10 Best Family Photo Locations near Gilbert, AZ | East Valley Family Photographer
Since moving to Arizona in July I’ve spent hours exploring my new home to find the best locations to take my clients for their sessions. I am so excited to share the 10 best family photo locations near Gilbert, AZ that I’ve found and have already visited to multiple times.
1. Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch
This is #1 in my list of 10 best family photo locations because its so close to my base of operations in Gilbert, AZ and one of my absolute favorite spots! The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch is a 110 acre wetland and wildlife sanctuary located on Guadeloupe and Greenfield Rd behind the Southwest Regional Library in Gilbert, AZ.
So far it is 100% free to shoot at the Riparian Preserve. Please help us maintain this privilege by respecting the rules and especially the wildlife when visiting. Do not go into fenced off areas, even if it improves your shot. Do not harass or harm the wildlife in any way. Remember this is a wildlife preserve, we are the visitors.
The Riparian Preserve has a parking lot on the Guadeloupe side but it fills up fast, especially during peak photo season and times (October-March, Sunrise and Sunset). If needed you can also park at the Southwest Regional Library and walk across the fishing pond on the boardwalk.
Desert and cactus, running streams, other foliage, and near the ponds, you get super green reeds and other water plants.
More sessions at the Riparian Preserve: Riparian Preserve Photo Shoot | Arizona Kid Photographer, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch | Mini Session, Gilbert Extended Family Pictures | Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Riparian Preserve Family Photos | East Valley Photographer, Riparian Preserve Family Photographer, Riparian Preserve Family Pictures | Gilbert Family Photographer, Cake Smash Photographer| Happy Birthday Little R
2. Salt River
The Salt River is hands down one of the best family photo locations in the East Valley. Even though I grouped all of these into one, there are actually several places along the Salt River that are great for pictures. My personal favorite is Water Users Recreation Area but there is also Coon Bluff, Granite Reef, and I’m sure many others. Just look for any recreation area along the river for a new great photo location.
There is a $7 parking fee for all recreation area in the Tonto National Forest. Passes must be purchased at select locations before you head into the forest as they are not for sale on site. I usually pick mine up at a local gas station.
Water! I love the option of adding a water feature to my images and it’s an especially unique feature in our desert home. I also love the red cliffs that line the riverbanks and make for an epic backdrop! If water isn’t your thing, coon bluff is especially known for its groves of trees which can be super green depending on recent rainfall.
More sessions along the Salt River: Water Users Recreation Area Family Pictures | Gilbert Photographer, Coon Bluff Campground Family Pictures | Mesa Family Photographer, Then & Now | Granite Reef Family Pictures | East Valley Photographer
3. Usery Mountain Regional Park
Usery Mountain Regional Park was the first place I ever took pictures at in Arizona and I’ve been in love ever since. Just look for any one of the many trailheads and you’ll find gorgeous desert landscape speckled with cacti. I especially love the Wind Cave Trailhead which is where these two sessions were photographed at.
There is a $7 entry fee payable as you enter the park at the ranger station.
Most of the trailheads have parking nearby. They can get busy during peak seasons and times both by photographers and hikers.
Cacti, wide open spaces, boulders, and mountains.
More sessions at Usery Mountain Regional Park: Usery Pass Family Pictures | Gilbert Family Photographer, Mesa Family Photographer | Wind Cave Trailhead Family Pictures, Wind Cave Family Pictures | Fall Color Palette | East Valley Photographer
4. Papago Park
Papago Park is located in Tempe in the same complex that houses the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Gardens. It’s one of the best family photo locations because of the location, its central to everything and a great way to access wide open desert spaces without having to travel to the outskirts of the valley.
There are many different parking lots located throughout the park so it’s usually pretty easy to find a parking spot. There are especially busy parts of the park, like Hole in the Rock, that can fill up quickly with photographers and hikers so you may have to walk a little ways during peak seasons and times.
Cacti, Ponds (see Papago Ponds), Red Rock, Boulders, Desert Foliage.
More from my sessions at Papago Park: Papago Park Family Pictures | East Valley Family Photographer, Water Users Recreation Area Family Pictures | Gilbert Photographer
5. Hole in the Rock, Papago Park
I had to give this little gem its own heading because I love Hole in the Rock and its so different from anything else around, even within Papago Park. This particular session was in August at sunrise, so not during the peak season… but I don’t think it ever would have happened otherwise. Every other time I’ve gone to Papago Park this place is CRAWLING with hikers so you’re going to have to make some sacrifices to use this amazing backdrop in your session.
There is a parking lot especially for this trailhead and the hike up to the “hole” isn’t more than a quarter mile. It will fill up during peak seasons and times, making your walk a little longer.
Red rock, hole in the rock, boulders, great views.
