As the climate changes, we need wildlife photographers to capture and preserve the beauty of our natural world. Their images expose us all to our stunning planet, and the animals, plants, and landscapes we may never see in real life.
You don’t have to travel to exotic locations to photograph to capture wildlife or landscape photography. The United States is home to amazing National Parks and Wildlife Refuges, all of which welcome photographers.
If you’re a wildlife photographer looking to add wolf photography portfolio to your portfolio, or bears, fox, moose, or alligators this post is for you. Read on to find out the best places in America for wildlife photography. This list is also a great resource for landscape photographers, as National Parks and refuges offer some of the most breathtaking scenery the country has to offer.
Denali National Park
Alaska’s Denali National Park is a haven for wildlife photographers, especially in the summer months. There are at least 13 packs of wolves within the park, as well as grizzly bears, black bears, caribou, moose, dall sheep, coyotes, lynx, foxes, and a variety of large birds. Denali is the highest mountain in North America (also known as Mount McKinley), coming in at 20,310 feet above sea level. You don’t to hike all the way up to get jaw dropping views and photographs of the sprawling landscape.
Because of the elevation variety, the Denali habitat is a mix so you will be able to add diverse imagery to your portfolio. There are densely wooded forest at the lowest elevations, and tundra, glaciers, rock, and snow at the highest elevations.
To have the best chance of capturing amazing wildlife photography, it is suggested that you go above the tree line (3000 feet) where the park is less densely forested and animals are more visible. Bird enthusiasts should check out Wonder Lake. The park also offers a professional photography program.
Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska
Glacier Bay National Park is home to 1100 miles of coastline where bears are frequently visible and active. You may even catch a glimpse of a glacier blue bear, a rare silver-gray haired subspecies of the black bear. Humpback whales, orcas, sea lions, seals, sea otters, and porpoises are also commonly seen and photographed within Glacier Bay National Park.
Glacier Bay National Park is not known for an abundant wolf population, so it may not be your best bet for wolf photography, but when they are seen, it is typically around dawn or dusk. It is however, known for its striking scenery, and the 11 glaciers inside the park all offer the potential of an amazing photograph for your portfolio.
Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite National Park boasts over 750,000 acres of land. If you’re a photographer, you’ve heard of Ansel Adams, and many of his most celebrated black and white shots were captured within Yosemite. There is even a gallery in Yosemite devoted to showcasing his work.
Yosemite is renowned and beloved for its cliffs, waterfalls, sequoia groves, lakes and diverse wildlife. The park was designated as a world heritage site in 1984. Some of the best spots to photograph in Yosemite include Vernal and Nevada Falls, Glacier Point, Half Dome, and Sentinel Bridge for sunset views.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park is famous for its stunning peaks and valleys. It is home to bighorn sheep, donkey deer, moose and over 500 elk. Though wolves do not currently live within this national park, in recent years there has been a push to reintroduce them into Rocky Mountain, in which case this natural oasis will be a wolf photography haven.
Photography Rocky Mountain National Park by Eric Stensland is a helpful resource for photographers wondering where to capture the best images in the 265,769 acres of national park. If you can, try to visit Grand Lake, Gore Range Overlook, and Rainbow Curve.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Big Bend National Park is one of the most remote and secluded places you can visit in the United States. Located in Southwest Texas, Big Bend is surrounded by the Rio Grande canyons and includes the Chisos mountain range and a large portion of the Chihuahuan Desert. Nocturnal desert animals including the kit fox, ringtail, bobcat, kangaroo rat, and bats are readily spotted. Other diurnal animals including mule deer, coyotes, badger, blacktail jackrabbits, and desert cottontails are easier to spot during the day.
Late spring and early fall are the most pleasant times to visit as the desert temperature can soar above 100 degrees in the summer. There are over 1200 species of plant, and an amazing 450 species of birds in the park, more than in any other national park. The park tends to be crowded during Thanksgiving and spring break, but otherwise you will find a peaceful oasis to photograph.
Yellowstone Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone is a photographer’s dream. It is mentioned on almost every blog post about wildlife photography. The park is primarily located in Wyoming with small parts located in Idaho and Montana. It said that there are 61 species of mammals living in the park, including a bison herd that is the oldest and largest public bison herd in the United States.
Yellowstone is also one of the most celebrated places in the world for wolf photography. Gray wolves were reintroduced into the park in 1995, and now it is estimated that more than 370 wolves live within the boundaries of Yellowstone Park. With the reintroduction came an avalanche of positive ecological change. The beaver population has rapidly increased, the aspen trees are no longer being destroyed by elk. While the elk population has actually grown, the “predatory pressure” put on the elk by the wolves keeps the elks moving instead of grazing. Simply put, Yosemite is a really cool place to photograph and is in the midst of an exciting ecological renaissance.
