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

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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!

Stormy sunset from Scab Creek Trailhead. Bridger-Teton National Forest Sublette County, Wyoming

New Images: Washington Oregon Idaho Wyoming

New Images: Washington Oregon Idaho Wyoming

Stormy sunset from Scab Creek Trailhead. Bridger-Teton National Forest Sublette County, Wyoming New Images: Washington Oregon Idaho WyomingStormy Sunset from foothills of Wind River Range  #69049  Purchase

I’m happy to announce that the first group of new images from my recent summer trip is now online! This group represents the first half of the trip which includes locations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming. Also included in the gallery are some floral photos, along with images from the recent Oregon Coast Trip.

Locations Included

  • Palouse Region Washington
  • Eagle Cap Wilderness, Wallowa Mountains Oregon
  • Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wilderness Idaho
  • Snake River Plains Wheat Fields SE Idaho
  • Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range Wyoming

Palouse Washington New Images: Washington Oregon Idaho WyomingPalouse Washington  #68703  Purchase

Aside from the photos from the Palouse Region of Washington all of the new image are from locations I’ve never visited or photographed in before. Although I’ve been to the Wind River Range of Wyoming many times this was my first trip to Upper Middle Fork Basin.

A selection of highlights is ready for viewing, licensing and print purchases in the New Images Gallery.  To see all the new images please visit my Archives at the following links: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming. Of course you can also Search the Archives by location and or keywords.

Eagle Cap and Mirror Lake Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonEagle Cap Wilderness Oregon  #68776  Purchase

White Clouds Wilderness IdahoWhite Clouds Wilderness Idaho  #68945  Purchase

Pronghorn Peak and Lake Donna. Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingPronghorn Peak Wind River Range  #69498  Purchase

New Images Coming Up Next

The next group of new images from the second half of the trip will be coming soon. Locations in that set will include photos from the following locations:

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

In the coming weeks I’ll also be writing multiple post detailing all the locations.

All photos appearing in New Images: Washington Oregon Idaho 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.

 

Eagle Cap reflected in Mirror Lake, Eagle Cap Wilderness Oregon

2020 Summer Photography Tour Update

2020 Summer Photography Tour Update:

Eagle Cap Wilderness Oregon 2020 Summer Photography TourEagle Cap Wilderness Oregon

With over two weeks into the 2020 Summer Photography Tour it’s time to post a brief update. So far my travels have taken me to the Palouse Region of Washington State, the Eagle Cap Wilderness of Oregon, and the White Clouds Wilderness of Idaho. Next up is the Wind River Range of Wyoming. Although last year’s trip also took me to the Winds, this year I’ll hit some new locations.

The next destination after my stay in the Winds is still to be determined. However, a drive along the Beartooth Highway may be possible before heading into Montana.

Appearing in this post are some of the photo highlights so far. 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.

Eagle Cap Wilderness Oregon 2020 Summer Photography TourEagle Cap Wilderness Oregon

Palouse Washington 2020 Summer Photography TourPalouse Washington

Palouse WashingtonPalouse Washington

White Clouds Wilderness Idaho 2020 Summer Photography TourWhite Clouds Wilderness Idaho

White Clouds Wilderness IdahoBoulder Lakes White Clouds Wilderness Idaho

White Clouds Wilderness IdahoWhite Clouds Wilderness Idaho

Snake River Plains Wheat Fields near Swan Valley, IdahoSnake River Plains Wheat Fields Idaho

All photos appearing in 2020 Photography Tour 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.

Castle Reef Mountain Sun Canyon Montana

Photography Tour Summer 2020

Photography Tour Summer 2020

Castle Reef Mountain Sun Canyon Montana Photography Tour Summer 2020Castle Reef Mountain Montana #68136  Purchase

Photography Tour Summer 2020 begins on July 7! For obvious reasons it has been extremely difficult this year to plan photo shoots, and I’m incredibly excited to get back to work on the road and trail. Many locations I was hoping to photograph remain closed, or have difficult travel restrictions in place. With this in mind I decided to once again make this year’s photography tour based on wilderness backpacking. Not only is it a method of photography I thoroughly enjoy, but in the current climate it is also safer.

Like the 2019 photography tour this year will include some new destinations I haven’t yet photographed, along with old favorites where I need more in depth coverage. In some ways this trip will be a continuation of last year’s. Most locations will be in the Northern Rocky Mountains, and will include some that I couldn’t get to last year.

Red Barn Wallowa Valley Oregon Photography Tour Summer 2020Wallowa Valley, Oregon #61145  Purchase

Eagle Cap Wilderness Oregon

The first stop will be  the Eagle Cap Wilderness of Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains. This is a destination that has been on my see and photograph list for many years, but for various reasons I’ve passed them up. On this trip I hope to photograph many of the alpine lakes in the core loop of the range.

The Wallowas, located in the northeast corner of the state, is a unique range in Oregon. While most mountains in Oregon are made of volcanic rocks the Wallowas are mainly granitic in nature and have a more rugged appearance. The Eagle Cap Wilderness is the largest wilderness in Oregon and is host to many alpine lakes and some of the highest peaks in the state.

Little Redfish Lake Sawtooth Mountains Idaho Photography Tour Summer 2020Little Redfish Lake, Sawtooth Mountains Idaho #66235  Purchase

White Cloud Wilderness Idaho

Last year while backpacking and photographing in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho I saw another range of high mountains to the East. After some research I found out that they were peaks of the White Cloud Wilderness, part of the newly created Boulder-White Cloud Wilderness. With the other units being the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness, and the Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness. Together they protect 275,000 acres of spectacular mountain wilderness in Central Idaho.

