Iconic Places in the USA that Every Photographer Should VisitJuly 18, 2017
Many of us have the ‘great land of opportunity’ on our lists of places to travel to, but narrowing down tourist destinations in the USA can often be overwhelming.
Being a photographer, you might not necessarily want to travel to the popular attractions most tourists flock to. You could be craving something a little left-of-center, or even a place simply known for its outstanding, photogenic beauty.
If you need help sorting out your US itinerary, or even want to discover some unique places for future reference, then we’ve got you sorted.
Today we’re going to share with you our picks of iconic places in the USA that every photographer should visit. There may even be a few places in this list that you didn’t know existed!
Salvation Mountain in Niland, California
This colorful and quirky place is at the top of our list because of its fun nature and the vibrant boost it gives to your images. There’s a few famous photo shoots set at this beautiful place in Niland, California (such as this one by Petra Collins for Rookie Magazine, featured above), so it truly is an iconic place that you can’t miss.
The Salvation Mountain website explains its origins, stating:
“Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain is Leonard’s tribute to God and his gift to the world with its simple yet powerful message, God Is Love… Its 50 foot height and 150 foot breadth is made totally of local adobe clay and donated paint and is truly unique in the United States and probably the world. From its Sea of Galilee at the bottom, to the big red heart in the middle, to the cross at the very top, the reoccurring theme of Love is everywhere at Salvation Mountain.”
Antelope Canyon, Arizona
Antelope Canyon can be found just outside of Page, Arizona, in the heart of Navajo Country. It’s been named as one of the most photographed slot canyons in the world and we’re sure you’ll understand why once you see it with your own eyes.
Antelope Canyon actually has two separate canyons and while both are very popular with tourists, photographers tend to love the Upper Antelope more. The reason for this? Dramatic light beams that make any image taken inside the canyon look like a work of art.
Photographers might also want to book a special photography tour of Antelope Canyon to make the most of their experience. There are many of these available and they will often run during the best times of the day to witness both the ethereal light beams and picturesque ‘falling sand’.
There’s a brilliant guide to photographing Antelope Canyon by experienced photographer Daniel Gillaspia which you can read here.
Bryce Canyon, Utah
You’ve probably heard of Bryce Canyon National Park by now, but what makes it a must-visit destination for photographers? If the image above doesn’t quite answer the question on its own, then the answer is quite simple: spectacular geological formations (known as Hoodoos) and brilliantly vibrant colors.
The forested plateau along the road into Bryce Canyon is home to dozens of species of mammals and birds, and at both dawn and dusk, onlookers are wowed by the whimsical sight of mule deer grazing.
Bryce Canyon National Park is famous for its red rock pillars, and natural weather processes over many years have carved out a series of natural amphitheaters for visitors to behold.
The destination is also one of the best places in the USA for stargazing because of its “pristine air and lack of surrounding development”. The attraction’s website recommends camping in the National Park as one of the best ways to experience this natural phenomenon, and we couldn’t recommend this to photographers enough – just think of the different lighting, angles, and areas you’ll be able to capture over this extended period of time!
Niagara Falls, New York
Niagara Falls is so much more than just a waterfall. It’s actually a city in Niagara County, New York, and is a recommended place for all photographers to visit when traveling to the USA. Another fun fact? It’s also located at the international boundary between the United States of America and Canada.
Most famous for the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls which produce a stunning scene of fast-flowing water, you’ll also find Niagara Falls State Park (America’s oldest state park) in this region.
Simply driving by this area won’t cut it, as photographers will be keen to get out and explore what Niagara Falls has to offer. A Maid of the Mist boat tour will bring you as close as possible to the water action (just imagine those photos!), while other fun activities and destinations such as Top of the Falls Restaurant, Great Lakes Garden, Cave of the Winds and islands such as Goat Island, Luna Island and Three Sisters Islands all cannot be missed!
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, California
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is known for its giant sequoia trees, including the General Sherman Tree, which is actually one of the largest trees in the world.
Located in the southern Sierra Nevada east of Visalia, California, photographers will love feeling as though they’ve stumbled into the world of giants, with these magnificent trees making you feel like you’re the size of an ant.
Did you know that 84 percent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks is designated wilderness and is accessible only by foot or by horseback? This makes it a much-loved destination in the USA for photographers who crave adventure!
