Our list of national parks rounds up 50 of the most amazing locations to take pictures around the world. Starting off in the UK (where we live), we’ll then reveal our top US national parks for photographers, moving on to Europe and national parks in other regions of the globe.
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Best National Parks for photographers in the UK
The Brecon Beacons is a mountain range in South Wales, 520 square miles (1,345km2) of which is designated as a National Park that includes Pen y Fan, the tallest mountain in southern Britain. The Beacons are reportedly named after the ancient practice of lighting signal fires (beacons) on the mountaintops to warn of attacks by invaders.
What to photograph: The park’s mountains and moorlands are spectacular enough, but the Beacons are particularly noted for dozens of picturesque cascading waterfalls. The park also has its fair share of standing stones and castles, as well as lost-in-time villages. It’s also a great spot for astrophotography, being designated an International Dark Sky Reserve.
The Broads National Park spans the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. It’s Britain’s largest protected wetland, and is home to some of the rarest plants and animals in the UK. It’s also the UK’s third-largest inland waterway, with 120 miles of navigable waterways on seven main rivers and 63 broads – the remnants of medieval peat excavations.
What to photograph: The flat landscape makes the Broads a windy place, and the countryside is dotted with windmills sitting picturesquely at the water’s edge. Yachts and cabin cruisers add to the bucolic feel, and with the park being a protected wetland there’s wealth of wildlife, especially birdlife, to photograph.
A beautiful expanse of moorland in Devon, Dartmoor sits on the largest area of granite in Britain. It serves as a catchment area for many of the county’s rivers, which have helped shape the undulating landscape. Dartmoor contains the largest concentration of Bronze Age remains in the UK, and there are many standing stones and other ancient monuments.
What to photograph: The landscape is dotted with spectacular tors – rocky granite outcrops that tower above the surrounding landscape. As well as making superb subjects in themselves, they make a great vantage point to shoot the surrounding countryside. Equally as famous as the tors are Dartmoor’s ponies, and these inquisitive animals will often pose happily for you.
Britain’s biggest national park at 1,748 square miles (4,528km2) – that’s twice the size of the Lake District – is also the country’s highest and most massive mountain range; four of the Scotland’s five highest mountains lie within the park, and there are an incredible 55 summits over 900m high. In all, the boundaries account for six per cent of Scotland.
What to photograph: The rugged mountainous landscape is crisscrossed with brilliantly clear rivers, and pristine lochs nestle between the peaks. Vast forests cover the lower slopes, while the peaks have been dramatically sculpted by ice-age glaciers. And if wildlife is more your thing, the park is home to 25 per cent of Britain’s threatened species. You’ll find red squirrels, reindeer, ospreys, snowy owls, red grouse and eagles, and – if you’re really lucky – wildcats in the woods…
The Lake District, commonly referred to simply as The Lakes, is a mountainous region in the county of Cumbria, in the north-west of England. All the land in England higher than three thousand feet above sea level lies within the national park, including Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England. It also contains the deepest and longest lakes in England, Wastwater and Windermere respectively.
What to photograph: The scenery of The Lakes is nothing short of spectacular, particularly in autumn, with the golden hues of the deciduous forests are reflected perfectly in the mirror-like lakes. And with 16 pretty lakes to choose from, there’s no shortage of scenic spots.
Loch Lomond and The Trossachs
This park in the west of Scotland is centred on Loch Lomond, the largest body of fresh water in mainland Britain, and includes several ranges of surrounding hills, the Trossachs being the most famous. The area includes 21 ‘Munros’ (peaks reaching over 3,000ft) and 19 ‘Corbetts’ (peaks over 2,500ft), plus two forest parks, Queen Elizabeth and Argyll.
What to photograph: There are plentiful smaller lochs, in addition to the main attraction of Lomond; an attractive steamship ploughs the waters of Loch Katrine. Photogenic peaks include the mountains of Ben Lomond, and The Cobbler in the Arrochar Alps. Deer, red squirrel, otter and osprey are among the wildlife found in the park.
Exmoor comprises of an area of hilly open moorland that straddles west Somerset and north Devon, and takes its name from the River Exe, the source of which is in the centre of the park. Exmoor takes in 34 miles of coastline, which include the highest sea cliffs in England.
What to photograph: The rocky headlands, towering cliffs, pretty coastal villages and dramatic scenery where the moor meets the shore make the Exmoor coast a photographer’s dream. Inland there are steep ravines, thundering waterfalls and raging rivers.
Britain’s smallest national park is squeezed between the busy urban conurbations of Southampton and Bournemouth in Hampshire, on England’s south coast, but it includes one of the largest remaining tracts of unenclosed pastureland, heathland and forest in the country.
