Whether you plan on scrapbooking your family vacation, you’re a nature lover looking to share your experiences with others, or you’re trying to get amazing travel and landscape photos, Yellowstone is always a great place to go to. There are hundreds of opportunities to take incredible photos if you’re quick enough, patient enough or plan hard enough. Although we won’t be able to cover every location this amazing national park has to offer, this guide will show you where to find and photograph some of the many natural wonders that Yellowstone offers. The first five locations are typically areas that are easy to locate from the Grand Loop Road. The second half includes places that may be more difficult to get to but will undoubtedly yield incredible chances at unique photos.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Depending on the time you arrive, you could get a wide variety of pictures. Early in the morning, you can capture photos of the light shining off the steam of the springs. During the day, there are several chances to get spectacular images of erupting geysers and otherworldly mud pools and ultramarine pools. In the evening, you can get incredible sunset photos in Mammoth’s Lower Geyser Basin. It’s also a great place to spot some wildlife. Often the bison will gather in the grassy areas of the basin as the sun sets.
Artist point is a spot that overlooks a waterfall in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Sunrise is the best time to capture stunning shots of the falls and the valley. The sun rises just over the valley allowing the falls to reflect the sun’s hues as it begins to increase. Be sure to pack your telephoto lens as you may want to zoom into the waterfall to capture the rainbows that sometimes show up.
Great Fountain Geyser on Firehole Lake Drive
Another fantastic geyser point, this time for sunsets. It is one of the most famous geyser photography sites thanks to its accessibility and easy to obtain wonder-shots. The sun sets directly behind the geyser each night allowing for stunning sunbursts if your aperture is stopped down to f/16 or f/22. You can also try in incorporate some foreground interest like people which will look great with the steam of geysers in the background.
As off-putting as this sounds, they are quite gorgeous. Thanks to bacteria that thrive in Yellowstone’s geysers, there are massive buildups of encrusted microorganisms, found in most geothermal areas of the park. These mats look like small areas of exposed geodes, varying wildly in colour, depending on where the mats originated. In other cases, they look similar to the salt buildups on the sides of exposed rocks in the sea, just far more colourful.
As far as easy to access photography points, we’ve saved the best for last. Most of us who know what Yellowstone National Park is, know precisely what Old Faithful is. This geyser is still the most active in the park, shooting superheated water hundreds of feet into the air for up to 5 minutes at a time. And this is every 35 to 120 minutes. With just a little patience, you won’t have any trouble capturing at least one action shot of this marvel. If you want to catch an impressive image, try to travel to the park when the temperature is lower, this allows the billowing steam to be seen even clearer in the crisp air. Anyone trying to show off the geyser’s impressive height, just add someone or something to the photo to capture its insane scale.
The following five destinations vary in difficulty to reach. However, if you are looking for a small hike and some quiet serenity, the trek to these spots will be worth it.
Blacktail Plateau Drive
We’ll start with an easier one where you’ll be able to stay in your car. Blacktail Plateau Drive is a 6 mile stretch of one-way road that compresses all that Yellowstone offers. This place includes vast meadows and dense forests. While a drive through Blacktail Plateau will always provide incredible serenity, the best times to take the drive are in the morning and evening, when the local wildlife is most active. During the day, it is a beautiful spot to capture a photo of fields of wildflowers in full bloom. However, Blacktail Plateau Drive is often closed for one of many reasons at any given time, including an increased number of bears entering the area, so be sure to check with the park before planning on taking this drive. Otherwise, you may be disappointed.
Lone Star Geyser
You know we had to add one more geyser to our list. However, Lone Star offers something that most others cannot; it’s an isolated location. Located two miles off of the Grand Loop Road, Lone Star is another predictable geyser. The big advantage of this one is that it isn’t visited by as many tourists so you’ll have fewer people to have content with.
Now we start getting into more challenging to reach places. Trout lake is one of the most scenic lakes in the park. The clear water is framed by mountains reflected off the water on calm days. Unfortunately, to make it here, you have to make a half-mile steep trek through a Douglas fir forest. The trailhead is located on Highway 212, between the Northeast entrance and Tower, 1.5 miles south of Pebble Creek Campground. But if you are willing to make the journey you will be rewarded with some amazing photo opportunities.
Although not the most challenging hike to access, it is a little out of the way to start with. The Bechler River area of Yellowstone isn’t accessible from the Grand Loop Road. Instead, you’ll need to access it through Idaho. Taking the Boundary Creek Trail North, you’ll eventually make it to the 110-foot tall Dunanda Falls. The hike is 16 miles round trip, which may sound like a lot to handle. However, it is easy terrain with an incredible view of the Dunanda Falls flowing over dark volcanic rocks. As a bonus, as scenic as the trail is, you’ll undoubtedly see some sort of wildlife on your way.
Old Gardiner Road
This stretch of road is best saved for last. It’ll take you to the Park’s North Entrance, running parallel to the North Entrance/Mammoth road, yet it feels like you’re a world away. This one-way road is another hot spot to observe wildlife early in the morning or near dusk. It’s a wonderful chance to snap simple photos of a road to nowhere.
Some other great spots…
There are literally hundreds of great photography locations in this park. One of the great attributes of this park is that it lends itself to different times of year and conditions. So here are some other notable great photography locations:
Hayden Valley – A great place to see the winding Yellowstone River as well as an abundance of wildlife. Early morning is the best time to spot wolves, bears and bison roaming. But even if there is no wildlife, the early morning light is a great time to capture this beautiful valley.
Mount Washburn – If you are after an amazing dizzying view, then look no further than Mount Washburn. It is the highest point in Yellowstone National Park and gives you a 360-degree view. But this is a long and tough hike (4 – 5 hours round trip) so if you want to get there for sunrise or stay for sunset it will mean walking in the dark. Be sure to have some bear spray with you as black bears and grizzlies roam this area.
Lamar Valley – This is another great spot to see wildlife with the added advantage of a beautiful setting with mountains in the background. Keep in mind that you will need to be a fair distance away from wildlife so for a close-up photo you are going to need a telephoto lens (200mm +). Even without the wildlife, this is another wonderful photo spot.
Grand Prismatic overlook – One of the most famous spots in Yellowstone for photography, but also one that doesn’t offer much in terms of alternative angles. You can get a close-up view from the boardwalk that leads to the hot spring but the better view is from the overlook. Try to head there on a cold day where visibility will be better and the steam from the spring more impressive.
Depending on the type of photography that you enjoy, there are plenty of other locations other than this list. These are just some of the main highlights but in reality, you could spend months or even years just photographing Yellowstone national park. There is a reason why it is considered as one of the world’s best photography locations.
Photo credits: Dreamstime – All rights reserved. No usage without permission.