zion national park area

Jump to:    The Narrows    Angel's Landing    Observation Point    Emerald Pools    Kolob Canyons / Taylor Creek    Fort Pearce

the narrows

A half or one day hike up the Virgin River through one of the south-west’s most beautiful canyons.

 

Yes, Zion in peak seasons is incredibly busy and when you arrive at the trailhead the crowds could be off-putting. However, like many places of interest, the further you hike from the trailhead the less people you’ll see. And that’s why I’ve included some Zion hikes in a collection of more off-the-beaten-track trails. You could easily spend a week or more at Zion hiking the main trails (some easy, some strenuous), but if you’re reasonably fit and only have time for one, this is it. It’s often voted as one of the best hikes in the world.

 

My version of this hike takes you from the trailhead at the Temple of Sinawava to the best part of the narrows, just beyond the junction with Orderville Canyon. You don’t need a permit to hike from here, though you do if you’re hiking the entire canyon from the north end. Be prepared to get your feet (and legs) wet because 80% of the hike is in water. The best time is during the summer months when the water is warmer and the level is at its lowest, from 6 inches to 3 feet although there’s a greater danger of flash floods at this time. Note: some hidden pools are much deeper! Do check the signs before you hike in. Kids love this hike (well, it’s in water, right?) but smaller ones (under 4 feet tall) may have difficulty making it all the way to the Narrows. Make sure you lead the way to avoid those deep pools.

 

Don’t be tempted to hike this in bare feet, better to use an old pair of sneakers, as the river bottom is uneven. A hiking pole or two is useful for faster, safer progress although you may be lucky to find a discarded long stick at the trailhead (if you arrive early enough). You can hire rubber boots and poles from outfitters in Springdale too.

 

The earlier you set out the better to avoid the crowds. The now mandatory shuttle buses start from the visitor centre at 6-7am, depending on the season. From the shuttle stop at the Temple of Sinawava it’s a pleasant 20 minute stroll on a paved trail beside the banks of the river to the trailhead. Here you enter the water, walking upstream following the twisting, turning river. The canyon walls gradually get higher and more confined. After about a mile you reach a small waterfall and soon you’ll begin to notice less people around you. Some sections of the trail are on the riverbanks or over sections that cut off a wide corner so there’s plenty of opportunities to stop for a snack and relax. Continue for another mile or so past stunning scenery until you reach Orderville Canyon on your right. This is a worthwhile side trip as it’s also very scenic – and narrow. At this point the walls of Zion Canyon are just 20-30 feet apart and over 1000 feet high. The next half-mile section is called Wall Street and there’s no escape from the river. It will have taken you 2-3 hours to get here and this is where most people turn around.

 

Hiking in water is strenuous and you’ll be pleased to see the trailhead on your return. Don’t forget it’s another 20 minutes back to the shuttle stop plus another 45 minutes back to the visitor centre. But if you made it as far as Wall Street you’ll feel you’ve had one of the very best days of your life.

 

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angel's landing

A renowned ½ day hike to a spectacular viewpoint overlooking Zion Canyon.

 

If you savour your views then this is a must do hike if, and only if, you have no fear of heights. Whilst the majority of the constructed trail is an easy uphill slog, the last 1/4 mile is not for the squeamish. Chains will help you negotiate the trickiest obstacles and they’re not there for show. With 1000 feet drop offs here, you’ll need them. The ‘achievement factor’, though, gives this hike a real edge. That reward, however, is only matched by the panorama that unfolds from Observation Point (see below) that towers 1000 feet over Angel’s Landing on the opposite side of the canyon.

 

Aim to pick up an early shuttle (mandatory as no vehicles are allowed in the canyon) to be at the trailhead by 8.00, as it’s a long slog to the top in the heat and the trail can be very busy from around 10.00. Much of the initial 1.3 miles are on paved switchbacks and from the Grotto shuttle stop it’s difficult to see any trail up the cliff face at all. The trail climbs gradually and then crosses a small bridge into Refrigerator Canyon which is in shade most of the day. From here it’s a short walk to the base of the lung-busting Walter’s Wiggles, 21 steep, tight switchbacks. At the top is Scout’s Lookout where you can terminate your hike if you don’t wish to continue for the final hair-raising leg to Angel’s Landing – and many people are happy to stop here and take in the fantastic views over the canyon and breathe in the pure air.

