A Photographers Guide to Zion National Park
We weren’t lucky when we got to Zion for the first time on our trip. When we wanted to leave our tent in the morning we were welcomed by grey clouds and heavy rain. So we decided to come back at the end of our round trip and hope for better weather. The second time we were luckier and had three perfect sunny days. We visited Zion in September 2015 and stayed at the Watchman Campground. In the following I will present you a few awesome things you shouldn’t miss in Zion National Park!
The hike to the lower and upper Emerald pools is short and if you make it a round trip by hiking up to the next Park Bus station (The Grotto) you get one of the best views of the valley with the river.
You start your walk at Zion Lodge park bus station and follow the signs to Emerald pools. You walk along a slowly rising path with trees around you. To the end it gets a bit steeper and you reach the lower Emerald pool soon. In summer the waterfall that normally comes down here has often nearly vanished. To the Upper Emerald pool the trail leads a few meters further up. At the end you reach a nice blue water pool with a waterfall. You can rest here and have some snacks. When we were there hundreds of dragonflies where sitting everywhere. In my opinion, the upper Emerald pool is more beautiful, then the lower. On your way back the path separates at some point. One way goes back to Zion Lodge bus station the other leads to The Grotto bus station and is a little bit longer. We chose the longer one that leads along the hillside with the river below you. Here are many nice Viewpoints to take photos of the red glowing canyon (come here in the afternoon for the best light). The path ends at a bridge at The Grotto bus station (this is also the starting point for the Angels Landing Trail, see below).
This is maybe the most famous trail in Zion NP and rightly so. You have incredible overwhelming views from the end of the trail and all along the last mile. But be careful! You shouldn’t be scared of heights for this last part that leads all along a ridge.
The trail starts at The Grotto Bus Station and you walk up the first few kilometers in long serpentines. Start your walk early so you have a shady, less strenuous walk along the first part of the trail. The second part are several short and steep serpentines. They are called the Walter Wiggles and are iconic for the trail. At there end you get the first views into the valley. From there the harder part (or for us the more fun part) of the trail starts, where you walk along the edge of the rock and look down to the river about 400 meters below your feet. After an hour and lots of incredible views of the trail and into the valley you reach Angels Landing. From there you have fantastic views in both directions of the valley!
The only negative thing to say, is that it can get really crowded, because its a well-known trail. Especially in the last part you often have to wait because the trail is narrow and you can’t pass slower people.
Walking the Narrows is a must-do when you visit Zion NP ! Especially for photographers this is a paradise. The blue water mixed with the canyon walls glowing in the midday sun make a unique atmosphere. As you can walk as far as you like (the trail is the destination) it makes it a hike for everybody. If you want to hike the whole canyon to or from Chamberlain’s Ranch you´ll have to plan to stay there for at least one the night (camping permit required). We walked as far as we liked and the farther we got the more beautiful it got.
From the Visitor center take the shuttle bus until the last station called Tempel of Sinawava. From there it is a short walk on the riverside trail. At its end you start your walk in the river. This trail isn’t much of a trail as you are looking for your own way along/in the river. You can’t walk the wrong way as it is impossible to do something different then follow the river that carved its riverbed through the rock. We walked in our normal hiking shoes and it was perfectly good. We first thought we wouldn’t need a walking stick but in some parts when the wet stones got slippery we were happy we took some (there are some laying around at the beginning of the trail). In the beginning the river has a wider riverbed which gets narrower the further you walk.
When you start your walk at about 10 or 11 you get the best light over noon time when you are already in the canyon. Then the walls are glowing orange and with the beautiful rock texture and the blue water it makes a perfect picture. Photos look the best if a person is walking through the water. So I had to pose about a hundred times standing in the cold water ;) . But the pictures are awesome ! Don’t forget your tripod and bring a wide-angle with you. As it is a bit dark (for photographers ^^) in the narrower parts we also recommend to take HDRs so you get a blue sky (More about HDRs see in our blog entry: How to HDR - better images at difficult light situations). When the water got higher we decided to turn around and walk back to the trailhead. From the end of the walkway you can take the bus back to the visitor center.
What to bring ?
- Camera, tripod, wide-angle
- Jacket as it can get cool when you walk in the cold water and through the shady canyon the whole day
- Your electronic devices properly stowed in some waterproof bags
- Walking stick (you can grab some at the beginning of the trail)
- Food and drinks (don’t leave your waste in the canyon!)