Why Zion National Park in Utah should be at the top of your photography bucket list…
Article written by Morgan McClanahan
Zion National Park is one of the busiest National Parks that I’ve been to. Understandably so, Zion is an awesome place filled with all sorts of hikes for everyone. There’s wheelchair and stroller accessible walks and good little family hikes as well as rock climbing, canyoneering, and hikes not for the faint of heart.
Zion gets over 4 million visitors per year, with at least 100 people attempting the more popular hikes at any one time. During the summer they close down the roads to the public and provide shuttle buses so as to avoid congestion and traffic.
An early head start helps to avoid the crowds but even on our way back we would come across hoards of people attempting the hikes. To me it felt like I was at Disney World because of how many people that were swarming around. Thankfully a majority of the people start later in the day and don’t make it as far as the experienced hikers who are there to enjoy nature. Despite the crowds it’s one of my favorite National Parks!
The hike to the top of Angel’s Landing is about five miles round trip. You follow the Virgin River for a bit until you reach a few switchbacks (pictured above) that take you out of the valley and into Refrigerator Canyon. Suitably named, it was pretty chilly. From here you get to a point called Walter’s Wiggles which are 21 switchbacks taking you up 250 feet to Scout’s Lookout. This is the main turn around point for a majority of hikers, especially ones with a great fear of heights.
The last part of the trail is one that you may have seen on a popular video going around on Facebook and definitely the best part of the trail. There are multiple places where you can look down and see 800-1,200 ft. drop offs on both sides of you because of how narrow the trail is. Because of this there are chains to grab onto to prevent falling or slipping on the steep sandstone cliffs. The views are amazing but you definitely have to watch your step along the way.
Once you get to the top of Angel’s Landing you have a 360 degree view of the park from the 1,488 ft tall rock formation (elevation: 5,790 ft) so you can definitely enjoy the views from there! We strapped on the GoPro and made our own video of the hike.
If you’re not up for a hike with such steep drop offs the Observation Point Trail is a great hike to check out. At 8 miles roundtrip it’s a few miles longer than Angel’s Landing but not quite as dangerous. Observation Point is one of the highest points in Zion National Park (at 6,521 ft. elevation) overlooking Zion Canyon. From this viewpoint you are above Angel’s Landing which we had previously hiked.
It was cool to look down and see it from this angle; it seemed so small! The whole canyon was formed by the Virgin River which is crazy to me because the river seems so small especially in comparison to how big the canyon is.
Dropping down over 2,000 ft from here to the Virgin River there’s a “trail” called The Narrows. The “trail” is actually the river which is only open some of the time depending on rainfall, how high the river is and how strong the current is. This is the most narrow part of Zion Canyon, hence it’s name. Hiking up river, the canyon walls average 1,000 ft tall and the river between ankle to waist deep.
You can hike up to 16 miles one way if you have a permit otherwise the main turn around point is only 2.5 miles in at a place called Wall Street and another at Orderville Canyon. There was one spot at Orderville Canyon where we would have had to swim because it was a lot deeper but this was our turnaround point anyway.
Although all of the hikes and views in Zion are amazing, if I had to choose only one to do I’d definitely say the Narrow’s. It is a tough choice between that and Angel’s Landing though. The hike itself at Angel’s Landing was awesome because it was exhilarating; one small slip and you could fall 1,000 ft. From a photography stand point though, the Narrows was gorgeous and every turn had a new and beautiful composition. Plus I loved hiking through the water!
There are many other hikes which are all shorter but also pretty. The only other popular hike that we didn’t do is called The Subway. Definitely look it up, the photos look amazing! I think the best shorter trail is Canyon Overlook Trail. It’s only a mile round trip and the view is great! It overlooks a different part of the canyon than the Observation Point does.
We were lucky enough to be able to visit Zion National Park multiple times and we fell in love with it more every time we went. We saw a lot of deer, turkeys and bighorn sheep. Seeing wildlife always tops off the trips for me.
After our hikes we love to stop by Perks Espresso, which is one of our favorite coffee shops. They’re right outside the park near some gift shops where of course we had to stop to look at the books and buy a park sticker.
Since 2016 I’ve travelled full-time working as a travel photographer and writer remotely. I move around at my own pace (I hate fast-paced travel) and like to spend a few months getting to know each place I base myself in. Currently in the north of España 🇪🇸 and loving it.