NATIONAL PARKS: Zion National Park Story and photographs by Jerry Ginsberg

The first rays of sunrise strike enormous West Temple in Zion Canyon

The first rays of sunrise strike enormous West Temple in Zion Canyon

In the southwest corner of Utah lies one of our most scenic, accessible and popular national parks, Zion. In my view, Zion is a superlative gem of scenery and fun.

The red rock landforms towering over the canyon of the Virgin River will fill your images with great drama and brilliant color. This deeply eroded high desert plateau is studded with cliffs and buttes, many bearing the Biblical names bestowed upon them by nineteenth-century Mormon settlers.

Zion National Park has three entrances, all leading to different topography and unique compositions.

Rare waterfall in Zion Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah. © Jerry Ginsberg

Rare waterfall in Zion Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah. © Jerry Ginsberg

The main ingress is through the town of Springdale, Utah. This road goes straight up the Canyon of the Virgin River. Along the way, it winds past such prominent features as the Watchman, Court of the Patriarchs, Great White Throne and the Pulpit. The road ends at the Falls of Sinawava where the hike through the fabled Narrows begins. Some of the best trails within the canyon are those to the Emerald Pools (moderately difficult), Weeping Rock (very easy) and Angel’s Landing (extremely strenuous). In addition, the 15-mile (round-trip) hike to the famed Subway offers some great shots but is only for the dedicated and hardy hiker.

The multitude of potential images here, both with and without the river, can be a bit overwhelming. Keep your eyes open when traveling both north and south through this narrow canyon.

Heading eastbound, the spur road branching off near the canyon entrance climbs up to and through an historic one-mile tunnel. It will then take you across a high plateau to Checkerboard Mesa and the east entrance. These colorful rocks face every direction, and they photograph well in both morning and evening light.

Windswept striated sandstone in Zion National Park, Utah. © Jerry Ginsberg

Windswept striated sandstone in Zion National Park, Utah. © Jerry Ginsberg

Zion’s third and final entrance leads into Kolob Canyon on the park’s western edge.     To reach it, drive farther north on I-15 toward Cedar City. Kolob has its very own well-marked exit off the highway. This canyon is perfect for panoramics and looks best when bathed in the soft, warm light of late afternoon through sunset. The prime hike here is the trail to Kolob Arch.

Private vehicles are allowed into the Zion Canyon from November to mid-March, but from April to October access is by free shuttle bus only. The bus makes all (or most) of the stops of interest to photographers, but does require a little extra time.

If you have a reservation at the Zion Park Lodge, you are permitted to drive that far.

Accommodations are easy to find. Springdale is the most centrally located place to stay. That little town, as well as nearby Hurricane and Cedar City, are all chock full of good motels, both the well-known chains and local establishments of all levels and prices. The large Watchman campground is found below that fascinating rock just inside the park’s main entrance in Springdale. Zion Park Lodge sits at about the middle of Zion Canyon.

My favorite restaurant in this area is the Spotted Dog Cafe just outside the Zion National Park entrance. It is great at any time of day.


Jerry Ginsberg is a widely published freelance photographer whose images have graced the pages of hundreds of books and magazines. He has photographed all 59 U.S. national parks as well as most of South America with medium-format cameras. Jerry is a national park artist-in-residence for 2015 at Petrified Forest National Park. More of Jerry’s work can be seen at www.JerryGinsberg.com. Email, jerry@jerryginsberg.com.