Ask Me: Where’s Best For Backpacking Photos, Glacier, Tetons, Rocky Mountain, or Cascades?
Thank you for all you do (gear reviews, trip posts, etc.) and for your outstanding blog! I’ve read almost all of your travel blogs but failed to find anything that speaks to the specific interests of photography, as the main focus point (pardon the pun). If I missed such a post, please refer me to that. I am looking to take on a backpacking hike of seven days this summer, most likely in early Sept. (after Labor Day and after the summer crowds have dissipated). I have narrowed down possible venues to Glacier National Park, Grand Teton N.P., Rocky Mountain N.P., or the Cascades of Washington.
My primary goal is from a landscape photography perspective. Landscape shooting is my passion, so I am looking for a weeklong loop hike that will afford a buddy (a fellow shooter) and me special landscape opportunities at sunrise and sunset. The plan is to hike during the day, set up camp later in the afternoon, shoot some sunset images, awake to shoot sunrise, then break camp and be on our way to our next campsite to repeat the process. We also enjoy our time out on the trails, so the travel between campsites is important to us.
I see from your images that photography is also an important aspect in your travel. Can you please recommend any trails in any of the above parks (or other places in the U.S.) that would provide us with ample photography opportunities at sunrise and sunset, sandwiched between a seven-day hike? Lakes, mountain peaks, interesting foreground reflections, etc. are some of the subject material we would be interested in capturing.
Thanks in advance,
Have you seen my “12 Simple Tips For Taking Better Outdoor Photos“?
Your short list of destinations is loaded with great places to go, and you’ve chosen the time of year—right after Labor Day—that I’ve long considered the prime time for backpacking in basically any mid-latitude mountain range in the country. I’m honestly not sure how you could go wrong with any of the choices you’ve laid out. But I’ll offer some specific thoughts and then suggest you look at my stories, photos, and videos from all of these places to help you decide where you want to go.
The Tetons are an extremely photogenic mountain range, and the north-south orientation of the range tends to deliver great sunrise and sunset light almost anywhere in the high country. Take a look at the photos in my many stories about the Teton Crest Trail and Grand Teton National Park. With seven days of backpacking, you can see quite a bit of the Tetons. I would backpack four or five days from Death Canyon Trailhead, up Death Canyon, north on the Teton Crest Trail over Death Canyon Shelf, across Alaska Basin, down South Fork Cascade Canyon (with the side trip to Avalanche Divide), up North Fork Cascade Canyon, over Paintbrush Divide, and down Paintbrush Canyon to finish at String Lake/Leigh Lake Trailhead.
Then you’ll have two or three days to backpack into Garnet Canyon to base camp, where you’ll want to shoot in the mornings and catch some nice alpenglow in the evenings, and explore the South Fork of Garnet Canyon as well as up to the Lower Saddle. Lots of amazing mountain views, creeks, campsites, wildflowers, and possibly wildlife sightings (like moose in Cascade Canyon), but not many lakes. Get to Lake Solitude to shoot in early morning or late afternoon, for better light and to avoid the crowds of dayhikers; at the latter time, you could have killer late-day light on the Grand Teton as your backdrop to Lake Solitude.
I’ve long been a big fan of Washington’s North Cascades region, which includes the national park and surrounding wilderness areas. See my story “Wild Heart of the Glacier Peak Wilderness: Backpacking the Spider Gap-Buck Creek Pass Loop,” about a five-day backpacking trip (see the lead photo at the top of this story), and all of my stories about North Cascades National Park. And check out my story “Tent Flap With a View: 25 Favorite Backcountry Campsites,” especially the lead photo from Sahale Glacier Camp in North Cascades National Park. You could hit that campsite backpacking a 44-mile, horseshoe-shaped route (requiring a vehicle shuttle) from Cascade Pass Trailhead to Thunder Creek Trailhead via Park Creek Pass (or hike it in the other direction). Keep in mind that the North Cascades are notoriously rugged, so it’s not easy hiking, although the trails are generally good. This photo gallery of hiking and backpacking in the North Cascades includes links to my stories about that region.
Rocky Mountain National Park certainly has lots of photographic potential, and it’s another place you could cover pretty well in a week. I’ve backpacked a loop from the Summerland Park Trailhead near Grand Lake on the west side, going up Tonahutu Creek Trail and down Hallett Creek/North Inlet Trail, seeing lots of waterfalls, a herd of elk in the Haynach Lakes valley, and views of Longs Peak. Make the short side trip to the 12,324-foot summit of Flattop Mountain, on the Continental Divide, overlooking the glacier-carved lakes basins of the east side. The loop ranges from a bit over 20 miles to close to 30 miles, depending on whether you make side trips to Haynach Lakes and Lakes Nokoni and Nanita. I’ve also backpacked with my kids into the Wild Basin area in the park’s southeast corner, which is more wooded but has beautiful, sub-alpine lakes with views of big peaks.
For a long, seven-day backpacking trip with plenty of terrain variety for photography, though, my first choice (and this is a difficult choice) might be a big loop I backpacked in Glacier, which I described in my story “Descending the Food Chain: Backpacking Glacier National Park’s Northern Loop.” You’ll see incredible mountains, lakes, creeks, sunrises and sunsets, and wildlife. If you consider going there, take some time to scroll through my many stories about Glacier.
The one mountain range you didn’t mention is California’s High Sierra, which is widely considered one of the most photogenic in the country—and September is an ideal time to be there (good weather, past mosquito season, somewhat fewer people). It’s hard to get a backcountry permit for the popular corners of Yosemite, but with seven days, you can get to more-remote parts of the park like the Clark Range and northern Yosemite, for which there’s less competition for permits. See the two long backpacking trips in Yosemite that I described in this Ask Me post. See also my story about backpacking in the John Muir Wilderness and my story about a six-day backpacking trip in Sequoia National Park. (The photo of golden mountains in The Big Outside’s banner is from that trip in the John Muir Wilderness.)
I hope that’s helpful. Thanks for following The Big Outside.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH for such a detailed reply!!! This helps tremendously!!
Happy travels and hiking!
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