More from my session at Hole In the Rock: Pictures at Papago Park | Hole in the Rock | East Valley Photographer
6. Desert Botanical Gardens
It’s a massive botanical garden filled with cacti, succulents, mesquite trees, and so much more… definitely one of the best family photo locations around! Make sure you arrive with plenty of time to scout all the different trails and get a feel for each section as each is very different from the others. My personal favorites are the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop and the Cactus and Succulent Galleries. Photography is only allowed during regular business hours which are seasonal so plan accordingly.
Cost: $30/person or Free on Community Day
Admission prices change depending on the season but typically you can expect to pay $24.95 – $29.95/adult and $12.95 – $14.95/child.
Community Day is the 2nd Tuesday of each month and Admission is complimentary on those day.
There is no photography fee beyond admission for shooting in the gardens.
There is a large parking lot at the Desert Botanical Garden, typical for what you would expect for such a big attraction. I’ve never had an issue but it does fill up, especially on community days, consider carpooling or taking public transit during peak times.
Gorgeous landscaped garden with native plants, towering cacti, sculptures and other rotating installations.
More from my sessions at the Desert Botanical Gardens: Desert Botanical Garden Community Day | Arizona Photographer, Desert Botanical Garden Family Photos | Free Admission | Phoenix Family Photographer, Desert Botanical Garden Family Pictures | Phoenix Family Photographer
7. Lost Dutchman State Park
The Lost Dutchman State Park is perhaps one of the East Valley’s most well known photo locations. The towering rock formations make for a stunning backdrop to any photo session. The best time for pictures at this particular location is sunrise since the sun comes up directly over the mountain, meaning a sunset session would have the subject squinting into the sun.
Cost: $50 + $10/car
Because it is such a popular spot the Lost Dutchman State Park has recently introduced a $50 photography fee to take pictures in front of the iconic rock formations. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional or amateur hoping to snag a few of your family, any kind of posed photography incurs the fee.
There is an additional $10/car entrance fee to enter the park.
There are several lots scattered throughout the park with easy access to trails and ideal photo locations.
Iconic Lost Dutchman rock formations, cacti, desert landscape.
More from my session at Lost Dutchman: Lost Dutchman Family Pictures | Extended Family Photographer
8. Desert Foothills Trailhead, Telegraph Pass, Ahwatukee
The Ahwatukee foothills are known for their stunning desert landscapes which lend themselves wonderfully to family photos. Nestled back in a neighborhood this trailhead offers easy access to the very best the landscape has to offer.
The trailhead has a well maintained parking lot with restrooms, I’ve never seen it more than half full.
Cacti, hiking trails, boulders, desert foliage.
More from my sessions in the Ahwatukee Foothills: Ahwatukee Family Pictures | Gilbert Photographer, Telegraph Pass Trailhead Family Pictures | East Valley Photographer
9. Browns Ranch, McDowell Sonoran Conservancy
The McDowell Sonoran Conservancy is the Scottsdale equivalent of the Riparian Preserve, though perhaps a bit more rugged and wild. These desert boulders are one of the main reasons I drive up to Scottsdale for photo sessions and the Conservancy is one of the best places to get them.
There is a good sized parking lot with restrooms and an educational pavilion at the Brown’s Ranch trailhead. These images were specifically taken on the Jane Rau loop (0.5 miles) directly off the pavilion/restroom complex.
Boulders, Cacti, Hiking Trails
More from my sessions at Brown’s Ranch: McDowell Sonoran Preserve Family Pictures | East Valley Photographer, Scottsdale Family Photographer | Cave Creek Mommy & Me Pictures
10. Space One 2 One Lifestyle Studio
It’s no secret that Arizona get a little warm come summer time so I had to include at least one location that beats the heat. The Space One 2 One lifestyle studio in Mesa is one of the best family photo locations because in here, it’s always a cool 72 degrees and sunny. I particularly love this location for newborn sessions to get that cozy “in-home” feeling.
One of the things I love about this studio is that it’s super affordable with rooms starting at $45/hour and maxing out at $60/hour. They also have this awesome cyc wall for an additional $30/hour which is unique in the East Valley.
By the way in case you’re wondering, ‘Cyc’ is an abbreviated term for cyclorama, Webster defines a cyclorama as “a curved wall used as a background of a stage set to suggest unlimited space.”
The studio is located in a strip mall/warehouse on Broadway Rd just off the 101. Plenty of parking.
Lifestyle, in-home feel, Cyc wall, natural light, cozy furniture.
More from my sessions at Space One 2 One: East Valley Newborn Photographer | Space One 2 One, How to Give Your Kids Autonomy | Parenting 101 | Space One 2 One | Gilbert Lifestyle Photographer