Update 8/162021: Due to wildfires and heavy smoke and haze, this trip has been delayed.
This summer’s Rocky Mountains Photography Tour will start on July 9. I was once again hoping to head north to Alaska and the Yukon Territory. But since it looks like the border won’t be open in time, it is on to Plan B. So this year I’ll be revisiting some locations from 2019 and 2020.
These locations will mainly the Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness in Idaho, and the Wind River Range of Wyoming. I’m also planning a lengthy backpacking trip to the Chinese Wall in the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Montana. That location was on my itinerary last year but I swapped it out for Glacier National Park instead.
On last summer’s visit to the White-Clouds I was only able to visit the north section. This year I’ll be backpacking in to the south half to photograph the Boulder Chain Lakes Basin and the some of the highest peaks in the wilderness. This area is also part of the popular White Clouds Wilderness Loop. For my purposes though I will be doing an out and back trip instead of the loop. I’ll also have plenty of time budgeted for layovers at the best locations along the route.
Squaretop Mountain Wind River Range #66997 Purchase
Wind River Range Wyoming
Ah, what can I say about the Winds? This will be my seventh trip there and I still can’t get enough of this spectacular mountain range. It’s a backpackers’ dream. Thousands of lakes, 40 peaks over 13,000′, miles and miles of trails in the subalpine along the Continental Divide, plus easy cross country travel to boot!
This year my plans will include parts of the Hailey Pass-Washakie Pass Loop, Desolation Valley, and Baptiste Lake. Also on the itinerary will be a return to Cirque of the Towers and Deep Lake. I’ll also be returning to the Green Lakes area for more new photos of the Green River and Squaretop Mountain.
Known among locals and avid backpackers as “The Bob”, this wilderness destination in the northern Rocky Mountains has been on my must photograph list for decades. The Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex is a huge swath of land straddling both sides of the Continental Divide. An important part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem it is home to the largest intact population of Grizzlies in the lower 48.
Last year It was on my itinerary but I took a pass due to an unusual opportunity to obtain backcountry permits in Glacier National Park. The destination on this trip will be a multi-day backpack to the famous Chinese Wall. This is arguably the signature feature of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, a 12 mile long 1000′ high limestone escarpment on the Continental Divide.
For an ambitious trip like this several caveats need to be mentioned. First of all if it becomes clear the Canada border will open before the end of July it will be back to Plan A, as in A for Alaska.
Secondly, as with all of my trips that include multiple long backpacking excursions, some locations may be modified due to weather or time constraints. There are already indications of a major wildfire season in the making, so smoky conditions or closed off areas may change my plans.
Finally, if you are in any of these areas in July or August and would like to meet up in the wilderness, or in town for a coffee or beer, feel free to contact me!
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Pronghorn and Dragon Head Peaks Central Wind River Range #69141 Purchase
The Wind River Rangeof Wyoming is a spectacular section of the Rocky Mountains. It contains 40 peaks over 13,000 feet, the largest glacier in the American Rockies, and over 1300 named lakes. All spread over three wilderness areas. While not as well known as other destinations such as Grand Teton and Glacier National Parks, the range nonetheless attracts an increasing amount of backpackers, climbers, hunters, and fishermen.
While popular destinations in the Winds like Cirque of the Towers, Island Lake, and Titcomb Basin see the bulk of the crowds, much of the Winds remain nearly deserted. An extensive network of trails gives access to nearly every corner of the range, and off-trail travel is relatively straightforward. All of this offers outdoor enthusiasts a lifetime of wilderness adventures.
My first visit to the Winds was in 2002, and I’ve been coming back for more ever since. Being a landscape photographer I was naturally drawn to Titcomb Basin and Cirque of the Towers on initial trips. But over time I became aware of other hidden gems in the range. Soon my list of destinations grew long with several spots rising to the top.
Last summer I returned to the Winds to check out a new area, Lee Lake and Pronghorn Peak. Both are located in the upper valley of the Middle Fork of Boulder Creek. This location, in the Central Wind Rivers, was on my list the previous summer but was nixed in favor of another location. When doing location research over the years one peak’s stunning profile stood out. This was Pronghorn Peak. Rising to 12,388′ it and the surrounding terrain has a look similar to mountains in Patagonia, or Canada’s Baffin Island.
The Middle Fork Lake Valley is about 20 miles from the nearest trailhead at Scab Creek. This together with the variety of photographic subject matter necessitated a longer multi-day trip. To allow enough time at key locations I had a budget of 9 nine days. This would give enough flexibility to stay longer in promising spots.
Arriving at the Scab Creek Trailhead the afternoon before starting I sorted through and packed all my gear. Towards evening some brief showers passed through making me think there may be some great evening light in the making. So I drove a short way back down the road to a viewpoint to scout a good spot. It didn’t take long to see my instincts were right. Several storms cells were in the area with plenty of room in between them for the setting sun to breakthrough. The resulting light show kept me on my toes for quite some time.
