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Be A Good Scout

Good scouting and trip notes make the most of your time in the wild.

October 30, 2019 Landscapes / Practical Matters

My wife Mary and I explored Cuyahoga Valley National Park for the first time. It's only four hours from home, but it's never been near the top of my wish list of locations. After an extra-long weekend there with fall color and mixed weather, l know I'll be back for more of this unique park.

Cuyahoga Valley NP stretches between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio for about 20 miles and encompasses 33,000 acres of Eastern deciduous forest. It's a green chain of national park land and locally-owned forests called reservations that are managed in cooperation with the National Parks Service.

Blue Hen Falls, Cuyahoga Valley Nat'l Park

Blue Hen Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Blue Hen Falls tells the natural history story of the park in a nutshell. It reveals how water carves through sandstone and creates the park's unique features which include a deep, winding river gorge, bedrock outcroppings, ravines, creeks, waterfalls, lakes and marshes.

We spent our first afternoon scouting locations I'd studied before we got there. I made notes on the park map and in a notebook about each spot I wanted to see and other places we found along the way.

Scouting notes usually include information about a location's best time of day, best light direction, light quality like soft or bright, conditions like calm or windy, and positions for good compositions. Sometimes I'll take a smartphone photo as a reminder. Adding thoughts about what it may look like in other seasons or in different weather rounds out the picture. Along the way, I add notes about rangers stations, nature centers, restrooms, drinking water sources, picnic areas, stores, restaurants and coffee. Always coffee.

Good scouting notes aren't complete without including any special gear I may need now or the next time I visit the park. A sturdy tripod, polarizing filters, rubber boots and a walking stick are musts here. For the photo of Blue Hen Falls, I used them and a Nikon D850, Nikon 24-70 f2.8 lens, Nikon polarizing filter, Gitzo carbon-fiber tripod, Really Right Stuff ball head and leveling base, and an electronic cable release.

Before you go to Cuyahoga, get and study Bob Hitchman's Photograph America newsletter about the park's photogenic spots. All his guides help you get to the good spots in many destinations when you want to make the most of your time in the wilds. For the price of a light lunch, Bob has done lots of scouting for you. See his list of locations at

No matter how many picture books, guide books, postcards, and calendars of a park you study, nothing can be more enlightening than exploring the place yourself. Standing at a vista gives you the perspective you'll need for determining how and when you'd make your most satisfying photographs there. Be a good scout before and during your visit and you'll bring home pleasing images and memories of your new favorite wild place.

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