I am always looking for spots to photograph in Phoenix and the surrounding metro area.  Since my photographic style is rather diverse, everything from architecture to nature to signs, I can generally find something worth shooting. So I figured I would share some of my favorite nature and landscape photography spots in Phoenix.

View Top Desert Parks in the Phoenix Area for Photographing in a larger map

McDowell Sonoran Preserve

McDowell Mountain Preserve - Photo of a Giant SaguaroThe McDowell Sonoran Preserve is in North Scottsdale.  Take the 101 (Pima) freeway north, exit on Shea Blvd and head east to 124th St.  This will get you to the Lost Dog Wash Access Area.

The Preserve offers an extensive network of hiking trails (mountain biking and horseback riding too).  You basically can’t go wrong with any of them as they all offer awesome photograph opportunities.  This park is very well laid out and is the Sonoran Desert at its best.  Wide angle desert landscape and close up details of desert vegetation are just some of the photographs you can capture.

Papago Park

Photograph of Papago Park at SunsetPapago Park is very centrally located where Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale meet.  Take the 202 freeway to the 52nd St/Van Buren exit and head east on Van Buren.  Turn north on Galvin Parkway and the park will be on your right.

Papago Park is made up of the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden and the Phoenix Zoo in addition to some great red rock formations.  The red rocks are beautiful at sunset but just as great to photograph in early morning.  Mountain bikers and rock climbers frequent Papago as well.  So if you are up for some action sports photography with a desert backdrop this may be the spot for you.

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Usery Mountain Park Landscape PhotographUsery Mountain Regional Park is east of Phoenix in Mesa.  Take the 202 or US 60 east to Ellsworth then head north to Usery Pass Rd.  The park will be on your right and there is small entrance fee required.

This vast desert park is ripe with photograph opportunities.  Hiking and equestrian trails are plentiful and with so much space it is a great park for some solitary photography.  I especially like the landscapes.  There are spans of desert vegetation, rock formations, and on a good day deep blue skies.

San Tan Mountain Regional Park

Head way out east and way south for San Tan Mountain Regional Park.  If you made it to Tucson you went too far south.  Easiest way to get to the San Tans is to take the southern 202 freeway (San Tan Freeway) to the Warner exit.  Take Warner east to Ellsworth, Ellsworth south to the Hunt Highway, and the Hunt to Thompson Rd south.  Follow the signs from there.

With over 10,000 acres of land in the San Tan Mountain Regional Park most everyone can find something to do here. You are unlikely to come out of this park without having found something to photograph.  Be it wildlife, cacti, or more of those great Arizona desert landscapes.

South Mountain Park and Preserve

Photo of a cactus flower at South Mountain Park PhoenixThe main entrance to South Mountain Park can be found off of Central Ave.  Take the baseline exit off of I-10 and head west to Central.  Turn left and Central will take you right to the entrance of the park.

If hiking on foot is not your thing, the Central Ave. side of South Mountain Park has easy vehicle access to some very good spots for nature and landscape photography.  But no worries, the hiking trails are awesome as well.  And be sure to check out the entrance from Ahwatukee as well.  This is a popular park, but has enough space to let you spread out and focus on capturing your best shots.  There are also several stone structure near the entrance that are worth exploring with your camera.

Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area

Photo of concrete column and desert vegetationThis is an urban oasis just south of downtown Phoenix.   You can either take the 7th Ave. exit off I-10 and head south through downtown or avoid downtown and exit at Baseline and head west as you would for South Mountain Park, but turn North on Central Ave this time to the park.

You will definitely know you are still in the city when at the Rio Salado Habitat, yet you are removed from it all too. The park is on land that used to be a dump in the river bed.  The juxtaposition of nature and the urban environment are a great photographic subject in this park.  Such as in this photo of concrete columns left standing from some long since gone structure in the morning sun with a Palo Verde growing up around them. The water features have also resulted in the park being a habitat for water fowl.  So if you are into photographing birds, give this park a try.

Camelback Mountain

Photograph of Camelback Mountain Red RocksCamelback is the mountain right in the middle of Phoenix (or pretty close to the middle).  You can basically find it by sight by just driving in the direction of what looks like a giant camel lying down in the desert.  But if you need some more specifics, exit from the 202 freeway (Red Mountain) at 44th St. and head north.  Camelback will eventually be on your right as you follow 44th St . around the west side of the mountain.  Keep going around to McDonald and the entrance to the Echo Canyon side will be on your right.

Camelback Mountain is a very well known hiking spot in Phoenix.  It offers some challenging hiking trails (hand rails and stirs built in) as well as spectacular views of Phoenix and Paradise Valley.  The red rock formations are similar to those in nearby Papago Park and they play well with the light in both the early morning and at sunset.

North Mountain Park

Since we have a South Mountain we have to have a North Mountain.  And, as you would imagine, it is on the northern end of Phoenix.  Take the 51 freeway north to Thunderbird Rd.  Then head west to 7th St.  Turn south on 7th to the park entrance.

North Mountain Park is a vast expanse of land with diverse hiking trails and many potential photograph subjects.  The good thing about this park is that it is within easy access if you are staying on the north or west sides of town.  It is another one of those in the middle of it all parks yet you would never know it given the tranquil desert setting.

2 Responses to “Top Phoenix Area Desert Parks for Nature & Landscape Photography”

  1. Dawna

    on October 16 2009

    Hi Mike,

    Another location you might enjoy is the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area (http://www.maricopa.gov/parks/spur_cross/). I think you’ll find the area breathtaking with a ton of photo opportunities!

  2. admin

    on October 16 2009

    Hi Dawna,
    Thanks for the recommendation. I will add to my list to check out.

Comment RSS · TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Name: (Required)

E-mail: (Required)