It can be hard to find a moment of solitude in national parks these days. But I’ve learned how to lose the crowds on even the busiest days in parks like Yellowstone, Arches and beyond. How? The secret revolves around my camera, which is most often an iPhone11 but has evolved to include a Nikon.
So when people ask me what my favorite perk of Outside+ membership is, I immediately think of our online Night Skies Photography Class. It’s just one of the great benefits of our $99 Outside+ membership program. Taught by photographers André Costantini and Ken Hubbard, it’s rooted in national park landscapes and focused on helping you get the best night skies, sunrise and sunset photos. Before I met this dynamic duo, I had no idea why these times of day were so fantastic to photograph.
But having spent many sunrises, sunsets and nights under the Milky Way in national parks, I’ve realized one dependable truth — dawn, dusk and moonless nights are the best times to lose the crowds, especially in popular parks like Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains and Zion. And our Night Skies Photography course teaches you everything you need to know to get gorgeous shots after most people have left the park.
One of my most magical times in Yellowstone was a night in late August. There was no moon in the night sky when we got out of our vehicle and turned on our headlamps in the empty parking lot of Grand Prismatic, Yellowstone’s iconic hot spring. The Grand Prismatic is known for its crowds and vibrant rainbow colors that line its edges. It’s slightly larger than a football field.
But at 11 p.m. in late August, none of the colors was visible. And it didn’t matter. We were there to shoot the Milky Way hanging above us. But first, we had to cross the very dark, empty parking lot, which rolled up into a black morass of trees, to get to the boardwalk. I clutched my bear spray in my hand just in case a grizzly was also taking a midnight stroll.
As we walked down the boardwalk, the stars sparkled in the blackness above like concert groupies, fanning out from the main act on the night stage, the Milky Way. We stopped, took photos and then walked carefully farther down the boardwalk to take more photos.
However, an hour into it, someone in our group stopped. There was something strange appearing in his shots. It was a green glow on the horizon. Invisible to the eye, the green light appeared in all of our photos when we looked.
Were they the Northern Lights or some other phenomena? Who knows? As far as we were concerned, we had hit the photographer’s jackpot. We packed up and called it a night.
There are many ways to avoid the park’s crowds, but I think the best way is to head into the park at dawn, stay until dusk or even head out after dinner to see the stars and, if you’re lucky, the Northern Lights. Take our online Night Skies Photography class, and you’ll experience the parks like never before. And then take advantage of all of the benefits of Outside+ from navigating backcountry terrain with your free GAIA GPS premium access to celebrating the best of ski culture with unlimited access to our Warren Miller ski film archive dating back to 1961. Plus, you’ll receive a free magazine subscription to Outside magazine, plus one of our incredible brands like Backpacker, Ski, Cleaning Eating or Yoga Journal.