Other than its famous large trees, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is also filled with an abundance of wildlife, making it any photographers dream destination. Just some of the amazing animals you might spot include coyote, badger, black bear, bighorn sheep, deer, fox, cougar, eleven species of woodpecker, various species of turtle, three species of owl, opossum, various species of snake, wolverine, roadrunner, beaver, various species of frog, and muskrat. There have also been rare sightings of mountain lions.
Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Florida
It just wouldn’t be a list of must-visit places within the USA without Disneyland, would it? Even photographers will want to put their camera down occasionally to enjoy the huge variety of rides and fun games here.
When it comes to taking photos though (because in-between the adrenalin-inducing activities, we’re sure this is your priority!), can you think of a more whimsical, colorful, and fun location than the amusement park?
You can capture the incredible sights of Pandora, a world modeled on the breath-taking one that starred in Avatar, or why not photograph the famous Magic Kingdom as it becomes an impressive lightshow at night? Then there’s the Animal Kingdom Park, a must-see for wildlife photographers and animal lovers alike, which even includes an African safari tour!
Does it get any better than that?
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Everyone has heard of the Grand Canyon, in fact, it’s one of the most iconic locations within America! We think photographers will love this unique, natural beauty – particularly the rich tones and textures, along with the exhilarating adventures on offer.
There are helicopter tours available for this region, meaning that photographers can practice their aerial photography skills and capture some breath-taking images of this attraction. There are also numerous hiking tours and rafting trips on offer, meaning that there’s truly something for everyone.
The Grand Canyon has three ‘rims’ to explore, including the South Rim, North Rim, and West Rim. The South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is the most visited rim and is accessible all year round. The North Rim, on the other hand, is much more remote, making it the perfect escape for those who love to be surrounded purely by nature.
To enjoy the West Rim of the Grand Canyon, visitors can lodge in Las Vegas (another iconic US destination that although isn’t on this list, is certainly something many photographers will still enjoy photographing!). The attraction’s website explains: “The West Rim of the Grand Canyon is a travel destination that promotes the cultural experience of visiting the Hualapai Reservation and the striking views at the western rim of the Grand Canyon.”
Oneonta Gorge, Oregon
If visiting locations reminiscent of fairytales is your aim whilst in America, then the Oneonta Gorge in the Columbia River Gorge is certainly somewhere you’ll want to go!
The gorge’s walls are covered in bright green moss and ferns, while quaint waterfalls add to the ethereal experience. Visitors can even walk through or swim in the creek on a warm day. Talk about relaxing!
Setting this scenery as the backdrop to your images will give them the most enchanting qualities, plus these photographs will be something you can put in your travel diary and admire for years to come. There’s simply no place like Oneonta Gorge in Oregon.
Skagit Valley Tulip Fields, Washington
You’ll certainly want to visit this tourist attraction in April, as that’s when the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is in full bloom!
The Skagit Valley also features stunning landscapes such as “shorelines, bays, islands, mountains, the Skagit River and one of the largest and most diverse agricultural communities west of the Cascade mountain range” [source].
There’s a reason why this destination was chosen as one of the best spring trips by National Geographic. When the tulips are in full bloom, fields are covered in row upon row of these vibrant and stunning flowers, making it the ultimate sight to behold.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina
Renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located between Tennessee and North Carolina and is America’s most visited national park.
Cades Cove is one of the most popular regions within this park and photographers will love this gorgeous valley surrounded by scenic mountains. The attraction’s website explains: “Large numbers of white-tailed deer are frequently seen, and sightings of black bear, coyote, ground hog, turkey, raccoon, skunk, and other animals are also possible.”
Photographers will love experiencing this amazing national park either through hiking, biking, or even camping. It’s a nature lover’s paradise, plus the pristine setting acts as the perfect backdrop or subject of any image.
There are plenty of activities to do in and around the park, and visitors will love glimpsing bears in their natural surrounds, along with flowing waterfalls, wildflowers, and spruce-fir forests.
Keen hikers will love walking the various trails with a camera in-hand, ready to capture whatever beautiful sights they stumble upon. Some of these popular hiking trails include Charlies Bunion, Alum Cave Bluffs, Andrews Bald, Rainbow Falls, and Chimney Tops.
There you have it – our list of iconic places in the USA that every photographer should visit! While this list isn’t intended to be exhaustive, we do hope that it has given you some unique ideas about some of the most photogenic places that this popular country has to offer. Enjoy!