Meandering rivers, soaring mountain peaks, misty waterfalls—the U.S. national parks have a beauty all their own, and photographer Ansel Adams had the eye and the talent to capture it. It’s through his hundreds of black-and-white photographs that the American West’s staggering beauty comes to life. Here, read more about the world-renowned photographer, and discover which national park to visit for a whole new perspective on some of his most famous shots.
A native Californian, Adams made his first long trip into the Yosemite Valley at the age of 18. He spent the rest of his life exploring America’s national parks, camera in hand, capturing the awe-inspiring landscapes like no one had before. From shadowy mountain peaks and sun-dappled rivers to stark-white birch trees in dark forests, Adams’ black-and-white snapshots highlight the simple beauty of some of the United States’ most breathtaking natural landmarks.
Adams’ work not only cemented him as one of the greatest landscape photographers of our time, but also heralded him as an influential environmentalist. He spent over 50 years as a member of the Sierra Club, a highly respected conservation organization, and his impactful contributions won him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980. Today, some of the world’s most pristine natural areas are documented for future generations thanks to Adams’ dedication—and lucky for you, they can also be admired in person on one of our many tours of America’s national parks.
The United States boasts 58 pristine national parks, but none inspired Adams more than Yosemite in California. It was in this UNESCO-listed nature preserve that Adams captured some of his classic images, and is where you can view the subject of his very first collection of prints: the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Cast your eyes to the horizon to admire the High Sierras, and look for these other three iconic sites during your visit.
Adams’ extensive portfolio isn’t the only indication of his dedication to his craft. He would hike with more than 30 pounds of gear, alongside a donkey carrying additional supplies, to capture famous photos of landmarks such as Half Dome. This iconic granite formation soars almost 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley and is noted as one of the park’s most distinguishing landmarks due to its distinctive shape: One side is a sheer cliff face, and the other three are rounded.
See the mountain through Adams’ lens: Monolith, the Face of Half Dome, 1927
This ethereal cataract is the first waterfall you’ll lay eyes on during a journey into Yosemite Valley. It’s named for the mists that surround the water as it cascades over 600 feet to the valley below. Want to feel the spray of the mist during peak season? Head to Yosemite during the spring, when the annual snowmelt quickens the fall’s thundering descent. Or, get acquainted with Yosemite in the summer, fall, or winter, when the water floats to the valley floor in less imposing wisps.
See the waterfall through Adams’ lens: Bridalveil Fall, 1927
Yosemite National Park lays claim to some of the largest and oldest living things on the planet: giant sequoia trees. These soaring marvels can live to be thousands of years old and grow over 300 feet high. The sequoias are scattered throughout three separate areas that include Mariposa, Tuolumne, and Merced Groves. These trees grow fast and live a long time, which accounts for their staggering heights. They also need a lot of water, and the yearly melt of the Sierra Mountain snowpack makes Yosemite an ideal place for them to thrive.
See the trees through Adams’ lens: Sequoia Roots, 1950