Zion, Top to Bottom.
A marvelous tour of Zion over one long day or two casual ones. The West Rim Trail is the perhaps the most geologically and botanically diverse trail in the Park, perfect for a long day-hike or an overnight backpacking trip. For those with the knees for it, the West Rim Trail is a great way to see and get to know the backcountry.
The first section of the West Rim Trail hikes out the rolling plateau of Horse Pasture Mesa and down a lush fold in the hills to a small pond at Potato Hollow. A short, steep climb leads to the second section of the Mesa, where the trail splits into two paths: the West Rim and Telephone Canyon. The West Rim fork follows - you guessed it - the rim of the plateau, featuring sexy, dramatic views of the grand peaks and canyons to the south. Telephone Canyon follows a more subtle, interior route established when settlers first laid telephone wires over the plateau and down into Zion Canyon. When the forks meet up again at West Rim Spring, the trail descends steeply to Zion Canyon.
NOTE: The route through Telephone Canyon Trail is included here, but as of 2011 is still closed after a fire destroyed the trail. At this time, only the West Rim route running along Phantom Valley is open.
Long, moderately strenuous one-day hike or moderate two-day backpack
6 to 12 hours, or overnight
Late Spring, Summer, Fall
12.9 miles (20.7 km) or 14.4 miles (23.1 km), one-way, depending on variation
500 feet (150 m) gain, overall 3650 feet (1100 m) elevation loss
Car spot or shuttle required. Starts at West Rim trailhead on KT Road, ends at The Grotto Trailhead in the Main Canyon.
Hiking along the mesa plays tag with the shade of the big trees. The upper part of the descent into Zion Canyon is exposed to the full sun, with mixed sun and shade from there down.
Only if you are backpacking in and staying overnight.
Sturdy hiking shoes, a headlamp, ample water and food for a full-day hike. Backpackers will need the usual overnight accoutrements.
Water is usually available to purify at Potato Hollow and Sawmill Springs, but pack ample water for the hike.
A long way to go in a day, with steep downhill gradients at the end. Not suitable for small children and some adults. Bring a headlamp in case the hike takes longer than you expect.
Spring - In early spring, the upper sections of trail may still be snow covered and icy. Check conditions at the wilderness desk and be ready to encounter a couple snowpacked or icy sections of trail.
Summer - HOT! Leave early (a 5:30 AM departure is well worth it) to avoid the heat and be aware the hike out is in full sun.
Fall - Generally a great time to hike this trail.
Winter - Snowpack and ice make the trailhead and upper sections of trail impassable. Hikers wondering about snow levels higher up can choose to hike it from the bottom (The Grotto) rather than committing from the top to unknown snow conditions.
The West Rim Trailhead is just east of Lava Point in the Kolob Terrace section of the Park. The small, primitive Lava Point campground offers good accommodations the night before you hike, as it is both close to your trailhead and FREE. Drive time to the trailhead and/or campground from Springdale is about 1.5 hours.
From Springdale, drive south and west 14 miles on Route 9 to the town of Virgin. Turn right on the Kolob Reservoir (aka Kolob Terrace) Road. Drive 20.0 miles to the Lava Point Road, and turn right. Follow this road 0.9 miles to a junction. The road straight ahead goes to Lava Point (great view) and the Lava Point Campground. Take the road to the left a further 1.4 miles (some rough spots) to the West Rim Trailhead. Park.
The road from the junction to the West Rim Trailhead is sometimes closed in the spring, or after storms. The "Barney Trail" leaves the back of the Lava Point Campground and makes its way down to the road, and hence to the West Rim Trailhead, adding an additional 3/4 mile. Those with delicate low-clearance vehicles may prefer this option.
The continuation of the road past the trailhead is the "MIA Road". There is a gate on the MIA Road; please do not park beyond the gate or block it.
MIA – The "Mutual Improvement Association" was a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints program for Young Men and Young Women of the church, to school them in proper living. The MIA road leads to the MIA Camp, a church camp owned and run by a local LDS branch that runs summer camp for its youth members.
Cowboy up and hit the trail. Five minutes along, the Wildcat Canyon Trail branches right. Go straight. Hike through sparse Ponderosa Pine forest along the flat mesa, enjoying the view to each side. The views into the Left and Right Forks of North Creek (to the right, or south/west) are especially spectacular. At 4.5 miles (7.2 km), the trail descends into the lush beauty of Potato Hollow, where you can find a pond and spring that only occasionally run dry. Treat or filter this water before using. A short stroll to the east leads to great views down Imlay Canyon.
Backpackers note: The West Rim Trail makes for a fine overnight hike. Campsites are assigned via permit, and the first recommended-by-Tom campsites are here at Potato Hollow - #7 and #8. Close to water and great for beating the heat, these sites also enjoy really good sunrises. My other favorite campsite is #6, overlooking Phantom Valley and Heaps Canyon. For a complete list of campsites with short descriptions and photos, look here.
After a little rest and relaxation, return to the trail and begin the slog up the hill on the south side. In the next 1.5 miles (2.4 km), the trail climbs 500 feet (150 m) across rough terrain with dramatic views to the west into the Right Fork of Great West Canyon. After a steep climb, the trail regains the top of the Mesa and arrives at a trail junction.
The West Rim Trail offers two variations:
The left branch, the Telephone Canyon Trail, is the direct route to Cabin Spring. This route is 1.8 miles (2.9 km), all downhill. This trail closed as of 2011 due to fire damage.
The right branch follows the edge of the mesa, featuring amazing views into Phantom Valley (the upper part of Heaps Canyon). The trail then hooks around to West Rim Spring in 3.1 miles (5.0 km), or an EXTRA 1.3 miles (2.1 km). Recommended.
Both options meet back up at the Cabin Spring Trail junction. The tiny trickle of a spring is an eighth-mile down a trail to the north. This is the only reliable water on the West Rim Trail, though the trickle is small so it takes a while to collect.
So much for the fun stuff. From here, the West Rim Trail is steeply downhill. Take the southward-heading trail that soon comes to the edge of the slickrock. Descend on pathways cut into the rock, with great views into Behunin Canyon to the south. The trail drops 450 feet (130 m) in the first half mile (0.8 km), then continues descending less steeply as it skirts the north end of Mount Majestic. Climbing briefly to regain the ridge, the trail proceeds southward along a narrow ridge to Scout Lookout. For those who have not YET had enough, a short excursion can be made to the summit of Angels Landing. Charge down Walter's Wiggles, knees willing, and through Refrigerator Canyon, then down even more switchbacks to the floor of Zion Canyon.