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Backpacker Magazine – June 2010

Secret Hikes: Zion National Park

Pack an extra memory card for what is, mile-for-mile, the most photogenic hike in the Southwest.

by: Michael Lanza

Zion (Joe Braun)
Zion (Joe Braun)

One of our most veteran trail scouts, who has hiked in 24 national parks and is notoriously grudging with superlatives, calls this 47-mile traverse of Zion “one of the most spectacular multiday treks in the entire park system.” The only debate: why so few people know about it.

The route, traversing the park north to south from Lee Pass to East Rim trailheads, includes a few popular dayhiker sections, but mostly it’s simply lonely, remote, and photo-every-step gorgeous. Start by crossing the orange and red Kolob Canyons and Hop Valley on the La Verkin Creek and Hop Valley Trails; camp beside burbling La Verkin Creek in Kolob (sites 12 or 13, at mile 6.7, have abundant flat spots above the creek). Then use the Connector and Wildcat Canyon Trails to link to the West Rim Trail. You’ll pass through the park’s highest elevations (above 7,000 feet) and an area called Little Siberia that’s snow-covered from November to May. Plan to linger at overlooks of labyrinthine side canyons of white and red sandstone. Overnight at campsites eight (mile five, near water) or four (mile 6.5, good views). From here, descend giant waves of sandstone along sidewalk-wide precipices with hundred-foot drops into Zion Canyon. Detour .8 mile round-trip to Angel’s Landing—get there before 9 a.m. to beat the hundreds of dayhikers who crowd the knife-edge footpath from mid-morning to late afternoon. Even if you’re late, it’s worth jostling elbows for the view of the entire Zion Canyon dropping 1,500 feet below the 5,790-foot summit.

Continue to Echo Canyon and finish the traverse with a climb through bizarrely sculpted redrock—at the brink of a waterfall plunging into a slot canyon at Jolly Gulch—on the East Rim Trail. Drop your pack for the popular but worthwhile one-mile side trip along crazy-exposed paths to Hidden Canyon, with sweeping panoramas from atop the vertical walls. Water beta: La Verkin Creek runs year-round, and Beatty, Sawmill, and Cabin springs are usually reliable, but Stave Spring, near the East Rim’s campsites, typically dries up by August.

›› Magic Moment You wake early to watch pink and gold dawn light creep up a maze of side canyons and mesas, just five minutes’ walk north of the West Rim Trail’s campsite four.

›› Local Knowledge
The slickrock between Angel’s Landing and the West Rim is a favorite spot for local guides to scramble off trail on formations that look like beehives.

›› Do it
Begin at Lee Pass trailhead, about eight miles up Kolob Canyon Road from exit 40 on I-15. Finish at the East Rim trailhead on UT 9. Shuttle services:; Note: The park’s free buses don’t connect this route’s trailheads. Map Trails Illustrated Zion #214 ($12; Contact (435) 772-0170;

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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star


Star Star Star Star Star
Mar 12, 2014

Zion was wonderful when I was in university nearby in the 1970s, but after a recent visit, I pretty much gave up on it. Too 'urban', too much bureaucracy, no solitude. This hike may be just what it takes to tempt me back for another visit!

Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Sep 23, 2013

You still have more FEE- FREE NATIONAL PARK DAYS this year! September 28 and November 9-11 weekend. When hiking with kids, teach them how to stay found without using a compass or map by reading "Felix the Sugar Glider: Be Safe. Hike Smart." (Amazon). This book uses a fun approach to staying found on or off the trail. And for anyone wanting to know how to use a compass, this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Before you hit the trail, be sure to calibrate your compass to the declination of where you will be hiking. Go to: A compass doesn't need satellites, a signal, or batteries and works in all types of weather but you need to know how to use it. Learn how to orient yourself using a compass, a compass and a map, a map and no compass, no compass and no map. Look for it on Amazon, "Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart". The ability to know your way and know where you are is something we all need in any survival situation not just while hiking. Learn to stay found day or night by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. Learn what to pack for a day-hike, trail ethics, what to do if you get lost, how to get rescued, and survival packing (for the car and for the trail) just in case you end up unexpectedly spending the night outdoors.

Apr 17, 2012

Off to do this next week, hopefully the weather will hold.

Mar 22, 2012

I think you mean "West Rim Trailhead" at the beginning of the second paragraph.

Meredith V.
Jun 23, 2011

Nathan, how many days did you take?

Nathan Caldwell
Jun 21, 2011

Just finished this hike with a friend of mine, and it was absolutely incredible. Tip: Do Not Use Zion Adventures. They wanted to charge us $192 to shuttle us back from the Zion Visitor Center to the start of the trail where our car was parked. Instead, use Red Rock ( They charged us only $70, and the person who runs it was very knowledgeable and helpful (much unlike the yuppies you'll run into at Zion Adventures).

Dave Barnes
Oct 10, 2010

I want to take my family on this hike in May or June and was wondering if 6 days and 5 nights is enough time? We do a lot of hiking but not usually this long. I would love some imput.

Craig S.
Aug 02, 2010

My hiking buddies and I did this exact trip last October. Simply an amazing trip. I have been to 6 different national parks and many other wilderness areas to go on extended back-country trips, and none have topped Zion. This hike sends you through nearly the entire park, and is breath-taking the entire way. A great way to end it is to take a day-hike up into the narrows (I know, very popular and busy), you won't regret it. It's amaZION


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