If you could go anywhere, where would you go?
That’s a question that I think about a lot. There are so many beautiful locations in the world, it is hard to create a list that includes every must-see spot. I am always researching and planning my next trip, and over the years I have slowly accumulated a list of top places.
All of these “Top Destinations” are places I have either visited or plan to visit in the future. Some of these locations you can visit easily with Backcountry Journeys, some are not (at least, not yet).
I thought it would be appropriate to break these into two separate lists: “Landscape” and “Wildlife.” Over the next two weeks, I will share my top photography locations in the world. Let’s start with my landscape destinations. This is not an all-inclusive list by any means, but it does include some of the best locations, in my opinion, for landscape photography.
One of the most incredible landscapes in the world rests in the southern reaches of Chile and Argentina. The region of Patagonia covers a massive area, but I am specifically referring to two specific locations: Torres Del Paine National Park and Los Glaciares National Park. These two parks should be on every photographer’s list. The mountains of Patagonia have been coined as the most beautiful mountains in the world, combine that with some of the wildest weather on the planet and you have a landscape photographers paradise. Sure, you might have to wait out some bad weather, but many photographers claim that the best conditions they have ever seen came in Patagonia.
Iceland is indeed the ‘Land of Fire and Ice’, but it is also so much more. Formed and forged by millions of years of volcanic activity, Iceland is a volcanic marvel. The unique geology of the island makes it feel like you are on a different planet. Iceland is full of waterfalls, glaciers, mountains, and rugged coastline. Come to think of it, I have never been to a place with more waterfalls. Two additional things make Iceland unique, the Midnight Sun and the Northern Lights. Visit in summer and you will experience endless days where Golden Hour seems to last hours. Visit in winter and you have a chance to view the Northern Lights over the amazing landscapes of the island.
The Lofoten Islands of Norway have blown up in popularity the past few years, for good reason too. The Lofoten Islands are situated far above the Arctic Circle and have amazing Norwegian Fjords. Like Patagonia, Lofoten is graced with unpredictable weather, which can create awe-inspiring light. Senja is my favorite island of the chain, but with a little effort, any Lofoten Island provides insane 360-degree panoramic views of fjords and mountains. This is also another top destination to view the Northern Lights.
Patagonia and the southern tip of South America steal a lot of the show, but the Andes of Ecuador and Peru are nothing to scoff at. In fact, they might even be the better place to visit if you want to get away from the crowds. For crystal clear alpine lakes, wildflowers, and glaciated peaks up to 22,000+ feet, look into the Cordillera Huayhuash hike. It is just one of many treks in the region but provides a great taste of the Peruvian Andes. The Andes are undoubtedly one of the most scenic mountain ranges on the planet.
The Alps are the highest mountains in Europe and span across 8 countries. They are heavily glaciated and have an extremely rugged appearance – think Matterhorn. The toughest thing is to choose what area of the Alps you want to visit. The French Alps, the Italian Alps (Dolomites), the Swiss Alps, and the Austrian Alps all have a different feel to them, but each is miraculous. My favorite section of the Alps is probably the section around Chamonix. Mont Blanc and the surrounding glaciers are almost Himalayan. I have both the Dolomites and French Alps on my list for future trips.
The American Southwest
The American Southwest is one of the great regions of the United States. It is littered with natural icons such as the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Arches National Park, Antelope Canyon, Zion National Park, and that’s only scratching the surface. There is so much to photograph in the Southwest. Get a capable 4×4 vehicle and the opportunities are endless. My favorite area of the Southwest is the Colorado Plateau, the geologic area that covers southern Utah and northern Arizona. Some of the best geology in the world is housed in that expanse, just thinking about it makes me want to pack my bags.
The Canadian Rockies
The Rocky Mountains extend north from Colorado through Alberta, but the best stretch of the Rockies might just be the area around Banff National Park and Jasper National Park near the northern reaches of the range. They are two of my favorite parks, and great at any time of year. Summer brings great wildflower displays, fall has excellent fall color and weather, and winter (albeit cold) has fantastic snowy landscapes – I am sure most of you have seen the famous methane bubbles from some of the large lakes in the area. I need to also include Glacier National Park. Although not in Canada, Glacier National Park in Montana is one of the best parks in the USA. I love planning a trip that combines the Canadian parks with Glacier National Park.