Rising just across the valley from the more famous and popular Sawtooth Mountains, the White Clouds also have many peaks over 10,000′ with numerous alpine lakes. However, since it is less well known I’m expecting a greater degree of solitude. On this initial visit I hope to visit and photograph many of the peaks and lakes in the core area.

Mount Bonneville Wind River Range WyomingBonneville Lake Wind River Range #66285  Purchase

Wind River Range Wyoming

Last year I spent a considerable amount of time photographing in the “Winds”.  However it is a big range with enough destinations to fill a lifetime of exploration. This year I plan to visit a few new spots and return to a couple classics. One possible backpack is Desolation Valley/Hailey Pass-Washakie Pass Loop. Another is Middle Fork Lake and Pronghorn Peak in the central part of the range. Finally a return trip to Cirque of the Towers and Deep Lake is also on the table.

Castle Reef Mountain Sun Canyon MontanaRocky Mountain Front Range Montana #68145  Purchase

Bob Marshall Wilderness Montana

Affectionately known among locals and avid backpackers as “The Bob”, this is another wilderness destination that has been on my must see 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.

The Bob was one of the first areas I wanted to see when I started backpacking in my late teens. Unfortunately it was passed over and forgotten many times over the years in favor of other destinations. This year I hope to remedy that oversight. The sole destination on this trip will be a multi-day backpack to the famous Chinese Wall and the meadows along its base. This is arguably the signature feature of the complex, a 12 mile long 1000′ high limestone escarpment on the Continental Divide.

Bighorn Canyon National Monument MontanaBighorn Canyon Montana #52263  Purchase

Other Montana Destinations

Last year due to limited time and weather factors I had to skip a few destinations in Montana. Hopefully this year I’ll get to photograph them. While it’s not certain at this writing, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Beartooth Highway, and the Upper Missouri River Breaks are back on the list. Then of Course there are also several backcountry destinations in Glacier National Park I’d like to photograph, but that’s probably going to be a stretch.

Backpacker on Titcomb Basin Trail Wind River Range WyomingWind River Range Backpacking #66780  Purchase

List of Locations:

Below is the list of the Summer 2020 Photography Tour locations in the order of start to finish. I would love to hit all of them but of course time and weather will dictate my itinerary. If you’re planning on traveling to any of them let me know. I’d love to meet up if possible!

Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon
White Cloud Wilderness, Idaho
Wind River Range ,Wyoming
Beartooth Highway, Wyoming/Montana
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Montana
Upper Missouri River Breaks, Montana
Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana
Glacier National Park, Montana
*Locations subject to change due to weather and travel restrictions

All photos appearing in Photography Tour Summer 2020 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.

Photography Tour Summer 2020

Hannegan Peak backcountry camp North Cascades

Backpacking Photography Tips

Backpacking Photography Tips

Hannegan Peak backcountry camp North Cascades Backpacking Photography TipsMount Baker Wilderness North Cascades #54316r  Purchase

Photography has always been an essential element of vacations. Since the first portable roll film camera was introduced people have been taking pictures of their travels. And backpacking trips into wilderness areas are certainly no exception. In this post I’ll be offering some backpacking photography tips to help make your trip a success.

My previous post, Backpacking Photography Gear Tips, went into some of the details of choosing the proper photography and backpacking equipment. This time I’ll give tips on photography while backpacking on the trail.

For the purpose of this article I’ll focus on some basic tips for working in the field which can help to free your creativity.

Mount Robson Canadian Rockies Backpacking Photography TipsMount Robson British Columbia  #54646  Purchase

Set a Goal

Setting a goal for yourself can vastly help in making better photographs. These goals can vary depending on a number of factors, such as:

  • Location
  • Season
  • Weather
  • Subject matter
  • Time available
  • Physical condition

On a backpacking trip you may need to place a limit on and be flexible with your goals. For example, if your goal is action/adventure photography your opportunities for landscape or nature photography will be limited. Or if your goal is to photograph dramatic landscapes but the weather is consistently gray,  consider changing your goal to nature details and or abstracts.

Backpacker Wind River Range, Wyoming Backpacking Photography TipsBackpacking in the Wind River Range #66330  Purchase

Know Your Limits

Remember that your pack will most likely be fairly heavy, and will determine how far and fast you can travel. Don’t push yourself beyond your limit. Take it easy and break your hiking distances into manageable lengths. If you arrive at camp physically exhausted you won’t have much energy left for making good photographs. Unless the perfect image is right in front of your tent you’ll need to be on the move until after sunset.

Carefully research your trip in advance. Check out trip reports and maps, and pay particular attention to elevation differences from point to point. You may think that you can easily hike 15 miles in a day. However, that distance will be considerably less when throw in 3000′-4000′ elevation gain while carrying a full pack.

Also know your location. Backpacking in Wyoming’s Wind River Range is vastly different from backpacking in the North Cascades. In the Winds you gain elevation gradually with many ups and downs. In the North Cascades large amounts of elevation is gained either by endless switchbacks or straight up endurance tests.

Glacier Peak Image Lake North CascadesGlacier Peak and Image Lake North Cascades #58239  Purchase

Know Your Subject Matter

This may be the most important tip I have to offer.

The best portrait photographers will always tell you this. Being keenly aware of, and bringing out the nuances in someones personality is the key to great portrait photography. This is also true for other subject matter, including landscape and nature.

One of the best ways of accomplishing this is to just sit and observe, be meditative. Consider the current catchphrase Light And Fast. Going light is good, but why fast, what’s the rush? Isn’t wilderness something to be savored? Aside from photography aren’t you also here to get away from the rush and complexities of daily living?

Slow down and think creatively, you’ll enjoy your trip more and make better images.

