The location: Zion National Park
Zion National Park is located in southwest Utah and is one of five national parks in the state. As part of the Grand Circle, it’s popular with families, travelers, and tours looking to see many natural marvels in a short trip. The park has become so popular that parking and over-crowding are major concerns. Summer weekend crowds can force visitors to park in the town of Springdale (for $15-20) and shuttle into the park. Once in the park, shuttles take visitors along the main road where cars are not allowed.
The story: 4 trips in a month
For our Grand Circle adventure, we made Kanab, Utah our base camp. This town is 1-2 hours from Zion, Bryce Canyon, Lake Powell, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We spent a month in Kanab and drove to these destinations as many times as possible. We made four trips to Zion National Park, catching it in rain and shine. Using the east entrance, we saw parts of the park that are missed by the bulk of travelers. Each visit brought marvelous sights and new perspectives. Generally, we found the park to be photogenic at all times of day. The light shifted frequently, so be ready to go with the flow.
The best photo spots: difficult & moderate
The famously difficult hike is 5.4 miles long with nearly 1500 feet of elevation gain, including Walter’s Wiggles and a section so steep and narrow you have to hold on to a chain to stay safe. The hike is strenuous enough that you probably won’t pull out your camera until you’re at the top. Bring a small, sturdy tripod instead of a full-size one since you’ll have to lug it, and the rest of your camera gear, all the way up. A wide angle lens and polarizing filter will help you caputre the detail of the canyon from this high perch.
This moderate trail on the east side of the tunnel isn’t on the shuttle route or even on the main map. That said, some of the best photos of the park came from this hike. From the trailhead, you walk east then north through a little tunnel under the road. From there follow the little pools in the rock up a mild incline. You’ll get the best photos and best reflections on a day with blue sky and a few clouds.
The best photo spots: easy hikes
Lower Emerald Pool
Take the shuttle to stop 5 at Zion Lodge and follow the signs to Lower Emerald Pool Trail. The paved trail takes you around and under the falls that pour off the rock edge above. You’ll get a little sprayed but it’s worth it to get a different perspective of the water. We hiked this trail twice and found the water was much more spectacular the day after rain. Bring a tripod and a neutral density filter to capture that perfect water blur.
If you take the shuttle all the way to its end, stop 9, you’ll find the Riverside Walk. This easy trail is really two trails in one. The main paved trail follows the canyon wall and is speckled with hanging gardens—lush green plants growing straight out of the rock. You can also walk right along the riverbank and get shots of the river tumbling over boulders and fallen trees. This trail also serves as the gateway to the Narrows, which was unfortunately closed due to high water levels during our visits. Again, a neutral density filter and tripod will help you get the best shots.
This one is more of a park-and-walk than a hike. At sunset, you’ll see photographers lined up acress the bridge near shuttle stop 3. From here you can get a good shot of the most iconic Zion peaks and the river.
The gear: Canon
These photos of Zion National Park were taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, with a Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L wide lens or Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L telephoto lens, each with a polarizing or neutral density filter.
All images are copyright of Josh Schaulis and may not be reproduced or used in any way without written permission.