10 Epic Photo Locations in the Southwest
Updated: Sep 15, 2021
If you love the outdoors and capturing its beauty, then a road trip through the American Southwest is something you’ll want to experience at least once in your life. Between the dramatic vistas, vibrant red landscape, and otherworldly rock formations; there's no shortage of adventure and epic photo opportunities. It also happens to be home to some of the country's most beautiful national and state parks.
Listed below are 10 epic photo locations in the American Southwest. Technically the Southwest Region is made up of 8 states in the U.S. This article will cover locations in Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.
I should mention that getting to some of these locations might be a bit of a challenge if you don’t like hiking or you're not comfortable with heights. Challenging or not, reaching these destinations will definitely be a rewarding experience and an adventure you won't forget.
1. Mouse's Tank Road, Valley of Fire State Park Nevada
Valley of Fire State Park is about an hour's drive from Downtown Las Vegas. It's located in the Mojave Desert and features bright red sandstone formations and unique geological features that date back millions of years.
The park as a whole is pretty much one photo opportunity after another. However, the top of Mouse’s Tank Road in Valley of Fire is one of the most scenic viewpoints in the Southwest.
Mouse's Tank Road isn’t marked as an attraction on the map; it's a scenic road leading to the main attractions in the park. To reach the viewpoint pull over at Rainbow Vista and face towards the Visitors Center. For an even better view of Mouse's Tank, you can easily climb up the rocks along the road.
Read more about things to do in Valley of Fire State Park here.
2. Angels Landing, Zion National Park Utah
It seems a little crazy to plan a road trip around the Southwest and not include Zion National Park. With its magnificent views and famous trails, this park is a hiker's and photographer's dream. One of the most popular hikes in Zion National Park is Angels Landing.
Not only is Angels Landing one of the most incredible viewpoints in the Southwest, but the final climb to the top is also one giant adrenaline rush. With sheer 1,000 foot drop-offs on both sides, extremely narrow sections of the trail, and bolted chains for added support, the last leg of the hike is quite an adventure... or as some might put it: scary as friggin hell!!.
The last portion of the Angels Landing trail is not for everyone. It's been listed as one of the most dangerous hikes in the US and as one of the scariest hikes in the world. I will admit that it wasn't until my 3rd time doing this hike that I was able to muster up the courage to complete the last section of the hike (yes it was totally worth it and I'm so glad to finally did it!). If you have a fear of heights or simply don't want to do this part of the hike, you can still enjoy stunning views from Scouts Lookout.
More photos of the Angels Landing Trail:
Sunset is always a favored time to shoot but, photographing the top of Angels Landing at sunset can be risky because you will be heading back down the dangerous part of the trail in the dark.
Read more about Angels Landing here.
3. Cathedral Rock Trail, Sedona Arizona
Sedona has been listed in numerous publications as one of the Most Beautiful Places in America. Known for its brilliant orange and red sandstone formations and famous geological landmarks, Sedona is home to some of the most spectacular hiking trails in the Southwest.
One of the best hikes in Sedona with an epic photo opportunity at the top is Cathedral Rock. There's even a cool "End of Trail" sign that's fun to take photos with once you reach the top. If you're feeling extra adventurous, you can walk out onto the rocky ledge and test your fear of heights.
Cathedral Rock also happens to be one of the locations of Sedona's famous energy vortexes. I tried to hone in on the energy (this vortex is supposed to make you feel inspired and serene) but I don't recall feeling anything special. But who knows maybe you will!
Sunrise and Sunset are great times to shoot this location.
Read more about the Cathedral Rock trail here.
4. Horseshoe Bend, Page Arizona
Horseshoe Bend in Page Arizona is an iconic natural landmark and one of the most visited in the Southwest. It features a magnificent view of the Colorado River meandering around a unique horseshoe-shaped bend 1,000 feet below. Horseshoe Bend is accessed via a very short and easy hike right off the main road.
One interesting thing that I noticed about Horseshoe Bend when visiting in 2016, was that there were no rails, no chains, no rangers, no safety precautions whatsoever. One could literally walk right up to the edge anywhere along the rim and dangle their feet over the 1,000-foot drop. It was almost shocking, but it made for a pretty fun and adventurous experience.
As of 2018, a safety rail has been built at Horseshoe Bend after several tourists fell to their deaths. The rail takes up a very small section of the overlook, so one can still walk to the very edge and get those unobstructed (and risky) shots.
Read more about visiting Horseshoe Bend here.
5. Double Arch, Arches National Park Moab Utah
Arches National Park in Moab Utah is known for its vivid red landscape, otherworldly rock formations, and of course its famous arches. There are over 2,000 natural sandstone arches in the park.
