With desert canyons, deep gorges, and soaring mountains, Delta County offers seemingly endless opportunities to take incredible photographs. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or up-and-coming shutterbug, you’ll find a great variety of subjects and landscapes, including spectacular views, soaring vistas, wildlife, and wildflowers.

The only way to shoot great images is to get out there in the world, so pack your camera, lenses, and tripod and head to western Colorado. To help you plan your trip, we’ve highlighted Delta County’s photography hot spots and shared tips for capturing better images.

1. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

While the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is Colorado’s least visited national park, its raw beauty is ideal for photographers. The cliff-lined canyon, measuring 2,722 feet from rim to river at its deepest point, is best photographed from six viewpoints scattered along the five-mile North Rim Road, the short Chasm View Trail, and a longer hike out to Exclamation Point. The best overlooks along the winding North Rim Road are The Narrows View, Island Peaks View, and Kneeling Camel View.

Use a wide-angle lens to capture the immensity of the gorge. To shoot the river squeezed between towering walls, try a telephoto. As you walk the Chasm View Trail, you’ll skirt the edge of a high cliff. Stop at several fenced overlooks for photos of the canyon and the raging river far below. If you follow the North Vista Trail, you’ll walk 1.5 miles to reach Exclamation Point. At this overlook, you can photograph The Narrows section of the canyon and the Chasm View Wall. The best times to photograph the Black Canyon are morning and evening, when spectacular light floods much of the canyon.

2. Needle Rock

Needle Rock is an imposing figure amid the open ranchland of Delta County.


A volcanic natural wonder, Needle Rock is one of Delta County’s iconic landmarks. The cliff-walled formation, standing against the West Elk Mountains, offers superb photo opportunities across open ranchland west of the rock. Get your best images in the late afternoon from Needle Rock Road and 4200 Road west of the formation. Place the meadows and scattered ranch buildings in the foreground and frame Needle Rock against Saddle Mountain and Big Sand Mountain.

Summer afternoons and evenings offer gorgeous light, as well as clouds and thunderstorms moving over the mountains. Wait for the sun to catch Needle Rock before snapping your shutter. Shoot a variety of angles at different focal lengths using everything from wide-angle to telephoto lenses.

Another good shot of Needle Rock is from the western edge of Crawford Reservoir. For an especially impressive shot, include the lake with reflected clouds in the foreground. As you’re exploring the area, be sure to avoid private property.

3. West Elk Mountains

The West Elk Mountains, forming Delta County’s eastern boundary, are dominated by Mount Lamborn and Landsend Peak. To photograph these hulking mountains, make your way to pull-outs along Colorado Highway 133 in the North Fork Valley. The best viewpoints are past Hotchkiss on a bluff above the North Fork of the Gunnison River. Pull safely off the right side of the highway at the pullouts. Frame your images with a wide-angle lens that includes the river below, tall cottonwoods lining green fields, and the pointed mountains beyond. Late afternoon and evening offer the best light for photographs.

4. Grand Mesa

Grand Mesa is a prime spot to photograph golden aspens in late September.

Mike Goad

Known as the land of 300 lakes, Grand Mesa dominates Delta County’s northern skyline. The flat-topped, 10,000-foot mountain stands as an island in the sky overlooking desert valleys. From Grand Mesa, you’ll have long-distance views stretching from Utah’s La Sal Mountains to the San Juan Mountains. Besides offering fantastic scenery and photo ops, Grand Mesa is one of Colorado’s best places to shoot photos of iconic golden aspens in late September. After stopping for pics at Pioneer Town in Cedaredge, continue up Colorado Highway 65. As the road climbs the final stretch, a couple of viewpoints offer photo vantage points.

Turn your camera southeast for shots of the West Elk Mountains and south to the San Juan Mountains. On the mesa top, you can photograph numerous lakes that line the highway and side roads. Stop at Island Lake for roadside, or take the short hike to the Land O Lakes Overlook for views of 13 lakes below and a full panoramic view.You could also hit the trails and shoot glassy lakes like Ward, Alexander, Baron, and Eggleston.

