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A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks

07.12.17

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A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
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  • Pectol's Pyramid in Capitol Reef National Park.- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • First views of the Waterpocket Fold along the Chimney Rock Trail in Capitol Reef National Park.- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • Waterpocket Fold from the Chimney Rock Trail, Capitol Reef National Park.- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • View down the Cohab Canyon in Capitol Reef National Park.- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • "Swiss cheese" rocks in Cohab Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park.- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • Historic 1920s cabin in Upper Cathedral Valley, Capitol Reef National Park.- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • Magnificent views into Canyonlands National Park from Dead Horse Point State Park Campground.- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • The False Kiva in Canyonlands National Park.- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • Sunset at the Green River Overlook a few miles from the False Kiva Trailhead in Canyonlands National Park.- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • Skull Arch in the Fiery Furnace, Arches National Park. - A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • Skyline Arch looms over the amphitheater of the Devils Garden Campground.- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • Broken Arch at sunrise, Arches National Park.- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • Sandstone fins with the La Sal Mountains in the background along the Broken Arch Trail, Arches National Park.- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • Delicate Arch sunset, Arches National Park.- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • Narrow path, safety chains and amazing views along the Angels Landing Hike, Zion National Park..- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • View south to Zion Canyon from the Angels Landing Trail.- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • A view of the "gates" of Kodachrome from Angel's Palace Trail, Kodachrome Basin State Park..- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • Navajo Loop Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park.- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • View into Bryce Canyon's Silent City from Sunset Point.- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • Incredible views from Rainbow Point, Bryce Canyon National Park.- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • Looking north toward the Bryce Canyon amphitheater.- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • Bryce Canyon's Silent City from the Rim Trail.- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • 110-foot Lower Emerald Pool Falls and Behunin Creek Falls in Zion National Park.- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • View of Upper and Lower Emerald Pools Falls in Zion National Park.- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • The Narrows, Zion National Park.- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • A cliff overhang on The Narrows, Zion National Park. - A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • View from Panorama Point in Kodachrome Basin State Park.- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
  • It is a short walk up to the Grosvenor Arch in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.- A Photographer's Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
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Team

Utah's five national parks are a wonderland for landscape photographers. A person could spend a lifetime bouncing around from park to park and season to season and still find unusual and fascinating subjects to capture. The fascinating and unusual geologic history of this state has created formations that simultaneously boggle the mind and fire the imagination. Dramatic weather systems move through with authority and completely transform a scene. Sunrises and sunsets throw soft light on fluid rock formations beneath enormous pastel backdrops, blurring the line between landscape and portrait photography.

The sheer size of each of these parks can feel overwhelming, and planning a trip through several is a big task. Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands national parks are each worth a week, at least. Recognizing that most of us don't have that kind of time, we've put together a sample itinerary with a two-week window that may help you shape your own agenda. Ideally you arrange to fly into Las Vegas, which is closer to Zion National Park, and fly out of Salt Lake City, which is 3.5 hours from Arches National Park.

Canyonlands from Dead Horse Point State Park. Photo by Denis LeBlanc.
  • Days 1-3: Explore the highlights of Zion such as Angels Landing, Emerald Pools, The Narrows, and the Lower Subway.
  • Days 4-5: Depending on your pace and stamina, you may be able to fit in hikes like North Guardian Angel climb in the north portion of Zion before you head to Bryce Canyon. You'll want to check out the Navajo + Queens Garden Loop and hike the Bryce Canyon Rim Trail be sure to be at Bryce Point for the sunset.
  • Days 6-8: Drive the two hours to Capitol Reef and lose yourself for a few days in this phenomenal place. You'll want to catch Navajo Knobs, Chimney Rock, and Cohab Canyon, but be sure to make room for a trip into Cathedral Valley.
  • Days 9-12: It's another two hours to the Moab area where you can enjoy Capitol Reef National Park and Arches National Park. Stay at Dead Horse Point State Park, which has a gorgeous campground just outside of Canyonlands. The Rim Trail provides excellent views into the park. When you are ready to enter Canyonlands, be sure to put a hike to False Kiva on your list of hikes here. Likewise, once you get to Arches National Park, you'll want to get on one of the tours to the Fiery Furnace. Each trip will be a highlight. Once there, Broken Arch and Delicate Arch are both popular and worth a tour, especially if you can beat the crowds.

Additional Tips

  • It can be all too easy to speed through a scene, or a timeframe, to move to the next when confronted with an abundance of superb photographic opportunities. Instead, take the time to enjoy these places, and let that experience inform your images. It is difficult to convey a sense of appreciation and wonder in an image if you aren't feeling it yourself! Settle down a little and take in the moment, and the images you capture are more likely to incorporate the majesty you appreciated at the scene.
  • Don't limit yourself to national parks. As if your itinerary wasn't already crowded, consider the fact that equally stunning geologic wonderlands exist outside of Utah's five national parks. Kodachrome Basin State Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are each examples of side trips that are well worth making room for in your itinerary, and there are plenty more. If you can spend the time, you won't regret it.
  • Magic hour shooting is no secret, but in certain situations it can be a more important component of your success. Given the high temperatures, high-contrast mid-day light, and occasionally big crowds, shooting early and late in the day in Utah's national parks dramatically increases your chances of finding the right moment. Not only will you spend less time cloning bystanders out of your final images, you'll stay cooler and enjoy a broader range of color and tone on the landscapes. Of course, if you have to shoot mid-day, embrace it! Filters can go a long way toward mitigating high-contrast light, or you can migrate over to a black and white mindset and explore themes like texture, shape, and shadow in the landscape.
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