’ve visited adjacent Wateron only once. Wateron is much smaller than Glacier, has similar terrain, and represents the southernmost section of the Canadian Rockies. Geologically speaking, however, the Canadian Rockies actually extend to the southern border of Glacier National Park, along U.S. Highway 2.
This will certainly be a good opportunity for me to make up for not visiting Waterton.
The Canadian Rockies
Limestone Lakes Height of the Rockies Provincial Park #461098 Purchase
Finally, after photographing in Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks, I have one last location to visit. I’m optimistically adding Limestone Lakes in Height of the Rockies Provincial Park British Columbia at the last minute. This is one of the more demanding backpacking trips I’ve ever done. However after more than a hundred miles of hiking I should be in good enough shape to tackle it again.
Limestone Lakes is in a very remote and seldom visited corner of the famous Canadian Rockies. It’s about a 17 mile hike into the lakes area, with more than half of that distance on rugged cross-country terrain. Even the trail on the first part is mostly a faint path. The last time I was there I didn’t see anyone else for five days. Hopefully when I get to this last segment of the trip the weather will cooperate.
By this time, If I make it this far, fall color in the higher elevations should be taking hold. Hmm, maybe I can add on a few more weeks and destinations…
Height of the Rockies backcountry camp #46205
List of Locations
Below is a tentative list of locations included on this lengthy trip. If you have any locations you’d like me to include, or if you’re in any of these areas and would like to meet up, just drop me an email!
Sawtooth Mountains and hot springs Wind River Range Wyoming
Grand Teton National Park Yellowstone National Park Beartooth Highway Missouri River Breaks Montana Glacier National Park Waterton Lakes National Park
Height of the Rockies Provincial Park
Tapto Lake North Cascades National Park #61501 Purchase
Here are a few more images from last year’s trip to Whatcom Pass in North Cascades National Park. After going through my files recently I noticed that these images were still in the “sketching” phase of processing. Sometimes looking back at images over time sheds new light on interpreting the feel of subject matters.
To read more about this special place read my earlier post on Whatcom Pass and Tapto Lakes. Now I’m off for several day photographing back at Washington Pass along North Cascades Highway.
Whatcom Peak North Cascades National Park #61502 Purchase
Tapto Lakes Basin North Cascades National Park #61515 Purchase
Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National Park
Mount Challenger, North Cascades National Park #61740 Purchase
Several weeks ago I was finally able to make a return visit to Whatcom Pass and Tapto Lakes. In the heart of North Cascades National Park, Whatcom Pass is quintessential North Cascades wilderness. It rises out of deep untouched forest valleys to jaw dropping views of rugged glacier clad peaks. From Part 1
Exploring Tapto Lakes Basin
Tapto Lakes is one of those locations that many hikers dream about visiting. Remote, high in the subalpine, and surrounded by rugged snowcapped peaks, the lakes have all the features of a classic backpacking destination. Tapto Lakes sit in a basin about 800′ above Whatcom Pass. The basin contains on large lake and several smaller lakes set in a heather filled subalpine meadow. The basin is shaped somewhat like an amphitheater, with the main show being the stupendous views of Mount Challenger and Whatcom Peak. Situated in a designated cross-country zone by the park service, with a permit you are free to camp anywhere among the lakes, though with a few caveats.
After investing two days of hard work reaching the lakes I woke up rested and refreshed. Content on not having to hike anywhere with a full pack I took in the view and planned my day. Of course since my main reason for being here was landscape photography I woke up early to survey the light. I had already identified several excellent spots to run to in the event of some great morning light. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case on my first morning, so I had lots of leisure time to explore all the lakes. My usual modus operandi is to spend most of the day scouting out and lining up possible compositions. I then try to assign a priority to them and work from top down when the lighting becomes appropriate. My first evening had some very nice light, enabling me to photograph some classic reflections of Whatcom Peak.
