North Entrance to Yellowstone – Many visitors go to Yellowstone in the spring and summer hoping to see the famous Yellowstone wolves, but they are virtually impossible to find at that time of year. The best time to find the wolves is during the winter when they come closer to roads and are more visible during the day time. The best way to find the wolves is to park near the North Yellowstone entrance before sunrise. When you see a Jeep drive by with a long wire antenna–follow it! Those are biologists who use the wolves' radio collars to locate them. Follow the Jeeps with antennas and you're sure to find the wolves.
Zion & Arches National Parks – Temperatures range between a low of 21 and a high of 45. It's definitely chilly, but the white snow contrasting against the red rocks is visually stunning. In my opinion, it makes for the most beautiful shots of the entire year in Zion.
Ouray Ice Park, Ouray, Colorado – Photographers flock to the ice climbs in Colorado in January to photograph the ice climbers. There is an ice festival in January of each year that is a particularly good time to shoot, but grab a long lens and go out to shoot! (Idea from Pop Photo).
Niagara Falls – Winter is an interesting time to shoot this location because of the ice that forms on the waterfall, and January is probably the best time to capture this event.
Lake Superior – Ice caves form along Lake Superior during the winter and they can be absolutely stunning (Thanks Jr Frost for the tip)
Everglades, Southwest Florida – January is a perfect time to visit the Everglades. You'll photograph more alligators than you can shake a stick at, plus a wide variety of shore birds. I used to live in Naples, not far from the Everglades, so these were my stomping grounds. Just be aware that hotels will be pricey and traffic will be nuts from all the snowbirds. Consider staying on Marco Island and making the short drive into the Everglades. Marco is absolutely gorgeous and close to the Everglades. Don't miss out on Tigertail Beach on Marco, which is my favorite birding location.
Death Valley, California – Shoot before it's hot!
Oregon Coast – I have on good authority that the best time of the year to photograph the Oregon coast is in February. The sunrises and sunsets over the Oregon coast can be unbelievable, but during the summer months there are wildfires that ruin the clear sky, as well as frequent low-hanging clouds that can cover the light of the horizon. February is perfect, and you'll also miss out on the summer tourism season which clutters up the landscape with people.
The Wave – Have to have submitted your application long in advance and hope you get picked in the lottery.
Sunrise at Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii – Haleakala is a very tall crater that has a road all the way to the top. If you drive to the top of Haleakala (pronounced holly-AH-cuh-law) you'll usually be above the clouds, meaning you see the sun rise on a blanket of clouds underneath you. It's a once in a lifetime experience. You can really visit this location at any time of the year, but February is nice because there are fewer tourists, the sunrise is later in the morning so you don't have to leave at 2AM, and it's also whale watching season.
Big Sur, California – January and February are rainy months in Carmel, California. This makes for little tourist pressure and dramatic clouds for photographing the sea stacks and coastline. Top that off with a low light angle during the winter months and you have the makings of a great landscape photography shoot.
Neon Graveyard in Las Vegas – The neon graveyard is an incredible photo location. It costs $75 to get in for a group of photographers, but the location is spectacular. It's an eclectic mix of countless neon signs and makes an awesome backdrop for a portrait shoot. March is an ideal time to visit because the daily temps are about 70 degrees–much better than Las Vegas in the summer!
Flathead Lake near Polson, Montana – In March and late February, you'll find lots of snowy owls. The migration is different each year, but this area is usually a good bet.
Wildflowers in Joshua Tree National Park – Apogee Photo reports that the best time of the year to photograph wildflowers in Joshua tree is later in March in the high elevations. The flowers are beautiful and the location is spectacular. It's also a great time to visit because the temperatures are mild.
Bird Photography in South Florida – I used to shoot Florida shore birds on a daily basis when I lived in Florida. Without a doubt, the best month to visit is March because the hords of tourists haven't come yet, and the snow birds are starting to head north. On top of that, the birds are in full plume and in late March you'll see the colors around the many of the bird species eyes start to turn (even better color in April and May), which really adds to the interest of the bird. I'd recommend staying in Naples, Florida as it's safe and is a good central hub to visit Sanibel and the Everglades. My favorite secret hot spot is Tigertail Beach on Marco Island–but that's just between you and me.
