Photographic Proof That Public Lands Are Amazing

The 2016 Share the Experience Photo Contest Winners Share the Inspiration Behind their Shots
Alanna SobelNPF Blog
Close-up shot of a green frog on a green stem at Arkansas National Wildlife Refuge

Not that you needed any persuading, but just in case, we’re here for you and are fully prepped with incredible photos from America’s national parks and recreational lands.  

Hosted by the National Park Foundation and ACTIVE Network®, our 2016 Share the Experience photo contest received more than 16,500 photos from shutterbugs across the country. From adventurous outings, to historic monuments, to family gatherings, to wildlife sightings, this contest captured the diversity of experiences that can be enjoyed in and near these treasured places.

Take a look through these winning images, get to know the people behind the lens, and then get out there, take some photos of your own, and #FindYourPark! O mejor dicho, #EncuentraTuParque!

Grand Prize Winner

Craig McIntyre

Close-up shot of a green frog on a green stem at Arkansas National Wildlife Refuge

LocationAransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

“I like photographing the frogs because they’re artistic – little reptiles and amphibians are gorgeous to me. I’ve been studying them for 60 years now – patterns, designs, and their behavior all fascinate me,” said Mr. McIntyre. “Public lands are very important to me, especially places like Big Bend National Park, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, and South Padre Island National Seashore. These places and the habitat need to be protected.”

Second Place

Gary Hamer

LocationBoundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota

“In this shot, two of my friends were hitting the water again after portaging from Caribou Lake to Lizz Lake in Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Northern Minnesota. This was the last day of our annual seven-day fall canoe-camping trip ‘Up North.’ It had been a great trip, with lots of crisp foggy mornings, outstanding scenery, and we even had a few meals of fresh fish! I hope people can picture themselves in this canoe, surrounded by calm waters, the rising fog, and get out and enjoy what is wild and beautiful in their area.”

Third Place

Christopher Regala

Boy hiking with a stick through a river running between towering red sandstone cliffs of a canyon at Zion National Park

Location: Zion National Park, Utah

“I felt it represented the Every Kid in a Park category, and I love the colors of the canyons and the water, and the look on [his son’s] face – it’s a mixture of awe and exhaustion. Although tired, he persevered. He ended up earning his junior ranger badge on this trip. Now that we’re parents, we believe even more strongly that these monuments and national parks should be treasured.”

Wildlife Winner

Matthew Sorum

Brown and white owl with yellow eyes sitting in a pine tree.

Location: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

“I go to Yellowstone each fall for wildlife viewing. This year, I went a little earlier to take in the fall leaf colors of the Tetons. I have been to Yellowstone for each of the last 4 years. When I shared the photo with friends on social media, it had a tremendous amount of positive responses from everyone. I appreciate that these lands are carefully managed to allow all visitors to view them and their inhabitants as Mother Nature created them.”

Fan Favorite Winner

Jack Hanton

Location: National Mall and Memorial Parks, Washington, D.C.

“I visit the Monument every time I go into the city! It's one of my favorites. I took the photo while on a run in D.C. with my family. We like to do this every winter break as a little tradition considering we live so close to the nation’s capital! I am an aspiring film maker, so iconic parks and monuments have inspired me to bust out the camera and test my abilities.”

Fan Favorite Winner

Rob Blair

Delicate waterfall surrounded by golden lit autumn forest of greens, yellows, and reds at Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Location: Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

“I typically visit Blue Hen Falls about three times per year. It's in a heavily wooded area and also tucked away in a small ravine, which really helps to diffuse the harsh light of the late morning sun. Since I entered only one photo, it made me really think hard about what would be one of the best representations for this particular park. Blue Hen Falls is definitely one of the top 5 must-see locations within Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and there's nothing quite like seeing it in the peak of the fall foliage.”

Historical and Cultural Winner

Michael McCook

Illuminated structure of the Hoover Dam under a blue and pink-cloud evening sky.

Location: Hoover Dam, Nevada

“I had been wanting to get some sunset and night shots of the Hoover Dam and the new Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. One afternoon, I noticed there were clouds which I hoped would give me an interesting sunset shot, so I jumped into my Jeep and got there just as the sky was turning red. Our public lands, and especially their preservation, are extremely significant to future generations. Most of my photography is inspired by nature.”

