Tag Archives: contest

National Parks Final Four

After a rousing Sweet Sixteen round, in which we saw a few upsets, it’s time for the Elite Eight, Final Four and ultimately, the championship to see which of the US National Parks our expert photographers voted as the top park! For a recap of the first round, click here.

Echo Rock on the left and Little Rock Candy Mountain to the right, Joshua Tree National Park
Echo Rock on the left and Little Rock Candy Mountain to the right, Joshua Tree National Park

#1 Yosemite Stays Dominant Against #4 Joshua Tree

I always tell people Yosemite is one of the ultimate National Parks. I try to make it a point not to repeat travel destinations because there is so much of this world to explore – but I make an exception for Yosemite. I’ve traveled there three times and will continue going back. Seeing the Valley for the first time, and all subsequent times. It’s hard to imagine nature created features like El Capitan and Half Dome, but they’re there, they are real and they are ready to explore! – Matt Andrew

You’d think with species like the teddy bear cholla cactus and the Joshua Tree, named by Mormons who thought the yucca species appeared to be praying, Joshua Tree would have more of a chance. However, the always epic and impressive Yosemite defeats the boulder-filled-wonderland.

Obadiah Reid stands on a cliff edge taking photos in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.
Obadiah Reid stands on a cliff edge taking photos in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

#3 Glacier is Cooler than #7 Grand Teton

Glacier…It’s easy to avoid crowds (once you are off going-to-the-sun road). However, it’s impossible to miss the grandeur and beauty. That awaits you around ever bend in the trail. – Brian W. Downs

By virtue of this brilliant cinematography, Glacier advances!

Bar Harbor Head Lighthouse at sunset, Bar Harbor, Maine, USA
Bar Harbor Head Lighthouse at sunset, Bar Harbor, Maine, USA

#5 Acadia is the Cinderella of the Bracket, Beating #1 Denali

You can be the first person to see the sun rise on the East Coast of the United States from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park.  Or, the LAST person to see it rise in Denali. A 20,000 foot high mountain just seems like you’re showing off. And midnight sun? What are you compensating for, Denali? No offense, but no thanks!

A storm over Canyonlands National Park from the GreenRiver Overlook area at sunset.  Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Utah, USA
A storm over Canyonlands National Park from the GreenRiver Overlook area at sunset. Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Utah, USA

#2 Hawai’i Volcanoes Burns #6 Canyonlands

Volcanoes is not just my favorite national park, it’s my favorite place in the world!  The other-worldly landscapes, rugged terrain, unforgiving hikes, and amazing views are all completely unique to this park.  It’s unlike anywhere I’ve ever been and there’s something about being able to see the power of the landscape that really puts you in your place; it makes you feel small. – Joshua Rainey

Absolutely Canyonlands National Park in Utah! It has some of the most stunning and unique scenery on the planet. Sweeping vistas and every shape of rock you can image. To top it off, you can explore it all on dirt roads with almost nobody else around.  – Dan Ballard

Family watching mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) on Hidden Lake trail, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA
Family watching mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) on Hidden Lake trail, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA


#1 Yosemite Ekes out Victory Against #3 Glacier

No question, its got to be Glacier NP.  While I live close to Yosemite and love it, Glacier offers so much more for photographers.  Not only does it offer amazing landscapes like Yosemite, but it also offers a true wildlife experience as well.  You can photograph Grizzly Bears, Big Horn Sheep, Mountain Goats….  and landscapes all on the same hike.   Once you get away from the road it is as close to true wilderness as you can find in the lower 48.  Its like Alaska without the flight. – Josh Miller

Unfortunately, Glacier couldn’t compete with Ansel Adams’ favorite national park, where everything seems to be epic, from giant sequoias to waterfalls to Half Dome.

Lava from Kilauea Volcano pouring into ocean at†Kamokuna illuminates a cloud of steam
Lava from Kilauea Volcano pouring into ocean at†Kamokuna illuminates a cloud of steam

#5 Acadia Tops #2 Hawai’i Volcanoes

My favorite national park is Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park because it’s one of the few places on earth that creates a new world every day! – Matt Gragg

New-world-creation is indeed exciting, and everyone knows that lava beats both paper and rock. However, bears beats lava (and Battlestar Galactica). With a varied ecosystem boasting many bears, whales and moose, it’s a no-brainer! We get the feeling Hawai’i Volcanoes will revamp and be back, stronger than ever next year.


