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Favorite Photo Locations – Southern Utah

 by Shelly Katz–

Thinking about going to Las Vegas? Forget about the casinos and bright lights of the strip. Instead take a 2-1/2 hour drive to the northeast and check out Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks in southern Utah.

© Shelly Katz Photo

Red River Paper artist and photographer Barbara Guerra Chudej in the canyon at Zion Park

Zion National Park is located on State Route 9 in Springdale, Utah – 163 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada. When you’re ready to move on, Bryce Canyon National Park is located approximately 83 miles further. [See map and directions under “Resources” below.]

Zion National Park, Utah 

Zion National Park

Zion National Park © Shelly Katz Photo

Featuring sky-high towers and cliffs of multicolored sandstone rocks, the 2,000 to 3,000-foot high canyon walls of Zion National Park were carved out over millions of years by trickling creeks and the rushing Virgin River.



Throughout Zion, reddish, golden and rust-colored rocks are contrasted by the deep green of pine forests; mesquite, manzanita and cottonwood groves; and fern and moss-filled grottoes. It is strikingly beautiful and one of the most awe inspiring sights in the American Southwest.


After driving through the quaint resort town of Springdale, Utah, which has many restaurants, hotels, art galleries and boutiques, Zion visitors park at the large Visitor Center and board shuttle buses in the peak season of spring through fall. It’s a low-emission transit that relieves automobile congestion in the narrow canyon.


Zion National ParkYou can take the bus up and down the canyon, getting out at various spots to do a little hiking. Most walks are not strenuous. A true highlight awaits those that take an easy one mile walk to the world famous Narrows. Here the canyon walls loom close to each other while visitors walk up the shallow bed of the Virgin River. It’s an unforgettable experience.


There are many other trails for hiking and exploring in Zion. There are also many sidewalks and developed paths for those who want to keep closer to the park’s facilities. Zion National Park is filled with an incredible array of wildlife. Visitors might glimpse elk, peregrine falcons, hummingbirds, desert tortoise and bats. Flowers are abundant in spring and summer, with Sego lily and columbine among the most commonly seen.


In my opinion, however, unless you prefer to hike around and spend some significant time exploring, Zion is probably not the best choice. It’s specialties are for those that hike its trails and explore the various places it offers, which requires some physical effort. If one is a hiker Zion is a treasure trove of opportunities for amazing sites, but it does require effort. You don’t just take a car or bus right to all the sights.


Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon © Shelly Katz Photo

In contrast, Bryce Canyon National Park gives you great vistas and views with nearly no effort. If you are not a hiker and prefer to have road access to special views, Bryce is is the better choice. It  is smaller than Zion, but feels much bigger.


Take your time driving from Zion to Bryce (approximately 83 miles). I recommend you take US 89 to UT 12.  UT 12 is amazingly scenic. You will drive through an area called Red Canyon that is simply gorgeous. Enjoy the drive, Bryce will be there waiting.


You will be able to enter Bryce Canyon National Park and drive the length of the main park road to the end and back, stopping at all 14 overlooks, and getting a feel for the layout of the park and where your pictures will be waiting for you.


There are at least a couple of overlooks that are trailheads for hiking down into the hoodoos –the tall, skinny spires of rock that protrude upward– that will be worth returning to.


Finally, from a photographic viewpoint, the best lighting occurs from mid to late afternoon, if using the overlooks.


Bryce will be definitely easier than at Zion in terms of easy to reach spectacular views of hoodoos, and rock formations; yet much of the park is high alpine with wide open pine trees spaces, prairie dogs, antelopes and elk grazing in meadows. There are great views of red desert rock formations and green ponderosa pines.


Whatever you do, do not leave out the trip on Utah state road 12 that skims along the northern edge of the “Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument”, which in my opinion is comparable to the great National Parks of Utah led by Zion and Bryce. The drive on state road 12 truly is memorable!

Grand Staircase-Escalante

Grand Staircase-Escalante © Shelly Katz Photo


Conclusion: This area is among the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous places in the world and will always be one of my favorite locations for photography.

Have fun – you cannot take a bad picture anywhere in this area.

Where To Stay:

There are seven charming B&Bs and inns in Springdale, Utah.  You can find them listed here.

My favorite is the Red Rock Inn Bed and Breakfast Cottages:

998 Zion Park Blvd.
Springdale, UT  84767
(435) 772-3139

Closer to Bryce Canyon National Park

Best Western Ruby’s Inn is located one mile from the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park and approximately 83 miles from Zion National Park.

Best Western PLUS Ruby’s Inn

26 South Main Street
Bryce Canyon, UT 84764

Special Dining

When you’re taking the scenic drive, for a Five-Star restaurant in the middle of “nowhere,”  you must go to the Rocking V Cafe in Kanab, Utah and give my regards to Victor.

Rocking V Cafe & The Rafters Gallery

97 West Center Street
Kanab, UT  84741
(435) 644-8001


Resources and Directions:


  • From Las Vegas, take Interstate 15 North
  • At Exit 16  take SR 9 East to Zion National Park
  • To continue to Bryce Canyon National Park, take SR 9 East to SR 89
  • Then take SR 89 North to SR 12 East to SR 63 South

National Park Service – Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

National Park Service – Zion National Park, Utah

 All photos © Shelly Katz unless otherwise noted

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Original Publication Date: September 26, 2014

Article Last updated: September 26, 2014

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