It’s easy to backpack into a beautiful area, set up camp, grab your camera and snap your brains out. However, when you get back home you most likely will have only snapshot quality photos.

While on the trail be observant of your surroundings. Take frequent breaks and enjoy the scent of the forest, and the sounds of the birds and streams. After setting up camp use this time to relax and restore your physical and mental energy.

Be particularly aware of how the light changes. The position of the sun and type of light can make the difference between a good and great photo.

See and photograph with your own eyes. Don’t set out armed with GPS coordinates just so you can replicate the other guy’s photo.

Know your subject and photograph deliberately.

Mount Baker Wilderness campsite Backpacking Photography TipsBackcountry Camp Mount Baker Wilderness #53372  Purchase

Selecting A Campsite

Ideally you’ll need to select a campsite, or base camp on longer trips, that is in close proximity* to your subject matter. If your campsite is a mile or more from that perfect mountain view or field of wildflowers you’ll need to rush to get there in time set up.

This is especially important at sunrise. It’s incredibly easy to just sleep in if you need to make a long pre-dawn trek to that great composition. Especially if it’s several hundred feet higher up. In a perfect situation you should have a variety of compositions to photograph within a quarter mile of camp.

If you’re backpacking in a National Park or Wilderness Area with camping restrictions your options may be limited. National Parks deliberately, and for good reasons, limit camping proximity to pristine locations. Always do your research and check in advance. In these situations you may have to plan on some extra legwork.

*Whenever possible camp only on hardened established sites, bare ground, rock, or snow. This may not be an option in very remote or rarely visited areas. Scroll down to read about minimal impact and Leave No Trace Principles.

Backpacker Baker Lake Trail North CascadesBackpacker North Cascades #65027 Purchase

Location Scouting

Good location scouting begins at home while researching your trip. Trip reports and guidebooks usually include photo of the area. Poring over topographic maps can give clues to directions of light, and hidden features. Goggle searches of your trip area using different keywords can also reveal little known spots.

1.    If you planned carefully you should arrive at and set up camp early enough to have time to relax and do some scouting. Aside from obviously finding the best spots for compositions, scouting also gives you an opportunity to get to know  your subject better.

2.   Walk through the entire area, and look beyond the obvious. While the big snowcapped mountain may be the obvious dominant element, there may be other compositions more subtle yet just as inspiring. It’s easy to focus your attention on the main scene during golden hour and completely miss something even better in the opposite direction.

3.   Be aware of where the sun will rise and set in relation to the landscape. That perfect composition may be in shadow during morning and evening golden hours. This is particularly true in deep narrow valleys.

4.   Be observant of cloud and weather patterns. Some mountain ranges are prone to dramatic midday storms. However at sunset and sunrise the sky may be devoid of any clouds. Of course in some areas the opposite may be true. That gorgeous summit may be consistently shrouded in clouds at sunset.

5.   Look for key elements which can you can use in compositions. For a mountain scene, a foreground with a winding stream or a grouping of wildflowers can add movement and depth to the image. Objects such as boulders, a distant tent, or person can also add scale to the scene.

Limestone Lakes Basin Height-of-the-Rockies Provincial Park British ColumbiaLimestone Lakes British Columbia #46236  Purchase

Commit to Photographing

Face it, backpacking and the related chores of camping are a lot of work. But it’s only one half of the work you’ll face when you’re there to make excellent images. While other parties are sitting around camp enjoying the sunset, or sleeping late the next morning, you need to be on the move.

1.    Don’t be in a rush, plan in extra days. Good light and photography rarely happens on your schedule. An extra day or two in an area increases your chance of getting the light you want.

2.   Get accustomed to rising before dawn in the morning. How early you need to get up depends on how far you are from where you need to photograph. You can always get more sleep when you return to camp.

3.   Stick it out until it’s really over. Some photographers pack it up right after the sun sets or rises. Big mistake. I can’t tell you how many times it appeared like all the best light was gone, only for the sun to find a gap in the clouds and come back in full force. Sometimes you’ll be faced with a boring cloudless sunrise when a few minutes later glowing wisps or puffy clouds develop literally out of nowhere.

4.   Wait for the afterglow. Often, hidden beyond your view, there may be some atmospheric elements that create a beautiful long lasting afterglow.

5.   If the sky is clear of clouds and there is no afterglow it’s always worth waiting to photograph the Belt of Venus, and during the blue hour.

6.   Stay up late or wake up earlier for photographing the Milky Way.

7.   With the right conditions excellent images can be made throughout the day, not just during golden hours. Always keep you mind and eyes open to new creative opportunities.

8.   Wait out the weather. You’ve put a lot of time and energy into getting here. Stick it out if you can.

Glacier Peak backcountry camp North CascadesGlacier Peak Wilderness #58315  Purchase

Eat Well and Smart

Good nutrition is important to maintain the energy you need to sustain a high level of activity. There are endless books, articles, and opinions available to help guide you and confuse you on this topic. Everybody is an expert and will be happy to point out why their research is right and yours is wrong.

I’m not a nutrition expert but I have found out through experience what works for me and what doesn’t. Everybody is different. You’ll need to find a balance of taste, convenience, and nutrition that works for you, preferably in advance of a long trip.

1.    Whatever choice of foods make sure you bring enough. You’ll be burning a lot more calories per day than you normally would.

2.   Keep your menu as simple as possible, and look for dehydrated or freeze dried items to keep the weight down.

3.   For safety in bear country avoid foods with strong odors. Only prepare as much as you can eat, leftovers attract not only bears but also rodents.

4.   Try to bring items that can be prepared by just adding boiling water. The time you save can be spent photographing. You’ll also save weight on fuel.

