A Guide to the Not so Obvious Photo Spots in Arizona

A Guide to the Not so Obvious Photo Spots in Arizona

People are constantly visiting me here in Arizona, and wanting me to point out the best places to take photos. Of course everyone wants to hit the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, and maybe Horseshoe Bend.

They are all glorious places, but I try to argue my photo friends out of those locations for two key reasons: they are crowded and over-photographed. 

I became sensitive when galleries got interested in my photos. No Grand Canyon they would say; no light beams in Antelope Canyon. Everyone does them, and they are hard to sell. So, if you're visiting Arizona this summer or fall, let me suggest a few places a bit off the beaten tourist path that will get you great photos that won't be on every other wall or website. And they won't be loaded with tourists.

Catalina State Park North

Starting in Southern Arizona, try to get to Catalina State Park North of Tucson. It's open until 10:00 PM, which the golden hour and moonrise fans will like. It's a little close to Tucson for good Milky Way photos. If there are good clouds, and even some monsoon rains, the views can be spectacular, even if you are only taking a short hike from the main parking area.

Gates Pass

West of Tucson on the continuation of Speedway Blvd. Stirring rock formations, lots of cacti, and wonderful sunsets. Sometimes there will be a few people with cameras, but there are plenty of points to get a good view.

Texas Canyon

It's not in Texas, but in the Eastern part of Arizona just off I-10 about 20 miles East of Benson. Take Dragoon Road South and follow the sings to the Amerind Museum. The rock formations are spectacular, and if it reminds you of your favorite westerns you won't be surprised to learn that part of The Big Country and the Original 3:10 to Yuma were shot around here. In fact, part of the ranch house set built for the movie are still there. Also adjacent you'll find the Triangle T Guest Ranch. If you want to explore the rocks and movie set it's an excellent place to visit. On Saturdays, there's no fee and the owners are very friendly.

The Superstition Mountains 

Near Apache Junction East of Phoenix. Spectacular mountain ranges and lots of cactus. There's a nearby ghost town (Goldfield) with some authentic mining equipment and a few original and a lot of rebuilt old west style buildings. Photo opportunities abound.

Canyon Lake

Keep driving east to get to Canyon Lake. Lots of water always surprises people in central Arizona. You've got water, green plants and trees, and spectacular rock faces. It's a haven for boating, but there are plenty of angles where you can avoid boats and people. 


Heading North a couple of hours beyond Phoenix is the lovely town of Prescott. Inside the city limits is Watson Lake, another great photo spot with trees, rocks and lots of water. The area closes at sunset, but golden time is the time to be there. 

Canyon De Chelly

In the Northeast part of the state is the little town of Chinle, which is right next to one of the Arizona's crown jewels, Canyon De Chelly. The rim road, which is North and South of the Canyon is maintained by the federal government as it's a National Monument. There are no fees, and you can drive to a number of scenic spots, including the spectacular Spider Rock Be there at Sunrise or Sunset. The interior of the Canyon is maintained by the Apache Nation, and they offer jeep tours which are informative. They love to take photographers on tours, and will accommodate the pace you want to work at. 2 awful movies were made here, more recently parts of "The Lone Ranger" with Johnny Depp, and in the late 60s' "MacKenna's Gold" with Gregory Peck and Omar Sharif. 

Blue Canyon

Also up north is Blue Canyon. I haven't been there but friends who have say the views are spectacular with unearthly rock formations. You can drive right in, but it's rough road and you'd be best off with an appropriate vehicle. It's on Hopi Indian Land. 

So that's my list. If you do visit Arizona, try a trip that keeps you away from the tourist clogged spots. It's not that the Grand Canyon is not spectacular. It is. But it's crowded and really the most photographed place in the state. Antelope Canyon has become a real zoo, and the Photographer's Tour can be so loaded with people and equipment that's it's hard to get a really good photo. 

Arizona is a beautiful state. I hope you find these ideas good ones. It's just a start of course, and I may come back with more for this series. And feel free to add your own ideas in the comments. Happy Hunting.

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Great list. Arizona and Utah are absolutely breathtakingly amazing. Been there 3 times and each time I was picking up my jaw from the ground at sunset :)

I live in Prescott, Az. Watson lake is a great spot, parts of it are otherworldly. Goldwater Lake south of Prescott is also a beautiful location. Both are City of Prescott parks.

Thanks for a nice article and lovely photographs. I've been to several of these places and agree with all that you mentioned. Prescott is fun to just hang out as well....didn't know about the lake. Well, ideas for the next trip.

"3:20 to Yuma"?
That must have happened 10 minutes after the original one.

Great list of locations though.

Thanks... nasty typo...

Very nice article and photos. I've lived in Arizona for 26 years, and it's full of amazing places to photograph.

Have Fun,

Arizona can be a Photographers Paradise ..