Alaska is my favorite place in the world. It is one of the few locations on this list that will also be included on the top wildlife destinations post as well. It is undoubtedly ‘The Last Frontier’. Alaska has it all; massive mountains, the Northern Lights, huge glaciers, expansive wetland, abundant wildlife such as Polar bear, Brown bear and Bald eagles, and more. Most areas are remote and hard to access, which means that most shots you get are unique and potentially from areas that have never been seriously photographed before. The coast of Alaska is my favorite section. Huge glaciers meet the ocean and they are shrouded by coastal mountains…now add in lush alpine meadows with waterfalls and flowers, and WOW!
New Zealand is another place with great diversity in landscapes. The north and south island are chock-full of some of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet. Fjordland National Park houses the iconic Milford and Doubtful sounds, as well as many craggy mountains. But, the waterfalls are on another level. I have numerous photographer friends who visit the area frequently and it seems like water is coming out of every mountainside. You can continue up the coast to Mount Aspiring National Park and Mount Cook National Park. Many of you might also recognize some Lord of the Rings scenes if you do the Tongariro Crossing on the north island, which is another fantastic spot for landscape photography.
The Himalaya are the tallest mountains on Earth. They not only include Mount Everest but also encompass over 50 mountains above 23,600 feet. They are big. Everest Base Camp is a popular trek that allows you to see some of the stunners in the range (Ama Dablam, Mount Everest, Lhotse, Cholatse, and more). There are many other areas that you can visit in Nepal and Tibet that are just as impressive too. The nearby Karakoram Range of Pakistan (K2) will also blow you away but is more difficult to access. I recently did Everest Base Camp and it is an amazing area. The sheer size of those peaks will take your breath away.
The Pacific Northwest
Another slice of the United States absolutely deserves to be on this list along with the American Southwest, and that is the Pacific Northwest. Not many places in the world offer as much diversity as the Pacific Northwest. It has one of the highest densities of waterfalls in the world, glaciated mountain ranges, volcanoes, temperate rainforests, rugged coastlines, and even desert landscapes too. That means you could shoot a mountain sunrise and be on the coast for sunset in just a few hours. The diversity is also joined by insane beauty. It is one of the most scenic areas anywhere, in my opinion.
The Hawaiian Islands are a tropical paradise filled with some of the best tropical landscapes anywhere. Each island boasts something special, but the two standouts are the Big Island and Kauai. Although dormant now, Kilauea’s ongoing eruption the past 40 or so years has made the Big Island a top destination to view an active, erupting volcano. Mauna Loa is under surveillance right now for an eruption. If eruptions do start again, GO TO THE BIG ISLAND. Lava flowing into the ocean is a truly unique experience. Now onto Kauai, Kauai has the Na Pali Coast. An absolutely insane stretch of cost with rugged jungle mountains. The tropical weather graces the island with a healthy dose of rainbows, which are obviously incredible for photography. Maui and Oahu are fantastic as well.
Matt Meisenheimer is a photographer based in Wisconsin. His artistry revolves around finding unique compositions and exploring locations that few have seen. He strives to capture those brief moments of dramatic light and weather, which make our grand landscapes so special. Matt loves the process of photography – from planning trips and scouting locations, taking the shot in-field, to post-processing the final image. Matt is an active adventurer and wildlife enthusiast as well. He graduated with a degree in wildlife ecology and worked in Denali National Park and Mount Rainier National Park as a biologist. He also spent 6 months working in the deserts of Namibia before finding his path in photography. Matt’s passion for the wilderness has taken him to many beautiful places around the world. As a former university teaching assistant, Matt is passionate about instruction. It is his goal to give his students the technical and creative knowledge they need to achieve their own photographic vision. He truly enjoys working with photographers on a personal level and helping them reach their goals. You can see Matt’s work and portfolio on his webpage at www.meisphotography.com