Grand view of Yosemite National Park at sunset.
Grand view of Yosemite National Park at sunset.
Bioluminescence in the water under the Milky Way along the rugged coast of Maine.
Bioluminescence in the water under the Milky Way along the rugged coast of Maine.

It call comes down to this…#1 bracket behemoth Yosemite vs #5 seeded Acadia! Sure, Yosemite was the 5th most visited national park in 2017, the Dawn Wall climb in 2015 went on to inspire many and bring climbing more into the mainstream, and many black bears reside in the park. However, the 2018 best US National Park goes to Acadia….because, favoritism. And no, we’re not the least bit abashed. #Maine4Life.


Sweet 16 National Parks

So many national parks burst with beauty that it’s almost impossible to have a favorite…and yet, that is the exact task we’ve set for our photographers. Because we love competition for the sake of competition and bragging rights, and inspired by the NCAA basketball tournament currently going on, we have compiled a list of 16 (of the 60 eligible) National Parks, seeded them, put them head to head and let our photographers decide. Which one will emerge as Champion?

In the play-in round, the majesty and awe-inspiring epic landscapes of Banff and Yoho barely eked by Pacific Rim park. Hailing from Canada’s west coast, Pacific Rim National Park is Chris Kimmel’s favorite national park.   “The rare coupling of old growth temperate rainforest and rugged Pacific coastline make it a magical destination for surfing, kayaking, hiking, beach-combing, and storm watching.”
However, as Marko Radovanovic put it, “there is no place like these two parks, where you can feel like you’re living in a postcard. At times I wonder, is this real?”


#1 Seed Yosemite beats #8 Seed Saguaro

Saguaro National Park was unique for me coming originally from the east coast. I was on assignment for NatGeo, and I had never been around that many prickly things before. Unlike the soft grassy-roll-around-in  landscape I came from, this landscape seemed to attack at every turn. But at night it is magic! – Joanna B. Pinneo

There won’t be any #1 upsets in our bracket…Yosemite, the 3rd most popular park by yearly visitors, and enjoying plenty of movie stardom thanks to a film about Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson’s epic and historic climb of Dawn Wall, moves on to the next round, where they’ll be facing….

#4 Seed Joshua Tree defeats #5 Seed Death Valley

Death Valley is my favorite park because i got married there (or will in 1 week). – Colin Meagher

Joshua Tree National Park has it all for me with world class rock climbing, camping among huge boulders and desert hiking in an incredibly interesting arid ecosystem. I love the solitude you can find without much effort by wandering the maze of trails in the evocatively named ‘Wonderland of Rocks’.  – Andrew Peacock

Sentimental favorite Death Valley can’t compete with the varied yet alien landscapes of Joshua Tree. Plus, U2.

#3 Seed Glacier, unhappy with it’s low seeding, easily defeats #6 Seed North Cascades

North Cascades National Park – Because its the most beautiful park no one knows about… Wait on second thought I really like another park more.  Death Valley, or Yellowstone.  Yea, Yellowstone everyone should go there.   – Alasdair Turner

Unfortunately, no one visits North Cascades, ever, to see it’s beauty, so Glacier National Park, which straddles the continental divide and is the home to glaciers and grizzly bears.

#2 Seed Yellowstone faces a surprising upset against #7 Seed Grand Teton
I would say that having spend several months exploring Gran Teton National Park for a National Geographic assignment makes that place special. You will have a hard time beating the views of the mountains as they rise from the valley floor, the backcountry rock climbing, or the herd of elk in the chill of the autumn mist  as they migrate south and of course, the Snake River and it’s native cut throat trout. – Jose Azel

Despite being the first national park, established on March 1st, 1872, being the home to incredible sights AND grizzly bears, and the fictional home of Yogi Bear, the huge crowds of tourists drive our photographers out to the quieter but still spectacular Grand Tetons.


