Some of the best landscape photographs ever taken over the last century are the result of dedicated photographers making the long trek up and over mountains to find the perfect spot for that iconic scene. You can find great shots by driving to a mountain pass or an overlook. But there is something special about a spot that can only be reached by foot. Below are 5 lower-traffic, hikeable peaks in 3 main locations to explore for unique landscape photography.
Locations of Hikeable Peaks for Photographers
When thinking of great places to capture iconic shots of towering, snowcapped peaks, blazing sunsets, or mystical fogs carpeting the valley floor, explore places that haven’t been photographed millions of times. Half Dome rising above Yosemite Valley or Oxbow Bend in Yellowstone will give you an impressive photo for the wall. But those places have been photographed so many times that visitors probably won’t ask where you got that shot.
Instead of checking off a list of well-known mountain spots, find a spot that is all your own to add uniqueness to your photos. When it comes to location for your mountain and landscape shots, take the risk of going off the beaten path.
Taking a relatively unplanned hike through the mountains might just well take you into the perfect, enchanted spot where you can sit for hours photographing a place that no one knows about but you. However, it can be extremely helpful to plan ahead. The National Geographic Topo! Mapping Software is a great tool that allows you to plan out your hike beforehand. You can easily gauge distances and elevation gains so that you’ll be able to predict just how long it might take you to make it to the summit. There is nothing worse than showing up to the perfect sunset photo opportunity only two minutes after the sun has dipped below the horizon.
Another great tool is the Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPS). This software uses satellite images to help you know when the sun and moon rise and set so that you can know the best time and lighting conditions for the great shots you have in your mind. With a little planning, you can easily make sure that you are in the right place at the right time with camera in hand.
3 Great Locations with Low-Traffic, Hikeable Peaks for Photography
This peak (there are technically 2 peaks, which are called out below) in the northeastern corner of the United States is best known as the last stop on the Appalachian Trail (or the first stop, depending on where you start from). Though it is well-known in that aspect, very few photographers make it up to Mount Katahdin because of its remoteness. As the tallest peak in Maine at over 5,200 feet, Mount Katahdin offers some great views from the top.
The 10-mile roundtrip hike is doable in a day, though you can also apply for backcountry permits for a spot to sleep on the trail in order to be at the peak early in the morning, which is recommended because Baxter State Park is notorious for its foggy weather conditions. You might want to spend the night and catch the crisp, blue skies and fantastic sunrises. Mount Katahdin offers great sunset views but since the weather is so unpredictable, you have a better chance at a winning shot at sunrise.
Perhaps the best spot for photographing Mount Katahdin is along Knife’s Edge, a half-mile portion of the trail that traverses the ridge between Baxter Peak and Pamola Peak, the two peaks that make up the whole of Mount Katahdin. The trail narrows to just three feet in some spots, with massive drop-offs on both sides. While this trail isn’t for the faint of heart, you can also get some breathtaking photos along Knife’s Edge and once you cross over to Baxter Peak.
Mount Katahdin offers a great opportunity for wildlife photography with a plethora of moose, deer, black bears, and small mammals. The abundance of ponds will allow you to capture fantastic scenes of moose.
The Appalachian Trail is a great place for seeing the thick, hardwood forests of the eastern mountain range running north to south. Stunning 360º views are usually thought to be attainable only out west. Scattered throughout the Appalachian Mountain range are a number of “knobs” or “balds”. These are barren rock outcroppings on the tops of mountains. The thick granite or sandstone slabs of rock stop most tree growth, allowing for views that take you above the thick canopy cover.
Elk Knob State Park in North Carolina is one of the best of these Appalachian knobs to hike, especially for photographers who aren’t serious hikers. Though you will gain close to 1,000 feet in elevation from the trailhead to mountaintop, the trail is paved with gravel and has benches along the way for resting.
A final section of steps leads you to the knob, which offers fantastic panoramic views of blue, hazy mountains. From the summit, you can see the highest mountains both in North Carolina and Virginia. The gnarled beech trees from the sometimes strong winds allow for interesting foregrounds.
Colorado is famous for its several 14,000-foot peaks – 53 of them to be exact. Some of the most well-known 14,000 footers, such as Longs Peak in the Rocky Mountain National Park, are pretty popular and more photographed. Capitol Peak, however, is one of the least traversed (and also least photographed) of Colorado’s mountainous peaks.
To get up Capitol Peak, leave early in the morning (or plan to make it a several-day trip to beat the late afternoon clouds). This is no easy jaunt! It is an 18-mile round trip hike that will require some route finding and advanced map reading.
Decent backcountry skills reward you with a lunar-like landscape and stunning rocks that light up into ethereal colors at sunrise and sunset. Capitol Peak’s exposed Knife Edge ridge crossing to the summit is also breathtaking – both for the fear and the beauty!
Once you finish the ascent, your photographic journey isn’t over. The path down will take you through stunning aspen forests. During the springtime especially, these light up your path with gorgeous yellow-green leaves. Make sure to pack for unpredictable weather, as storms at 14,000 feet can be dangerous.
The mountaintop hikes mentioned above are just a sample of possibilities to explore around the county. There are virtually unlimited amounts of great mountain hikes from Maine to California and everywhere in between.