At the end of each year, I like to take a retrospective look back at my travels and the best travel photos that I took throughout the year. Not only does this allow me to reminisce about my year of travels, but it is also a great way to grow as a photographer. You learn a lot about what works and doesn’t work with your photography by going back and reviewing the photographs that you take. For instance, which lenses worked and didn’t work in certain situations, which photography techniques you deployed in certain situations that either enhanced your photographs or maybe didn’t work out the way that you expected. Even the bad photographs that you take can help you learn how to be a better photographer moving forward.
I also love to share my best travel photos that I took throughout the year with you, my readers, because I think it is a great way for me to pass on some of my knowledge and experience to you. Not only is it a great way for me to share the beautiful and wonderful places that I have visited with you, in hopes of inspiring your next big travel adventure, but these photographs that I share may also inspire you to try travel photography yourself. Believe me, you don’t need to be an expert photographer or have expensive camera equipment to capture some truly fantastic travel photographs. All you really need is curiosity to explore, a passion for adventure, and a willingness to learn as you go.
The Challenges of 2020
This past year has been a challenge in a number of different ways. In addition to tragically losing so many people to this horrible pandemic, the psychological effects of lockdowns, quarantines, and the shuttering of businesses has taken its toll on people around the world. In the big picture, not being able to travel as much as I would have liked really is a very small consequence of a pandemic that has brought so much pain to so many. That said, it is sad to look back at this past year and think about all of the opportunities to explore the beauties of this planet and to learn about other cultures that have been lost. Travel really does make this world a much better place because it brings us all closer together and helps us learn about each other and it will be a great day when we are all able to start sharing this world and our best travel photos with one-another once again.
Travel Photography Tutorials
Before I get into the best travel photos that I took this year, I thought I would share some of my travel photographer tutorial articles with you in case you would like to start learning the art of travel photography for yourself. In these tutorials, I cover everything from which gear you should have, what photography techniques and tools you should learn, and even how to plan your shots before you travel so that you can significantly increase your chances of capturing stunning travel photographs. Most importantly, I cover the basic rules that you should learn as a travel photographer so that you can capture stunning photographs while respecting the cultures, traditions, and privacy of others while you travel this world.
|18 Essential Pieces of Gear for Traveling Photographers|
|10 Easy Tips to Make Your Vacation Photos Really Pop|
|10 Simple Rules That Every Travel Photographer Should Follow|
|The Art of Travel Photography – Planning Your Shots|
Best Travel Photos From Previous Years
In case you are interested in looking back at some of my best travel photos from previous years, I have linked to my travel photography retrospectives from the past few years below for you to review. If you are interested in learning more about my travel photography adventures and the tips and advice that I have for aspiring travel photographers, I would also recommend that you check out the Travel Photography Section of my blog for more travel photography tutorials and even specific destination photography guides that I have compiled throughout my years of travel. Also, make sure you follow me on Instagram to see some more inspirational travel photos from my travel adventures.
|My Top 25 Travel Photos of 2018|
|My Top 30 Travel Photos of 2019|
Playa del Carmen Sunrise
Looking back at the year 2020, I feel very fortunate that everyone in my life has stayed mostly healthy throughout this pandemic. I realize that many people have been much less fortunate, which is why it is difficult for me to say that I feel grateful to have been able to travel internationally in January before the pandemic hit. However, looking back at a year filled with mostly quarantines, limited time with loved ones, and far less exploration of this beautiful world, it is hard not to feel at least a little grateful that I was able to scratch my travel itch before the world was thrown into the crisis. When I look back at my trip to Playa del Carmen in Mexico, it feels like it was years ago. I remember standing on the beach early in the morning to get this beautiful sunrise shot and it gives me hope that things will return back to somewhat normal in the near future. In the meantime, I will have shots like this to look back at and remember better times.
Canyonlands Thunder Storm
While international travel was mostly off the table in 2020, I was fortunate enough to take a trip out to the Western United States with my father and my uncle in an RV. I was awe struck, not only by the beauty of the areas we traveled thru, but by the resilience and fortitude of the national park rangers and staff at our country’s national parks. In the midst of a global pandemic, these wonderful people kept our national parklands running and gave people a way to safely escape the solitude of home quarantine and enjoy a reprieve in beautiful mother nature. On this trip, we returned to Moab, Utah, which is one of my favorite parts of the United States. I had been to Canyonlands before, but on this trip I gave myself a bit more time to more thoroughly explore this breathtaking park. One of my best travel photos of this year was taken in Canyonlands in the midst of an oncoming thunderstorm. If you look closely, you can actually see the rain falling in the distance.
