Southern Utah photography spree
November 11, 2005 2:11 PM   Subscribe

What are the best photography spots in southern Utah?

I'm planning to take a road trip pretty soon, the purpose of which will be to take photographs. I'm planning to hit southern Utah due to the high quantity of national parks there (Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Zion), all of which reportedly have stunning scenery. I also would not mind hitting the Grand Canyon if I have the time. Which are the best of these spots? What else should I check out in that area? How's the weather there this time of year?

I'll be driving from Seattle by way of Boise, ID and Salt Lake City. I have a friend in SLC who's offered to show me around. Is it worth taking a day to do that? How about taking some time near Boise?
posted by kindall to Travel & Transportation around Utah (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps this site will give you some inspiration. (Previously linked here.)
posted by alms at 2:18 PM on November 11, 2005

You chose a good destination. I would probably skip the Grand Canyon and maybe hit some of Southern Utah's lesser known spots. If you're going to Zion, be sure to also check out the northern end of the park called Kolob Canyon. I would also reccommend Goblin Valley State Park and the San Rafael Swell. Be sure to hit Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks, and Escalante if you have the time. Have fun.
posted by trbrts at 2:28 PM on November 11, 2005

"I have a friend in SLC who's offered to show me around. Is it worth taking a day to do that?"

Do you mean your friend has offered to show you around SLC, or your friend from SLC has offered to show you around southern Utah? Although I suppose it doesn't really matter, as I would answer "yes" in either case. It's always good to have someone around that knows the lay of the land.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:31 PM on November 11, 2005

Goblin Valley State Park is less known than some of the nearby national parks - it has a lot of hoodoos and other interesting formations that make good photo subjects .
posted by Staggering Jack at 2:32 PM on November 11, 2005

Goblin is nice - however, really nothing is going to beat a couple of gems: Zion National Park & Arches National Park. Canyonlands is also amazing.

If you're up for some hiking, you'll find no where as beautiful as the top of Angel's Landing in Zion. (Here's a picture of me and one of my pals up at the of Angel's Landing - what you can't see is the vertical cliff right behind us). It is a sheer cliff overlooking the Zion valley from a vantage point of about 2500 feet above the valley floor. The West rim is the other most amazing vista point, but it takes a lot more work to get up to that one.

Bryce Canyon is nice - but you have to do a lot more work to get to the cool spots. I would say, all things considered, Zion is your best bet.

The Grand Canyon beats them all for photos though - it's one of the wonders of the world, afterall.
posted by crapples at 2:44 PM on November 11, 2005

I've been to all the spots on your list and I'd have to rate them in this order:

1) Zion - such a wide range of options... vistas, canyons, peaks, long trails of all difficulty levels, and such a unique blend of whites, reds, and green. No place like it on earth, truly.

2) Bryce - also no place like it on earth. It's like a geological special effect. You can hike down in it, around it, really get your feet dirty in it. It's a very beautiful spot. But it's more of a finite spot than Zion, which is more of an expansive "area" you can really explore.

3) Arches - close 3rd. But it's less of a complete package than the other two. It has interesting rock formations to see, some of which are iconic and stunning (and therefore now cliche by photographic standards) but they are separated by expanses of less interesting waste (excuse me, Edward Abbey, I'm speaking only in terms of photographic value). BTW - going out to Big Arch is not a cakewalk. Unless it's changed in the last 10 years, the spot demands a few minutes of hiking on a 4-inch-wide trail cut into a 45% rock wall. Kinda like walking a tightrope. You will get no solitude at the "big spots," either. Expect to compete with 2-3 other tripod-sporting photographers at Bck

The Grand Canyon is not to be missed, no fucking way. But if you are not prepared for a 3-hour hike each way, with a 3-4K foot altitude change in between, you are going to miss the best of it. It's just so damn big that in anything but ideal circumstances, it contains enough haze to thwart any photographic effort to capture the colors in the walls. My favorite part is the eastern rim, where the canyon zips back up again and continues out toward the horizon as nothing more than lazy plains. I saw the most amazing moonrise of my life there. And the Grand Canyon is also where I've seen the most stars in my entire life. It's massive. It's a big hole in the ground. Very little light pollution. On a clear night you can see all the tendrils in the Milky Way, which looks more like a few arms than just one.
posted by scarabic at 4:38 PM on November 11, 2005

Do you mean your friend has offered to show you around SLC, or your friend from SLC has offered to show you around southern Utah?

