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)

In honor of the 2016 National Park Service centennial, the Travel section compiled 101 park travel ideas and tips based on trips Christopher Reynolds has taken, along with photo-op advice from Times photographer Mark Boster.

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: On your Mount Rushmore trip, see Crazy Horse too

If you can get to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, you can get to the enormous Crazy Horse Memorial, too. It's 16 miles away, and much bigger.

National park tips: Just north of Glacier, there's another epic park

Just north of Montana's Glacier National Park lies another wonderland -- Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park, which includes the Prince of Wales Hotel.

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: Early light and a long lens are Grand Canyon must-haves

The Grand Canyon's South Rim is full of possibilities (and risk) when people start posing on clifftops in the morning light. Be safe out there.

National park photo ops: When the Grand Canyon is at its grandest

At the Grand Canyon's Mather Point, you'll need to show up before dawn -- and be ready for crowds -- to catch those sunrise moments.

National park photo ops: Get on top of those desert flowers in spring

When wildflowers bloom in Death Valley, get down close and low to emphasize their colors.

National park photo ops: The best way to catch desert stars

Death Valley is a great place for night-sky photography. Bring a tripod and think about fill flash.

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: In Death Valley, hit the dunes early

Death Valley National Park has rewards for photographers who reach the Mesquite Flat Dunes nice and early -- brilliant sunrise hues.

National park photo ops: Here's what to do with a canyon view

The key to great photo compositions in Canyonlands National Park is finding the right framing device.

National park photo ops: These Utah windows make nice frames

The Windows hiking trail in Utah's Arches National Park can pay off well, especially for photographers, especially in morning light.

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 photo ops: Wait for the second sunset at Arches in Utah

At Landscape Arch in Arches National Park, one of the best times to shoot with a tripod is the "second sunset."

National park photo ops: How to get the best shot of the most-photographed spot at Arches

Delicate Arch is the most popular picture spot at Utah's Arches National Park, but you can still make a fresh image there. Here's how to make those photo memories special.

National park tips: This may be the most fetching stretch of river in all Texas

Big Bend National Park is in the middle of nowhere -- west Texas on the Mexico border, to be exact -- and if you float a raft down the Rio Grande there, the rewards are many.

National park tips: These Colorado ladders and tunnel will challenge you

For a big thrill in Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park, head for Balcony House. It's got a staircase, ladder and narrow tunnel.

National park tips: the Colorado park where you can climb into history

Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park gives travelers a chance to climb into ancient cliff dwellings, including the 150-room Cliff Palace.

National park tips: At the Grand Canyon in winter, try these for traction

If you're hiking even a tiny bit of the Grand Canyon in winter, you need traction. Snow are ice are is common. Spend $20 on a pair of crampons.

National park tips: Is this the year you finally ride a Grand Canyon mule?

For a century, mules have been carrying tourists in the Grand Canyon. Is it time to saddle up?

National park tips: This fake tower's view is real

The Grand Canyon's Desert View Watchtower is a 20th-century fantasy of what a Native American tower might look like -- and once you've climbed it and seen the view, you'll be glad you did.

National park tips: See the Colorado River turn on itself like a coiling snake

Arizona's Horseshoe Bend is where the Colorado twists and turns and looks like a river ready to swallow itself. It's just waiting to confuse you from its Glen Canyon National Recreation Area setting.

National park tips: Where the song of Gram Parsons is still sung

Rock star Gram Parsons died of an overdose near Joshua Tree National Park more than 40 years ago, and the park's Cap Rock has become a sort of shrine, as has the Joshua Tree Inn.

National park tips: This desert is getting a lot of love

Joshua Tree National Park, land of tempting boulders and eerie cactuses, is attracting ever larger crowds.

National park tips: Death Valley's castle is closed, but the inn will soon be open longer

Scotty's Castle, long a highlight of Death Valley, is closed for flood-damage repairs, but elsewhere the valley is busy.

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: This California valley gets you lower than the Grand Canyon

Death Valley's Badwater is the lowest spot in North America. Get there at sunrise or sunset and take a walk.

National park tips: Ever heard of this river-side haven in Redwood country? Probably not

In redwood country near the Oregon state line, check out the Historic Requa Inn, which offers lodging and, in warmer months, farm-to-table dinners.

National park tips: There's no Ahwahnee in Yosemite. No Curry Village, either

Remember: It's time to accept the loss of those familiar Yosemite names. Think Majestic Yosemite Hotel and Half Dome Village.

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: Sleep here on the Grand Canyon's South Rim

Many visitors to the Grand Canyon's South Rim figure El Tovar, the fanciest lodging around, is the only place to stay. But it's not. Look at Bright Angel Lodge.