Whatcom Peak, North Cascades National Park #61499 Purchase
The View North
On my second day I decided to move camp to a higher location. My map showed a very small lake not far away in its own small talus fringed basin on Red Face Mountain. It appeared to offer even more commanding views, along with quick access to a ridge on Red Face Mountain. The short hike up was definitely worth it. The lake still had some snow along one side and also had some good composition qualities. I quickly found an excellent spot to set up camp, after which I hiked up to the ridge.
Bear Mountain and Reveille Lakes, North Cascades National Park #61536 Purchase
As I crested the ridge I was presented with incredible views of the wild peaks to the north. Dominating the view was Bear Mountain and the jagged needle-like spires of Mox Peaks and Silver Peaks. Far below the precipitous and crumbling ridge were the turquoise colored Reveille Lakes. All of this territory was completely devoid of trails, a true wilderness only accessible to the most determined mountaineers. I sat there for quite some time, contemplating how fortunate I was to be in such a special place. I got up after a while and headed back down the slope, wondering if I’ll ever return.
Waiting for Light
Back down at the lake the day was wearing on and it was time to set up some compositions. Some clouds had moved in and were swirling arounds the summits of nearby peaks. I was hopeful they wouldn’t completely sock in everything before sunset. I moved to the back of the lake where Whatcom Peak cast a nice reflection in the still waters. Waiting to see what would happen I photographed a series of images in which the clouds and reflection created a sort of Rorshach effect. Although the light didn’t have a dramatic saturation of color, I did like some of the subtle pastel tones. All in all it was a very satisfying day.
Whatcom Peak cloud reflection, North Cascades National Park #61603 Purchase
Whatcom Peak cloud reflection, North Cascades National Park #61630 Purchase
The next day feeling that I accomplish my goals and not wanting to overly duplicate images, I packed up and moved on. A bit east of Tapto Lakes are a few more small lakes, the most accessible being Middle Lakes. I decided to spend my last day here before heading back. Climbing back up to the ridge I turned and bid a somewhat sad goodbye to the lakes I had dreamed of revisiting all those years.
Middle Lakes turned out to be an easy short mile or so further, there was only a steep rock slope to cross to add a bit of excitement. When I reached upper Middle Lake I found the setting to be somewhat desolate. Surrounded by steep slopes on three sides and a boulder filed at the outlet, there didn’t seem to be any good campsites. I moved on to check out the lower lake. The lower lake was more attractive, but it too afforded little flat ground for camping. However, when scouting for campsites I noticed an odd mound near the lake outlet with intense iron red soil. There appeared to be springs emanating from the mound. The main spring had formed small red mineral terraces similar to Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone. I felt the water but it was cool to the touch.
Mineral Spring, North Cascades National Park #61666 Purchase
Swirling clouds over Challenger Glacier, North Cascades National Park #61711 Purchase
I ultimately found a nice spot for the night among boulders and heather meadows with a commanding view of Mount Challenger. For a mountain with such an imposing glacier it seemed that its elevation should be more than 8236′. During my entire stay in the area I noticed a nearly constant flow of clouds near its summit. Apparently for such a modest height Mount Challenger tends to make its own weather, partly explaining the huge glacier. Most of that afternoon and evening I enjoyed and photographed a show of mists whimsically curling around the summit. To commemorate my trip to this special place I made several photos of my campsite, including a couple with the tent illuminated.
Illuminated tent and Mount Challenger, North Cascades National Park #61751 Purchase
The next day it was time to head out, retracing my steps down to Whatcom Pass and into the Chilliwack River Valley. Although I was filled with a deep sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, I was also sad to say goodbye. I faced a long day of hiking filled with retrospection on this and my first trip to Whatcom Pass many years back. Once again a highlight was riding the cable car across the river. After around ten miles I reached Copper Creek Camp, tired with plenty of hot spots on my heels and toes. The next day I faced the stiff climb back up to Hannegan Pass and then the final miles out to the trailhead where my truck waited.