5.   When on the trail stay well hydrated, and drink an electrolyte replacement instead of plain water. Over the years I’ve tried many, most taste horrible and are ridiculously expensive. I’ve gone back to Gatorade, it tastes better, is cheap, and it works for me.

6.   Bring enough energy bars (again, most taste horrible) or trail mix to last the duration of your trip. It’s also a good idea to pack a few special treats to break up the monotony.

7.   Supplements are optional and subjective. I always take a B Complex supplement daily. I find it helps in converting nutrients into energy, but that’s just my opinion.

Backcountry camp Coast Mountains British ColumbiaCoast Mountains British Columbia #61795  Purchase

Leave No Trace

I’ve recently started to add this extremely important topic to all of my hiking posts. Don’t even think about visiting backcountry areas unless you are prepared to strictly follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT).

All national parks and 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), better yet don’t build one in the first place, they are completely unnecessary
  • Respect wildlife.  
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

Now that you have some basic understanding of working in the field, get out there and have some fun!

If you found reading Backpacking Photography Tips to be  enjoyable and informative please feel free to share it with friends and family

All photos appearing in Backpacking Photography Tips are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints

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

Mount Robson British ColumbiaMount Robson British Columbia #54618  Purchase

Backpacking Photography Tips

Backpacker Bugaboo Provincial Park

Backpacking Photography Gear Tips

Backpacking Photography Gear Tips

Backpacker Bugaboo Provincial Park Backpacking Photography Gear TipsBugaboo Provincial Park British Columbia 

For most people bringing back photos from a backpacking trip is essential. Who doesn’t want to share their adventure with friends and family on the social media beast?

The big question is what is the end use for those photos, and what photo gear should you take to meet that end? Ask 100 photographers that question and you’ll get 100 different answers. And there really are no wrong answers here.

For the purpose of this article I’ll focus on backpacking photography gear tips for photographers that may be in the advanced amateur to aspiring pro levels.

Mount Baker Wilderness campsite North Cascades Washington Backpacking Photography Gear TipsMount Baker Wilderness North Cascades

It’s All About Weight

Get used to it, if you’re into serious photography while backpacking your pack will be heavy, period.

Only you can determine how much weight you can comfortably carry and for how far. There are endless variables which determine what you should or shouldn’t bring, such as photography goals, trip length, elevation gain, trail or off trail routes, and seasons, to name a few.

Basically though, carrying too much weight can turn your trip into a grueling muscle cramping ordeal. And at the end of the day you won’t have any energy left for photography. Believe me I know what I’m talking about here. For 20 years I lugged around a 4×5 film camera with four lenses, 18 film holders, a film changing tent, extra film, light meter, tripod, filters, etc. All this photo gear alone was well over 35 pounds.

So here are my gear tips for helping to make your backpacking photography trip more successful and enjoyable.

Disclaimer: The following tips are offered from my personal experience and preferences after many years of backpacking photography. What works for me may not work for you.

Backcountry camp North Cascades National ParkBackcountry camp North Cascades National Park

Photo Gear

There isn’t much you can do here for weight savings. You can’t shave off pieces of you camera or lens to cut down on weight. And this isn’t the category for scrimping on quality to save weight. My choice of photo gear may be on the heavy side, but it ensures high quality results.

  • Camera:

    One camera body. The best you can afford. It doesn’t matter if it’s digital or film or, which brand, as long you can change lenses. Make sure it has a high quality sensor with enough megapixels sufficient for your end use. A 20 megapixel body may be good enough for social media sharing, but not probably for making large format fine art prints.

    Pro Tip:   Pro or Prosumer level cameras are much more rugged, and have better weather seals than consumer level cameras. Something to consider if you regularly visit dusty, and or rainy environments, or are hard on your gear.

My Gear:
Nikon D850 Yes, it’s heavy, but it’s well built with all the features I need and more. It’s 45.7 megapixel sensor is outstanding for night sky photography, and mural size prints.
Really Right Stuff L Plate Used for quick release in conjunction with Really Right Stuff Tripod Ballhead.

Alice Lake camp Sawtooth MountainsIlluminated tent, Sawtooth Mountains Idaho

  • Lenses:

    Wide or ultra wide to short telephoto lenses will cover most situations. Again, go with the highest quality you can afford. It wood be ideal to bring just one zoom lens with a focal length from 20-200mm. However the quality of such a lens may not be optimum.

    Many photographers will swear by the quality of prime lenses, but for our purpose bringing an arm load of them isn’t practical. One wide angle zoom lens, plus a normal to short telephoto zoom lens would be a good option.

    Pro Tip:  High quality lenses are always more important than the camera body. The most expensive camera or post-processing editing app can’t make up for an inferior quality lens.

My Gear: 
Nikon 14-24mm 2.8 This lens is considered by many landscape photographers to be the gold standard of wide angle zooms. I can attest that it is extremely sharp, and has minimal distortion and chromatic aberration.
Nikon 24-70mm 2.8E ED VR  There are arguably smaller, lighter weight, and cheaper lenses in this focal length. But for me this lens has proven its worth many times over. It’s tack sharp, and the VR feature is outstanding for hand held work.
Nikon 70-200mm 2.8E FL ED VR  Again, it’s a heavy and expensive lens, but for me it’s high quality glass and features are worth every ounce.

  • Tripod:

    A tripod is an essential piece of photo gear. Night photography would be absolutely impossible without it. So would close-ups of flowers, long exposures of flowing water, and techniques such as focus stacking.

A tripod is also one item where you may be able to get away with choosing a lighter weight model. This is especially true if you camera body and lens combination is on the lighter side.

Many manufacturers offer tripods with three or four section legs. I prefer three, simpler, less parts that can fail. Also make sure your tripod is tall enough for your needs. Carbon fiber tripods are your best option, they’re slightly lighter than metal, and very durable. They also won’t freeze your hands in cold weather light metal does.