National park tips: Here's the coziest old lodge you've never heard of

You've never heard of Drakesbad, but it's a snug, inviting old lodge in northern California's Lassen Volcanic National Park.

National park tips: When visiting Glacier National Park, hang your hat here

In Glacier National Park, do you want the Many Glacier Lodge or Lake McDonald Lodge? The latter.

National park tips: Why you should stay at the lodge with spectacular crater views

Because Crater Lake is all about one view, and because the Crater Lake Lodge is the only lodging with that view, you should sleep there. But just one night.

National park photo ops: To catch these bears, join crowd, go long, hold still

To capture brown bear as the fished for salmon in Alaska's Katmai National Park, photographer Mark Boster is a 500mm lens on a monopod -- and he was far from alone.

National park photo ops: This trail takes you to bears, salmon and white water

The brown bears of Katmai National Park in Alaska like to gather along the Brooks River to fish for salmon. Lucky photographers perch on a platform to look down upon them.

National park photo ops: As Alaska sheep forage, shooter hedges bets

In Alaska's Denali National Park, photographer Mark Boster caught these sheep foraing -- and to be sure he had at least one solid shot, he took a bunch.

National park photo ops: Head for the very back to snap a photo of this Alaska train

The rail route runs along the mountains to take visitors to Denali National Park & Preserve.

National park photo ops: In case of emergency, break glass — or just take a picture

On this trip to Denali National Park, Mark Boster spotted a cool composition while relaxing in the back of a bus.

National park photo ops: Yes, you can catch Alaska critters through a tour bus window

Sometimes you have to make your pix of animals through a bus window, as Los Angeles Times photographer Mark Boster did in Denali National Park. It can be done, he says, and he tells you how.

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: Come here to watch bears fishing

Katmai National Park in Alaska, accessible only by boat and plane, is one of those rare places where you can see these beasts up close as they catch dinner from a river.

National park tips: Go ahead and step into this Hawaiian volcano

The Kilauea Iki Travel , on the Big island of Hawaii, leads you across the hardened lava floor of an old crater.

National park tips: This is the Maui sunrise you need to see

If you can get to the top of Maui's Haleakala in time, the sunrise can be breathtaking. Then follow that up with a bike ride down to the mountain to the water's edge.

National park tips: Loneliest beach in America's most remote park?

National Park of American Samoa, far beyond Hawaii in the Pacific, is our most remote national park, and Ofu is its most coveted beach.

National park tips: At this seaside lodge, driftwoood goes on for miles

Kalaloch Lodge, part of Olympic National Park, sits on a dritfwood-strewn, rain-pelted stretch of rugged Washington coast.

National park tips: Here's the site of the worst home-front disaster of WWII

Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial is the site of the worst home-front disaster of World War II, and fatal chapter in American race relations. It's 30 miles north of San Francisco.

National park tips: Drink in this San Francisco bar with a steampunk starship vibe

The Interval is a cool bar in San Francisco that's dedicated to the contemplation of time. It's in Fort Mason, part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

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: They're rustic, but these California islands have room for campers to relax

The five islands of  Channel Islands National Park offer a rustic novelty — offshore camping.

National park tips: Kayakers get thrills and spills in caves along this Channel Island

For my money, the wet edges of California's Channel Islands National Park are more interesting than their dry middles.

National park tips: How to cross the Continental Divide in high style

Trail Ridge Road, the main route in Rocky Mountain National Park, covers nearly 50 miles, cross the continental divide and shows off some of Colorado's best scenery.

National park tips: This patch of redwood country is prime driving

The Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway is a great drive, and it's only a small part of northern California's Redwood National and State Parks.

National park tips: Is there a greater road in Montana than this? Doubt it

Going-to-the-Sun Road is an engineering marvel that ties together Glacier National Park in Montana, delivering amazing mountain views.

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: Rocks mysteriously slide around Death Valley's Racetrack. That's one reason to go

The Ractrack is an eerie corner of Death Valley National Park, reachable only by a 27-mile drive beyond pavement's end.

National park tips: There's sweet music where the Blue Ridge Parkway meets Crooked Road

The National Park Service does a great job at the Blue Ridge Music Center in Galax., Virginia, and the nearby town of Floyd is another destination for fans of Appalachian traditional music.

National park tips: No billboards, no 18-wheelers on this great American road trip

The Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469-mile NPS-protected route through Virginia and North Carolina, is one of this country's greatest road trips.

National park tips: See the drama unfold at Ford's Theatre in D.C., where Lincoln was assassinated

Ford's Theater, where President Lincoln was shot in Washington, D.C., makes a fascinating family vist, with rangers telling the story of that tragic assassination night in 1865.