Nearing the pass I began to meet more hikers. Many of them were just beginning trips similar to mine. You could easily see the excitement in their faces, anticipating the wonders that were waiting for them. Of course I stopped to chat and helped stoke their excitement by passing on some of the highlights from my own trip. Then it was down the pass for the last five miles of the trip. Although I was out of North Cascades National Park and in the Mount Baker Wilderness, it was easy to sense civilization was close. I began to see more people on a wider well maintained trail. I got back to my truck in a few hours, in a parking lot that had dozens of cars in it.
Tired but happy I began to drive home. I began thinking how soon I might get a chance to go back to Whatcom Pass.
Campsite on Red Face Mountain, Whatcom Peak in the distance, North Cascades National Park #61589Purchase
Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National Park Part 2
Whatcom Peak reflected in Tapto Lake # 61497 Purchase
A Long Awaited Journey
Everyone has a place they dream of, somewhere that holds a special spot in their heart. At some point in their lives, usually at a young age, they see a picture or read a story about a place that for various reasons grabs their imagination. They carry it with them over the years and hope someday for the chance to visit it in person. For me it has always been mountain wilderness. And not just any run-of-the-mill mountain wilderness. It had to have a primordial feel. Dark mysterious forests, raging rivers, and rugged peaks with jagged rock summits jutting out from expansive glaciers. For me the North Cascades fit the bill perfectly. It was this vision that drew me to Whatcom Pass many years ago.
Challenger Mountain, North Cascades National Park #61459 Purchase
Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National Park Part 1
Several weeks ago I was finally able to make a return visit to Whatcom Pass and Tapto Lakes, in North Cascades National Park. In the heart of the park, Whatcom Pass is quintessential North Cascades wilderness. It rises out of deep untouched forest valleys to jaw dropping views of rugged glacier clad peaks. Far away from any road town or cell signal. My first visit was way back in the late eighties and I’ve been wanting to go back ever since. There have been many reasons for my delayed return, not least of which is the long tiring hike accompanied by swarms of flying insects.
Unlike most backpacking trips this one has a few major ups and downs in addition to covering lots of miles. The first day climbs a pass and then descends deep into another valley. The next day you must climb all the way up to another pass, then higher to the lakes basin. In all you’ll cover around 40+ miles and about 8500′ of elevation, including side trips, before returning to the trailhead. A very strong hiker could make it in two days, most people allow three to four days. My primary goal was for photography and relaxation so I gave six days to accomplish this trip. Aside from the photography thing I always feel that if you work so hard to get some place why hurry to leave? Take your time to relax and enjoy the surroundings!
Hannegan Pass Trail through Ruth Creek Valley, Mount Baker Wilderness #54291 Purchase
Hiking to Hannegan Pass
On the first day I made an early start, hoping to make it through the brushy Ruth Creek Valley before the black flies awoke. It’s about five miles and 2000′ up to Hannegan Pass, along a very scenic trail that sees very heavy foot traffic. I’ve been up this trail to the pass nearly a dozen times and never get tired of the open views of rugged Nooksack Ridge. About halfway up you begin to see snowcapped Ruth Mountain guarding the head of the valley. Ruth Mountain itself is a popular destination for hikers climbers, and skiers in early season. Although I’m not much of a mountaineer I managed to hike up the glacier to the summit several years back. From the top you get an incredible view of Mount Shuksan and it’s glaciers spilling into Nooksack Cirque. Truly awe-inspiring!
On reaching Hannegan Pass I took a rest to have a snack and dry off my sweat soaked shirt. I also chatted with a group of volunteers that were part of a trail maintenance crew. From here it’s all downhill into the wild Chilliwack River Valley, losing all that hard-won elevation. Shortly after leaving the pass I finally entered North Cascades National Park, indicated by a weather beaten-wooden sign. The hike down into the valley is through a beautiful untouched fragrant forest of silver fir, mountain hemlock and grand fir. The feeling here of true wilderness is very tangible, even the trail seems wilder. From the pass I needed to travel another five miles to U.S. Cabin camp, my first night’s destination.