Around SLC. He says there's plenty of good stuff to take photos of. Basically, since I'm going to have a total of about 5 days in Utah, I'm wondering if it's worth spending one of them in SLC or just stopping at a few places and hustling on south.

But if you are not prepared for a 3-hour hike each way, with a 3-4K foot altitude change in between, you are going to miss the best of [the Grand Canyon].

Well, I'm definitely not prepared for that serious of a hike. That sounds pretty brutal coming back up.

Fortunately the Grand Canyon's not going anywhere. Perhaps next year I'll fly to Las Vegas and make it my base of operations for the Grand Canyon and other points in the southwest. I'm driving this year mostly because I want to see what's between here and SLC.

Can I expect decent weather for photography at the parks? By which I mean not too cold and at least some sun (doesn't need to be 100% clear skies -- clouds add drama -- but the dull gray of Seattle this time of year is to be avoided).

While I'm here, anyone have a Canon 16-35 f/2.8 L lens I can borrow (or rent)? ;)
posted by kindall at 4:56 PM on November 11, 2005

I live one hour from Moab where Arches and Canyonlands are. The weather here lately is in the 60s and 50s, mostly sunny. Your itinerary depends on how much time you have. While it might be possible to do a whirlwind tour of all your places (if it's tuesday it must be belgium). Bryce and Zion are as described above- great. A two hour ride from Bryce to Zion if I recall. A long haul from Bryce to Moab. Arches is most striking your first trip. Canyonlands has different sections, far apart. One is Island in the Sky north of Moab and the other is the Needles area a ways to the south of Moab. If you just want to stay in your car and sightsee then you can blast thru Arches quickly. If you want to explore and hike then everything takes time but it is much more of a vital experience. Look at the good trail guides available in any REI or good travel bookstore re any of the areas you mention. The Grand Canyon probably hsould be a separate trip unless you have weeks to do all of this. Wherever you decide to go you will have no regrets that you missed something, and there's always a next time for the other places.
posted by madstop1 at 5:03 PM on November 11, 2005

If you spend time in Moab, you have two choices to get over to Bryce. On, head up to the interstate then down UT24 to UT12. Incredible. However, you couold also swing down to the Arizona border (us 185?) to Monument Valley. (side note, in Mexican Hat there's the Mexican Hat Inn which has some killer steaks.)
posted by notsnot at 5:08 PM on November 11, 2005

If you're at all inclined to horseback riding, I recommend Bryce Canyon Horseback. Their day rides are really pretty cheap, compared to other outfitters, and their Powell's Point ride puts out at the very tip of this plateau. I took that ride back in 2000 and plan on it again when I do a similar southern Utah trip in the spring. The view from the point supposedly takes in 3 states in the distance (plus Utah, of course). It was too hazy when I was there to make it out though.

If there's enough snow in Bryce by the time you go that they've closed the road to the Fairyland Canyon parking area, it's well worth the trek from the main road. There were some decent sized drifts to slog through when I was there in April, but I had the whole area to myself for half a day. Soooo, peaceful.

Also, there's a little canyon that's off the beaten path at Bryce. If you take the road out of the park and take a right at the first intersection, the road runs down to Panguitch. There's a pull off about halfway down into the valley. There's some great scenery down in that valley, but the name of that area of the park is eluding me at the moment.

I've not spent as much time in Zion, but I'll be remedying that in the spring. Hopefully there's been some rain so that the falls in the Temple of Sinawava are running. It's not quite as impressive as Yosemite, but its still damn impressive. Just make sure that while you drive through Zion, you take advantage of every turn off the main road through the park. There's something great to be seen at almost every one if you are willing to walk just a little ways off the path.

Let us(or at least me) know when you get back, can't wait to see the shots you get!
posted by Jase at 5:45 PM on November 11, 2005

Don't think anybody has mentioned one of the newest (and least-known) national parks, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It's quite remote, which is one of its glories. But fair warning: It's about as far from SLC as you can get and still be in Utah.
posted by rob511 at 6:53 PM on November 11, 2005

I will defnitely let y'all know when some photos are up. I'm beginning to make a serious effort to sell some of my photos and this is to be fodder for that.

