Tag Archives: photography

Coronado National Forest

Coronado National Forest


Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region

1,859,807 acres (1,786,620 federal/ 73,187 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/coronado


Coronado National Forest is sprinkled across the southeastern Arizona landscape, encompassing many forested “sky islands” that rise above the surrounding Sonoran Desert.  The isolation of these ranges has led to the evolution of some endemic species of plants and animals unique to this region.  That isolation also allows for clear night skies, so there are several peaks with astronomical observatories.  The most visited portion of the forest is the Santa Catalina Mountains, easily accessible along the paved 35-mile-long Catalina Highway east of Tucson, Arizona. 


Catalina Highway, Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, Mt. Lemmon, Windy Point, Madera Canyon, Sky Island Scenic Byway, Mt. Graham, Onyx Cave, Madera Canyon, Mt. Hopkins Observatory, Pena Blanca Lake, Ramsey Canyon, Miller Peak, Cochise Stronghold

Must-Do Activity

The Santa Catalina Mountains offer many recreational opportunities, from road biking to downhill skiing at the top of 9,157-foot Mt. Lemmon (the southernmost ski area in the U.S.).   The scenic beauty and expansive vistas along the Catalina Highway are worth the many switchbacks, and you might drive past some of the most famous triathletes in the world who train here in the winter.  The drive ascends through multiple life zones from saguaro-dotted desert to ponderosa pine forest.  At the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains is the busy Sabino Canyon Recreation Area (fee).

Best Trail

Box Camp Trail is special to us as it was the site of our first date, marriage proposal, and wedding ceremony.  Over the course of 13 miles, Box Camp Trail drops 5,000 feet in elevation from ponderosa pine forest through pinyon-juniper woodland to the desert of Sabino Canyon dominated by saguaro cacti.  The rugged trail disappears in places, but offers incredible views along the way.  Route finding is required as the trail is somewhat overgrown (with downed trees from wildfires), plus the one-way hike requires two cars, one left at Sabino Canyon Recreation Area and one at the trailhead on the Catalina Highway. 

Watchable Wildlife

The Sonoran Desert is home to numerous unique wildlife species from roadrunners to Coues white-tailed deer.  Many of the animals are nocturnal to avoid the heat of the day, including ringtails (or ring-tailed cats), kangaroo rats, and javelinas (or collared peccaries).  The “sky islands” provide habitat for black bears, coyotes, skunks, mountain lions, bobcats, pronghorns, mule deer, and elk.  Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is known for its coatis, relatives of raccoons that typically travel in packs.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Windy Point is a spectacular overlook along the Catalina Highway in the pinyon-juniper woodland zone.  Not a bad spot for wedding photos, if we do say so ourselves.

Peak Season

Spring and fall


There is a fee to park at Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, plus a charge for the tram ride. Check the USFS website for details.

Road Conditions

The paved Catalina Highway is sometimes closed due to snow and ice in the winter.  There are some rough roads in this part of the Sonoran Desert, and especially be aware of the potential for flash flooding.


There are designated campgrounds along the Catalina Highway and throughout Coronado National Forest.  We dispersed camped near Dragoon Springs Station south of Interstate 10, but the access roads were in bad shape.

Wilderness Areas

Chiricahua Wilderness

Galiuro Wilderness

Miller Peak Wilderness

Mount Wrightson Wilderness

Pajarita Wilderness

Pusch Ridge Wilderness

Rincon Wilderness

Santa Teresa Wilderness

Related Sites

Coronado National Memorial (Arizona)

Tumacácori National Historical Park (Arizona)

Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

Nearest National Park


Conifer Tree Species

two-needle pinyon pine, alligator juniper, ponderosa pine, Chihuahua pine, Apache pine

Flowering Tree Species

Emory oak, Arizona oak, Mexican blue oak, Arizona rosewood, black alder, Arizona walnut, velvet ash, Arizona sycamore, quaking aspen

Explore More – Who was the famous ecologist that studied the similarity of increasing elevation to increasing latitude more than a century ago in the Santa Catalina Mountains?

