Posted by: kerryl29 | August 13, 2018

Favorite Trails for Photography Part III

In case you missed the first two installments, they can be found at these links:

Favorite Trails for Photography Part I

Favorite Trails for Photography Part II

Part I includes a brief description of the motivation for this series as well as a description of the criteria for inclusion.

On to Part III…

Hall of Mosses Trail, Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park, Washington

Hall of Mosses Trail, Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park, Washington

On the western part of the Olympic Peninsula, not far from the town of Forks, Washington, lies the Hoh Rainforest, one of the largest stands of temperate rainforest in North America.  The trees are a mix of coniferous and deciduous species, including some huge specimens of spruce and hemlock.  It’s called a rainforest for a reason; the area averages nearly 130 inches of precipitation a year, with approximately 2/3 of that amount falling between November and March.  (The months of June, July and August are the driest times, averaging 9-10 inches of rain over the three-month period per annum.)

Many, if not all, of the tree trunks and branches throughout the forest are coated with a type of hanging moss, which is what gives this particular trail its name.  The Hall of Mosses Trail is a loop of a bit less than a mile and is very easily traversed; the trail is broad in most places and there’s very little elevation gain.  But there’s almost endless subject mater for photography.  The challenge in this area is defining order out of chaos, as there are few places I’ve ever been that are more chaotic looking at first glance than the Hoh Rainforest.

Hall of Mosses Trail, Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park, Washington

But if you spend some time really looking, compositions will start to reveal themselves.  It may be helpful to hike this easy loop trail more than once.  I did it four times in the same day (twice in each direction) and every time I did so I discovered numerous compelling perspectives that I’d missed during previous sessions.

Regardless, the Hoh’s unique, haunting character is not to be missed.  I recall feeling as though an Ent would reveal itself to me at any given moment.

Tree Arch, Hall of Mosses Trail, Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park, Washington

Lakeshore-North Country Trail (Hurricane River to Au Sable Point), Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Au Sable Point at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

The Lakeshore-North Country Trail runs for miles along the southern shore of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  My focus is on a 1-1/2-mile segment that lies in the midst of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, east of the town of Munising.  The end of this hike leads to the lighthouse grounds at Au Sable Point, home of the Au Sable Light Station.  It’s a fine destination indeed, as the lighthouse itself is highly photogenic, be it from the beach just west of the tower or from up on the bluff where the lighthouse is surrounded by a series of handsome brick outbuildings.

But there’s more to the subjects along the trail than just the lighthouse.  The beach, from the hike’s beginning at the Hurricane River estuary all the way to Au Sable Point is well worth the time it takes to explore it.  The remains of three shipwrecks are visible–conditions permitting (basically, calm conditions on Superior)–at various spots along the way.  The estuary (and locations a bit upriver from the estuary itself) is worth some time…particularly if the conditions on Superior aren’t calm…and the thick forest that lies immediately to the south of the trail can yield some interesting intimate images.

Au Sable Point Light black & white, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

The trail itself–three miles round-trip–is extremely easy.  This is an old Coast Guard service road–now used by the National Park Service to supply the Lighthouse (which is used as a visitors center and open for touring during the warm weather months)–so it’s wide, graded and flat.  Hikes don’t get much easier than this.  There are numerous spots along the way that allow the hiker to descend to the beach–which you’ll need to do if you want to check out the shipwrecks.  In fact, if Superior isn’t churning, you can make the entire jaunt on the beach if you like.  The going will be slower this way but the immediate sights are arguably more compelling.

Even if you stay on the main trail all the way to Au Sable Point, a staircase down to the beach is accessible at that spot, and you should certainly take advantage of the opportunity.  In addition to interesting views of the lighthouse there are numerous colorful beach stones that are worth checking out.  (Word of warning:  if you visit this area in the late spring/summer or in the fall before the first frost, prepare to deal with bat-sized mosquitoes and black flies.)

Hurricane River Estuary, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Some links to posts covering this trail:

Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Autumn Overlook, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

This approximately 7-mile loop is among the most photography-rich trails I’ve ever hiked.  I spent a good ten hours on it in one day in the fall of 2017.  The variety here is remarkable.  If you want broad vistas, you’ve got ’em.  Forest or meadow intimates?  Check.  Close-ups of bark, leaves, ferns, lichen, the forest floor more broadly?  It’s covered.  If you run out of compelling subjects on the Dark Canyon Loop Trail, you’re not looking very hard.

