This is the place for ‘social distancing’
By Jared Blackley
I’s not until the trail turns and the famous narrow rock fin of Angel’s Landing comes into view—approximately 35 miles into our hike—that we realize just how few people we’ve seen over the past three days. Dozens of hikers are now scrambling up the crux in front of us; dozens more are making their way back down. Hundreds more are somewhere on the trail.
More than 4.3 million nature lovers descend upon Zion National Park each year, making it almost impossible to experience the solitude and stillness of wilderness. However, after a couple of friends and I discovered the Zion Traverse hike, we found these qualities in abundance.
The traverse, located near Kanarraville is actually a series of interconnected trails that run almost 50 miles from Lee Pass in the Kolob Canyons to Zion’s East Rim Trailhead (or vice-versa, depending on your preference). Navigating the trails is easy. But the logistics of the hike, usually done between April and September, can be complicated.
There are, for instance, few reliable water sources along the way. What few springs there are may dry up. One solution is stashing one gallon of water per person near the Connector Trail or Wildcat Canyon Trailhead before you begin the hike. Just make sure to write something on the container, such as “Don’t drink this water—I need it to survive.”
And always inquire with the visitor center when you pick up your permit about the flow status of springs along the way.
Getting a permit is a competitive process. You’ll need at least two campsite reservations: one for the Kolob Canyons and another for the West Rim. Reservations can be made online—beginning at 10 a.m.—on the fifth day of the month, two months prior to the month of your hike. For example, permits for June become available on April 5. If you plan to book your permits online, secure the more popular West Rim campsite first, as there are only four campsites per night that can be reserved online. They will be gone by 10:05 a.m.
If you aren’t fortunate enough to secure reservations online, you can book them in person the day before the start of your trip. Because there are only five in-person campsite reservations available for the West Rim, it’s best to be at the visitor center before it opens.
Be prepared to adjust your schedule, if necessary, as there will be others trying to secure permits the same day. Therefore, you may need to spend two nights in Kolob Canyons in order to secure a campsite on the West Rim.
Once we had our permit, we set out from Lee Pass on a sunny morning in early May. Patches of snow are still visible on the basaltic caps at the top of the breathtaking Finger Canyons. We follow Timber Creek south for approximately 3 miles, slowly descending to La Verkin Creek, where the trail turns east. The first few miles of any long backpacking trip are filled with laughter, conversation and excitement, but a rhythm soon sets in. The final 3½ miles to the camp are usually hiked in silence.
Unless you’re spending two nights in Kolob Canyons, try to book a campsite numbered from 7 to 11, as the other sites are far from where the La Verkin Creek Trail meets the Hop Valley Trail.
(Only two of those campsites can be booked online). After setting up our camp, we made the short jaunt—1-mile roundtrip—to the second longest natural arch in the world, Kolob Arch.
The next morning, we filtered water from the creek before starting the climb over the large landslide that dammed Hop Valley several thousand years ago. The next 6 miles is sublime. A small creek meanders along the valley floor, which is mostly sediment from a lake that dried up only 700 years ago. We don’t see another person until we exit the valley and begin a steady, 1½ -mile climb to the Kolob Terrace Road.
We hike another 7 miles, with sweeping views of the West Temple Pantheon to the south and Job’s Head to the north, followed by long stretches of Ponderosa forest before we set up camp in the at-large camping area near Wildcat Canyon.
Day 3 takes us around the rim of Wildcat Canyon and up near Lava Point lookout. From there, we begin the crown jewel of the hike—the West Rim. The first 4 miles are relatively flat traveling across the northern end of Horse Pasture Plateau. The trail then drops into Potato Hollow, where you see remnants of a fire that burned through this area several years ago.
As you climb out of Potato Hollow, the scenery becomes world class. And it stays that way for the next several miles. Gentle vegetated slopes dramatically give way to steep sandstones cliffs that drop deep into canyons. Some cliffs drop 2,000 feet, while some canyons, one after another, are even deeper. It is an incredibly impressive jaw-dropping sight. Superlatives to describe what you’re seeing will be inadequate. The vistas along the West Rim are, simply put, some of the best in the world.
Early the next morning, we begin the 6-mile, 3,400-foot descent to the Grotto. The views are so extraordinary along the way, we rarely speak. We had made plans to hike Angel’s Landing, but when we see all the people with the same hike in mind, we forego it. When we reach the road, we immediately regret our decision to bypass the final 10 miles along the East Rim. We weren’t ready for our journey to end, but we’d made arrangements to be picked up in Springdale.
Because the hike is point to point, we needed a shuttle to return to our car near Lee Pass. A friend from St. George was kind enough to meet us in Springdale, but we thought it a tall order to ask this person to drive up to the East Rim park entrance to pick us up, so we cut our trek short.
I’ll return soon, however, to complete the traverse and hike to the East Rim Trailhead. The adventure is worth every single step.
Each campsite requires its own reservation and a $5 nonrefundable deposit. Multiple reservations will be combined into one permit at the time you check in at the visitor center. There are Zion National Park visitor centers at the south entrance near Springdale and the entrance to Kolob Canyons. The cost for permits is $15 for 1-2 people, $20 for 3-7 people and $25 for 8-12 people.
If you don’t have enough people in your group to justify bringing two vehicles or a friend who is willing to shuttle you, Red Rock Shuttle in La Verkin can help. Reservations must be made in advance.
Red Rock Shuttle
Zion Wilderness Map
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