Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tripod use banned on Zion National Park trails

Zion's "Little Tree" photographed with the Milky Way. It's single, 25 second exposure and Low Level Lighting required the use of a tripod.

Tripods are not allowed in Zion National Park —but only if you are in a photography workshop, and the restriction only applies to park trails and trailheads. The new 2018 rules for Guided Photography Workshops, do NOT apply to individual photographers who are on their own and not traveling with a commercial business.

A recent photography blog article may be misleading. The real issue is not so much a restriction of tripods in Zion park photo workshops, but the ban of tripods on trails. Tripods are allowed in Zion park workshops, just not on trails —and to many visitors this is a good ruling. The CUA operating plan is written in a way that can be quite confusing to some.

In previous years, photo workshop operators were given a complete list of where tripods were allowed in Zion, but now even these areas are off limits to tripods. For 2018, no tripods can to be used on any trail within Zion. "No two groups from any one company are authorized to guide (or be on) on any one trail at the same time. [However,] Groups may travel on foot up to 100 feet off of designated trails, using existing disturbances or staying on hardened surfaces." Most of the photographers I interviewed agree that getting groups off the trails will help improve park access for everyone.

Why the change? Quoting section 7 of the 2018 Operating Plan For Guided Photography and Painting Workshops: “The use of tripods on trails is prohibited by permittees or clients (monopods are authorized); [because] Tours must not interfere with the general visiting public. [Furthermore] …Due to the sensitivity of nighttime resources in Zion National Park, all requests for nighttime photography must be made at least three weeks ahead to time. All requests must include all proposed locations and dates/times of proposed nighttime activities. Since nighttime photography requires the use of tripods and tripods are not authorized on park trails, nighttime photography is not authorized on park trails.”

As you can see from that last statement, photographing at night is becoming a more sensitive issue in the park, and will probably require even greater planning (and maybe even additional permits) in the future. Currently, workshop operators are only permitted to guide in 16 specific areas and trailheads/trails within the park (see section 11).

My opinion: Prohibiting groups of photographers from blocking trails with their tripods is a good idea. From the feedback I'm getting, trail congestion from workshop groups has happened in the past. However, I've noticed that most of my workshop operators friends spend a lot of time educating and setting the example for best practices. I believe the park would do better by concentrate more on the large foreign tour operators who seem to allow their participants to do most of the trail blocking—not only clogging trail access, but also running ahead and blocking the view from other tourists and photographers who came before them.

Maybe the park service should consider an educational brochure on photographer ethics and park regulations, printed in the most popular languages. In light of current budget shortfalls, they might also consider raising the entrance fee rates for large tour groups, who currently only pay less than $7.31 per person, compared to the normal $15/person or $30 per car. Fees might also be increased for foreign visitors, who do not pay taxes to support our national parks.


  1. Same problem at the Haleakala summit on Maui,hoards of tourists would just go in front of you blocking the sunrise view.

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