National park tips: Paul Revere had 16 kids. March on this Boston trail to see his home

Most of Boston National Historical Park follows the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile-long walkable route through downtown Boston, the North End and Charleston. You’ve

National park tips: Before heading to the Washington Monument, make sure the elevator is working

An elevator will speed you to the top of the Washington Monument, if it's working. Better check before showing up.

National park tips: How to get into the Statue of Liberty's crown

The State of Liberty, often closed over the years, is open and you can climb up to her crown, but not to the torch, which is off limits.

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: This New Mexico monument has the best guest register in the West

El Morro National Monument isn't widely known, but its well-carved walls amount to the greatest guest register in the West

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: Ride a tram to the top of St. Louis' 630-foot Gateway Arch

In St. Louis, the National Park Service is upgrading around the Gateway Arch, but some features won't reopen until 2017.

National park tips: These big Yosemite trees are off-limits until next year

If you're looking for big trees, be warned that Yosemite's Mariposa Grove will be closed until spring of 2017.

National park tips: In Yosemite, early birds get worms, views and sometimes vows

Get to Yosemite's Tunnel View early in the morning and you'll beat the crowds, catch better light and maybe see a wedding.

National park tips: They call it Death Valley and still, crowds come in summer. Beware.

Death Valley National Park gets beastly hot in summer , but thousands of tourists come anyway. You should stay away until it gets cooler.

National park tips: To reach this amazing island, come when it's hot

Late summer is the best time to hike down to water's edge at Crater Lake.

National park photo ops: No granite, no water, all Yosemite

Using a tripod and a 70-200mm lens from the Tunnel View overlook, you can isolate the clouds and make a great picture at Yosemite that doesn’t involve Half Dome, the waterfalls or a river.

National park photo ops: Long exposure yields stunning images of Yosemite's waterfalls and clouds

The full moon in Yosemite is a great time for photographers to play. This 30-second exposure shows how bright the moon can be, with every detail in the rocks and waterfalls.

National park photo ops: Moonbeams in Yosemite? Perfect timing!

At 2 a.m., most people in the Yosemite Valley are sleeping -- unless you are a photographer chasing a full moon. Then you're snapping like mad.

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: These dreamy Yosemite falls deserve a tripod

Lower Chilnualna Falls is in Yosemite National Park's Wawona area. Bring a tripod.

National park photo ops: Where's the sun in your Old Faithful photo?

At Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, choose whether or not you want the geyser cloud in front of or behind the sun. It may be the only big decision you’ll have to make

National park photo ops: For best color from this Yellowstone marvel, shoot from up high

As crowds of visitors stroll along wooden walkways in Yellowstone National Park’s Midway Geyser Basin, steam clouds billow from the colorful Grand Prismatic Spring

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: Yellowstone's bears are best seen through long lenses

A bear family takes a walk through a meadow near the Petrified Tree in northern Yellowstone National Park. To snap them, the photographer used an 800mm lens.

National park photo ops: Make the best of bison traffic jams in Yellowstone

Rush hour in Yellowstone National Park is different from other parts of the country, as shown by this bison lumbering down the highway near Madison Junction.

National park photo ops: Crater Lake reflects impressive colors at sunrise. Here's how to capture them

If you're shooting sunrises like this one at Crater Lake, bring a tripod and cable release. Storm? Might bring more colors.

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: To look down on Yosemite Valley, go here first

At Yosemite, be sure to get up and out of the valley. Head for Glacier Point, which offers incredible views of Half Dome.

National park photo ops: In this Yosemite meadow and beyond, look for reflections

In Yosemite National Park, the ponds in Cook’s Meadow are great natural surfaces that reflect the surroundings in the Yosemite Valley. Get low and shoot them.

National park tips: How to make your Yosemite grand entrance

Entering Yosemite from the south, you have 25 miles on curvy road before Tunnel View reveals Yosemite Valley's granite walls and water

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.

National park tips: It stinks, but this Yellowstone spring is one of my favorite places

Of course you’ll do Yellowstone’s Old Faithful. But you also need to go 7 miles north and do Grand Prismatic Spring too

National park tips: Find this Colorado lake with a notable (but invisible) cachet

Other attractions in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park get more attention, but I loved the time I spent on Grand Lake at the park’s western entrance.

National park tips: These trees will make you feel really small. In a good way.

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is part of California's Redwood National Park, and it’s a great place to feel small among redwoods standing tall.

National park tips: Yes, California has a secret Yellowstone. It's here.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, about 50 miles east of Redding, is California’s secret Yellowstone.

National park tips: If you're near Crater Lake, visit this gorge — and gorge on pie too

Crater Lake National Park is worth a visit; on the way to Oregon 62 to the park, don't miss the short trail at Rogue River Gorge (or the pie at Beckie's).