I’ve spent the last month getting to know a very small part of southern Utah. Even after a month here I continue to find more passes, trails, parks and areas to explore and I realize I’m going to leave with much of southern Utah going undiscovered. That’s okay though as it gives me more reasons to come back to this rugged, diverse and beautiful place.
When I first arrived, I did not do much research to understand the vastness of southern Utah. Case in point: after my first visit to Zion National Park, I still thought the park mainly consisted of the most popular, iconic trails in Zion Canyon. Like many people who only have a day to explore the park I arrived at Zion, hopped on the shuttle, did a few popular trails and thought that little stretch of road where the shuttle took me was it. I thought the park was rather small and it took me a whole month to discover I was very wrong.
Today, I specifically want to talk about the vastness of Zion National Park (all 124,000 protected acres) and some of the lesser visited areas that you should explore should you have a few days in and around the park. I would also like to point out that you’ll probably find that time may not necessarily be the limiting factor to all you can see in Zion’s wilderness, but energy is. At least it was for me. The trails and miles you can hike here are innumerous and I’m usually exhausted after a hard half day on the trail.
Zion National Park is broken down into six areas: Zion Canyon (most popular, where the shuttle bus runs), East Rim, West Rim, Southwest Desert, Wildcat Canyon, and Kolob Canyons. I’ll give a brief overview of the lesser known last five to encourage you to explore all the breathtaking beauty Zion has to offer.
The East Rim can be accessed from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center by taking State Route 9 up through the tunnel. This gorgeous drive through the park is worth doing even if you do not have time to hike. The East Rim offers a variety of hikes from short jaunts, longer day hikes to backpacking trips. If you have time after exploring Zion Canyon, I’d recommend heading to the East Rim to cap off your day with more great views on shorter hikes like Zion Canyon Overlook Trail, Lower Pine Creek Waterfall, Shelf Canyon Trail, or Many Pools Trail. If you have multiple days in the park, the lesser trafficked East Rim is a fun place to spend time and get miles in at Zion National Park.
Kolob Canyons is the northwestern most section of Zion National Park. Kolob is accessed at Exit 40 off Interstate 15 located far from the crowds of the main canyon. Kolob has its own visitors center and ranger station and the five-mile scenic Kolob Canyon road takes you up to a viewpoint of the finger canyons. This area offers an array of hikes from shorter day hikes to backpacking trips and is truly a hidden gem in the park. If you have an extra day, I’d recommend checking out Middle Fork Taylor Creek Trail that consists of fun creek crossings and sky high red sandstone canyon walls all around. If you are looking for a long day hike or short backpacking trip, head to the isolated Kolob Arch via La Verkin Creek Trail. It is widely thought that Kolob Arch is one of the most beautiful and massive arches in the world. If you only have a little bit of time, check out the Timber Creek Overlook Trail at the end of the five mile Kolob Canyon road for a short, rewarding hike.
Wildcat Canyon/West Rim
Wildcat Canyon is accessed from Kolob Terrace road and while I did not explore this area myself, the trails in this area are longer and would be great trails for backpacking or long day hikes. This area also offers some serious canyoneering opportunities and includes the popular Subway hike that a permit is needed for. This is also where you can pick up the West Rim trail from Lava Point and do a 15 mile through hike or backpacking trip into Zion Canyon where you end coming down Angels Landing trail. If you’re looking to traverse through various Zion landscapes with incredible views, this trail looks like it’s the one to do!
The Southwest Desert is pleasant in the cooler months as it is very exposed with little to no shade. This area is often overlooked as the views are not as spectacular as what Zion Canyon offers but if you’re looking to get away from the crowds and have some true wilderness alone time this area is for you. The Southwest Desert offers day hikes to overnight backpacking trips. The scenery ranges from vast open desert to sweeping cliff views. There are 6 campsites available, 3 via online reservation and 3 via first-come first-serve.
Last but certainly not least, if you want a true Zion wilderness experience, the Trans-Zion Trek takes you from Kolob Canyons all the way to the East Rim of the national park connecting multiple trails along the way. This multi-day backing trip takes careful planning and totals about 48 miles with a rollercoaster of elevation gains and drops. Strenuous and beautiful, this trek is not for the faint of heart.
As always, make sure you have prepared adequately for your time on the trail. The Zion wilderness can be unforgiving with steep cliffs, rocky trials and relentless heat. Know your limits and have fun exploring the greater Zion National Park!
Until the next tale… Happy trails.