Learn more about this and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

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Katmai National Park and Preserve

Katmai National Park and Preserve


Managed by National Park Service

Established 1918 National Monument, 1980 National Park

3,674,529 acres

Website: nps.gov/katm


Katmai National Monument was created after the Novarupta Volcano erupted in 1912 (an event recorded in the skinny tree rings grown throughout Alaska that year).  Ash fell in Seattle (1,500 miles away) and piled up to 700 feet deep in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.  The valley is no longer smoking, but it is there are still 15 active volcanoes within the park’s boundaries.  This remote park on the Alaska Peninsula has few roads and is only accessible by airplane (typically equipped with floats for water landings).  Oh yeah, and there are lots of grizzly bears, or brown bears as they are called in coastal areas of Alaska.


Brooks Falls, North Arm of Naynek Lake, Hallo Bay, Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, Baked Mountain Huts, Savonoski Loop

Must-Do Activity

The grizzly/brown bears of Brooks Falls are celebrities due to the annual Fat Bear Week vote for the chunkiest bear on social media.  Less famous are the bears that hang out around Hallo Bay on the coastline, eating grass and shellfish until the salmon arrive.  Regardless of your destination, flights from road-accessible portions of Alaska (like Homer and Kenai) can be quite costly.  Most of the approximately 50,000 annual visitors come only for a day trip, although there are three expensive lodges and a campground in the park.

Best Trail

Brooks Falls Trail connects the Lower River Bear Viewing Platform 1.2 miles to the Falls and Riffles Platforms at Brooks Falls.  Near the visitor center, the short Cultural Site Trail visits a prehistoric camp and reconstructed dwelling.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Brooks Falls is a world-class destination for wildlife photographers from around the world, so you might want to bring along a camera with a good zoom lens if you pay to get there during the peak months of July and September. This photo is from Scott’s father (see more of his photos and paintings at Bruce Sink.com)

Peak Season





The National Park Service does not charge an entry fee, but it is very expensive to fly to Brooks Camp or Hallo Bay.

Road Conditions

There is a 23-mile long road that leads from Brooks Falls to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes and a daily eight-hour ranger-guided bus tour is available in the summer.  Backpackers can buy one-way tickets and explore the area, with the Baked Mountain Huts a popular destination 12 miles away across two difficult river crossings.


There are 60 sites at Brooks Camp Campground (reservations required prior to arrival), which is surrounded by an electric fence to keep bears out.

Related Sites

Kenai Fjords National Park (Alaska)

Lake Clark National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Denali National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Explore More – How many grizzly/brown bears are estimated to live within Katmai National Park and Preserve?

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Hovenweep National Monument


Partially surrounded by Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (run by the Bureau of Land Management), Hovenweep National Monument occupies a remote area on the southern Utah-Colorado border.  Established in 1923, it is composed of six units, the largest of which has a National Park Service (NPS) visitor center on the rim of Little Ruin Canyon, the location of the variable architectural styles of Square Tower Group. 


Square Tower Group, Holly Group, Cajon Group, Hackberry Group, Cutthroat Castle Group

Must-Do Activity

At Square Tower Group a two-mile loop hike takes visitors past an impressive collection of structures that date back to the 1200s, the same period that Ancestral Puebloans inhabited nearby Mesa Verde National Park.  The variety of building styles in this narrow canyon is remarkable, from Square Tower and Hovenweep Castle to Twin Towers and the unique Eroded Boulder House.  There is almost no shade to be found on the sagebrush plain of Cajon Mesa, so visiting in the heat of summer may not be as enjoyable.  The good news is that it makes for boundless vistas, especially to the south where Sleeping Ute Mountain looms.

Best Trail

The loop trail at Square Tower Group is paved and wheelchair accessible to the first overlook at Stronghold Point, but then gets much rougher over its two miles, especially at the end where it drops into Little Ruin Canyon.  A four-mile one-way trail connects this area to the Holly Group of ruins.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Little Ruin Canyon has one of the highest density collections of ruins anywhere in the southwest U.S., including the cool Eroded Boulder House, a part of the Square Tower Group.

Peak Season

Spring and fall





Road Conditions

Despite its remote location, roads are paved to Square Tower Group, but accessing most of the other units requires driving or hiking rough dirt roads.  Further east in Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, visitors can drive well-maintained roads to the Escalante Ruins and Lowry Pueblo, as well as the two trailheads for Sand Canyon.


The NPS runs a 30-site campground (for a fee) at its visitor center near Square Tower Group.  Dispersed camping is allowed in many parts of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.