#1 Seed Denali easily defeats #8 Seed Everglades, despite great pun work

Denali, because the scale is just so vastly different from anything in the lower 48. It’s BIG. On my first trip there, we were told we had to hike 3 or 4 miles from the road AND be out of sight of it. We figured that couldn’t be that difficult, but wow, was it ever! We hiked all day and eventually found a little hill to pitch our tent behind and due to the heavy fog that descended, we couldn’t see the road. But in the morning, we discovered that on the other side of the hill was a (thankfully unoccupied) bear den. – Dan Shugar

Everglades…BECAUSE IT’S MARSH MADNESS, BABY!!!#sorrynotsorry – Mike Basher

#4 Seed Arches loses in the battle of ‘A’s to #5 Seed Acadia

Acadia is my favorite National Park because it has some of the darkest skies on the east coast, and the fall colors are spectacular! – Adam Woodworth

The Utah desert in general is a pretty exciting place to go, especially when you are trying to get a bit of warmer weather either early in the spring of late in the fall. However the way the rock arches have formed at Arches National are intriguing and absolutely stunning to take in and definitely make it one of my favorites – Ben Girardi

#3 Seed Grand Canyon upset by #6 Seed Canyonlands, in the battle of….Canyons

My favorite national park is the Grand Canyon, because of its sheer enormousness and beauty.  I love the fact that it holds some of the most complicated and unaccessible terrain in the lower 48, yet at the same time the canyon’s beauty is highly accessible to the general public through the developed sections of both the rims.   Oh AND I love it because it’s where I first truly, madly fell in love with the great outdoors when my parents took me to visit the South Rim at age 12 – it absolutely took my breath away back then, and still does today. – Sunny Stroeer

I think Canyonlands needs an honorable mention. Its a quieter park, but because its broken into a few different districts there is a ton to explore, especially if you like 4×4 wheeling. Don’t take the part for granted though, its raw, untouched and unforgiving. It will eat you up and spit you out if you aren’t careful and heed ranger advice, but that’s what makes Canyonlands special. It’s vast and doesn’t have the Disneyland effect a lot of other parks have in the summer. Also, its an International Dark Sky Park. From the park’s website, “The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) has granted Gold-Tier International Dark Sky Park status to Canyonlands National Park, an honor reserved for the darkest of dark skies and most stunning starscapes.” Yeah, its pretty amazing. – Matt Andrew

Again, the sentimental favorite, and 2nd most visited National Park, loses to the park from Utah. Better luck next year, Grand Canyon!

#2 Seed Hawai’i Volcanoes says “Aloha, and aloha” to #7 Seed Banff / Yoho

Despite being the location Instagrammers flock to in droves, Banff and Yoho are both eliminated, simply because this was supposed to be a US National Parks contest. Canada, stop interfering in foreign countries contests!

With the bar not being set too high, all Hawai’i needed to advance was this vote from Sean Davey: “You can see live lava flowing, and, well, it’s the only one of these that I’ve ever been to!”

Come back next week to see the results of the Elite Eight, Final Four and find out which National Park is crowned Champion! While you’re waiting, be sure to check out some of our favorite national parks images here!

PDN Great Outdoors 2015 Contest Winners

Trying to choose which images to submit to a contest can be difficult.  Even more so when the images aren’t technically yours, but rather from many different excellent photographers, at the top of their game.  It gets even more difficult when that contest is completely in your wheelhouse, like the PDN Great Outdoors contest is.  Choosing out of the thousands of high quality images in a highly curated collection is like choosing which species of bear is your favorite bear.  How can you possibly pick just one?

Therefore, we were thrilled to see two images we chose were judged as winners in their categories!  Chris Ross’s shark image took first place in Beaches & Underwater, while Ryan Deboodt’s feisty orangutan was a winner in the Animals & Insects category!  On top of that, three other photographers that Aurora represents (Keith Ladzinski, Jason Lindsey and Woods Wheatcroft) won, highlighted by Woods winning the grand prize in the Action & Adventure category.

You can see all of the winners in both the professional and amateur categories here or in the August issue of PDN magazine.