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Virgin River Narrows

The granddaddy of all slot canyons, the Narrows of the Virgin River is an amazing landscape photo experience that shouldn't be missed. You'll find an endless number of compositions as you wade upstream through this beautiful canyon with sandstone cliffs rising hundreds of feet above you.

Where: The Narrows are found in Zion National Park, just outside of Springdale, Utah. You'll find dozens of other Photo Wonders in Zion, so if planning a trip to the Narrows, add plenty of extra time to explore the rest of the area. The Narrows can be found at the Temple of Sinawava at the end of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive; after getting dropped off by the shuttle bus (or parking if visiting during the off-season when the shuttle isn't running), hike up the Riverside Walk until it ends. Then, wade into the river and keep going into the deep canyon that surrounds the Narrows. Go as far as you want, or until deep water stops your progress, but the best photos are likely to be found within the first 3 to 4 miles anyways. If you are looking for more adventure, consider hiking the entire Narrows from the top down, but this is a grueling 18-mile hike that typically involves an overnight stay.

When: Spring isn't typically good for the Narrows because of the risk of flash floods (it is closed most of the time then, and when it is open, the water might still be too high to explore the canyon). Summer is a good time to visit, although it can be very hot and crowded. Winter could be an interesting time, but with cold temperatures, hypothermia becomes a significant risk. Autumn is arguably the best season to visit, and during the first week or two of November, the leaves of the cottonwood trees that are found in the Narrows turn brilliant gold.

No matter when you visit the Narrows, don't go in if there is any chance of rain in the area, as flash floods are extremely dangerous. In any event, you'll want to photograph the Narrows on a bright, sunny day for the best photography experience; even a few clouds in the sky could reduce the intensity of the reflected light deep within the canyon. The best light occurs during the middle of the day, from late morning to early afternoon.

Photography: The Narrows is a wet experience. You'll have to wade upstream for much of the time, and sometimes the water can be waist or even chest deep. You'll want to keep your camera equipment safely enclosed within a dry bag. Especially in colder months, you'll want to ensure that you stay warm and dry as well. A dry suit is great for exploring the Narrows; you can rent suits and bags from several outfitters in Springdale.

Wide-angle and mid-range zooms will be very useful in the Narrows. Avoid compositions that show the sky or any direct light hitting the canyon walls. Instead, you want to find places within the canyon with colorful reflected light creating a warm glow on the canyon walls. Look for interesting compositions featuring water flowing over rapids in the foreground, with colorful cottonwoods and glowing canyon walls in the background. You can also use a short telephoto to zoom in on intimate features and patterns in the canyon, such as small trees growing out of pockets of sandstone. A sturdy tripod is absolutely necessary if you want to do long exposures to creatively blur moving water.

Learn more: Visit the National Park Service's website for Zion National Park to start planning your Narrows adventure:

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