Old growth forest Chilliwack River Valley, North Cascades National Park #61421 Purchase
Ten miles is about my limit for hiking with a full mutli-day pack, so I was glad to reach the camp and set up my tent. Amazingly there were very few bugs so far and I was able to relax and eat dinner along the river unmolested. I was even able to make a few photos of the impressive forest at this camp. That night I turned in early in anticipation of a grueling hike the next day. I had to hike another seven miles and over 3000′ up to my next and ultimate destination, Tapto Lakes above Whatcom Pass.
The next morning I again got up early to hit the trail. The first stop of the day was the unique crossing of the Chilliwack River via a hand operated cable car. I don’t know how common these contraptions are but for most hikers it’s a highlight of their trip. Later in the season crossing the river on foot wouldn’t be very hard, but why pass up such an interesting experience? Two hikers and their packs can fit in the car which is operated by pulling on a rope. It’s pretty easy getting across the first half since the cable sags down a bit. After that you begin to pull your weight up to the opposite side. By the time I got the car docked on the platform my arms were pretty tired from pulling. Of course I had to make sure I got a few photos before moving on.
Chilliwack River cable car, North Cascades National Park #61427 Purchase
Climbing to Whatcom Pass
After the river crossing it’s back to work again on the trail, which now goes through a very brushy section. Years ago, on my first visit, the chest high brush was covered in morning dew. After a half an hour of hiking I was soaking from the waist down. A few miles later the climb to Whatcom Pass begins in earnest. The trail begins to rise from the valley bottom and gradually views open up to rugged Easy Ridge. After what seems like an eternity Whatcom Peak comes into view and the terrain begins to take on a subalpine look. I arrived at Whatcom Pass exhausted and again drenched in sweat from the climb.
Whatcom Pass Trail, North Cascades National Park #61764 Purchase
I still had another mile and 800′ feet of elevation to travel to my camp at Tapto Lakes. At this point I was wiped out and wasn’t sure if I could make it. The trail to the lakes is more like a climbers route, with sections so steep you need to pull yourself up by root and branches. While deciding if I had the energy I spoke with a few other backpackers doing the cross-park hike to Ross Lake. Like me they spent the whole morning climbing up to Whatcom Pass. However, they only paused briefly to take in the views before heading down again into the adjacent valley.
Again I though to myself, what’s the point in all the work if you hurry past the best parts? The previous day I met a woman doing the Pacific Northwest Trail. This 1200 mile long trail starts at Glacier Park in Montana and ends at the Pacific Ocean. Like the Pacific Crest, Continental Divide, and Appalachian trails, you need to hike a set number of miles each day to complete it. During our brief conversation I couldn’t help admiring her determination and stamina. At the same time I also felt a bit sorry for her that she needed to hurry through such beauty to stay on schedule.
Challenger Mountain and Whatcom Peak, North Cascades National Park #61443 Purchase
At Tapto Lakes
By this time I felt physically and mentally rested enough slog up to reach my camp at Tapto Lakes. Taking it very slowly, the climb proved easier than I anticipated. Soon enough the views exploded to include Mount Challenger and the imposing rock buttresses of Whatcom Peak. A short 200′ descent into the basin brought me to beautiful Tapto Lakes. The day was still young so I took my time and leisurely explored the area to find the best campsite. The only other people there was a small group staying at the pass below. They had day hiked up to the lakes to take in the views and a quick dip in the frigid lake waters. When they left I had the entire place all to myself!
Time to rest and take it all in, and do nothing but marvel at the rugged beauty that spread before my eyes. At last I returned to the place that held my imagination spellbound for nearly 28 years.
Coming up in part two: Exploring and photographing at Tapto Lakes. Click here to read part two
Tapto Lake, North Cascades National Park #61455 Purchase