One of the most stunning and photogenic arches in the park is Double Arch (not to be confused with Double O Arch). Out of all the arches I saw in the park, this one was my favorite. It's very fun to shoot, just make sure you have a wide-angle lens if you want to capture the whole arch. I found that the best angle was from the bottom of the arch looking directly up, almost as if you're lying on your back. It might look easy, but climbing up the arch (which is permitted) is a little treacherous, so use caution.
There is no hike to get to this arch. Just park in the lot and walk right up to the arch!
Sunrise and sunset are great times to shoot Double Arch. If you're into astrophotography, I've seen some pretty amazing shots of the night sky framed through this arch.
6. The Narrows, Zion National Park Utah
The Narrows is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon and one of the most popular hikes in Zion National Park. The hike involves wading through ankle to waist-deep water the entire time while making your way through the 2,000-foot high slot canyon. The walls become more and more narrow the further you go, which makes for an exciting and visually awesome experience.
One of the most photogenic sections of the narrows is known as “Wall Street", a very narrow section of the slot canyon where the water spans wall to wall. To reach Wall Street it's about a 2-mile hike from the start of the canyon. Of course, you don't have to hike that far to experience the beauty of the Narrows.
The hike is relatively easy however flash flooding can be a risk when hiking The Narrows, particularly in the spring. Always check the current conditions before attempting this hike. There are signs posted daily throughout the park that show the risk level of flash flooding.
Joe Braun provides a very informative description of the Narrows hike on his blog. Check it out here.
7. Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park Moab Utah
Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park is one of the most picturesque arches in the Southwest. The arch sits on the edge of a 1,500-foot cliff and provides a spectacular keyhole view of pinnacles, spires, mesas, canyons, and the La Sal Mountains in the distance.
The trail to Mesa Arch is short and easy with a length of only 0.6 miles round trip. Sunrise is the most popular time to shoot the arch particularly amongst photographers who are lined up at the crack of dawn to get their shot. During this time, rays of sunlight hit the underside of the arch and create a brilliant reddish-orange color. During late fall and winter, the La Sal Mountains are often snow-capped, adding to the beauty of one of the most iconic locations in the Southwest.
Read more about photographing the Mesa Arch here.
8. The Fire Wave, Valley of Fire State Park Nevada
The Fire Wave in Valley of Fire State Park is one of those places where you feel like you are transported back in time..or on another planet altogether. It features red and white sandstone swirls and sediment that dates back millions of years. It's truly one of the most geologically unique and awe-inspiring locations in the Southwest.
The Fire Wave is often compared to “The Wave” in Kanab Utah. The difference being the Fire Wave is much more accessible as the hike is much shorter ( a little over a mile ) and you don’t need a permit to visit.
Sunrise and sunset are great times to shoot the Fire Wave. You can get some pretty otherworldly astrophotography shots here as well.
Read more about the Fire Wave here.
9. Delicate Arch, Arches National Park Moab Utah
Delicate Arch in Moab is the most famous arch in Arches National Park. It’s also the most crowded but that shouldn’t deter anyone from visiting the iconic sandstone arch. Unlike some of the other arches in the park, the hike to Delicate Arch is somewhat long (about an hour), and the high altitude and elevation gain can make it slightly challenging. When you arrive at the arch expect a long line of people waiting their turn to be photographed in the middle of the arch (and yes I was one of them!).
I visited this arch at the end of November and it was a beautiful time as the La Sal Mountains were snow-capped. Despite the crowds, I found it relatively easy to get capture the arch without tourists in my shot.
Sunset is the best time to shoot Delicate Arch.
Jeff Stamer gives some great tips for photographing Delicate Arch on his blog. Check it out here.
10. Antelope Canyon, Page Arizona
Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon located on Navajo land in Page Arizona. It’s extremely popular amongst tourists and photographers and is only accessible via a guided tour.
It’s a well-known fact that Antelope canyon is more commercialized than Disney World. The tour companies pack 100's of tourists at a time into the canyon and don't allow anyone to separate from the group.
I visited Antelope Canyon several years ago and was shocked by the size of the line of people waiting to get into the canyon. It looked about a mile long. Rather than wait in the ridiculous line, we decided to book the first tour for the following morning. This proved to be a great idea as we were the first group into the canyon and didn't have to wait on line.
Crowds aside, Antelope Canyon is every bit as stunning as the pictures; and if you can figure out a way around the crowds it's absolutely worth a visit.
Read more about Antelope Canyon here.
There you have it. 10 incredible locations in the Southwest. I hope that you enjoyed this list. Are you planning a Southwest road trip? If you have any questions or know of some other great places to visit in the American Southwest comment below!
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