Photographing Sunrise in Zion National Park

West Temple Sunrise from the Pine Creek Bridge

As I and many others have written before, the best time to photograph is the golden hour of sunrise and sunset.  When we were recently in Zion, we were able to shoot three sunrises.  We stuck near the visitor center and main road.  Here is a short description of how to get a good sunrise shot in Zion.

Photograph the Towers of the Virgin

The obvious shot is the well known Towers of the Virgin.  There are a couple of places to set up.  The commonly used one is behind the Zion Museum.  You can use a wide angle lens or point and shoot and get the whole shot and do some close up work with a short telephoto.  I do not like this location because it is a “one shot wonder.”  Your morning will be over with one good composition. There is not a lot of area to work with here.

Towers of the Virgin from the Pa'rus Trail

I prefer to get a little farther back and use the Pa’rus Trail.  You will be across the street and a little lower, but you will have the opportunity to get the shot of the Towers AND get down to the river and make many more photos.  The main attraction of the Towers (from left to right) are the West Temple, the Sundial, the Temple of the Virgin, and the Altar of Sacrifice.  The Towers will light up fast and the difference between their brightness and the foreground will be dramatic.  It will be tough to get a well exposed photo.  Using a graduated neutral density filter (Grad) will certainly help.  You can also wait a bit and get the shadow of the Watchman as it creeps up the façade of the Towers.

Towers of the Virgin with a short telephoto from Pa'rus Trail

Sunrise from the Pine Creek Bridge

The Pine Creek Bridge is a short easy drive from the South entrance and is just past Canyon Junction before you go up the hill to the East entrance.  There is a small parking area near the bridge.  The key features here are the bridge, the Pine Creek leading to the North Fork of the Virgin River, and a clear view to the West Temple.

West Temple from Pine Creek

The action here will be the sun rising behind you in the east and it will light up the West Temple.  There are numerous possible compositions, here.  We used the river and Rabbitbrush for foreground.  I have seen good photos with the bridge as a middle ground, but the river bed was so overgrown and ugly, I did not see a good photo here.  Our good friend and traveling partner, Mark McDermott, found a small pool that we used to create this reflection shot.

Sunrise along the Virgin River and Pa’rus Trail

For the last sunrise shoot, Mark and I walked the Pa’rus trail and Virgin River near the Canyon Junction Bridge.  We found a small waterfall and some other interesting cascades and subjects that looked great in the morning light.

It was not as cold in Zion as it was in Bryce, so that was nice.  We had really blad skies which is always a challenge.  The tall sides of the Zion Canyon can make it difficult to shoot sunrise because they block the typical flat light on the horizon we usually experience at sunrise and really shorten the time you have to make a good photo.  So, plan your morning; get their early; visualize what you want to shoot; and then be ready for the best light.

We used Photographing the Southwest by Laurent Martres as our main guidebook on our trip (see this month’s book review), and as always, Robert Hitchman’s newsletters.  To see more of our photography, please go to


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