In recent years ball heads have become the standard, and I find them to be a vast improvement over older style handles and knobs.

Pro Tip:   Do not opt for an inexpensive poorly made tripod with plastic components! They are not stable and break very easily. I was once in desperate need of a replacement tripod while on location. All I could purchase was a cheap lightweight model. Even with everything locked down as much as possible it was like using a wet noodle to support my camera!

My Gear:
Gitzo GT 1532 Mountaineer Series 1
Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ballhead with quick release plate.

Backcountry camp North CascadesMount Baker Wilderness North Cascades

  • Filters:

Polarizing Filter. Probably one of the most indispensable filters to bring along. Just be careful not to overdue the effect of darkening a sky. Also keep in mind their limited effect when using wide angle lenses.
Graduated Neutral Density Filters. I still find them extremely useful. But If you’re looking to save weight you could leave these at home, and produce their effect in post-processing. They are not always the best option in certain circumstances. However, when possible I will always prefer to use them to make the best exposure in the field, and not rely on post-processing techniques.

My Gear:
B+H Polarizing Filter
Lee Graduated Neutral Density Filters: Four filters; 1 & 2 Stop soft and hard edge.
Lee SW150 Mark II Filter System, necessary to accommodate Nikon 14-24mm lens

  • Miscellaneous Gear

    Extra Batteries. I always take three fully charged batteries, one in the camera and two extras. On a recent 10 day backpack I still had about half power left on my last spare. Be aware that mirrorless cameras may consume more battery power.
    Extra Memory Cards. 
    Remote Shutter Release. Weighs next to nothing and helps in reducing camera shake.
    Micro Fiber Cleaning Cloth. Essential for cleaning lenses and filters
    Camera Chest Pack. I find this optional item to be extremely useful. Not only does it give me quick access to my camera while on the tail, it also has room for small items such as trail snacks and maps.
    My Gear:
    Lowepro Toploader Pro 75 AWII

Backpacker Glacier Peak Wilderness Backpacking Photography Gear TipsBackpacker Glacier Peak Widerness

Backpacking Gear

Here is where you’ll have the most opportunities for saving weight while on the trail. It’s also where you can spend or save lots of money. Once again how light you go depends on your destination, how long you will be out, and what season you’ll be backpacking in.

Going Ultralight is the catch word of the day, and gear manufacturers are cashing in on it big time. Just be aware that that ultra expensive ultralight gear may not be ultra durable, especially when the weather turns nasty, and after a few seasons of use.

Absolutely nothing is worse than sitting out wind, rain, and or snow for days at a time in a flimsy leaking tent.

Nearly every tent, backpack, or rain jacket on the market today will perform well in adverse conditions, at least for their first season. What gear reviewers won’t tell you is how well they hold up after a few seasons of use!

  • Backpack

    A high quality good fitting backpack is one of the most essential pieces of gear you’ll need for a successful and enjoyable backpacking trip.

    Pro Tip:   Forget that fancy expensive photo gear backpack. They are designed foremost to protect your camera and lenses while on the trial, everything else is secondary. You’ll quickly find that out when you’re several miles into a steep climb when that backpack has suddenly turned itself into a medieval torture device.

    Go with a pack specifically designed for backpacking. Use soft items in you pack, like clothes to protect your gear. Visit a reputable outdoor gear store and try on different packs. Speak with a knowledgable salesperson about what you need, a good one will help choose and fit the ideal pack. Keep in mind that to accommodate all your photo gear you may need a larger pack than you initially think.

    Pro Tip:   Do not buy a backpack from an online retailer until you have already physically checked it out and tried it on! Ideally borrow a friends for a short trip first to see if it works for you.

    My Gear: 
    Osprey Zenith 88 Osprey makes high quality packs for every type of adventurer. This is the most comfortable pack I’ve ever used.  Its suspension system is much more comfortable for carrying heavier loads than their popular Aether 85. Perfect size for trips over three or four days in length. Although it is a bit on the large size for a weekend trip.

North Cascades backcountry campBackcountry camp North Cascades

  • Shelter

    A good shelter is the next most important piece of backpacking gear.

    If you’re traveling light and fast, and are only concerned about making miles in gorgeous summer weather without any flying insects to bother you, then even a thin nylon tarp will do.

    But it’s a different story when you’re out for a week and the weather turns sour, with mosquitoes, flies, and gnats out in biblical proportions. Then you’ll wish for something a bit more substantial to protect you and camera gear.

Look for a lightweight tent with a silicone treated rain fly. I also like a tent with a vestibule large enough to protect items you don’t want inside the tent. Like boots and a dirty backpack.

My Gear:
Big Agnes Copper Spur 2. Super lightweight, easy to pitch, with two doors and large vestibules. This tent also comes in a one person size, but I like a little more elbow room.

  • Sleeping Bag and Pad

    For years I steered clear of down bags, mainly because  I felt they were a poor option in the rainy Pacific Northwest. However, now I’m an enthusiastic supporter of down. They’re like sleeping enveloped in a warm cloud. And they’re generally much lighter and more compressible than synthetic bags. A high quality down sleeping bag is not cheap so look at it as an investment. However, with proper care a well made bag will last for many years. Feathered Friends and Western Mountaineering make some of the finest bags around.

    Sleeping pads are essential for keeping those roots from poking into your back while sleeping, or for insulation when camped on snow. Options here are either a foam pad or an inflatable. I’ve used Therm-a-Rest pads exclusively for many years. They are incredibly comfortable with adjustable firmness, are lightweight, and compress down very well.