The Beauty of Canyonlands
There are many beautiful national parks in Southern Utah, but Canyonlands has got to be one of my favorites. There are so many different landscapes within the park that you always seem to find something that surprises you each time you visit. One of my favorite districts within Canyonlands is the Islands in the Sky district because of the breathtaking vistas overlooking seemingly endless slot canyons. I especially love this shot I took near Shafer Canyon near sunrise as it showcases the beauty of this section of the park. With so much beauty all around Canyonlands National Park, it isn’t hard to see why so many of my best travel photos were taken inside this park. If you are interested in learning more about how to visit Canyonlands National Park, I recently wrote a visitor guide that you can review, which I linked below.
|Canyonlands National Park Visitor Guide|
Sunrise Over Canyonlands
One of my favorite spots inside Canyonlands National Park is undoubtedly the beautiful Mesa Arch viewpoint. While this photograph isn’t of the arch, I absolutely loved how this sunrise photograph turned out and I have no doubt that it is one of my best travel photos of the year. This really showcases just how beautiful the park is and the breathtaking sunrise that we got that morning really adds to the photograph’s beauty. I wasn’t able to get my best Mesa Arch sunrise shots that morning because of the crowd (and I even arrived over an hour before sunrise), but that’s ok. I have had plenty of opportunities to capture that legendary shot. That’s why I was so content to explore elsewhere along the viewpoint that morning and lucky to come away with this wonderful shot.
Cathedral Valley Splendor
I had been to Capitol Reef a few times in the past, but my visits always seemed to be rushed because I was on my way from one spot to the next and just happened to be traveling thru. This is why I made it a point to slow down on my trip this summer and spend a little bit more time exploring this underrated national park in Southern Utah. My strategy paid off as we took our time driving the infamous Cathedral Valley Road and I got some glorious shots of the Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon. If you look closely in the photo above, you can see these famous rock formations sticking up from the valley floor like temples. Even though it was nearly 115 degrees Fahrenheit that day, I could have spent the entire day hiking in Cathedral Valley and exploring the beauty of this amazing park.
The Beauty of Capitol Reef
If you do a search on Instagram or Pinterest for photographs of Capitol Reef National Park, my guess is that many of the best travel photos of the park that you will find on that platform involve the historic Fruita Barn. This beautiful, old barn dates back to the early 1900’s and has been attracting photographers to photograph it for much of the time since Capitol Reef National Park was established back in 1971. I had photographed this beauty of a barn in my travels previously, but I was especially happy to photograph it on this trip. There is just something about beautiful, old buildings that really make photographs pop. If you are interested in learning more about how to visit Capitol Reef National Park, I recently wrote a visitor guide that you can review, which I linked below.
|Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Guide|
The Beautiful Corona Arch
If my eagerness to photograph a landscape could be measured and applied as a metric for determining which travel photograph I took this year was my best, then I have no doubt that the best travel photo of the year for me would be this picture of the gorgeous Corona Arch near Moab, Utah. I am a bit bummed that I wasn’t able to hike to see the arch at sunrise to get an amazing sunrise shot at this epic landmark, but was happy to finally be able to make this hike to see Corona Arch just the same. I had meant to hike to see the Corona Arch the last two times that I visited Moab, but my over-ambitious travel schedule didn’t leave me enough time. One of the benefits of slowing my trip down a bit this year was that I was finally able to check this beautiful natural archway off my hiking bucket list and come home with this beautiful shot of the arch. If you are interested in learning more about how to hike to see the Corona Arch, I recently wrote a hiking guide that you can review, which I linked below.
|The Ultimate Corona Arch Hiking Guide|
The Vastness Dead Horse Canyon
Although the adjacent Canyonlands National Park steals much of the glory, the breathtakingly beautiful Dead Horse Canyon State Park should not be missed if you are visiting the Moab, Utah area. If you ask me, Dead Horse Canyon is one of the most beautiful state parks in the United States. For that reason, it should come as no surprise that some of my best travel photos from my national parks road trip this summer were taken at the park. There are so many amazing viewpoints in which to see and photograph the canyon, but this photo is probably my favorite. The slot canyons seem to go on forever into the distance and the contrast between the green water of the Colorado River and the red sandstone of the canyon is beautiful. I definitely need to make it back to this park again in the future and do some hiking.
