Colorado the Centennial State
Selecting a listing of the best locations for landscape photography in Colorado is anything but an easy task. There are so many opportunities. Additionally, part of the real opportunities available in any location is the willingness of the photographer to explore. You can drive to most iconic scenics, but you must hike to those landscapes which are not so common.
This list offers both opportunities, and it’s just a matter of how far you wish to explore.
Colorado encompasses most of the southern Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains. It is the 8th largest geographically and 21st most populous U.S. state. Known as the Centennial state, because it became a state in 1876 or 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Colorado has vast landscape assets.
When it comes to landscape photography in the United States, Colorado stands out among its desert-laden neighbors. With the lush and varying Rocky Mountains running straight through the state, there is enough landscape diversity to please even the pickiest photographer.
Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are some of the most amazing locations for landscape photography in Colorado.
1. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
The Dunes National Park offers up an intriguing composition for landscape photographers. Located at the central southern area of Colorado, this is the place where desert from the south in New Mexico meets the mountain ranges spilling across the state to the north. As such, it creates a unique vista simply primed for landscape photography. Up close, billowy sand dunes hover over cool wetlands while snow-capped mountains tower in the background. The whole scene seems to be incongruous at first glance, but, framed just right, and you have an interesting conversation piece.
Consider camping at the national park in order to take full advantage of the just-right light at sunrise and sunset and still be able to slide down the dunes for some afternoon adventure.
2. Pikes Peak
Attracting more than half a million visitors each year, Pikes Peak is North America’s most visited peak. Exceeding 14 thousand feet above sea level and eight thousand above the city of Colorado Springs, the peak offers unparalleled views of the surrounding areas. The skies seem to be always an unfading blue that starkly contrasts the bare red rocks in the foreground of the mountains.
The peak is accessible in several ways, depending on your level of desired physical activity, which also may depend on how much gear you are carrying to capture the perfect shot. Hiking will offer you the most opportunities to catch the perfect photo, as you’ll have all day and several vantage points from which to shoot. You won’t be burdened by a group or a vehicle, so trekking off the marked path short ways could offer some unexpected yet gorgeous views. Riding a bike is most likely unfeasible if you’re carrying heavy or expensive gear, so the most practical option would simply be to drive. The road is paved and in good condition and you’ll be able to reach the top in no time, which means more light for better shooting of the surrounding landscape.
3. Hanging Lake
Departing from the craggy orange rocks of the ranges, Hanging Lake provides an oasis in the northwest area of Colorado. Featuring sparkling clear-blue waters, rising cliffs, and pointed evergreens, the lake provides both a relaxing environment to take a silent swim in nature and a veritable flurry of life to photography.
Here, you’ll want to focus on color integrity in your shots. You’ll be missing out if you aren’t able to get the colors as close to how the human eye sees them as possible. The bright teal of the water blends wonderfully with the green trees surrounding the pouring waterfall that feeds the lake. The scene can appear otherworldly in the most beautiful way possible.
4. Garden of the Gods
Upon seeing this location in person, there will be no doubt as to why it was named the Garden of the Gods. There is something beautifully strange about the way the red rocks are stacked and positioned as if a godlike giant simply picked them up and placed them wherever he wanted. Rising in jagged shards over a lush green forest below, these red rocks provide the perfect landscape scene.
To take full advantage of this location, don’t be shy to utilize all of the amenities the park offers, including climbing, jeep tours, bike riding, and a variety of monthly presentations and activities. These adventures will take you beyond the marked path and into new areas for unique shots that you won’t find on everybody’s Instagram. Instead, you’ll be treated to a real photographic experience with a variety of viewpoints.
5. Kebler Pass
A high mountainous pass at over ten thousand feet elevation above sea level, Kebler pass links highway 133 and Crested Butte. While generally a safe road, it is often closed during winter months as it can become quite treacherous after a heavy snow, which occurs regularly in the mountains of Colorado.
The best time of year to shoot the pass is during the fall, around late September or early October. AT this time of year photographers will beat the dangerous snowfall and will still be able to experience the vibrant autumn colors as trees change from green to yellows and oranges. Aspens, which are especially plentiful in this area, offer an absolutely astounding color that you’ll want to make sure your camera can pick up as naturally as possible.