The next morning my trip began early with the destination for the day 10 miles away at Dream Lake. To access the high peaks along the Continental Divide in Central Wind requires a long approach. A high rolling landscape with numerous lakes characterizes this area, and it’s usually on the second day before the high peaks are reached. So the first day was a long uneventful march with a cool dip in Dream Lake awaiting at the end.
Nylon and Pronghorn Peaks Wind River Range #69083 Purchase
Middle Fork Lake/ Lee Lake Central Wind River Range
On day two the trail begins to approach the real mountains. After a gradual climb and skirting a few more lakes, the trail ends at a small pass overlooking the Middle Fork Valley. This is where I finally had my first tantalizing view of Lee Lake and the surrounding granite spires. From here on it was all trail-less cross-country travel over wide-open terrain. This is the kind of travel most backpackers dream of.
After making my way down from the pass I began to look for a good campsite close to good photo compositions. Just short of Lee Lake were some small photogenic ponds, with a decent campsite close by. With these in the foreground, the imposing summits of Nylon Peak, Pronghorn Peak, and Dragons Head made for a dramatic scene. All I needed was some good light.
Pronghorn and Dragon Head Peaks Central Wind River Range #691371 Purchase
The Winds are notorious for afternoon thunderstorms followed by evening clearing, which I experienced firsthand. There were rain showers that afternoon and several hours of constant hail and thunder the next day. During the three days I spent at that camp there was a few instances of decent light, but not as dramatic as I was hoping for.
Moving up to a higher camp directly across from Pronghorn entailed some tiring bushwhacking through thick brush. From a campsite at 11,000′ directly below Nylon Peak, I was able to spend a day exploring and scouting out photo compositions. From one pass I was able to gaze out to Bonneville Peak and down into Bonneville Lakes, which was one of my destinations from the previous summer.
Following a moraine down from the pass to Lake Donna I found the compositions I was looking for. The dramatic vertical split spires of Pronghorn Peak began right at the shore of the lake. A large boulder field at the outlet framed the scene perfectly. Again, good light would be the key to great photos. And since you never know if you’ll get another chance I made several photos on the spot.
My plan was to return before dawn the next morning but the sky was empty of the dawn clouds I was hoping for. Although I was ready and waiting the light never came. Nylon Peak cast a predictable harsh shadow across Pronghorn instead. All I could do was watch that shadow slowly move down as the sun rose higher against an empty blue sky.
My few photos from the evening before were the best opportunities for that particular composition. It was disappointing, but thinking positively there was another future excuse to return to this stunning location.
By now I’ve already been in the area for four days with only one more day left before needing to head out. The last destination to visit was Noel Lake, a lonely body of water sitting right on the Continental Divide below the eastern face of Nylon Peak.
If you are in the area or passing through on the Wind River High Route it would be a shame to not check it out. For me, it was a short hike, only about one mile further and 500′ higher. Despite the close proximity, it was slow going. Most of the route is across a seemingly endless boulder field. Once at the lake, which is 11’500′ up on the Divide, the goal is to find a campsite. The entire vicinity around the lake is more boulders. The few places big enough for a tent are on an inconvenient slope. However, a bit of scouting came up with possibly the only suitable open and level spot.
Nylon Peak and Noel Lake Wind River Range #69254 Purchase
Several yards from camp is the actual Divide, with a tiny pass bearing the name Col De St. Michaels. The view southeast to Lander Peak and its glaciers is spectacular, as is the view northeast to Roberts Mountain and moraine lake far below. Rock cliffs and water in every direction.
At Noel Lake I was facing the usual prospect of having some great photos lined up, only to wait and hope for good light. Unfortunately, except for some mid-day clouds, my envisioned photos of Noel Lake and Nylon Peak didn’t appear. However, there was some very nice light at sunset looking down and over the Middle Fork Valley.
Sunset from Noel Lake Wind River Range #69259 Purchase
Hiking out of the Central Wind River Range
From the Middle Fork Valley, there are some outstanding alternative return routes. Some of them involve negotiating passes in other valleys, while others take little-used trails across the benchland. I chose to return on the same trails I came in on, with one last camp again at Dream Lake.
Aside from the first few miles on the first day I came across very few other parties. So if you’re looking for backcountry solitude this is a good place to find it. I came across quite a few parties starting out in the last five miles, about half of them were horse packing. The easy way to explore in the Winds.
I should also mention that of all the people I encountered I was probably the only one without a fishing pole. Most of those 1300 lakes have fish in them, and many rarely see a line dropped in. I’m not a fisherman but I can imagine there are some trophy fish out there just waiting to give an angler a thrill.
