LOST DUTCHMAN STATE PARK
Location: 6109 N Apache Trail, Apache Junction, AZ
Photo Pass: Pass approval required in advance, $50 photo permit fee plus $7 per vehicle entry. Alternate trail option for free is available with a slightly more side view.
What to expect: Iconic towering rock formations, dirt trails and saguaros. Photo examples are from sunset (the first being RIGHT when the sun dips at the horizon), but sunrise allows light to come from behind the mountains, making it easier on the eyes!
Superstition mountains - south side
Location: Lost Goldmine Trail - East
Photo Pass: No entry fee, no photo pass needed
What to expect: Getting up close and personal with the mountains. Easily walkable, lots of saguaros! Great 360 views here for shooting all the way through sunset. About a 20 minute drive on a dirt road (accessible with a regular car)
Location: 625 N Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ
Photo Pass: No pass required
What to expect: Desert rock scenery, small ponds with palm trees and tall grass. Can get crowded on weekends, especially when the weather is nice. Requires moderate walks on flat trails. These photos were taken about 2 hours before sunset.
USERY MOUNTAIN REGIONAL PARK
Location: 3939 N Usery Pass Rd, Mesa, AZ
Photo Pass: No pass required, $7 per car paid at the main entrance guard house
What to expect: Flat desert scenery with mountains in the background at select spots. Large saguaros easily accessible from trails. Easy to drive from spot to spot, park, and walk a short distance. These photos were taken around 10 a.m.
WHITE TANK MOUNTAIN REGIONAL PARK
Photo Pass: $7 per car to enter the park, or park at the library and pay $3 per person inside for foot traffic only
What to expect: Perfect mountain backdrop for a sunset session — this is one of the closest views in the whole Valley. Lots of saguaros, short walks to locations.
PHON D. SUTTON - MID MOUNTAIN PARKING LOT
Location: Mesa, AZ
Photo Pass: $8 Tonto National Forest Pass, acquired in advance (not sold nearby)
What to expect: Dirt parking lot that gives access to a small, easy to access desert area with amazing “down the road” mountain views. These photos were taken on a completely overcast day.
Location: AZ-88, Apache Junction, AZ
Photo Pass: $8 Tonto National Forest Pass, acquired in advance (not sold at the lake itself)
What to expect: About an hour's drive with no traffic from Tempe (my home base!) Large lake, towering rock formations, tall grass. Busy in the summer.
The Salt River
Location: Tonto Basin, AZ 85553
Photo Pass: $8 Tonto National Forest pass, acquired in advance
What to expect: Rocky ground, lots of trees/bushes, water access (you can wade all the way in if you want during summer/early fall) — water levels change throughout the year. Sun sets on the mountain in gorgeous orange tones.