Zion National Park, Utah

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Located to the south of Cedar City (57 miles north on Interstate 15) and the east of Saint George, Utah (40 miles to the south), Zion National Park is found on State Route 9 surrounding Springdale, Utah, to the north. The easy Canyon Overlook trailhead lies just east of the 1.1-mile-long Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, with steps that have been carved into sandstone above the tunnel. The one-mile round-trip hike unveils a scenic view of lower Zion Canyon and the winding Zion Switchbacks, as well as West Temple, East Temple, the Beehives, Towers of the Virgin and the Streaked Wall. If you’re looking for a high-elevation viewpoint the whole family can enjoy, the Canyon Overlook Trail is awesome!

With elevations ranging from 3,666 to 8,726 feet, park weather and temperatures are largely contingent on the altitude of the local area and the time of day, with temperature shifts that can differ by more than 30ºF. Spring weather is very unpredictable. March provides the heaviest average precipitation, which results in wildflowers that bloom from April to June and peak in May. Summer is quite hot (95ºF to 110ºF) while nights cool to more comfortable temperatures (65ºF to 75ºF). Storms are very common from mid-July through mid-September, especially in the afternoons. These fast rains can produce stunning waterfalls, but they also can cause flash floods! Autumn is generally clear and mild, which is great because stunning fall colors in Zion Canyon usually crest in late October. Winter provides plenty of amazing imagery, but temperatures range from highs of 50ºF to 60°F during the day to lows that are well below freezing at night.

Photo Experience
I use a Nikon 17-35mm ƒ/2.8 to capture the sweeping landscapes, a Nikon 24-70mm ƒ/2.8 for all-around shots and a Nikon 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 to frame mountaintops and wildlife from a distance. I always bring along my Really Right Stuff TVC-23 tripod and BH-55 ballhead to help capture long exposures of the Virgin River. For those shots, I use an MC-36 remote for sharpness and the Big Stopper 10-stop neutral-density filter from LEE Filters or a Nikon polarizer. I also find it handy to use a Singh-Ray ND-2G or ND-3G graduated neutral-density filter to balance the exposure of the foreground while keeping detail in the mountain skyline. A Black Diamond headlamp helps light my way while shooting star trails.

Best Times
Zion is one of the most popular parks in the country, and thanks to a high volume of tourism, private vehicles are only given access to the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive from the beginning of November through the close of March. From early April through October, access to the canyon is through shuttle bus only. This may limit the amount of hiking and photo gear you can bring if you need to take the shuttle. You should consider a visit outside the mandatory shuttle season, ideally the first week of November, when you can take a leisurely drive along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The beautiful fall colors at this time of year provide excellent fall imagery. That being said, Zion’s quietest and coldest months are December, January and February. This is a great time to visit, as the canyon presents itself as a winter wonderland with plenty of tremendous photo opportunities, and you can avoid the crowds, to boot!

Contact: Learn more about Zion National Park at www.nps.gov/zion. See more of Chuck Jason’s work at www.chuckjason.photoshelter.com.

Essential Gear

Heliopan Variable ND

Neutral-density filters restrict the amount of light entering the lens, which gives photographers much more versatility when it comes to choosing aperture and shutter speed. What’s more, these effects can’t be performed digitally, making them absolutely indispensable for creating motion blurs and achieving extended depth of field even when working in bright conditions. Neutral-density filters are available in many different densities; however, variable neutral-density filters are often the best option because you can “dial in” the amount of light loss with only a single filter.