And if you’re into wildlife photography, the backdrop of colorful mineral pools, snowy peaks, and shooting geysers make Yellowstone one of the most iconic locations to photograph.
Before heading out to Yellowstone, be sure to familiarize yourself with tips and tricks necessary to keep your camera and gear safe in freezing temperatures.
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico is most famous for its bird photography. The best time to see a diverse selection of native birds is in the spring and fall, however between late November and late February is the best time to view cranes and geese. The 12-mile loop makes it easy to pull over and photograph whatever wildlife you may see. The loop road opens to the public one hour before sunrise and closes one hour after sunset.
From November 14th-17th, the Bosque Del Apache annual festival of cranes will be held, and it is a great opportunity to take stunning pictures while meeting like-minded photographers and devoted birdists.
If there is a particular bird you are interested in spotting, you can use their “online eBird Trail Tracker” to get a sense of what types of birds other visitors are seeing.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
If gray wolf photography is your niche, then Grand Teton National Park is your place. The park is home to a dwindling population of gray wolves. The wolves are present in the park primarily to feed on elk, and according to Jackson Hole Traveler, they can be seen “seen in the Willow Flats area or among sagebrush flats throughout Grand Teton National Park.”
There are over 60 species of mammals in the park, and the lakes and wooded terrain make for gorgeous images. Almost 100% of the original wildlife present in Grand Teton still exists today, making the one of the few “intact ecosystem[s] in the lower 48 states.”
Grand Teton National Park has long been a mecca for photographers seeking striking stills of landscape and wildlife photography. The park is especially vibrant in autumn when the Aspen trees become ablaze with color. Be sure to check out Oxbow Bend and Snake River Outlook.
Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
Isolated and serene Isle Royale National Park is an island surrounded by Lake Superior. A haven for wildlife photographers, this national park is home to beavers, mink, otters, foxes, rabbits, bats, moose, and wolves. The wolves arrived by ice bridge from Canada in 1940.
As of the fall of 2018, the park has plans to reintroduce even more wolves into the Isle Royale ecosystem; the hope is that the wolf population will hover around 30. This reintroduction of the wolves is an effort to control the expanding moose population. The moose and wolves in Isle Royale have long fascinated scientists are are the subject of the longest running study on predator/prey relationships and the corresponding ecological effects.
The park claims it is one of “the least visited national parks, and the most revisited.”
There are no communication signals, the park is sparsely traversed, and the photography opportunities are abundant. If you are worried about navigating the hiking trails without cell phone service, the Chimani app will be your friend.
Many visitors choose to stay at the Rock Harbor Lodge, where the staff will be able to tell you the best spots for snapping wildlife photography. You may even catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
The park is accessible by ferry or seaplane.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park is 47,000 acres of diverse terrain. Within the parameters of the park, you will find woodlands, rocky beaches, and “glacier-scoured granites peaks such as Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the United States’ East Coast.”
Wildlife photographers will be amazed by the variety of coexisting species including bears, moose, whales, and seabirds. The park is located primarily within the perimeter of Mount Desert Island. However, the park also encompasses the Schoodic Peninsula (east of Bar Harbor) and Isle au Haut (an island southwest of Mount Desert Island.) Most visitors stick to the Mount Desert, so if you are looking for a remote, uncrowded place to shoot, Schoodic or Isle au Haut may be your best bets.
Some favorite photography spots within Mount Desert include Jordan Pond, Bubble Rock, and Eagle Lake.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is primarily known for its wild bears. There is said to be over 1500 bears, as well as elk, white-followed deer, otters, foxes, possum, coyotes, and a lizards.
Unfortunately, efforts to reintroduce red wolves into the park were unsuccessful, but if you are looking for wolf photography opportunities in North Carolina, the wolves are now found in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.
Great Smoky Mountains in considered the most popular national park, and that is largely because of its stunning views. Some of the most amazing views in the park are located right off the main Newfound Gap Road, which makes it easy to get your shots without having to hike your gear.
Late fall, after the leaves have fallen, is the best time to photograph from the park’s highest point, Clingman’s Dome.
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina
This Natural Wildlife Refuge was established in the 1980s. The refuge is considered a rare wetland habitat known as the pocosin, which means its has deep, acidic, sandy soil. Located on the Atlantic Coast in eastern North Carolina, Alligator River is known for its abundance of birds, both migratory and endangered, black bears, and of course, American alligators. The refuge has also recently reintroduced red wolves.
The refuge rents out a portable photography blind to any photographers wanting “to quietly and safely observe and photograph wildlife, undisturbed in their natural habitat. The blind can be placed in one of several predetermined locations throughout the refuge taking full advantage of the seasonal changes and best viewing locations throughout the year. The blind is free and available for public use unless reserved for private use.”