Boulder River Central Wind River Range #69349 Purchase
If You Go to Middle Fork and Lee Lake
Distance from Scab Creek Trailhead to Lee Lake: 15 miles Elevation: ~3200 gain from trailhead to Lee Lake
add another 1000′ and 3 miles for Lake Donna and Noel Lake Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult Red Tape: As of 2020, no permits are needed
Totals for my nine-day trip including side trips and photo scouting Distance: ~38 miles Elevation: ~4200″ not including numerous elevation gains and losses
The Scab Creek Trailhead is located 28 miles south of Pinedale. The last six miles are on a good gravel road. Adjacent to the trailhead there is a small campground. Like most trailheads in the Winds, parking can be at a premium, get an early start.
Make sure you take along plenty of insect repellant. The Winds are notorious for its ravenous hordes of mosquitoes and flies. Although they weren’t too bad during my trip in early August. Also, be prepared for dramatic weather changes. Summer thunder and lightning storms are very common along the Continental Divide. Because of this stay off high ridges and summits during this time of day.
The town of Pinedale makes a great base for multiple trips into the Winds. It has everything you’ll need, from good food and lodging to one of my favorite outdoor recreation stores, the Great Outdoor Shop. It’s stocked with everything needed for a successful trip, including a very knowledgeable and friendly staff. Don’t visit Pinedale without dropping in! Right next door to the great Outdoor Shop is the best place to go for a post-trip meal, the Wind River Brewing Company. They have excellent burgers and great brews!
Please Please Please! Don’t plan a trip to this or any other wilderness area unless you are prepared to strictly follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). The Wind River Range and all other wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to help preserve these precious areas for future generations!
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
Pronghorn Peak Camp Wind River Range #69170 Purchase
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Boulder Pass Glacier National Park #69886 Purchase
I’m happy to announce that the next group of new images from my recent summer trip is now online! This group represents the second half of the trip which includes some of the most scenic locations in Montana, and Wyoming.
Especially noteworthy are backcountry photos of Boulder Pass made during my visit to Glacier National Park. This was my first visit to this remote area, and it was also my first backpacking trip in Glacier in many years. This was certainly one of the highlights of the entire summer trip. Also, after many years I was finally able to return to Beartooth Pass and the Missouri River Breaks for new images.
Stormy 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.
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.
Lake McDonald Glacier National Park #69745 Purchase
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.
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!
Pronghorn Peak Wind River Range Wyoming #69202 Purchase
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.
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.
Upper Missouri River Breaks Montana #69672 Purchase
Upper Missouri River Breaks Montana #69684 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.
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 #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.
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.
Rocky 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.
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
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 photograph 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 is 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 increase 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 this post, 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 are best photographed in early morning light and sunrise. Of course, this means you’ll need to 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 the 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 the morning and evening golden hours. However certain lighting conditions can make excellent photography possible during every part of the day. Just because the 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 can 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 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 wildlands 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 is 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
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 the 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 the 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 is also two creekside (actually branches of the Snake River) areas that provide great photo opportunities. The first is 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 is 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 seasons 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 makes 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.
The Teton Range from Cunningham Ranch #49377 Purchase
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 of 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 trees 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 proximity here to the walls of the Teton Range will put most of the areas along Teton Park Road in shade during the second part of the day.
Best time of day for photography: Morning Best seasons 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. Rockefeller Preserve
Viewpoints 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 the subject matter in the park is so diverse you’ll probably end up using everything from ultra-wide to telephoto lenses.
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 your own eyes and mind. Just because 20 other photographers are 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 uniquely and creatively could be as simple as just turning around to see what’s behind you!
Thanks for reading, feel free to share this post with your 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 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 park’s highlights, at least two to three weeks would be ideal.
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 to 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 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 needed to find the best locations
-Finding lodging on the fly daily can be difficult
-Lack of assistance from a 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 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 to see 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 for including 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 loses 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 the 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 of 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 a motel or resort, be prepared to make reservations well in advance of 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 Gros Ventre Road and 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 to Jackson to stock up on supplies. Park concessioners charge a premium for their goods. Although sometimes the cost of driving 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
The second group of new images from my Rocky Mountains photo tour is now online and ready to view. This group represents close to three weeks of backpacking photography in the Wind River Range of Wyoming.
If you have been following my blog over the past several years you’ll know that the Winds have been on my “must return to list” for quite some time. They are an extensive high elevation mountain range encompassing three wilderness areas. There are enough peaks lakes and glaciers in the Winds to keep a photographer busy for an entire lifetime.
This was my fourth trip to the Winds, and by far my most successful. The past trips were plagued by poor light and or smoke from wildfires. However, this time there were plenty of opportunities to photograph in exceptional light.
Here is a list of the locations from this trip. After I finish the next edits of Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks I’ll be following up with more posts detailing each of the trips from this tour.