Yellowstone/Grand Teton: 5 Top Photo Spots
People tend to underestimate the magnitude of these parks, a friend said. And I was forewarned.
With just two-and-a-half days to explore both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, I was determined to shoot a good mix of wildlife and landscapes. After some research, I drew up a game-plan on how to photograph key attractions.
It was sure rewarding. Check out my top five favourite spots if you’re planning a visit!
1. Aerial View: Grand Prismatic Springs, Yellowstone
Where? Off Fairy Falls Trail, 400 feet (120m) up a steep, unmaintained mud-trail.
What? Visitors usually view Grand Prismatic Springs only from the main boardwalk, but up-close you do not enjoy a complete view of the huge spring. On a cold day, the entire area gets steamy, further obstructing the view and magnificent colours.
To get the best shot, make a trip to the Fairy Falls trail about a mile south. Hike for about half a mile and turn left onto a nondescript mud-trail on the side of a steep hill.
It takes wit, stamina and scrambling on fours over fallen logs to climb that hill, but do it and you will be rewarded by a resplendent aerial view of the entire spring.
When you are done breathing in the awesome view, zoom in to capture some abstract shots of the vibrant rims.
We sat there, mouths agape – okay, partly due to panting for me – at the breathtaking sight.
This was perhaps the best tip for our trip!
When to go? Go on a hot and sunny day. Chances are, it’s less steamy and the colours, most brilliant.
2. Wildlife Galore, Yellowstone
Where? Lamar Valley & Hayden Valley.
What? Not to be upstaged in Yellowstone is its animal kingdom. Although wildlife can be found roaming everywhere in Yellowstone, the best places to spot animals are Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley.
Known as the Serengeti of Yellowstone, Lamar Valley near the northeast entrance is a breathtakingly open landscape that is as attractive to wildlife as it is to visitors. Here, you may see herds of bisons and their calves, coyotes and pronghorns. Depending on the season, you may be lucky enough to spot bears.
Hayden Valley, somewhere along the east-central, is another great place to spot wildlife. We were thrilled to have spotted an elusive wolf pack using the scopes of canine enthusiasts, but the wolves were too far away to be photographed with my 300mm lens.
When to go? Go in the early mornings or late evenings, when it’s cooler and wildlife are out feeding.
3. Rutting Elk, Yellowstone
Where? Mammoth Hot Springs.
What? A large herd of elk congregate at the Mammoth Hot Springs area almost year-round. Watch out for them against the backdrop of the beautiful Lower Terrace area, or simply hang around the lawns of the lodges. Rangers told us the elk seemed to prefer the fresh green grass of manicured lawns, and they knew no fear of people.
September is prime rutting season for elk, with their antlers fully grown. Listen for bulls bugling and herding their harems in the most territorial fashion. The males are extremely aggressive this season, and you may even spot bull-fights.
When to go? Fall is a spectacular time for watching wildlife here. Early mornings and late evenings are best, but elk are typically spotted throughout the day.
4. Mirror Images of Grand Tetons
Where? Schwabacher Landing & Oxbow Bend
What? Other mountains may be higher and larger, but there’s an unparalleled beauty to the ruggedness of Grand Tetons. The Grand Teton range rises steeply from the valley floor, and as if it needed more drama, the towering pinnacles have their images reflected on still waters in the foreground.
About five miles from Moose Junction along Hwy 26/89/191, we discovered a little gravel road called the Schwabacher landing. It’s not paved and your ride will be far from smooth, but drive slowly and you’ll come to part of the Snake River that proudly displays a reflection of the Cathedral group of mountains. A real prime photo opportunity!
Less off-the-beaten-path is the famous Oxbow bend, which shows off a mirror image of Mt Moran and its surrounding peaks.
When to go? Sunrise or sunset. The warm colours of the sun over the horizon simply does magic for photography.
5. Mormon Barns, Grand Tetons
Where? Off Antelope Flats Road, about 1 mile east of Hwy 26/89/191
What? The Mormon Row is one of the most picturesque, postcard-worthy area of Grand Teton National Park.
How much more rustic can the scene get with old wooden homesteads amidst open fields, set against a dazzling backdrop of the Tetons?
The farmland here was first homesteaded by Mormon settlers in the early 1900s. The buildings were left to decay till 1990s, when the cultural value was finally recognised and steps were taken for preservation. Thankfully!
When to go? Sunrise is best, as the sun’s rays illuminate the side of the barns and fall on the mountains in the background.
Have fun with these tips… Hopefully, they can yield you a stunning portfolio of abstract geothermal, wildlife and landscape shots!