Scenic, Seasons, and Landscapes Winner

John D’Onofrio

Alien-like dimpled rock in the foreground of more funky formations under a blue sky at Fantasy Canyon

Location: Fantasy Canyon, Utah

“Fantasy Canyon is aptly named - it's like a sculpture gallery dedicated to erosional flights of fancy. The sandstone formations are almost unbelievably intricate, but I found it to be a difficult area to photograph as the rock is fairly uniformly grey in color and the lighting is harsh. On my most recent trip, I elected to camp on-site and after the sun went down I noticed the almost ghostly illumination of moonlight on the strange formations and was transfixed. I've been a life-long pilgrim on our public lands…I believe that finding and nurturing deeply-felt connections to the natural world is an antidote to the stress-inducing pace of modern life.”

Night Skies Winner

Matthew Hanna

Starry night sky with the milky way over the rocks on the coast at Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge

Location: Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon

“I wanted to take a picture that contained the stars, the beach, and the ocean, in an attempt to capture the mood of visits to the area. I absolutely love hiking the Oregon Island area, I visit as much as possible. It’s a special place with lots of rugged crags, foggy vistas, and tide pools with the low tide. You never really see it the same way twice. Public lands mean quite a lot to me. These parks, forests, and refuges are places for my adventures.”

Adventure and Outdoor Recreation Winner

Raymond Lee

3 Trial Bikers on the sandstone rocky trails of San Ysidro Trails Area

Location: White Ridge Trail System, New Mexico

“I have friends who are avid trial bike enthusiasts who knew I like to take landscape photos. They invited me to join them for a day at the San Ysidro area. This was my first visit to the area and while it did present many good landscape opportunities, I found myself caught up in the action of the trial bike participants. The New Mexico Trials Bike association partnered with the BLM to clean the area up and develop a trials bike practice and competition venue. The area is open to all members of the public and is kept clean by the Trials Bike Association.”

Every Kid in a Park Winner

Joshua Slezak

Young boy squatting on the ground at the edge of Oologah Lake holding a fishing rod.

Location: Oologah Lake, Oklahoma

“My mother and little brother went down to Oologah Lake where he cast out his fishing rod. We actually got there a little later in the day than we would have liked, but the sunset provided some beautiful colors and lighting. I was afraid some photos I took wouldn't have turned out as well as I liked, but I found this shot among the collection. All in all, it was an evening well spent with family.”

The 2017 Share the Experience photo contest is now open, so grab that camera, make some memories, and submit your favorites at! You can also follow the contest on Twitter and Instagram!


Before looking at these beautiful photos I would have said I have not seen nearly enough of our parks, but I have been to seven out of the 11 featured and only wish I would have been a good enough photographer to capture any one of these shots. Im retiring this summer and already mapping out road trips to see more of these national treasures.
I am disappointed to see only men as the winners (and subject). Our parks, like our nation, ought to remember to try represent all people and embrace our differences.
Some wonderful photos but I LOVE the frog of Craig Mcintyre, it's just incredible and adorable, so charming, so perfect!
This collection is incredible. I can't even imagine the thousands of entries that came through this contest. These photos serve as a gorgeous reminder of my love for all the parks and also how many I still have left to see!
This is a beautiful collection of images taken in National Parks. They are all winners. Thanks to those out there sharing these. I especially enjoyed the one in Zion as I have been there. In fact I am happy to say I've seen several of the places.
Beautiful photos of our beautiful country and people. Congratulations to the winners! I sure enjoyed my "mini vacation" while viewing these wonderful photos. Protecting these natural places is vital for people here now, and those to come. Thank you to all the rangers who help the public enjoy a safe experience in the parks. Thanks to all the entrants who shared their photos.
I really enjoyed these beautiful photos! I live very close to CVNP. We are vacationing at Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier next month so I hope to get some shots worthy of entering for this year! Thanks to the winners for sharing their work!
All are beautiful and deep thought provoking. Thanks to all who shared their visions. Marcy Bringen

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