Texas Hill Country – Late March and early April are the best months to shoot wildflowers in the Texas Hill Country. The bluebonnets are gorgeous! (Thanks Tim Covington for the tip!)
Grand Island, Nebraska – In mid to late March, the Central Platte Valley fills with upwards of half a million sandhill cranes. (Thanks Jodi Frederickson)
Cedar Creek Grist Mill in Washington –
Big Bend National Park –
Yellowstone Wildlife – The end of April and start of May are the best time for viewing wildlife in Yellowstone. The bears are out of hibernation, the traffic in the park is light, and the animals are actively searching for food. Wolves are harder to spot because they are not near the road as often, but other animals are more easily seen at this time than any other time of the year.
Joshua Tree National Park, Southern California – Joshua Tree's desert landscapes can be photographed any time of the year, but this time of year is great for hitting it in a month with lower traffic and while the wildflowers are in bloom.
Zion National Park – Before the crowds and heat!
Moonbow in Yosemite – The best dates to see the moonbow are on April 14-15, 2014. Texas State University publishes a calendar of days when the moonbow will be brightest if the sky is clear.
Great Smoky Mountains – late April so snow clears.
Washington D.C. – Aside from the great historical sites in DC, the cherry blossoms are in full swing. Historically, April 6-15 is the peak time to photograph the cherry blossoms. (Thanks to Katherine Callahan)
Columbia River Gorge –
Mulnomah Falls is especially popular
Grand Canyon – Average temperatures in the 70's and no crowds.
Moonbow in Yosemite – The best dates to see the moonbow are on May 13 – 14, 2014. Texas State University publishes a calendar of days when the moonbow will be brightest if the sky is clear.
Sequoia National Park – Not only is there less tourist pressure to photograph the incredible Sequoias in May, but also wildflowers are in bloom.
Grand Teton National Park –
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge –
Ricketts Glenn State Park, Pennsylvania – This area is home to more waterfalls than you can shake a stick at, and May is the perfect time to shoot when flowers are out and water flows are high. (Thanks Lewis DeJoseph for the tip).
Steptoe Butte, Washington– End of May or start of June
Palouse Falls, Washington – Not too far of a drive from Steptoe Butte is Palouse Falls. This is a massive waterfall into a large canyon and river below. June is a great time to shoot because it's usually a good month for sunrises, and there is often low-laying fog.
Moonbow in Yosemite, California – The best dates to see the moonbow are on June 12-13, 2014. Texas State University publishes a calendar of days when the moonbow will be brightest if the sky is clear.
Redwood National and State Parks, California – Summer is a great time to photograph the Redwoods because of the fog that builds up in this area. During the winter, the primary source of water for the trees is rainfall, but during the warmer months, it's the fog. The foggy atmosphere surrounding these huge trees as the light streams in is magical!
Anywhere, United States – July is one of the best months for photographing the Milky Way. It's bright this time of year, comes high above the horizon, and July is usually before the worst of the wildfire season which often obscures the sky. Get out and do some night photography!
Utah Lavendar Fields
Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona – You can photograph Antelope Canyon at any time of the year, but the best times are during the summer. Visit during the middle of the day between 11:30AM and 1:30PM and you'll be delighted to see light beams shining down through the cracks in the top of the canyon. The guide I spoke to said the light beams are visible from May until August, but the strongest light beams are in June and July. It's hotter than you'd believe, and packed with tourists, but it's the best time of the entire year to shoot Antelope Canyon if you want light beams in the shot.
Glacier National Park – July is the busiest month in Glacier, but it's also the best for photography. June is extremely rainy in Glacier and once snow falls the park services and lodging shut down, so July is the time. Glacier is a fantastic location for landscape photography as well as wildlife.
Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park, Alaska – July is the hottest month for watching bears fishing for salmon at Brooks Falls. This is a very popular location, but for good reason. More info and live webcam here.
Arches and Canyonlands, Utah – While July is not a great month for getting to the prime locations without a crowd, it is an excellent time of year to photograph these locations with lightning during the almost daily storms. The milky way is also brightest this month. (Thanks for the tip, Jeff Pedersen!)