    My Gear:
    Western Mountaineering Badger 
    Therm-a-rest Classic

Backcountry Camp North Cascades National Park Backpacking Photography Gear TipsNorth Cascades National Park

  • Stove

    Another essential item for any overnight trip. The days of preparing your meals over an open campfire are long gone. Campfires above timberline are banned just about everywhere, and for many good reasons. Besides, cooking over an open fire takes an awful long time and is messy and dangerous.

    The two options are liquid white gas (Coleman Fuel) and butane mix canisters. Canister stoves are all the rage right now and I have a strong opinion regarding them.

    In my experience canister stoves are great for warm weather summer trips. However, when it starts getting cold their performance drops significantly, especially with a partially filled canister. On one winter ski trip I went through 2 whole canisters trying to boil a quart of water. The heat output wasn’t much better than a candle. Thankfully my friend had a backup stove and saved the day.

    The empty canisters are also very wasteful. Some canisters can be recycled, but why even bother if there’s another better option.

    Liquid fuel stoves perform well at any temperature, and do so to the last drop of fuel. They weigh only slightly more than canister stoves, and there are no empty canisters to dispose of.

    My Gear:
    MSR XGK. Yes, I know, this model is loud. But it heats like a blowtorch in any weather. Plus it’s both incredibly dependable and well built. The one I have now has lasted over ten years and is still going strong!

Titcomb Basin backcountry campWind River Range

  • Footwear

    Proper footwear is only second to a good backpack for comfort on the trail. There is a strong debate on leather boots vs lightweight trail runners. For years I’ve sworn by stiff leather boots with lugged soles. But on recent trips I’ve gone with lighter weight boots, and will probably move more towards trail runners in the near future.

    Pro Tip:  Be aware that if you’re backpacking in the mountains early in the season lightweight shoes may not be the best option. Hiking in snow for only a few minutes will result in very wet cold feet. In steep snow slopes you also won’t get much traction, and step kicking will be very difficult.

  • Other Gear

    Here is a list of other necessary items. They’re all important, but I won’t go into detail about them since it would require a separate article.

    Weather appropriate clothing
    Cookware
    Water bottle or hydration bag
    Water filter or other purification method
    Food, including trail snacks
    Map
    Headlamp
    Ten Essentials

Limestone Lakes Basin Height of the Rockies Provincial Park British ColumbiaHeight of the Rockies Provincial Park

In Conclusion

This should provide you with enough gear tips to begin planning for your next backpacking photography trip. As I mention many times in this article, cutting down on weight is important. But so is your personal comfort level. This isn’t a contest to see who can have the lightest pack and hike the farthest. So what if you choose a slightly beefier tent, or need to bring another lens? It’s your trip and you can always make adjustments to your preferences in the future.

Now get out there and have fun!

Thanks for reading, feel free to share this post with you friends and colleagues! And make sure to check out my next post in this series: Backpacking Photography Tips

Backpacker on Titcomb Basin Trail Wind River Range Wyoming Backpacking Photography Gear TipsTitcomb Basin Wind River Range

If you found reading Backpacking Photography Gear Tips to be  enjoyable and informative please feel free to share it with friends and family

All photos appearing in Backpacking Photography Gear Tips are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints

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

Backpacking Photography Gear Tips

Squaretop Mountain reflected in Green River, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range Wyoming

Green River Lakes Wind River Range

Green River Lakes Wind River Range

Squaretop Mountain reflected in Green River, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingSquaretop Mountain and Green River #67163  Purchase

In the North end of the Wind River Range is one of the most scenic and accessible areas in the Bridger Wilderness, Green River Lakes. The Winds are famous for its numerous trails winding through rugged subalpine terrain. Most of those trails start high and involve lengthy approaches to the most scenic areas. However, at Green River Lakes a hiker starts low and passes through a pleasant valley before climbing into the alpine.

Dominating the Green River Lakes landscape is Squaretop Mountain, one of the most iconic mountains in the state of Wyoming. Only Grand Teton in Grand Teton National Park is arguably more recognizable. Squaretop immediately  comes into view at the end of the access road. And it remains the focal point for the first six or so miles along the Green River trail.

Square Top Mountain seen from Green River Lake Wind River Range WyomingGreen River Lakes Wind River Range #66979  Purchase

Following my nine day backpacking trip to Island Lake and Titcomb Basin this was to be my final destination in the Winds. After several lengthy backpacks over the past month this last one would be short and easy.

The Green River Lakes trailhead is at the end of a 52 mile drive north from Pinedale. The last 21 miles are on a washboard gravel and dirt road. Adjacent to the large trailhead parking area is the Green River Lakes Campground, which has 39 sites. However, there are plenty of random camping sites available along the 21 miles of gravel road.

Squaretop Mountain Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingSquaretop Mountain Wind River Range #66997  Purchase

Hiking the Green River Lakes/Highline Trail

The trailhead is actually the northern end of the Highline trail, which runs the length of the Wind River Range. It’s also the beginning, or end, of the increasingly popular Wind River Range High Route. The plan was to hike in only for the first five or six miles to the best views of Squaretop and Green River. At that location I would set up camp and spend a few days photographing the area.

Starting at the north end of the larger of the two Green River Lakes, the trail follows the open eastern side of the lake. With only minor ups and downs, and unobstructed views the entire way, this section is very pleasant. After a couple miles is a junction with the Clear Creek trail, and a large open area filled with gravel and willows. Then comes a short climb and the second Green River Lake is spread out just below. All of this makes for great hiking but the real treat is just ahead.

Soon after passing the southern end of the second lake the trail begins to follow close to the twisting Green River. Its name is taken from the fact that the river is fed by glacial meltwater, coloring it an opaque green or turquoise. The Winds contain a number of large glaciers, located mainly on the east side of the Continental Divide. Although here on the west side of the range few are visible  from trails. Being so far south in such a dry climate it is surprising to come across a glacier fed river, similar in appearance to those further north in the Canadian Rockies.