The 10.3-mile Crag Crest Trail follows a rocky ridge with spectacular photos at every step. For excellent sunset photographs, take Forest Service Road 100 to the Lands End Observatory on the western edge of Grand Mesa. Set your camera on a tripod and shoot west with the reddening sun shafting across the Grand Valley and Escalante and Dominguez Canyons far below.

5. Escalante Canyon

Filled with eroded hoodoos, red sandstone cliffs, diverse wildlife, and historic sites, Escalante Canyon is a fantastic place for photography in the Escalante-Dominguez National Conservation Area. To reach the canyon, take US 50 and turn onto marked 650 Road. Drive 0.46 miles and turn right onto a one-lane track. Then, drive 1.2 miles to the Dominguez Rim viewpoint, where stair-stepped cliffs and the swirling Gunnison River make for a sublime landscape to capture.

In Escalante Canyon, be sure to stop and shoot the stone cabin at the Walker Homestead and the historic Captain Smith Cabin, which lurks below tall cliffs. Bring a 300mm telephoto lens for snapping wildlife, including golden eagles, desert bighorn sheep, wild turkey, and herds of mule deer. Also, look for rock art created by ancient artists near the Gunnison River. The Potholes Recreation Site, a popular swimming hole, offers photo ops of Escalante Creek as it plunges over rock ledges in a dark inner canyon.

6. Adobe Badlands

The eroded shale deposits of the Adobe Badlands create a unique landscape of barren mesas, hills, and ravines.


In the Adobe Badlands Wilderness Study Area north of Delta, eroded shale deposits have formed sharp ridges and barren slopes that photographers love. Known as The Adobes, the area is a jumble of sloped mesas, sculptured hills, shallow ravines, and Devils Thumb, an isolated clay pinnacle. It’s easy to spend hours exploring the badlands and capturing expansive images and close-up photos of the water-carved hills and canyons.

To reach The Adobes, take US 50 to Devils Thumb Road. Travel north on Devils Thumb Road, pass the Devil’s Thumb Golf Course and look for a pullout and the trailhead for Devils Thumb. From here, hike 1.1 miles to reach excellent views of the Devils Thumb pinnacle and the San Juan Mountains.

Devils Thumb Road eventually becomes West Pipeline Road, where you’ll find more trails that lead into the upper badlands. Explore this area to capture more great images of the San Juans, especially during the early morning and late afternoon hours.

7. Gunnison Gorge

The Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area preserves a deep canyon that includes 14 miles of the Gunnison River below the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The spectacular area, including one of Colorado’s most prolific trout fisheries, is best photographed from a high ridge that borders the western edge of the gorge. Several rough roads climb from Peach Valley Road to the ridge crest. At the end of Ute Road and Duncan Road, you’ll find some of the best spots to get broad views of Gunnison Gorge.

For prime conditions, shoot during the afternoon when the sun’s long rays illuminate the east rim and the distant West Elk Mountains. To get great shots in the canyon, hike down Ute Trail for 4.5 miles to the river. Look for good angles to shoot overview images of deeply incised Red Canyon across the Gorge. The Chukar Road and short Chukar Trail give easy access to the upper gorge and the cliff-lined canyon. Mountain bikers should remember to pack a light camera to shoot pics along the Sidewinder Trail, Delta County’s best bike ride.

8. Eagle’s Eye View from Mount Lamborn

Mount Lamborn, the high point of Delta County, offers an eagle-eye view of the surrounding landscape, including Grand Mesa, North Fork Valley, Uncompahgre Plateau, and a parade of snow-capped peaks in the San Juan Mountains. The only way to photograph this stunning 360-degree panorama is by hiking seven miles up the Lamborn and Mount Lamborn trails. After scrambling up the final rocky slopes to the 11,402-foot summit, catch your breath and then start shooting.

Wide-angle shots with an 18mm lens let you capture the sweep of land from Paonia, tucked in the valley 5,000 feet below, to flat-topped Grand Mesa. You can also get wide-angle shots of the West Elk Wilderness Area to the east. A moderate telephoto lens gives airplane views of the Black Canyon and distant Mount Sneffels to the southwest. Use the panorama function on your phone’s camera to get a super-wide photograph. For the best light conditions, get an early start so you can shoot photos before the sun moves into the western sky.

Written by Stewart Green for Matcha in partnership with Delta County Colorado and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by John Prichard

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