The trailhead is located near the high point of Kebler Pass in the Gunnison National Forest, along Gunnison County Road 12 west of Crested Butte.  The loop trail consists of segments of other trails so it’s well worth purchasing a forest service trail map so that you know where you’re going.  And, note that there’s plenty of elevation change throughout the hike–lots of up and down, though none of it is all that steep (though it may seem that way by the time you’re on the back end).  I hiked the loop in a clockwise direction but you can do it either way.  Do note that the trail can get quite muddy in spots if there’s been any recent precipitation.

Aspen Trunks, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

In some respects, this hike reminds me of the Opabin Circuit Trail (featured in Part I of this series); there’s a lot of effort involved but the essentially endless gob-smacking scenery makes it undeniably worth it.  And the variety of options makes it likely that you’ll want a variety of focal lengths with you.  On both trails, I used every lens in my bag…and might well have used my macro lens, had I brought it with me.  But the relative strain of the hike itself should make one pause about how much to weigh yourself down.  For many, if not most, photographers, a single lens in the 24-105 or 24-120 range will cover a clear majority of your desires.

Marcellina Mountain, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Some links to posts covering this trail:

Basin-Cascades Trail, Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Basin-Cascades Trail, Franconia State Park, New Hampshire

The trail is roughly a 2 1/2 mile out-and-back (five miles total) excursion, but the best opportunities for waterfalls and rapids on Cascade Brook lie in the first 1.2 miles or so, making it about a 2 1/2 mile round trip if you hike as far as Rocky Glen Falls.  The first half mile of the trail–which takes you as far from the trail head as The Basin–is easy.  From that point on it gets significantly more difficult, less because of elevation change (it’s about 500 feet over more than a mile), and more because of the frequency with which protruding rocks and tree roots on the trail become an issue.  There’s also a stream crossing that must be made about halfway from the trailhead to Rocky Glen Falls.  How difficult that will be depends a great deal on the water flow of Cascade Brook; it wasn’t a particularly difficult rock hopping exercise when I was there in early October, 2016.

The Basin, Basin-Cascades Trail, Franconia State Park, New Hampshire

Including The Basin, there are three named waterfalls along this trail and countless unnamed, but wonderful, cascades.  In short, there are many, many good photo opportunities.  It’s best to visit on a cloudy day to take advantage of the even light.

I wouldn’t describe this trail as a great fall color location, due to the high volume of coniferous growth in the forest bordering Cascade Brook, but the creek/waterfall opportunities are terrific on their own and I would guess that in the mid-spring (i.e. May), when the water flow is at its height, the brook may well be at its best.  Ordinarily I’d recommend wading footwear, given the stream crossing, but given the nature of the trail itself, good hiking footwear is a must.

Rocky Glen Falls, Basin-Cascades Trail, Franconia State Park, New Hampshire

Some links to posts covering this trail:

Banff Airstrip Meadow, Banff National Park, Alberta

Airstrip Meadow, Banff National Park, Alberta

An informal–but visible–trail meanders for several miles from its head near the Banff airstrip through a series of meadows and terminates near a pumping station that serves the town of Banff.  Along the way the hiker is treated to an enchanting landscape filled with clumps of aspens and occasional conifers.  One of the best aspects of this trail is that, despite it’s proximity to the hustle and bustle of Banff, it’s virtually unknown.  I spent several hours in this area one day without encountering a single person.  I love these meadows filled with aspen groves, so I can’t get enough of places like this.

Airstrip Meadow, Banff National Park, Alberta

The trail itself couldn’t be simpler.  There’s no elevation gain to speak of and there are virtually no impediments to the hiker.  There are ample opportunities for grand landscape imagery at this location and plenty of different perspectives are simply waiting to be discovered.  This is an outstanding place to spend a morning or afternoon/evening.

Airstrip Meadow, Banff National Park, Alberta

Some links to posts covering this trail:

Blackbird Knob Trail, Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

Blackbird Knob Trail, Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

I hiked this as a slightly more than three-mile round trip, though the trail goes considerably farther than that–about five miles one-way, I believe.  The section of trail I hiked was in pretty good shape considering that it had been raining (and snowing) fairly steadily for days.  After a mile or so the trail crosses Alder Run which can usually be crossed without getting wet and 1.6 miles brings the hiker to Red Creek.  Crossing the creek often requires wading which was something I wasn’t prepared to do; this is why I made Red Creek my turn around spot.  I saw only two other people during my time on the trail (a weekday in early October in less than pristine weather).