Squaretop Mountain reflected in Green River, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingSquaretop Mountain and Green River #67170  Purchase

Along the Green River

This area, where the river runs slow among many bends, was where I needed to be, and I began to keep my eye out for a suitable campsite. Getting an early start once again paid off big time. Just above the most scenic point along the Green River I found an unoccupied site. I considered myself very lucky in this respect since this was the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. There were sure to be lots of parties looking for a site close by.

After setting up camp I walked down to the river and knew I was in the ideal spot. There were a few spots along the river where it was evident that this was a prime viewing area. I’m guessing most of those were other photographers or photo tours/workshops. The reason why it’s so popular is very clear. With the Green River in the foreground Squaretop Mountain looming in the background framed by fir and pine trees.

Squaretop Mountain reflected in Green River, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingSquaretop Mountain and Green River #67138  Purchase

After a dayhike a couple miles further up I decided that the best spot for photography was were I set up camp. Due to weather and lighting conditions I ended up spending three nights here. Like my previous backpacks in the Winds this summer the weather was just too good. Every day was warm and sunny, perfect for just about any outdoor activity, but not for landscape photography.

The first two days were lacking suitable clouds and light during morning and evening golden hours. During this time I was entertained by an otter swimming in the river and some moose grazing in the meadows on the opposite side. However, on the morning of my last day some approaching weather helped make the wait worthwhile.

Bridger Wilderness boundary sign on Green River Lakes Trail, Wind River range WyomingBridger Wilderness Boundary Sign #67194  Purchase

Moving on to Grand Teton National Park

On  Monday morning it was time to pack up and hike out. My adventures in the Winds were finally coming to a close, and the next half of my Rocky Mountains photo tour was about to begin. Now that the busy Memorial Day weekend was over it was safe to drive north into Grand Teton National Park. Little did I know at the time, but there were only a few mores days of good weather left. Fall storms would soon be rolling in, bringing lots of rain and even some snow.

Sitting at my desk writing this post on a rainy winter day, I have fond memories of my month of backpacking in the Winds, and Sawtooths. I truly hope I have the opportunity to return soon, there is so much more to see and explore!

If You Go to Green River Lakes

Distance from trailhead to river flats:  5 miles
Elevation Gain:  about 300′
Difficulty:  Easy
Red Tape:  As of 2019, no permits needed

The Green River Lakes Trailhead is located 52 miles north of Pinedale, on the Green River Road. The last 21 miles are unpaved and can be rough in several places. Adjacent to the trailhead there is the Green River Lakes Campground, 39 sites $12 per night. This site doesn’t open until July 1. However, if the campground is closed there are plenty of free sites along the road.

Make sure you take along plenty of insect repellant. The Winds are especially notorious for its ravenous hordes of mosquitoes and flies. Although they weren’t too bad during my trip in mid-August. Also be prepared for dramatic changes in weather. I had great weather on my trip but the wind was brutal for several days.

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!

Squaretop Mountain reflected in Green River, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingSquaretop Mountain and Green River #67130  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 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

If you enjoyed reading Green River Lakes Wind River Range please share it with your friends and family. And make sure you check out my previous posts on the Winds:

Bonneville Lakes Wind River Range
Island Lake Wind River Range
Titcomb Basin Wind River Range
Indian Basin Wind River Range

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

Adult male backpacker with blue backpack and red shirt on the Fremont Trail near Dads Lake. Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingOn the Highline Trail Wind River Range #66332  Purchase

Green River Lakes Wind River Range

Indian Basin wildflowers Wind River Range wyoming

Indian Basin Wind River Range

Indian Basin Wind River Range

Indian Basin wildflowers Wind River Range WyomingIndian Basin Wildflowers Wind River Range #66885  Purchase

In the Wind River Range of Wyoming lies Indian Basin, a rocky alpine area along the Continental Divide. Sitting at around 11,000′ Indian Basin shares the spotlight with the popular Island Lake and Titcomb Basin areas. Part of the Bridger Wilderness, these three areas are one of  the most sought after destinations for backcountry adventure in North America

Indian basin is less than three miles from campsites at Island Lake, making it an ideal day-hike. The trail to the basin extends all the way to Indian Pass, one of the few hiker accessible passes in the entire Wind River Range. Aside from sitting on the edge of the Continental Divide the pass also gives close views of  the Knife Point Glacier. This entire area is also part of the popular Wind River Range High Route. The High Route is a mostly off trail 80+ mile hike that follows the length of the range.

On my 2002 trip to Island Lake I didn’t have time to check out this fabulous area. The one extra day I had I used to day-hike into Titcomb Basin instead. On this trip Indian Basin was definitely part of my itinerary.

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Hiking into Indian Basin

Having already spent several days at Island Lake and Titcomb Basin I was ready to move on to new terrain. Earlier in the day I broke camp in upper Titcomb Basin and made my way south to the trail junction for Indian Basin. By the time I reached the junction alongside a swift flowing stream the wind was again picking up. I only had about two miles and 400′ elevation gain left to make the basin, but it was a tough stretch for me.

By this time I had been backpacking in the Winds and Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains for around 25 days. I could easily say I was in very good physical condition. However, on all these trips I neglected to pay close enough attention to one very important thing, my diet. Trying to save weight on long backpacking trips is always a priority. And with my pack heavily weighed down with camera gear food was the easiest target for weight reduction.