Katmai National Park, Alaska
Located in southern Alaska in what is known as King Salmon, Katmai National Park is over 4,000,000 acres. The vast terrain includes tundra, forests, lakes, and mountains. One of the most-photographed areas in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, an area formed by a volcanic eruption.
Because of the diverse terrain, there is a wide array of wildlife to photograph. You are likely to spot hares, moose, and wolves. Little is known about Katmai’s wolf population; however, they have been seen tracking otter and seals in the coastal regions of the park and in Brooks Camp.
Katmai is most celebrated for its brown bear population. There is a dedicated (safe) viewing platform at Brooks River which is said to be “without a doubt the most accessible location in the work for photographing these magnificent animals.”
Gila National Forest, New Mexico
Gila National Forest, located near Silver City, New Mexico is the sixth largest National Forest in the United States. It is made up of approximately 2,710,659 acres of land. The cool summers and moderate winters make this National Forest a sought destination for photographers year round. To see the sparse and rugged wilderness, check out this National Geographic photo of the day taken in Gila Forest.
Black bears, mountain lions, elk, antelope and bighorn sheep are readily seen within the park. Wolves thrive in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area, located largely within Gila National Forest. The best time for seeing wolves in Gila is May through June or September and October, and it is highly recommended to travel with a guide who will be familiar with the best times to view the wolves, and the best safety practices.
Grand Canyon National Park
As the name suggests, Grand Canyon National Park is home to the Grand Canyon. It is beloved by photographers for its intricate eroded rock and vibrant colors. The vast canyon is 277 miles long and in some places up to 18 miles wide.
The best time for photographing the park’s wildlife is either a dawn or dusk. It is recommended to bring binoculars or a telephoto lens as you will likely not be able to get close enough to the wildlife for a clear shot. Most animals will be found in areas of landscape known as edges, i.e the line where forest meets an open swath of land, meadow or field.
When photographing wildlife from a distance, “skilled photographers suggest lining up the horizon of the landscape along the lower third of your frame and lining up the animal(s) to one of the four intersection points” between land and horizon.
National Elk Refuge, Wyoming
Located in Jackson, Wyoming, this 25,000 acre refuge was created in 1912 to protect elk and their habitat. The elk are rarely seen in the summer months when they migrate north, but in the winter months more than 5000 elk may be present.
For $25 you can sign up for a horse-drawn sleigh ride which will give you up-close access to the elk. Rare sightings of grizzly bears and wolf packs have also been reported in the National Elk Refuge.
Custer State Park, South Dakota
Custer State Park is the largest state park in South Dakota. The gorgeous terrain consists of granite peaks, plains, and clear bodies of water.
The park is home to a herd over 1,000 free-roaming bison, as well as elk, pronghorn, deer, bighorn sheep, and more. Many photographers report that the wildlife in Custer State Park is readily seen and even found near roads. One photographer stated that, “It’s not uncommon that you’ll have to stop the car and wait for a bison or other animal to cross the road.”
Fun fact alert: The park grew in popularity 1927, when U.S. President Calvin Coolidge intended to visit the park for 3 weeks and ended up staying for 3 months, claiming it was his “summer White House.”
There is a highly-recommended road aptly named Wildlife Loop Road which is a popular route for photographing bison and pronghorns. Even if you don’t see any wildlife, the landscape is expansive and worth capturing.
Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma
Since 1901, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, in southwestern Oklahoma, has protected wildlife habitats. It is a haven for animals near extinction, and the park land is used to restore species eliminated from the area. Bison were reintroduced, along with elk and wild turkey. More recent reintroductions include the prairie dog, the river otter and burrowing owls. You can visit the refuge visitor center for tips on where to get the best photographs.
Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has reopened after closing in May because of unforeseen volcanic activity. You will have the opportunity to photograph whales, dolphins, sea turtles, mongoose, goat, and more.
For certain photography and videography projects, the park may require a permit, and you can learn more about those permits here.
Everglades National Park, Florida
Everglades National Park in South Florida is one the most acclaimed Florida spots for photographing wildlife. You will have the opportunity to see alligators, crocodiles, and a variety of birds. The park is accessible by car from 3 different entrances or by boat or hiking trails. Check out suggestions for viewing wildlife from the National Park Service to learn how to respectfully photograph the animals
Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, Idaho
The Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. located in southwestern Idaho, is a conservation area for raptors and prairie falcons (North America’s only indigenous falcon). It runs along 80 miles of Snake River.
The Snake River ecosystem offers an unusual combination of vegetation, soil, and climate which allows for incredibly high numbers of predators and prey. In fact, Morley Nelson has the highest concentration of birds of prey in North America, and it is almost a guarantee that you see one to photograph.
For the best photography opportunities, drive the 56-mile loop tour to see and photograph the wildlife. Hiking trails are also available.