Utah’s Zion National Park is awe inspiring and may well be one of the finest National Parks in America. Zion National Park is in the south west of Utah. It is close to the town of Springdale and is popular with hikers, climbers and photographers alike. The most prominent feature of the park is the 15 mile long red rock Zion Canyon eroded by the Virgin river over many centuries. The park has a very unique geography consisting of four main life zones. These are; desert, riparian, woodland and coniferous forest. Our photography guide to Zion national park we will make sure you have all the info you need to make the most from your trip to Zion.
At 229 square miles Zion National park is one of the smaller parks in the USA. But whilst it may not be the biggest, it packs one hell of punch. There is a lot to see and our photography guide to Zion National Park will offer up plenty of tips and insight.
Photography Guide to Zion National Park
Due to its proximity to Bryce Canyon, Las Vegas & The Grand Canyon, Zion can get pretty busy. Especially during the high season of June to September. Because of the increased visitors Floor of the Valley Road is closed from March to October. There is a free shuttle bus that operates between Zion visitor centre and the last stop in the canyon the Temple of Sinawava. The shuttle has 9 stops that all have varying difficulty of hikes.
Zion shuttle stops
- 1 – Zion Canyon Visitor Center
- 2 – Zion Human History Museum
- 3 – Canyon Junction
- 4 – Court of the Patriarchs
- 5 – Zion Lodge
- 6 – The Grotto
- 7 – Weeping Rock
- 8 – Big Bend
- 9 – Temple of Sinawava
Photography Guide to Zion national park top points of interest
These are the must see locations to visit in our photography guide to Zion national park. All these are locations are amazing but some are easier to reach. Others need some tough uphill hikes.
For the sake of this guide, we will be working through the photo spots in chronological order of shuttle bus stops. We will then also highlight a few other photo spots in Zion National Park as well.
Towers of the Virgin (stop 2)
The towers of the Virgin is one of the most impressive views in Zion and also one of the easiest to reach. Located right behind the Zion human museum its a great spot to kick off your photo shoot. It doesn’t need a hike to get into position so it’s an easy start.
Canyon Junction (stop 3)
As you approach Canyon junction you will pass over a bridge, look to your right and you will see your shot. From the middle of the bridge you have an amazing view down the Virgin river towards the the Watchman. This is one of the most iconic shots in Zion National Park and for good reason. Be careful on the bridge as there is no pavement and cars are still allowed access to this road. The view from the other side of the bridge is also pretty impressive so don’t forget to turn around. For those of you are in to astro photography the milky way rises right out of the Watchman at the right time of year. So be ready to be out all night.
Court of the Patriarchs (stop 4)
The three patriarchs are named after the old testament of Jacob, Issac and Abraham. From the shuttle stop, it’s a short hike to the view point. Or you can cross the road and get some great shots of the Patriarchs reflecting in the Virgin river.
Emerald pools (stop 5)
Stop 5 is Zion lodge but it is also the location of the trail head to the Emerald pools. From the bus stop walk over the bridge to find the trail head that leads to the lower, middle and upper emerald pools. The amount of water depends on the season and can be very low during the summer high season. This easy trail takes a few hours but offers some great photo opportunists at the right time of year.
The Grotto & Angels landing trailhead (stop 6)
The trail to Angels Landing starts across the road from the Grotto and heads upwards. Angels landing is one of the busiest and most beautiful and dangerous hikes in the park. The hike is 2.5 miles up a 1,500 ft elevation so it’s pretty strenuous and not for the faint hearted. Sections of the hike pass over sharp 1,000ft drops that need the use of chains to stop you from falling. Providing you can handle all this then the view from Angels landing looking down the canyon is breathtaking. It is the crowning jewel of Zion National park for good reason.
Observation point (stop 7)
Stop 7, weeping rock leads you to the trail for observation point. The trail to observation point is a tough, steep 8 mile round trip hike but well worth the efforts. The trail to observation point is often closed due to bad weather. Observation point is one of the highest points in the park. It has views over Angels Landing all the way down the canyon.
Big Bend (stop 8)
There aren’t any trail heads as such at big bend but it is still a beautiful stretch of river. The Virgin river makes a sharp bend around the base of Angels landing as it heads towards the Narrows at the end of Zion Canyon.
Temple of Sinawava (stop 9)
The final shuttle stop drops you at the temple of Sianawava and the start of the riverside walk. A lovely short hike leading along the river bank as the canyon starts to narrow. It finally ends by heading into The Narrows.
Located at the end of the riverside walk (stop 9) the Narrows is an area where the canyon closes in to form a slot canyon. The hike through the Narrows requires you to get your feet wet. So make sure to have the correct footwear and a walking stick to avoid falling. Only take the equipment you need and make sure you don’t forget to put that waterproof cover over your bag. It isn’t always possible to walk the Narrows as the river is often to high outside of the summer months. But if you have the chance then make sure you do not miss it.
Canyon overlook offers a great view of the main canyon. You’ll see the winding road leading up the canyon in the foreground. With the towers of the Virgin looming in the background. The hike to get to Canyon overlook is an easy 1 mile round trip. This makes it convenient as its a great shot at dusk which means walking back in low light. The lights of the cars winding up route 9 make for some interesting foreground interest.
Upper East Canyon
Route 9 meanders through the Upper East Canyon. The route has lots of places to stop where you can get out and explore. The landscape is vastly different to Zion Canyon and a lot quieter and just begging to be photographed.
Suggested Gear List
- Waterproof gear – You are never far from water in Zion
- Good walking shoes – Lots of hiking so good shoes are imperative
- Wide angle lens – the Canyon is very steep so you will need a wide angle lens to capture all its grandeur
- Lee ND Grad filters – There is a big light difference between the sky and canyon at sunset and sunrise and ND filters will make all the difference.
- Lowepro Comfortable bag with waterproof cover – With lots of hiking you will want a comfortable camera bag
- Walking pole – for some of the more strenuous and rived bed hikes such as the narrows this will really come in handy.
Hope you found our Photography Guide to Zion National Park useful. We would love to hear from you if it helped with your shoot plan. So please do let us know either in the comments or over email.
Jordan Banks is a successful travel photographer with almost 20 years of experience shooting assignments and campaigns for some of the world’s leading brands and companies. If you would like to learn more, why not join one of his travel photography marketing courses.
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