101 national park tips and photo ops

101 national park tips and photo ops
Crowds of visitors on the wooden walkways at the Midway Geyser Basin walk through the steam clouds around the colorful Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
National park tips: To get into Alcatraz, do some work in advance

Once, Alcatraz was a hard (or impossible) place to get out of. Nowadays, getting in takes some work -- but it's worth it.

National park tips: At Joshua Tree, there's fun (and art) on the fringe

As if the landscape of Joshua Tree National Park weren't enough to look at, a group of artists has placed many works around the edges of the park.

National park photo ops: Even in epic landscapes, look for those people pictures

It's easy to get fixated on landscape images at the Grand Canyon, especially if you're there for sunrise. But most mornings, the site is ripe with pictures that lend a human element to nature.

National park photo ops: Cross your fingers and hope for a stormy sunrise at Death Valley

If you rise early on a winter morning at Death Valley, you stand a chance of catching sunrise with storm clouds, a rare treat.

National park photo ops: At Badwater, get low and shoot wide

To make your picture at the Death Valley low point pop, emphasize the texture of the salt flats and be alert for chances to include a hiker for scale.

National park photo ops: Go for the dramatic in those Death Valley dunes

Good color is half of the battle to win a great image from Death Valley's Mesquite Flat Dunes. The other half: Finding some shapes to sharpen the composition.

National park photo ops: How to frame Utah's Balanced Rock

In Utah's Arches National Park, Balanced Rock makes a fine starting point for photo compositions.

National park tips: Greet dawn on these dunes

There's no better spot for dawn-watching than Death Valley's Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Arrive in darkness.

National park tips: Your secret weapon when booking a spot in Yosemite

When the usual suspects are full in Yosemite Valley, the Redwood in Yosemite is a great lodging option -- a collection of rental cabins near the park's Wawona area.

National park tips: Here's where you should bed down in Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park's Old Faithful Inn, a prime piece of history, is worth booking well ahead.

National park tips: See the spooky Stanley Hotel that inspired Stephen King's 'The Shining'

The Stanley hotel neighbors Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park. About 40 years ago, it inspired Stephen King's "The Shining."

National park tips: The ugly, brown box with the sweet Teton view

The Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park isn't very pretty, but the views from within it -- they're spectacular.

National park tips: In Alaskan summer, they always leave the light on for you

The light lasts so long in summer in Alaska, there's time enough for many adventures in Katmai National Park and the state's many other wild areas.

National park tips: My two favorite places to see the Golden Gate Bridge

Want great photos of San Francisco's iconic span? Here are the spots that almost guarantee photos that dazzle.

National park tips: Disney Museum in San Francisco tells Walt's story

The Walt Disney Family Museum has taken up residence in old brick barracks in San Francisco's Presidio.

National park tips: Where to plan your next picnic in San Francisco

The Presidio, a big, scenic, increasingly popular portion of San Francisco, is worth exploring, and it's part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

National park tips: This rugged Death Valley road is a white-knuckle challenge for four-wheelers

Titus Canyon, squeeze between steep, dry desert mountains, is a remarkable road in Death Valley National Park, still drivable if you dare.

National park tips: Yep, you should see Rushmore. But about the sculptor...

Mt. Rushmore surely counts among the most amazing man-made artworks in North America. But the story of its sculptor isn't so well known -- and the KKK is involved.

National park tips: Here's where you can climb into someone's 13th-century home

Mesa Verde National Park has cliff dwellings that visitors can climb into and explore, with a ranger's guidance.

National park tips: Here's a Yosemite Valley spot for great reflections

After rain in the Yosemite area, see Mirror Lake for startling reflections of Mt. Watkins and the

National park photo ops: At Yellowstone's Old Faithful, it's all about timing — and patience

On the average, Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful blows every 90 minutes, shooting 4,000 to 8,000 gallons of water about 130 feet into the air.

National park photo ops: Here's the tree to frame Crater Lake

An old, weathered tree stands like a sentinel near Watchman Overlook high above Crater Lake, a collapsed volcano that’s the centerpiece of Crater Lake National

National park tips: Here's how to hike Half Dome in Yosemite

To hike Yosemite’s Half Dome, you need a permit and should start by dawn. It’s a 16-mile round trip, with 4,800 feet of elevation gain. Plan on 10 to 12 hours.

National park tips: Don't miss that other Grand Canyon. The one in Yellowstone.

There are easier viewpoints to reach in Yellowstone. But if your heart and legs are up to it,  take the trail of the Brink of the Lower Falls along the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.