What to photograph: The forests are truly magical on a misty morning, and the area is home to abundant wildlife, including deer and semi-wild ponies. The New Forest extends right to the sea, offering views of the Isle of Wight, lighthouses and the impressive Hurst castle at Keyhaven.
North York Moors
One of the largest expanses of heather moorland in the United Kingdom, the North York Moors National Park covers a sizable 554 square miles (1,436km2) of the county of Yorkshire, stretching from the Cleveland hills to the north and west to the towering North Sea cliffs to the east.
What to photograph: The North Yorkshire Moors Railway runs for 18 miles through the park, which makes for a picturesque scene as the restored steam trains cut through the colourful countryside. The area also gets much more snow on average than other parts of the country, due to the north-easterly winds off the North Sea, making for wonderful winter landscapes.
Located on the most westerly tip of Wales, this is the only national park in the UK to have been designated primarily for its spectacular coastline, thanks to its varied landscape of rugged cliffs, natural sea arches and rock stacks, sea caves, sandy beaches, wooded estuaries and islands. Despite this, not all the park is coastal, and it includes inland areas of wild hills, forests and marshes. The Pembrokeshire Coast Path, a 186-mile national trail, lies almost entirely within the park.
What to photograph: As well as offering arguably the most beautiful coastal scenery in the UK, the area boasts a variety of man-made photogenic objects, including well-preserved castles, chapels carved right into the cliff face, and the largest and best-preserved neolithic dolmen (burial chamber) in Wales at Pentre Ifan. There are, of course, plenty of seabirds to photograph, including the iconic puffins.
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On the border with Scotland and following the length of Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland is the least populated of all the national parks. The county itself has been named the most tranquil place in England by the Campaign to Protect Rural England – although you may want to steer clear of the Otterburn Training Area, which is owned by the Ministry of Defence and is the UK’s largest firing range.
What to photograph: In addition to Hadrian’s wall the landscape is dotted with the ruins of castles, as well as bastles – fortified farmhouses that are unique to the region. There are picturesque market towns and villages, and the wildlife includes the park’s mascot, the curlew, easily identified by its distinctive curved bill.
As well as being the largest National Park in Wales at 824 square miles (2,140km2), Snowdonia boasts the highest mountain in England and Wales, Mount Snowdon, and the largest natural lake in Wales. It also includes a 37-mile stretch of the spectacular Cardigan Bay coastline.
What to photograph: Views both of and from Mount Snowdon can be spectacular, but there are plenty of other imposing peaks in the four ranges that sit within Snowdonia’s boundaries. The park is dotted with picturesque lost-in-time villages, including Betws y Coed and Beddgelert, while on the coast is the curious ‘village’ of Portmeirion, modelled on an Italian village by an eccentric architect; many of its ‘buildings’ are, in fact, merely facades.
Britain’s oldest national park, the Peak District was established in April 1951 – a whisker ahead of the Lake District and Dartmoor, which followed later that year. It attracts more than 10 million visitors a year, thanks largely to its proximity to a number of major cities in northern England, making it one of Britain’s busiest national parks. It’s conventionally divided into the northern Dark Peak, where most of the moorland is found, and the southern White Peak, where the geology is mainly limestone-based.
What to photograph: With its rolling hills and rocky outcrops, and steep valleys with burbling streams, waterfalls and lakes, the Peak District offers no end of stunning photo opportunities. Not all the features are natural; the area was at the heart of the industrial revolution, and discarded millstones make attractive man-made centrepieces for your shots.
Also known simply as The Dales, this area takes its name from the Nordic word for valley, and the park comprises a collection of river valleys carved into the limestone bedrock by glacial movement during the ice age, and the hills between them. The valleys have the suffix ‘dale’ – Wensleydale, Airedale, Wharfdale and so on. The park is crisscrossed by several long-distance walking routes, including the Pennine Way and the Dales Way.
What to photograph: The rolling hills and steep valleys make for wonderfully photogenic subjects in their own right, with dry-stone walls penning in grazing livestock, and pretty villages of stone-built cottages. The area is famed for its limestone pavements – expanses largely flat, textured exposed rock, such as at Malham Cove. And cave photographers will be in their element, as there are dozens of accessible subterranean systems.
Britain’s newest national park, South Downs was established in 2011 and occupies a slither of Hampshire and Sussex that stretches for 87 miles (140km), and includes the cathedral city of Winchester. Much of the park is chalky downland, and the South Downs Way spans its entire length.
What to photograph: Chalk cliffs are exposed where the South Downs meets the sea, and there are great photo opportunities at the iconic Seven Sisters and Beachy Head. Devil’s Dyke is a legendary beauty spot, while Black Down is the highest point in the park, offering stunning views.
PAGE 1: Best National Parks for photographers in the UK
PAGE 2: Best National Parks for photographers in the United States
PAGE 3: Best National Parks for photographers in Europe
PAGE 4: Best National Parks for photographers around the world
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