Related Sites

Yucca House National Monument (Colorado)

Natural Bridges National Monument (Utah)

Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

Explore More – Hovenweep is a Ute-Paiute word that translates as what?

Top 20 National Parks for Photography

The 63 National Parks in the United States are among the most photogenic places on the planet, so this was our hardest Top 10 List to choose.  Instead, for the first time we ranked the top 20!  We still had to leave off some all-time favorites, which says something about the natural beauty of this country.  We previously released a ranking of the top 20 photography destinations among the other National Park Service sites.  Click here to see all of our Top 10 Lists.

10. Arches (Utah)

There are too many fantastic sandstone wonders to count in this park

9. Channel Islands (California)

Giant coreopsis provide nests for western sea gulls atop rocky cliffs rising from the ocean

8. Katmai (Alaska)

Alpine scenery and Brooks Falls, the world-famous salmon fishing grounds of grizzly/brown bears

7. Great Basin (Nevada)

Cave formations, snow-covered peaks, and photogenic bristlecone pine trees

6. Haleakalā (Hawai‘i)

People come from around the globe to watch the sunrise and hike rainbow-hued Sliding Sands Trail

5. Badlands (South Dakota)

Awesome geologic features and a surprising diversity of large mammals

4. Dry Tortugas (Florida)

Fish teem in the turquoise ocean water surrounding a picturesque brick fort

3. Bryce Canyon (Utah)

Bright orange hoodoos fill this giant natural amphitheater that lights up at sunrise and sunset

2. Death Valley (California)

With little vegetation, the earth is laid bare here in all its raw and colorful glory

…and finally the #1 National Park for Photography:

1. Yellowstone (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Unbelievably colorful geothermal features and numerous charismatic wild animals

The Next 10

11. Grand Canyon (Arizona)

12. Yosemite (California)

13. Denali (Alaska)

14. Mesa Verde (Colorado)

15. Grand Teton (Wyoming)

16. Great Sand Dunes (Colorado)

17. Mount Rainier (Washington)

18. Glacier Bay (Alaska)

19. Glacier (Montana)

20. Virgin Islands (U.S. Virgin Islands)

Top 20 National Park Service sites for Photography

The National Park Service (NPS) manages some of the most photogenic places on the planet, so this was our hardest Top 10 List to choose.  Instead, for the first time we ranked the top 20!  We will be separately ranking the top 20 of the 63 National Parks for photography, since we had a difficult time even paring that list down.  Imagine how hard it was to choose from the other 360 NPS sites. Click here to see all of our Top 10 Lists.

10. Canyon de Chelly National Monument (Arizona)

Spider Rock alone would make it worth the trip, but ruins and petroglyphs add to its splendor

9. Christiansted National Historic Site (U.S. Virgin Islands)

Yellow paint makes the architecture pop at this Caribbean seaside fort

8. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Wisconsin)

Sea caves and numerous lighthouses are found on the shores of Lake Superior

7. Devils Postpile National Monument (California)

The hexagonal posts are neat and Rainbow Falls is stunning

6. Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

Fantastic rock formations abound, including one in the shape of a rubber duck

5. Cedar Breaks National Monument (Utah)

A mini-Bryce Canyon National Park with gnarly Great Basin bristlecone pine trees

4. Lake Mead National Recreation Area (Nevada-Arizona)

The Hoover Dam, Redstone Trail, Emerald Cove, Sauna Cave, and Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge!

3. Buck Island National Monument (U.S. Virgin Islands)

Incredibly clear water and a healthy coral reef make this the best place for an underwater camera

2. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (Oregon)

The Painted Hills’ surreal colors are Instagram-worthy, but so is the blue soil at Blue Basin

…and finally the #1 NPS site for Photography:

1. Chaco National Historical Park (New Mexico)

High walls of these Ancestral Puebloan ruins are still standing, plus watch for elk, lizards, and ravens

The Next 10

11. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (Michigan)

12. City of Rocks National Reserve (Idaho)

13. Lowell National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

14. Devils Tower National Monument (Wyoming)

15. Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site (Colorado)

16. National Mall (District of Columbia)

17. Fort Davis National Historic Site (Texas)

18. Point Reyes National Seashore (California)

19. Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve (Oregon)

20. (tie) Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout National Seashores (North Carolina)