The drive itself takes about two hours to cross the 30-mile long pass. There is not often very much vehicle traffic, so regular stops can be made easily to capture any view that stands out to you. Do take care to return to town at a reasonable hour to avoid any darkness-related mishaps.
6. Wheeler Geologic Area
Part of the La Garita Wilderness, the Wheeler Geologic Area certainly holds its own in terms of natural locations for landscape photography. Located near an old mining town, Wheeler can be entered either by a 7-mile hike or a 14-mile drive, but it is warned that driving is probably the riskiest option of the two. Try to get an early start on the day to take advantage of the sunrise light spilling over the cliffs above. You may also plan to camp there in order to really make use of the morning and evening light as much as possible.
This area is a unique choice for landscape photography because of its rare coloring and history. Indeed, the sandy brown rocks are tucked away among the otherwise verdant and flourishing mountains of Colorado. The rock is actually compressed ash from an ancient supervolcano that erupted nearly 28 million years ago. Since then, erosion has whittled away much of the rock to leave behind almost architectural structures. The natural lines and creases of the rock are a landscape photographer’s dream, providing natural texture and intrigue into an otherwise mostly monochrome layout.
7. Handies Peak
The lucky thing about many of the peaks in Colorado is that they make beautiful landscape photography subjects as well as vantage points. Handies Peak is certainly no different. AS a subject, the peak rises gently from the land below at such a slow pace that it seems barely a hill. This graceful escalation belies its true height as it actually towers above at over 14000 feet above sea level. As one of the members of the prestigious “fourteeners” club (peaks that summit over 14000 feet), this peak is not to be missed. The peak takes on sunlight especially well, glowing a rich burned yellow as it touches the deep blue sky.
Furthermore, Handies Peak also provides an amazing location from which to take photos of the surrounding areas. From such a high summit, there is virtually no need for much moving around to find the perfect landscape location. Any direction, depending on the time of day and year, should offer a lovely landscape scene, whether you want woody forests, clear fields, or even more towering mountains.
8. Barr Lake State Park
A visit to Barr Lake State Park will provide a landscape photographer with not one, but three mind-blowing locations for shooting. The open water of the lake is usually quite still, which, of course, means killer reflections and a smooth visual transition from lake to sky. Just a few steps off the water is the Barr Lake Boardwalk, which offers a level walking path where you won’t be worried about tripping over rocks or roots as you shoot the green woodland area at the edge of the water. Gazebos and benches make excellent subjects against the natural backdrop of the grasslands in the distance. This peaceful walk can be often interrupted by passing wildlife, so don’t be shy to capture birds in flight or rest or splashing carp in the lake below.
9. Mesa Verde National Park
For landscape photographers with an interest in history, Mesa Verde National Park presents an unmatched location for incredible photographs. The park features a series of ancient Native American dwellings. The dwellings, now ruins, are tucked neatly into the sides of cliffs, caves, and mountain faces. The phenomenal sight of the ruins blending into the rock behind reveals an attempt at camouflage so convincing, it’s as if the windowed homes grew out of the mountain itself.
With several individual sites to check out within the park, there will certainly be no shortage of landscape photography opportunities. Seek out the seep spring behind the Long House and capture the water source that provided drinking water to the ancient village.
10. Rocky Mountain National Park
A list of locations for landscape photography in Colorado would not be complete without the Rocky Mountain National Park. Perhaps the most recognizable and popular area of Colorado, especially for tourists. With several lakes, ponds, mountains, forests, and more, this wide area is a photographer’s dream. There is so much to capture that a short camping trip to the park will be packed from sun up to sun down with incredible views and moments to capture. Take some time to visit the Sky Pond and Lake of Glass known for their verdant waters that stand out against the deep gray of the rocks surrounding the area.
Undoubtedly, Colorado is one of the most striking states in the US for landscape photography. With a little bit of everything from rivers and lakes to grasslands to mountains, Colorado is sure not to disappoint.
Check out our posts on “best landscape locations in Utah, and Lake Tahoe. Also, review our post on what landscape lens some of the top landscape photographers recommend.