For 40 years, BACKPACKER readers have explored the wilderness and returned with photographic gold. But we were wowed by the entries for this contest—more than 650 of them. Check out these finalists (and this year's winner), then go to backpacker.com/photos to submit your own images. We’ll showcase the best entries in upcoming issues.
Badlands Thunderstorm, South Dakota
During a cross-country road trip with stops at six national parks last summer, Jason Heritage, 25, and his companions camped at this big-sky South Dakota site after visiting Badlands National Park. “Pulsating bolts of white lightning accentuated the orange glow of the storm,” he says. “I captured strikes in nine out of 12 shots.” Heritage didn’t have a tripod, but managed to nail this low-light image with quick thinking. “I only slowed my shutter speed down to 1/40 second and then held my breath to limit camera shake,” says the graphic designer/marketing coordinator from Philadelphia, PA. The hike Explore the Badlands’ stark terrain on the 22-mile, off-trail Sage Creek Loop. You’ll see more bison than backpackers as you wind through labyrinthine washes surrounded by rock pinnacles. Get a complete guide with a downloadable PDF for the three-day trek at backpacker.com/sagecreek. Nikon D7000 1/40 second, f/6.3