My First Fourteener
One of the biggest travel milestones for me in 2020 was undoubtedly summiting my first fourteener. If you aren’t familiar with the term “fourteener”, it refers to any mountain that is taller than 14,000-feet (4,267-meters) high. Believe me, at that altitude, hiking is a whole different experience. There is roughly 60% of the Oxygen at that altitude then is found at sea-level, so even hiking on a flat terrain for a long distance can be a challenge if you aren’t up for it. When you are dealing with a 13+ mile hike that gains roughly 3,000-feet (or 915-meters) in elevation, making it to the top is a challenge. Relative to other fourteeners in Colorado (the state with the most mountains that are fourteen-thousand feet or higher) and elsewhere in the United States, Grays and Torreys Peaks are among the easiest to summit. That doesn’t mean they are a walk in the park. I was very proud of myself for the months of preparation I put into training for this summit and the fortitude to keep going when I felt exhausted near the top. Even though I didn’t take this photograph, it is still definitely one of my favorite travel photos from 2020 because of what it symbolizes.
|The Ten Best Fourteeners in Colorado for Beginning Hikers|
Getting Lost in the Great Basin
When I went back to look for my best travel photos of 2020, I wasn’t surprised that one of my favorite photos was taken at the Great Basin National Park in Nevada. I really love this photograph because it does a great job of illustrating the breadth of the Great Basin and how remarkable it is. Unless you have visited this park and explored it, I don’t think you can really understand just how large and amazing the Great Basin in Nevada really is. If you look at the picture above, you can see just how far the basin extends into the distance. The basin is up to 120-miles long and up to 15-miles wide in some places, which makes it the largest area of contiguous endorheic watershed in all of North America. If you think that stat is fascinating, just wait until you see the Great Basin in person.
The Wonder of Great Sand Dunes
I had some pretty high expectations when I visited the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado this summer, and the park certainly didn’t disappoint. For years, I had seen some truly remarkable photographs taken at this park on Instagram and had dreamed of one day visiting and photographing the park myself. While I didn’t have a chance to take any sunrise or sunset shots at the park because of my travel schedule, I did get some of my best travel photos of my trip while exploring this beautiful park. I love this picture because the hikers in the distance really give you a great idea of just how large these sand dunes really are. I also love how the footprint path on the left-hand side of the picture creates a leading line that steers your eyes off into the distance. I just wish I had more time to spend at the park because I can only imagine how breathtaking it would have been to photograph these enormous sand dunes in the beautiful light of dawn or dusk.
|Great Sand Dunes Visitor Guide|
Back in Time at Mesa Verde
When I was much younger, I visited Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado and photographed the amazing cliff dwellings that the national park protects. It was one of my first road trips alone and one of my first trips that I took to focus on photography. I was absolutely heartbroken when my computer crashed a few years later and I lost all of my photographs from this trip. That is why I am constantly preaching about photo backup techniques and tools in my photography tutorial posts on this blog. Believe me, it is a lesson that you don’t want to learn first-hand. I was absolutely delighted when I was able to make it back to Mesa Verde National Park during my road trip this summer because it was my chance at redemption. While this photograph of the Cliff Palace ruin in Mesa Verde may not be one of the best landscape photographs I have ever taken, it does have a lot of sentimental value for me because of my history photographing the park. That is why I consider it one of my best travel photos of the year and am happy to share it with you.
The Beauty of Playa del Carmen
Mexico was the first country that I visited internationally, so I think it will always have a special place in my heart. It was also the only country outside of the United States that I was able to visit this tumultuous year, so it is special in that regard as well. I love this photograph, not only because of the beautiful sunrise in the background, but because of beautiful lettering in the picture. It is not unusual to see such beautiful décor around Playa del Carmen, which is one of the things I absolutely love about the area. If only I could be on that beach right now, enjoying the warm sunshine and listening to the waves crash into shore.
In the Heart of the Rocky Mountains
If you follow my blog closely, you probably know how much I love visiting and exploring mountains. That is probably why a good share of my best travel photos are of mountain landscapes. It is also why I was so excited to visit Rocky Mountain National Park this year. Not only is it one of the most, if not the most, mountainous national parks in the Continental United States, but it is also one of the country’s prettiest national parks. There is a seemingly endless number of mountain vistas and trails to explore within the park. I love this picture because it showcases just how beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park’s landscapes are. With the stunning mountain valley back-dropped by the gorgeous Rocky Mountain Range in the background, I could look at this picture for hours. If you are interested in learning more about how to visit Rocky Mountain National Park, I recently wrote a visitor guide that you can review, which I linked below.
|Rocky Mountain National Park Guide|
A Morning Wilderness Surprise
Ever since I was a young kid, I have always loved animals. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that one of my favorite things to photograph when I travel, in addition to mountain landscapes, is wildlife. That is why I was absolutely thrilled to get this stunning closeup shot of an elk while exploring Rocky Mountain National Park this summer. We got to the park bright-and-early and were rewarded by seeing a herd of elk feeding in a mountain valley, just off the road. It was amazing to see how graceful these large creatures are and it was a delight to photograph them. That is why I have no hesitation saying that this was certainly one of my best travel photos from this past year.