Indian Basin backcountry camp, Harrower Peak is in the distance, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingIndian Basin Camp Wind River Range #66822  Purchase

It didn’t take a nutrition expert to see that my meals contained mostly carbohydrates. There was next to no fat and very little protein present in my food. Although I always carry vitamin supplements, I believe it was the lack of adequate protein that took a toll on me. This was painfully evident as I climbed up to the basin.

The last mile or so traverses and switchbacks steeply to a ridge above the basin. It was also here that the wind really began to pick up. Every step would result in clouds of dust whipping up in front of me. At several points the wind was so strong it almost knocked me over, even with a full pack! Finally at the top of the ridge I looked down into the rocky basin. As if to hurry me on, an especially strong gust pushed me forward and down to my goal.

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Camping in Indian Basin

There was about 100′ to descend from the ridge and I immediately scouted the terrain for a suitable campsite, preferably sheltered from the wind. Towards the bottom near a lake outlet I came across several beautiful fields of wildflowers. They certainly looked out of place in such a barren environment, but they would make great subject matter for photos.

Indian Basin contains three main lakes and several small tarns, guarded over by Fremont, Jackson, and Harrower peaks. As testament to past glacial activity the bedrock of the entire basin exhibits extensive scouring and polishing by glaciers. It was easy to envision the entire basin buried under a massive glacier spilling into Island Lake below.

Just above the largest lake I found a good campsite sheltered from the wind by a granite wall. Throughout the day I saw a few climbing parties setting up a basecamp on the opposite side of the lake. Late in the day a couple arrived and began to search for a good site. It was apparent that they were fatigued from the hike and constant wind. I guessed that from the fact that they set up their tent in the first available level spot, which unfortunately offered no shelter from the wind. It looked like their tent would not survive the night.

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Poor Light and Hi Tech Discoveries

There were some promising looking clouds earlier in the day, but they vanished by evening. The result was an empty sky with little to no chance of good light during the golden hour. However, I dutifully went out and did my best  to make some photos. Of course the fields of wildflowers I saw earlier were my prime subject matter. With landscape photography opportunities limited, recreation photography filled its place. Once again I used the campsite and myself as stock photo subject matter.

The next day I took to wandering around the basin to look for more subject matter. Unfortunately throughout day and evening lighting conditions were still pretty bland. While scouting around on a high granite knoll I came across an unlikely piece of trash. At first I thought it was some sort of packaging, but it turned out to be a solar charger.

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Either the charger fell out of someones pack or was forgotten. Whichever the reason it apparently was sitting there for at least one full year. The exterior was weather beaten and fading. Also some of the wires had evidence of small critters chewing on them. I took it back to camp and hooked it up to my iPhone to see if it still worked. Using a bandaid to tape the chewed wires it worked, but just barely.

The next morning it was time to leave. I only had enough supplies left for one last night at Island Lake before the hike out. My one regret while staying at Indian Basin was that I didn’t attempt to hike up to Indian Pass. At the time I was tiring from a long trip, and bummed at the lack of good light for pictures. So I foolishly decided to blow it off. Sitting here now writing this post I’m kicking myself for not checking out the pass.

Alpenglow over backcountry camp with illuminated tent in Indian Basin, Harrower Peak is in the distance, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingAlpenglow over Indian Basin Camp Wind River Range #66949 Purchase

Last Night at Island Lake and Hiking Out

Hiking out of Indian Basin I came across one of the climbing parties I saw a few days earlier. They had attempted to reach the summit of Fremont Peak, which sits at 13,745′. The main route to the summit is a long steep hike followed by a scramble, although there are also other technical routes. I spoke with the leader of the party and was informed that extremely high winds and cold turned back them back short of their goal.

Arriving at Island Lake I once again opted to set up my last camp on the granite knoll above the lake. I spent the rest of the day watching the activity at the camps below. It was a bit sad that several days ago I just arrived here at the start of the trip, and now it was nearly over. As a fitting finale I set up my tripod for a last panoramic shot of the scene. This time I would do a night shot with the Milky Way over the Continental Divide.

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The next day it was time to pack up for the long hike out. It went fast and easy, my pack was much lighter since most of my fuel and food was used up. After recognizing my nutrition problem the other day I planned accordingly. I saved the food packets with the highest amount of protein ingredients for dinner and breakfast. It must have worked since the hike out was a snap.

With spirits high from a wonderfully successful trip I made my way down the trail, but not before one last gaze on Island Lake and the great peaks. Of course it was lots of fun stopping along the trail to chat with hikers and climbers just beginning their adventure.

Rewards of a Backpacking Adventure

When I arrived back at my truck at the trailhead I had a quick tailgate shower and put on some clean clothes. My next stop was the Wind River Brewing Company, where I enjoyed a big burger and a tall cold glass of IPA. Then I did something I had never done in my past 35 years of photography trips, I checked into a motel to enjoy a hot shower and soft bed!

The next day was spent driving to the trailhead of my final Wind River Range backpacking destination, Green River Lakes.

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If You Go to Indian Basin

Distance from Island Lake:  3 miles
Elevation Gain:  about 300′ from Island Lake into the basin
Difficulty:  Easy
Red Tape:  As of 2019, no permits needed

Totals for my nine day trip including side trips and photo scouting
Distance: 44 miles
Elevation: 5800″

The Elkhart Park Trailhead is located at the end of Skyline Drive, an excellent paved road 15 miles east of Pinedale. About a mile before the road ends there is a viewpoint with dramatic views of the range and the gorge below. Adjacent to the trailhead there is a small campground. The few good sites here are almost always taken.

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 mid-August. Also be prepared for dramatic changes in weather. I had great weather on my trip but the wind was brutal for several days.

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!

Island Lake and Fremont Peak, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingIsland Lake Wind River Range #66371  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 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

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

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Indian Basin Wind River Range