First Time in Zion – Kolob Canyon

Before I start this post I wanted to talk a little about the pictures.  The red rocks are the claim to fame for this area and amazing to look at, but for me provide a bit of a challenge.  The deep rich color of the rocks is amazing, but does look different in person if you are wearing sunglasses or take them off.  With sunglasses the reds are much deeper and I tend to like to look at scenes both with them on and taking them off.  Thanks to a conversation I had with Steven Dempsey,  who is an amazing professional photographer, I no longer have philosophical issue with color corrections, because as he explained it, it’s all about capturing the moment and translating it to the person viewing the picture.  That makes total sense to me, but my problem  with these particular landscapes is that I am not sure which moment to capture, because the reds, in particular, look very different with or without sunglasses on. I am simply not a good enough photographer to capture these colors in the moment, so some Photoshop corrections are called for.

So what you will see here are some pictures color corrected to varying degrees and some not, and that decision will be made very subjectively.  Also keep in mind that time of day and sun position plays a huge part in how these rocks look to the naked eye and that will factor in as well.  Most of you probably know all of that, but I wanted to mention it because I don’t like getting to an area and feeling let down because the actual view doesn’t match the photos I have seen.  That is extremely unlikely in Zion, but if you want the richer red then I definitely recommend putting on your sunglasses, but take them off once in a while because I love those colors as well. Lee thinks I am crazy, by the way, to even think about it, but since I am more right brain than left brain it makes perfect sense to me 🙂

OK, enough of all that.  I started the morning off VERY early and it’s worth noting that I saw cars on the road headed towards Zion as early as 4am.  We ended up leaving around 7:30am and when we arrived at 8:15am there was already a line of cars.  Our plan for the day was to scout out the area, stop at the visitors center to get maps and information, and take the scenic drive.  Unfortunately we learned upon arrival that because we were in a dually it would cost us $15 (two ways) to go through the tunnel and on the scenic road.  We weren’t prepared in that moment to pay the money, because we could take the two hour drive around the long way and see it for free, and we weren’t sure how many times we would want to go that way.  It is worth nothing though that Zion costs $30 per vehicle (free with our America the Beautiful pass) and an additional $15 (not covered by the pass) would make it a $45 dollar day for many people.

Since it was still early I decided I wanted to drive up the road to the tunnel and turn around, so we headed up that way.  Unfortunately I can’t recommend this in a dually because the only way we got away with it was the road was lightly populated and we were able to make a 5 point turn once we got to the tunnel. If the line would have been backed up we would have been stuck and we were told you couldn’t pay at the top.  It worked out OK though and we got to see a little bit of the scenic drive, although we were told later that the best part is on the other side of the tunnel.


The car in front of us as we waited to get in. I loved the license plate

We were catching the early morning sun which made it difficult to see in some places, but gave us some cool shadows at the few turnoffs there were


You can see the size of the cliff walls with Lee for scale and the tunnel is right behind that man made hole

It’s easier to see why trailers above 12 feet can’t get through and at certain widths they have to close the tunnel to one way traffic which is why they charge the $15 for larger vehicles

There were some pretty rock formations, but I definitely didn’t see the views I was expecting on this short section

Next we stopped at the visitors center, which opened at 8am, and got some information.  From Spring to Fall a major section of the road is closed to all but shuttle traffic and that is how you get to the various trailheads.  The shuttles start running at 7am and we immediately made a plan for the next day to get there before that, because by 9am the lines for the shuttle bus were already very long. I’ll cover the trailheads more in my next post, but I will say the shuttles are free and we were told they run every 7-10 minutes.

You can see the bus in the right corner and the line was about double the length you can see in the picture at 9am. It was moving to be fair, but was mostly families with young kids so be forewarned.

The visitors center didn’t have many displays but the information desk people were extremely helpful. It was full by 9am as well

Since we weren’t prepared to hike that day and the scenic drive was out, I decided we should head up to Kolob Canyon.  My fellow Dreamer, Ruth, had sent me an email the day before and said it was a great place to escape the crowds. Kolob Canyon is part of Zion but in the northwest corner, so we had to leave the park, drive west, go 15 North until we reached another small visitors center off exit 40.  The drive really didn’t take that long, the freeway speed limit of 80mph helped, and wow, was it ever worth it.  This canyon had a 6 mile scenic drive, but this one had lots of turn outs and a view at the top that was absolutely stunning.  We loved the canyon, and I would say please don’t skip it if you visit, because it was everything our initial visit to Zion was not. Let me show you.

Kolob Visitor center


There is a waterfall on occasion in this crevice and an oasis of trees in the middle

Some very interesting rock formations

The end of the range led to a beautiful vista. It was hazy when we reached to the top due to blowing sand but still beautiful

I loved this castle-like formation on the end

Driving down the road was actually better than coming up as there were more pull offs and we met some nice young men who I took a picture for and they returned the favor.  They had the idea to take a panoramic with people in it which I don’t think I have ever done.  And Lee of course took several panoramics himself and they were all great. I had a hard time choosing my favorite so here are all of them.



My favorite kind of place because it was beautiful both in scale and closeup.  There were several beautiful small areas and we both enjoyed taking pictures of those views as well.

I loved these tree “ledges”. Keep in mind each of these in on the side of a huge mountain. Plus they still had snow!

And don’t forget on the way out to stop and look back because there is a terrific rock formation right when you come in that there is no pullout for.

Really terrific day and I will say once again that we often enjoy the “Tier B” sites much more than the “Tier A” locations.  Yes, you “need” to see them both, but we enjoy less crowds and more freedom to explore that you really only get in the lesser used National Parks.  Tomorrow we are returning to Zion proper and will be riding the bus to the end and stopping for a few hikes and pictures at every stop. We will see how they compare!


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18 thoughts on “First Time in Zion – Kolob Canyon

  1. Glad to hear you guys are getting some down time. Zion and Utah in general are great places to see. I do not remember what you use as a camera but if it can take external filters (a DSLR) you might look to get a circular polarizing filter. It is like sun glasses for your camera. I love the deep blue sky that you really cannot see all the time. With the filter I get that most of the time. Another way if you are using a cell phone camera or similar is to take off your sunglasses and use them to take the picture through. It is not perfect but it does work. I used it for the Eclipse last year since I did not have a filter for my camera. Not perfect but I got some picture when I would have had none.

    Have a great time. I look forward to seeing the pictures.


    • I mentioned the filter to Lee. He says they are very cool. He explained it to me and said they do take a little practice. I tend to be a jump out and take the picture kind of gal and they do require a few extra seconds of adjustment. Appreciate the advice and I may give it a try. I am also going to look at the default settings in the camera and I may change those as well. Again appreciate the advice.

  2. Your pictures of Kolob Canyon are great! We really enjoyed Kolob too. It was great since it didn’t have the crowds. We are going into the valley next week but early. Love Utah.

  3. If others are interested in Kolob canyon they need to go before May 1st as per the Zion website this part of the park will be closed this summer for road work and other improvements

  4. I agree with you about Kolob Canyon. A few years ago we backpacked into Kolob on the La Verkin creek trail. What a great place! Kolob Arch was really spectacular as was Bear Trap Canyon.

  5. So glad you enjoyed Kolob Canyon, we loved it there. The Taylor Creek hike to the Double Arch and then walking upstream to a waterfall in a slot canyon was just icing on the cake. The entire area is spectacular and I loved that it wasn’t overrun with tour buses!!! Glad you got to visit, I loved our days in the “main part” of Zion, but I still think our Kolob Canyon day was my favorite.

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