This photo depicts why Zion is such a popular national park. A view like this and others equally striking are visible from the main road. No hiking required, but for the beautiful glow, you will need to get up before sunrise.
Renting in Springdale, Utah
At the end of a week-long trip with some friends photographing Zion National Park, I began driving aimlessly the side streets of Springdale, exploring this quaint town. As luck would have it, I stumbled upon a home for rent. It turns out it was one of the most beautiful places we have ever rented.
Here is an evening view from our front porch. Many evenings I felt guilty for not exploring the park more. There were always excuses like, it was nearly 100 degrees, it was too crowded in the park or more likely, I’m just too comfortable staying home.
The view through our dining room window was the desired view in the morning as the rising sun made the peak behind our house glow.
The landlords were kind enough to provide naturalist gardeners to constantly trim the flowers. Again, this photo was taken through our dining room window.
Zion National Park, the Valley Floor
Unlike the free drive through Capitol Reef National Park, a $25 fee or a National Park Pass is required upon entering Zion. This can cause very l-o-n-g back-ups at the Springdale entrance during the busy summer months. Holiday weekends were simply unbearable. Tourists would ask a myriad of questions of the park rangers at the entrance and only then begin digging for money, as if it just occurred to them payment was necessary. Parking somewhere in town and taking the well-organized free park shuttle is the best way to go.
Before entering the canyon, many beautiful sights can be seen from the road.
The Famous Watchman
The Watchman mountain in the distance with the Virgin River in the foreground is likely the most popular photograph in the park. More than fifty photographers can gather on the bridge, all trying to get a unique view. I can certainly see why it is popular, but the photograph below represents the type I try to avoid. How can a photographer create something new when literally over a million other photographers have stood in the very same spot?
When traveling throughout Europe there are some required visits for tourists and photographs which must be taken. These would include the Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. This view of the Watchman in Zion likely fits into that category.
The sun on the left side of the Watchman mountain photograph above in the distance shows this was a morning photograph.
Hikes and Views Up the Canyon
During the summer months cars are not allowed and the bus shuttle is the only way to get up into the canyon. If you planned ahead and were lucky enough to secure a reservation, you can drive up the canyon as far as the Zion Lodge. They also have a restaurant with fine views. The Court of the Patriarchs is the first stop heading up the canyon. The early Mormon pioneers named these peaks Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
This view is from the parking lot of Weeping Rock and the trail head for Observation Point. Even if you do not hike all the way to Observation Point, a hike along the beginning has some wonderful views looking across the river to Angels Landing.
Hike to Angels Landing
While renting in Springdale, my goal was never to put together yet another guide-book for Zion, rather just to take photos of the places I visited and enjoy the sights. So this blog will not give you all you need to know about hiking to Angels Landing, nor give you a truly good feel for this thrilling adventure. Be warned that at least six people have lost their life on this hike. It is doubtful such a trail could be built today due to excessive regulations and cost. This trail was blasted out of a sheer rock cliff.
The trail to Angels Landing can be divided into four distinct sections. The approach from the valley floor would be the first, which eventually gets quite steep. The next section is a relatively level hike along the bottom of Refrigerator Canyon. Even on hot days, this is a shady cool area. Refrigerator Canyon brings you to the 22 switchbacks named Walter’s Wiggles seen in the photo below.
Even if you do not plan hiking to Angles Landing, you should at least try to get to the top of Walter’s Wiggles. At the top of Walter’s Wiggles is Scout Lookout, which offers great views and a fine picnic spot. If you make it this far, you will certainly have a very memorable day. The final section is the hike up to Angels Landing. It is a narrow ledge with chains railings to hang onto. Keep in mind it is also two-way traffic. I have made this hike four times.
Here is a link to a You Tube video of this hike. Watching this again makes me wonder several things….
- Holy smokes, I did this hike?
- Why don’t I have a Go-Pro Camera?
- Will I ever do this hike again?
Observation Point is so high it looks down upon Angels Landing. I made this hike in the winter after an eight inch snowfall, blazing my own trail in the darkness. The goal was to get beautiful light at sunrise. Unfortunately, my trip was a day early, but I was too tired to make this arduous eight mile hike in consecutive days.
Below is another winter view from a hike a year later. This is a great view of the canyon the bus chugs up full of tourists in the summer. In the off-season you can drive up a 3:00 am if you are so inclined, to get to the top for sunrise. For views such as this one it is best if the worrier wife stays at home to not see me climb down to this ledge in the snow with a camera and tripod in one hand.
Angels Landing can be seen above casting a shadow in the center right of the above photo. The hike to Observation Point goes through several very different zones, all of them beautiful and unique. The elevation gain is about 2,100 feet over four miles on a trail blasted out of sandstone cliffs. Here are two photos taken along this route. You will likely take close to 100 photos on this hike….
The Temple of Sinawava
At the end of the bus ride up the canyon the furthest stop turn around point is the Temple of Sinawava. It is mainly a few hoodoos and the start of the trail head to the hike in the Narrows. Photographing the Temple of Sinawava was always difficult for me as the hoodoos blended into the similar colored rock walls in the background. Here is one photo taken during my stay.
Hiking the Narrows
Hiking the Narrows is likely the most popular hike in the park. The Temple of Sinawava is the final stop on the bus loop and is the trail head for the Narrows hike. There is no trail in the Narrows. The hike is simply walking through the cool water of the Virgin River. At times, the river will be up to three feet deep. You can walk several miles up-stream or turn around at any point. On a hot summer day, there is no better way to beat the heat. Even if you are not going to hike the Narrows, the paved mile path to the point where you get into the river is a fun hike as well. I seldom went in the summer heat as the crowds of people is not appealing, nor would I want all those people in my photos. However, in the fall, there is no better place to be.
Zion Travel Tips
Zion Adventure Company is the place you should go for all your river hiking gear. They will outfit you with the proper hiking boots and warm up pants if it is late in the year.
If you would like a guide and a photographic record of your journeys into Zion, call Seth Hamel or Katie Hope at the Enlighten Photography link below. Their enthusiasm is contagious and their knowledge of the area will make a great experience even better.