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The Closest, Best Photo Locations Near Phoenix

Here’s a trick that will never fail you; ask an expert what their favorite is. I’m talking from anything from the server at a restaurant to your neighborhood butcher. You get the best scoops from people who know what is best!

So, doesn’t it make sense that when you want some amazing adventure photos of you and your person (or all your people), that you ask a photographer what their favorite places are? These locations are my absolute favorite places to photograph that are a short distance away from Metro Phoenix.

You may not see the places you expected to see on this list, and I get into the details of why here. But the biggest reason I love these locations is that they are much more “wild and free” than any city park is.  There’s something about being away from the hustle and bustle that makes it feel like an adventure and I promise you that spirit comes through in the photos.


First, Do No Harm


Adventure shouldn’t come with a price tag for Mother Nature, so it’s important for me to state that no matter where we travel together to take your photos I am always careful to leave the smallest footprint possible. The further we go from the city the more we are rewarded with gorgeous plants, vegetation, and crazy-beautiful views, and keeping these lands unspoiled is important to me and my clients. We stay safe, and we reap the benefits of the beauty of the wild Sonoran Desert!


Bartlett Dam Road


Here’s a true insider secret; this place is so beautiful that I had my own family photos done there. A short 45 minute or so drive from Phoenix is this gem in the Tonto National Forest; it’s this gorgeous combination of windy roads, spectacular desert views ending at sparkling Bartlett Lake. There are lots of options for photos, and the light during that hour or so before sunset is delicious.

Permits and Fees: First stop is to check with The National Park Service for proposals, permits and fees. Things are always changing, so calling is your best bet.


White Tank Regional Park

woman walking in White Tank Mountain Regional Park

The main attraction is a waterfall, which is nice to take in after a hike. But it’s not the best place in this park for photos (it’s easily one of the most crowded spots in the whole park). White Tank is hands down the best place for photos in the spring when the desert comes alive with blooms. The riot of colors set off by the stone mountains with Saguaro and Cholla cactus all around makes it just a beautiful location for photos.

Permits and Fees: The per-person fees for this Maricopa County park are detailed here.

Related: Hidden Gems in Arizona for Adventure Seekers


Lost Dutchman State Park

closest best photo locations to phoenix: lost dutchman state park

An iconic spot just past Apache Junction, Lost Dutchman State Park is nothing short of magical. Sitting at the base of the legendary Superstition Mountains, this place screams Arizona. Impressive rock formations, inspiring sunsets, and well-maintained amenities make this area a favorite for families with young kids. At the same time, there are plenty of rugged hiking trails like Siphon Draw, suited only for the most seasoned pros.

Permits and Fees: Photo permits and a $50 fee are required for commercial shoots, in addition to the regular entrance fee.


San Tan Mountain Regional Park


I’m talking to you, Chandler, Mesa, Gilbert, and Queen Creek people who need epic photos! Just outside your door is an amazing location for adventure photos at a state park that will give you all the desert views and the look and feel of a Spaghetti Western. Seated at the edge of the Sonoran desert, but surprisingly green and lush in the early spring months! Sometimes you can even see people horseback riding through the trails.

Permits and Fees: The per-person entrance fees for this Maricopa County park are detailed here.


Boyce Thompson Arboretum


If you want to get technical, this is a little over an hour’s drive from Phoenix depending on what part of the city you are coming from. I promise it’s worth the few extra miles. This fully landscaped garden has gorgeous native plants, views of the Superstition Mountains, paved pathways, and a few greenhouses right on site. So much to work with! It’s also a great location if you have anyone who has mobility issues but still wants photos that have that beautiful desert feel.

Permits and Fees: I can’t believe it, but they don’t charge a fee for photos here! All you have to cover is the admission fee for the number of adults and children.


Salt River

woman standing near Salt River

If you love the idea of mountains and water views in your photos, the most scenic spots along the Salt River are a short drive from Mesa. It’s just gorgeous, and teeming with wildlife, including wild mustangs!  If this is a location that interests you, then I suggest a sunrise session. The river gets very crowded with kayakers, water tubers, and family photo takers as the day goes on.

Permits and Fees: First stop is to check with The National Park Service for proposals, permits and fees. Things are always changing, so calling is your best bet.


Drive and Explore

a woman stands on a dirt road with a mountain in the distance

No destination, no worries, no expectations. Finding random dirt roads and seeing where it leads us is probably my favorite way to do an adventure photo session. Are you looking for photos that won’t look like anyone else’s? Then let’s hit the road and find some amazing views. All you need is a willingness to explore wild Arizona.

I’m all about finding the right place for you tailored to your goals for your photos. From the smallest of details to the big picture, I want to take photos of the people who matter the most to you in some of the most beautiful places I know. Let’s adventure together!