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Best Shots in the West

Golden Gate Bridge at night, image
Photo credit
Photo: Courtesy of RyanJWilmot/Wikipedia
Photo caption
The Golden Gate Bridge can be viewed at night from Marshal Beach.

What if there were a place where you could shoot a photograph so stunning it would have friends begging to see your vacation pictures? In fact, there are many such places in the Western states, as you'll see below. But before hitting the road, call about weather and trail conditions. For best results, use a camera with a quality light meter and telephoto lens. It's also a good idea to use a tripod to hold the camera still. Shoot in mornings or late afternoons, when natural light is most dramatic. And spend a little extra for professional film; Fuji Provia and Kodak Ektachrome are excellent color slide films. If using a digital camera, shoot at a high resolution. Then start scouting wall space at home. You'll need somewhere to hang an 8x10.

 Big Sur coast, California

  • The Shot: Pick one or all—mighty sea stacks, a golden crescent-shaped beach, rugged cliffs spilling into the Pacific, or surfers silhouetted by the setting sun.
  • Where to shoot: The Sand Dollar Day Use Area, 9.5 miles south of Lucia on Highway 1. It’s a short walk from the parking lot to a pair of overlooks.
  • For more information: Los Padres National Forest Monterey Ranger District, (831) 385-5434, .

Golden Gate Bridge, California

  • The Shot: An eye-popping view of the bridge, San Francisco Bay, and the city rising in the background. Throw in a little fog for a moody effect. Try to shoot in the late afternoon or at sunset.
  • Where to shoot: Hawk Hill. From San Francisco, follow U.S. 101 over the bridge, then take the exit for Alexander Avenue. At the stop sign turn left, cross under the freeway, then turn right onto Conzelman Road. Drive 2.5 miles; park and walk up the fire road to the top.
  • For more information: Golden Gate National Recreation Area, (415) 331-1540,

Yosemite National Park, California

  • The Shot: The face of Half Dome with the rounded peaks of the park’s southern wilderness in the background. Try black-and-white film for this one.
  • Where to shoot: From the top of North Dome, a 9.8-mile round-trip hike from Tioga Road/ Highway 120. From Crane Flat in the park, drive east on Tioga for 24.5 miles to the Porcupine Creek trailhead and follow signs for Half Dome.
  • For more information: 372-0200,

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

  • The Shot: A view down over Bumpass Hell, a fiery 16 acres of boiling hot springs, steam vents, fumaroles, and bubbling mud pots.
  • Where to shoot: From the park’s southwest entrance, follow Highway 89 north for six miles and turn right into the trailhead parking lot. It’s a one-mile hike to the trail crest, where you can shoot down to the hot springs.
  • For more information: Lassen Volcanic National Park, (530) 595-4444,

Death Valley National Park, California

  • The Shot: The lowest point in the Western Hemisphere framed by the snow-covered Panamint Range, including the park’s highest mountain, 11,049-foot Telescope Peak.
  • Where to shoot: Dante’s View, which sits 5,500 feet higher than the valley floor. From park headquarters at Furnace Creek, take Highway 190 south for 12 miles to the turnoff for Dante’s View, then drive 13 miles to the road’s end.
  • For more information: Death Valley National Park, (760) 786-2331,

Arches National Park, Utah

  • The Shot: The highly photogenic Delicate Arch, one of the Southwest’s preeminent symbols, framed against the peaks of the La Sal Mountains. Shoot in the early morning or late afternoon.
  • Where to shoot: Take Delicate Arch Trail—a three-mile round-trip hike—to get close to the arch. From park headquarters near Moab, drive 11.7 miles north on the main park road. Go right at the Delicate Arch turnoff, continue 1.2 miles, and park at Wolfe Ranch, where the trail begins.
  • For more information: Arches National Park, (435) 719-2299,

Lake Tahoe, California

  • The Shot: Emerald Bay, against a backdrop of snowcapped peaks. Fannette Island, the only isle in Tahoe, sits in the middle of Emerald Bay.
  • Where to shoot: Inspiration Point. From South Lake Tahoe, take Highway 89 north for five miles to the parking lot for Inspiration Point.
  • For more information: Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, (530) 544-5050, .

Mount Hood, Oregon

  • The Shot: The snowcapped, 11,236-foot mountain rising behind—and reflected in—the calm blue waters of Trillium Lake.
  • Where to shoot: The handicapped-accessible fishing dock in Trillium Lake. From Portland, take U.S. 26 east for 56 miles. Two miles after Government Camp, turn right on Forest Service Road 2656 and follow signs to the parking area for the boat ramp and fishing dock.
  • For more information: Mount Hood Visitor Information Center, (888) 622-4822,

 Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

  • The Shot: A spectacular close-up view of 14,410-foot Mount Rainier—an active volcano covered with snow and ice—and the Emmons Glacier, the largest glacier in the contiguous United States.
  • Where to shoot: Numerous vantage points along the moderately difficult 5.5-mile hike from Sunrise Visitor Center to the Fremont Lookout Tower. From the town of Enumclaw, drive 38 miles south on Highway 410, then turn right on the road to Sunrise (open in summer and early fall) and continue 16 miles to the visitor center. Mornings are the best time to shoot.
  • For more information: Mount Rainier National Park, (360) 569-2211,

 Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

  • The Shot: The deepest lake in the United States with Wizard Island in the foreground and the steep, semi-forested caldera walls in the background.
  • Where to shoot: Sun Notch Overlook, four miles east of the park headquarters on East Rim Drive. From the parking area, it’s a quarter-mile walk uphill to the viewing area.
  • For more information: Crater Lake National Park, (541) 594-3100,

This article was first published in July 2002. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.