Red Creek, Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

Dolly Sods is a unique environment and this trail provides access to many of the ecosystems that make it so.  You’ll see rock-filled meadows, forests, bogs and creeks.  (Continue beyond Red Creek all the way to Blackbird Knob and you’ll be treated to some remarkable vistas as well.)  With this kind of variety you can imagine how broad the photographic opportunities are.  The trailhead is only about two miles south of the Bear Rocks overlook on Fire Road 75.  (Warning:  the road, from either direction, up to Dolly Sods is–or was, on the multiple occasions I’ve been there–truly awful.  Vehicles without all-terrain tires are highly susceptible to flats.  Don’t ask me how I know this.)

Regardless, this is a beautiful area, and if you can catch it under the right conditions it’s a spectacular location for photography.  I’ve been up to Dolly Sods four different times and in good weather it was absolutely phenomenal.

Blackbird Knob Trail, Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

Pink Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Pink Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Pink Canyon is what amounts to an unofficial “trail” at Valley of Fire.  The “trailhead” is an unremarkable looking dry wash, but after rounding a bend or two you’ll find yourself at the mouth of a slot canyon of almost indescribable beauty.  This is one of the most promising areas for abstract and semi-abstract photography that I’ve ever seen anywhere.  The entire hike is no more than a half mile one-way and it’s quite easy.  The key, in my view, is catching the scene in even light.  Cloudy days are rare in southern Nevada, so photographing in Pink Canyon is best done at the very beginning or very end of the day.  Depending on the time of the year you probably have an hour or so after sunrise before the sun encroaches on wide shots.  With a diffuser and a bit of poking around, tight abstracts may be viable for longer stretches of time in targeted open shade.

Pink Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

While the broad outlines of this location are static over time, the specific elements change every time the canyon floods.  And, take warning–you don’t want to be anywhere near this location on the rare occasions when the floodwaters are surging.  I’ve been witness to a seemingly innocuous dry wash turn, in minutes, into a life-threatening raging torrent; it’s a truly frightening spectacle.  The vast majority of time, however, flooding isn’t a concern.  Valley of Fire is very hot (most of the time) and very dry (almost all of the time), so prepare accordingly.

This is a location to keep one’s eyes peeled for unusual, evocative elements and compositions.  I relied pretty much exclusively on focal lengths from extremely wide to short telephoto, but your mileage may vary.  Regardless of field of view, wherever one looks in Pink Canyon the pastel colored striations predominate; there are endless opportunities to render them.

Pink Canyon Abstract, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Some links to posts covering this trail:



  1. Hi, All the pictures are Fantastic !! I liked the ” Tree Arch ” WOW !!!

  2. Kerry, I am always struck by the beauty of your photos, but the Hall of Mosses trail spoke deeply to me. I love a natural arch, nature’s perfect design element and an archetypal shape that suggests an inner journey. I was intrigued by that description of your four trips through “ent world” on the trail and I started wondering if there is a place near your home that you photograph frequently? You pay such close attention in your travels to the details and the return trips at different times of days and different seasons, but is there a place nearby that you photograph every day or every week? I used to travel the world and photograph my way through it yet now I rarely leave my own garden, continuing to find more and more detail and nuance in it over the days and years. I wonder if you have this experience too – just curious and reflective on a rainy day 🙂

    • Great question, Lynn, regardless of the precipitation. The place I photograph most frequently is the Morton Arboretum, which is 15-20 minutes from my base in the Chicago area. It’s a tremendous oasis amidst the developmental sprawl of DuPage County, Illinois. But it’s not a daily or weekly…or even monthly, destination, I must confess. I would guess that I photograph there three or four times a year (though I also visit about that many times without photographing). It’s a good place to hone one’s eye for the intimate, I think, because–while the subject matter is inspiring–there are virtually no grand landscapes to be had. (For a glance at some of what the Arboretum has to offer, go here, and then select one of the three Arb-related thumbnails to enter the appropriate gallery.)

      But the answer to your question, I guess, is no…I don’t have a location that in any way resembles what your garden represents for you. And that’s my loss.

  3. Great photos, I really like them!

  4. Fantastic selection!

  5. I agree with you about the challenge in the Hoh being to make some kind of order out of all that chaotic visual information. What a variety of landscapes in this post! It’s a celebration. 🙂

    • Thanks very much!

  6. Reblogged this on brengunzzz and commented:
    Amazing Photos!!

  7. An Amazing Series of Photos! Brilliant!

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