The Power of Shoshone Falls
If you like waterfalls, then you will absolutely love the Shoshone Falls in Southern Idaho. If you didn’t know that this waterfall existed before reading this blog, don’t feel badly. Until this year, I didn’t know that it existed either. I only discovered this waterfall by doing my tried-and-tested photography research preparation before my summer national parks road trip. If you would like more information on how I do my photography research for trips, I linked to my guide at the beginning of this article. Needless to say, I discovered this absolute gem of a waterfall and a few other wonderful landscapes just by doing my prep work. I was absolutely amazed at the power and the beauty of the waterfall when I first laid eyes on it this summer. The volume of water that goes over the falls each second is truly mind-blowing. I love this picture because it shows the power of the waterfall in all its glory. I can still hear the crashing water and feel the mist of the falls when I look at this photo.
The Magnitude of Shoshone Falls
I took a lot of great travel photos when I visited the Shoshone Falls this summer, but this picture is undoubtedly my favorite from that visit. Not only do you get to see the total breadth of the falls, but I also captured the beautiful rainbow that formed at the bottom of the falls among the mist. It was breathtaking to see such beauty with my own eyes. While this photograph doesn’t capture the total beauty of that moment, I like to think that it does give you a good idea of just how stunning this waterfall is. If you are ever in Southern Idaho or the surrounding area, I can assure you that a small detour to see this amazing waterfall will be well worth your time.
|The Ultimate Shoshone Falls Visitor Guide|
The Breathtaking Grand Prismatic
Yellowstone National Park is a place that I have photographed quite a bit during my adventures in the United States. In fact, many of my best travel photos over the years have been taken in this infamous and beautiful park. After all, because there is a seemingly endless number of unique and beautiful landscapes to capture and wildlife to photograph, it really isn’t that hard to find something great to take a picture of. However, out of all the amazing things inside Yellowstone National Park to photograph, my favorite has always been the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring. There is just something about the breathtaking array of colors inside the spring, the steam rising up off the water, and the pretty green trees in the background that make photographs of the hot spring just jump out at you. That is certainly the case with this pretty shot that I captured of Grand Prismatic during my visit this summer.
The Serenity and Beauty of Yellowstone
While it isn’t as grand as the Grand Canyon, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is still a very remarkable and beautiful feature within Yellowstone National Park. There are a number of great places to photograph the canyon and its waterfalls, but my favorite is undoubtedly Artist Point. From here, you have an amazing view down the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and can get some great shots of the Lower Yellowstone Falls. If you take your shots in good light, you can capture the beautiful colors in the canyon walls, which contrast beautifully with the green forest on top of them. That is why I absolutely love this viewpoint and I love this shot I took from it. If you are interested in learning more about how to visit Yellowstone National Park, I recently wrote a visitor guide that you can review, which I linked below.
|Yellowstone and Grand Teton Visitor Guide|
The Bountifulness of Yellowstone’s Wildlife
I have already established that wildlife is one of my favorite things to photograph when I travel, so it should come as no surprise that I always have a blast photographing inside of Yellowstone National Park. After all, it isn’t known as the Serengeti of North America for no reason. I have been on safari in Africa and I can say from experience that the amount of wildlife you see in Yellowstone is in many ways comparable to the amount and diversity of wildlife you see in some African wildlife parks. That is why it is always so much fun to visit Yellowstone and photograph the bison, elk, grizzly bears, grey wolves, and the beautiful black bears that are found throughout the park. One of my best travel photos of the year was of this beautiful black bear that we saw walking thru Lamar Valley. If you visit Yellowstone and want to see wildlife, hanging out around Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley is always a smart move. With the amount of grazing animals that congregate in those valleys to eat, they draw a fair number of predators in for you to see as well. It really is almost like North America’s version of the Serengeti.
Great photos, Josh. I hope we both can travel more in 2021. How are your overseas plans looking? We were recently in touch with our Belgian friends to get a sense of how they’re feeling about the likelihood of meeting up in the Pyrenees this summer. I wasn’t surprised to find they are not super hopeful. Ugh. Anyway, Happy New Year to you from Minnesota!
Thank you so much!! I am hoping for the best too! Right now, Egypt and Jordan are both open with a negative test within 72-hours of traveling, but Israel is still closed. I remain cautiously optimistic, but won’t be booking any travel until mandatory quarantines upon arrival are lifted. My hope is to get the vaccine this summer when available to me, then hope that travel is opened to those vaccinated. We shall see. Happy New Year!!! 😃