Glacier National Park – I know August seems like an odd time for wildflower season, but in the high elevations of Montana, mid-August is the perfect time to visit and see the wildflowers.
Denali National Park, Alaska – The first week of September is the last week that the road into Denali is open. It's a perfect time to photograph the fall tundra, and there are no bugs this time of year. (Thanks Chuck Murray for the tip).
Maroon Bells in Colorado – Very last few days of September is usually peak season for shooting the famous Maroon Bells
Glacier National Park – If you missed the wildflowers in August, you'll get to shoot the gorgeous fall color in Glacier National Park in September. The other nice part about Glacier in September is that the traffic is dramatically reduced.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin – This is a gorgeous stretch of beach and lakeshore in the Great Lakes area. September is excellent for capturing fall color (Thanks Tom Miller).
Liberty Park, Jersey City – This is the prime location to photograph the New York City skyline. Unlike most of the locations on this list that are weather dependent, you could really do this any time of the year. But late September and October are a great time because tourist pressure is lower and the weather is PERFECT! (Thanks Gary Aidekman for the tip).
Grand Teton National Park – Best time for fall color is October 1 -9 most years. Having shot this location many times, I can confidently say that I generally find more photography opportunities in Grand Teton National Park than I find in neighboring Yellowstone–at least for landscape photography (wildlife is better in Yellowstone). Don't miss Mormon Row, Schwabacher's Landing, or the Snake River Overlook.
Grist Mill in Babcock State Park, West Virginia – The fall color in West Virginia puts the rest of the country to shame! It's absolutely, unquestionably, the best fall color anywhere, and Babcock state park is an excellent spot to shoot it. Each year is different, but historically, I find October 9-17 to be the peak of fall color in this area.
Acadia National Park – Early October is the perfect time to visit Acadia. Fall color is excellent and you'll have the chance to shoot some gorgeous lighthouses at the time of year when there are often good sunsets. Don't miss BassHarbor and Cape Neddick. (Thanks to Lewis DeJoseph).
Pictured Rocks, Michigan – The start of October is a great time to capture fall color in this location.
Portland Japanese Garden – End of October
Great Smoky Mountains – This is the perfect time to see the fog lifting off the mountains that gives the park its name, and in gorgeous fall color to boot.
Linn Cove Viaduct – October 13 is the average peak
Pigeon Point Lighthouse in California – Saturday closest to November 15
Zion National Park – The first week of November is the perfect time to visit Zion. There are not nearly as many visitors, the trees are in fall color, and you may even get lucky and see some snow falling in the higher elevations, which contrasts beautifully with the red rock. Plus, it's not too hot. See my photographer's guide to Zion National Park for more info, and be sure not to miss Kanarra Creek Falls!
Bighorn Sheep in Wyoming – The first weekend in December of each year is an excellent time to shoot bighorn sheep near Cody, Wyoming. Check out this post for details.
Bosque del Apache –
Waves in Oahu, Hawaii – The waves in Hawaii are fairly mild during most of the year, but during the winter they grow to incredible sizes. If you're interested in shooting surfers or the waves themselves, it's an awesome location. The best spot for shooting the waves in Hawaii is along the north shore. Not only are the waves better, but there are far fewer tourists. Be careful in the strong winter waves. Only get in the water if you're a strong swimmer and know what to expect from the ocean waves.
Conowingo Dam, Conowingo, Maryland – Eagles are easy to spot at the Conowingo dam between November and January of each year. The area is usually loaded with wildlife photographers. (Thanks to Michael Duncan and Geren Mortenson for this tip)
Couer D'Alene, Idaho – This area is host to a bald eagle migration each winter. Most bald eagles do not migrate, but enough do that this area is full of eagles in December. The eagles go to this location to find open water for fishing.
Oregon Coast – This area is host to mammoth waves reaching up to 40 feet during the winter months.
Thor's Well – You can shoot Thor's well any time of the year, but December is an optimal month because there is usually no marine layer of clouds down on the horizon to block the sunset. Ideal conditions for Thor's well are when the high tide coincides with sunset time.