This is a tentative plan:

1) Friday night, get as far as Yakima.
2) Saturday, stop at any interesting spots I happen to see between there and Boise, get to Boise around dark.
3) Sunday, Snake River Valley for a few hours then head south to SLC and get there well after dark.
4) Monday, Salt Lake City and environs until early afternoon, then drive to Moab and stay the night there.
5) Tuesday, a few hours at Arches in the morning, stop at anything that strikes my fancy between there and Bryce (plenty of choices, looks like -- I like the idea of dipping down into Arizona for Monument Valley, or else I'll do one or more of Goblin Valley or Escalante or Canyonlands)
6) Wednesday, continue meandering
7) Thursday, Bryce, perhaps start in on Zion if there's time before dark
8) Friday, Zion, start back homeward in time to make SLC
9) Saturday, back as far as Boise
10) Sunday, arrive back in Seattle

I don't mind a little walking and I do know that getting off the beaten path will get me more unique pictures, but unfortunately my physical condition is not currently up to doing a lot of hiking. Most certainly I don't want to subject a horse to my bulk. So it's going to be mostly driving and pretty short hikes (i.e. no more than a mile).
posted by kindall at 6:56 PM on November 11, 2005

Time of day is key for photography in the desert. Look for the long light early and late in the day.
posted by LarryC at 8:04 PM on November 11, 2005

IANAP but You might be interested in this site (ignore the map and use the menu on the left) I've gotten some ideas for photo trips around Utah from it. You might want to check out Sundance (aka Robert Redfordville) as you drive south, there are some nice visas there. I also really enjoyed the Mount Nebo Scenic Loop, it's an 30 detour off the I-15 about an hour south of SLC. Around Salt Lake check out Silver Lake.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:07 PM on November 11, 2005

(30 MILE detour, sorry)
posted by blue_beetle at 9:09 PM on November 11, 2005

First off, I'm a local.

First, whatever you do, don't miss Cedar Breaks. Imagine the Grand Canyon plus Zion's plus a whole lot of natural turmoil so that you can see all the pretty colors in the rocks. There's an overlook at the guard station here that is more visually stunning than any Grand Canyon view I've ever seen.

This one is more Eastern Utah than Southern, but near Price, Utah, is Nine Mile Canyon. Nine Mile is world famous for its petroglyphs, and in fact, "The Hunting Party", which you've probably seen before, is there. (But it's not Anasazi, as this website thinks. It's Fremont.)

Next, if you're willing to go all the way East, you could always hit Vernal, or Dinosaur Land National Monument, as it's known by the feds. I don't know if you're traveling with kids, but it can be hard to stay imaginitive about rocks no matter how colorful at times. Dinosaurs have a way of getting those juices flowing again.

Finally, if you'll be in Salt Lake, don't miss Park City. It's not just for skiers. The fact is, I like Park City better before the ski season kicks in, because then I can have all of the art galleries and restaurants to myself. If you're into sushi, I can personally recommend the Flying Sumo, right on Park City's main street.

Have fun!
posted by SlyBevel at 9:18 AM on November 12, 2005

I've always been fond of Capitol Reef. It's not as showy as some of the other parks, but its still beautiful.

While in Salt Lake City, I'd reccommend a walk or a bike ride into the upper part of City Creek Canyon in the later afternoon when the light gets low. I'm not sure of the distance, but it's generally a pretty shallow grade. The rocks get really cool near the top.

In southern utah Upper and Lower Calf Creek falls are cool little Oaises, but there is a bit of hiking involved, and its probably not as impressive in the colder months.
posted by Good Brain at 10:21 PM on November 12, 2005

I had a fantastic time last summer kayaking the Green River outside of Moab to the confluence with the colorado. There were lots of fantastic hikes with no one around. If you are game for that sort of adventure, you can check out my pics on, although please know I am a very, very amateur point and click photographer. The scenery and the lighting though would have delighted a photographer that knew when the heck they were doing.
posted by kaestle at 7:52 PM on November 16, 2005

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