 

The steep ascent with the chains starts here. The first section isn’t too demanding and if you can negotiate the next section you’ll make it all the way – a narrow strip of rock with severe drop offs on both sides, and no chains (when I was last there) and subject to buffeting updrafts from the canyon below. Once over this it’s back to the chains and a stiff 500 feet climb to the top in 20 minutes where you’ll feel you’ve conquered a serious mountain summit. Now you can take in the 360 degree views of the canyon, and one of the finest scenes in North America, with the Virgin River a silver ribbon disappearing in the distance 1500 feet below you. Look up canyon and you’ll see Observation Point, perhaps a hike for another day. When it’s time to return be aware that other people may be coming up the chains. This is the tricky part as you’ll need to pass them using the same chain. A number of people have fallen to their deaths on this hike so please take your time and keep your wits about you.

 

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observation point – east rim trail

The Big View of Zion Canyon, reached via ever changing scenery.

 

It would be easy to dismiss this hike as one of those lung-busters culminating in a single, though memorable view. However, there’s much more to it than that as the trail weaves its way through beautiful backcountry. Like Angel’s Landing, this hike needs to be attempted early in the day as there are only a few shady sections on the 2100 feet, 4 miles long trail to the Point. Even then, your return trip will be exposed so take plenty of sunscreen.

 

Take the canyon shuttle bus (mandatory in the canyon) to the Weeping Rock Trailhead, from where the East Rim Trail  starts. From the shuttle stop you can see the constructed switchback trail weaving its way up the high wall. In the mornings this section is almost entirely in shade, and as you head up it’s not long before the canyon floor is far below you. Halfway up there’s a junction to lovely Hidden Canyon (worth a visit on your return if you have the energy) but you should keep on the Observation Point trail. At the top of this section is narrow Echo Canyon, a cool, shady place to rest up for a few minutes. In terms of elevation gain you’re nearly halfway up. After another mile or so you reach the junction with the Observation Point Trail. (I’ve not hiked the rest of the East Rim Trail but it’s supposed to be very scenic.) We bear left and continue on the Observation Point trail up another series of switchbacks towards the plateau. The views around you are incredible and only a very small proportion of Zion visitors see them. You’re in full sun here and the going can be a little tough on the steep and unrelenting gradient. After 3 miles from the trailhead the trail flattens out and undulates across the plateau towards your destination, following the edge of the rim with wide-reaching views over the canyon. You’ll pass another junction, this for the East Mesa Trail, but you continue hugging the rim towards (the obvious) Observation Point. Here at 6,500 feet, and 1000 feet above Angel’s Landing in front of you, is one of the iconic views of the southwest – a great reward for a morning’s hard work. Returning to the shuttle stop may be downhill all the way but it’s tough on your knees. It was on this hike that I decided that my hiking boots were too small and it was a painful descent with plenty of stops.

 

Yes, this is a tough hike but, in my opinion, one of the 3 best in the park , the others being The Narrows and Angel’s Landing.

 

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emerald pools

A great hike for all ages as you can choose trails from 0.5 to 1.5 hours with varying degrees of elevation gain. The scenery is beautiful with pools, waterfalls and monoliths. In the afternoons there’s a lot of shade on the trails. get there early to avoid the crowds.

 

 

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kolob canyons – middle fork of taylor creek

Away from the crowds in the main canyon, there are numerous trails from this northern section of the Park, a long trip from the main park entrance. There’s a scenic drive passing viewpoints. The Taylor Creek trail is easy, passing old homestead cabins and ending at a double arch. You might get your feet wet as there are a number of stream crossing.

 

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fort pearce

A short drive from Zion NP, on a lonely desert pioneer road close to the Arizona border, is this old Cavalry fort built in the 1860s. It was used to protect a nearby spring from hostile Indians. Enough survives for you to appreciate what it might be like to live here. Nearby you can detour to some rock art and dinosaur tracks.

 

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© 2016 Bob Palmer