Photo essay: My quest to visit every state capital in the country

On July 4, I caught a 6 a.m. flight from D.C. to Omaha, then drove about six hours to Pierre, S.D. Why? Because I’d been to 49 state capitals and was determined to hit the 50th on Independence Day.

Photos by John McDonnell

A tour guide leads a small group through the Great Hall of the Nebraska Capitol on July 6 in Lincoln.

Lots of people have traveled to all 50 states, as I had done after I reached Alaska in 2001. But not many, I found, have been to all the state capitals, many of which are small cities. With a job as a photographer that takes me all over the country — it’s now been more than four decades — it seemed reasonable to make that my next quest. I arrived in Pierre just in time to take a picture of Fourth of July fireworks exploding over the Capitol building.

Fireworks launched from across the Missouri River in Fort Pierre explode several miles behind the South Dakota Capitol on the Fourth of July.

Mission accomplished.

A tugboat chugs along in the Gastineau Channel, with the Alaska capital city of Juneau on the right. The photo was taken on Kodachrome film from a cruise ship in 2001.

A statue of Esther Hobart Morris, the first woman to serve as a justice of the peace, in front of the Wyoming Capitol on Oct. 26, 2013, in Cheyenne.

The Capitol in Santa Fe, N.M., nicknamed the Roundhouse, looks more like an art museum than a legislative building. It’s filled with works by New Mexico artists and artisans. Photo take on Aug. 14, 2014.

The Indiana Statehouse, right, in Indianapolis on March 10, 2021.

The official portrait of former California governor Jerry Brown hangs in a third-floor stairwell of the Capitol in Sacramento on Jan. 17, 2016. When it was unveiled in 1984, the unconventional piece by artist Don Bachardy drew criticism and was never hung on the first floor.

The Virginia Capitol in Richmond was designed by Thomas Jefferson and French architect Charles-Louis Clérisseau, who were inspired by an ancient Roman temple, the Maison Carrée in Nîmes, France. Photo taken on Jan. 22.

The grave of governor and U.S. senator Huey Long is seen in front of the Louisiana Capitol on Sept. 7, 2007, in Baton Rouge. Long carried out his vision in the 1930s of building the tallest state capitol in the United States. The controversial politician was shot there on Sept. 8, 1935, and died Sept. 10.

Dawn breaks on the Tennessee Capitol on Dec. 21, 2018, in Nashville.

More from the Post

How to greenify all aspects of your vacation

A beginner’s guide to camping

The latest from The Washington Post


McDonnell is a staff photographer at The Washington Post.