Hop Valley Trail
This trail loses about 1,050 feet as it meanders northwest through sunny fields and past Gambel oak, partly following an old jeep road and then a stream, before arriving at La Verkin Creek. Many hikers continue on the La Verkin Creek/Kolob Arch trails to see Kolob Arch.
The beginning of the trail takes you through some rather deep sand, so if your gear includes gaiters (cloth or leather leg coverings that keep the sand out), wear them. After passing through the hiker gate in the fence, marking the beginning of an inholding (privately owned property within the park), you'll be sharing space with cattle from spring through fall. Follow the four-wheel-drive road, marked by fence posts when it becomes almost too faint to see, until you reach the stream at the bottom of Hop Valley. Follow the stream or cattle trails along it down the valley, and shortly Langston Canyon will come in from the right, sometimes contributing a trickle of water to the stream. About .5 mile farther, another fence marks the end of the inholding, and the stream sinks into the sand and disappears in summer. A sign marks where the trail leaves the wash and climbs a hill. After climbing the hill, the trail follows a steep descent into the valley of La Verkin Creek. Camping is allowed outside the inholding, and shady sites can be found among the pines not far from the wash. From here you can head to Kolob Arch, about .75 miles away, explore the La Verkin Creek system, or return to the Hop Valley Trail Head. If you see any cattle outside the inholding, notify the Park Service when you finish your hike. Hikers should plan on allotting a full day for this walk.
13.4 miles RT. Moderate to difficult. Access: Trail head on Kolob Terrace Rd., about 13 miles north of Virgin.
La Verkin Creek/Kolob Arch Trails
La Verkin Creek and its tributaries are responsible for the magnificent canyons cut into the red Navajo sandstone in this section of the park. This hike passes through dry sagebrush flats and forests of conifers, cottonwoods, and box elders; and where water seeps from the stone, hanging gardens astonish the eye. This trail is popular and can be quite busy on summer weekends, in spite of the almost 800-foot net elevation gain of the return trek. From the trail head, you descend to Timber Creek, which is often dry by late summer. Follow it upstream around the base of Shuntavi Butte, Timber Top Mountain, and Gregory Butte; as you climb into a small open bowl, the views widen to the south and east. Soon you'll come to an old corral built by Mormon pioneers, after which there is a short side hike downstream to a series of pretty, though short, waterfalls. Follow La Verkin Creek upstream along the north bank, with Gregory Butte towering overhead on your left and Neagle Ridge jutting up on the right.
When you reach the turnoff to the Kolob Arch Viewpoint, turn left along a tiny tributary with some steep ups and downs on rocky footing for about .5 mile. Then look up -- Kolob Arch soars high overhead about .25 mile away. One of the largest arches in the world, it measures over 300 feet wide. Caution: Going beyond the viewpoint is not recommended, due to the instability of the slopes. Back on the main trail a short way upstream, cross over to Beatty Spring, the official end of this trail, after which you'll find the junction with Hop Valley Trail (heading southeast). You've come about 7 miles and descended to 5,200 feet of elevation. Further exploration upstream takes you to Beartrap Canyon and then up Willis Creek, another 4.5 miles with a further elevation loss of just under 200 feet.
Some people choose to camp on this hike. You can camp at La Verkin Creek, if you have a permit and have been assigned a campsite at the visitor center.
14 miles RT. Moderate heading east, strenuous returning west. Access: Kolob Canyons Rd., at Lee Pass.
Exploring the Narrows involves wading along the bottom of the North Fork of the Virgin River, through a spectacular 1,000-foot-deep chasm that is less than 20 feet wide in spots. Passing fancifully sculptured sandstone arches, hanging gardens, and waterfalls, this hike is recommended for those who are up to fighting sometimes-strong currents. If you want just a taste of the Narrows, walk and wade in from the other end, from the Riverside Walk.
The full trip through the Narrows involves a long day or preferably a 2-day trek, and entails arranging a ride to the trail head and then catching a park shuttle at the Temple of Sinawava, where you leave the canyon at the end of your journey. From the trail head, on private land, you'll ford the river and follow a dirt road downstream. (Please remain on the road and leave all gates as found.) The road ends a short distance beyond an old cabin, and from here you will hike either along or in the river, which cuts a deep canyon into the Navajo sandstone. The walls are broken only by an occasional steeply ridged canyon, created over millennia by some seemingly insignificant stream in its quest to reach the Virgin River. You'll come up against a 12-foot waterfall -- a path circumnavigates this natural barrier by leading you through a slot in the rock.
You are now within the boundary of the park, and in another 1.5 miles, you will reach the confluence with Deep Creek, where the canyon widens to absorb this sizable flow of water. In the next 2 miles lie the designated -- and assigned -- campsites. The current here is faster, due to the increased flow of water, and the rocks underfoot are slippery, so step carefully to avoid injury. Kolob Creek is the next tributary seen, though it flows only when waters are released from Kolob Reservoir for irrigation downstream; Goose Creek comes in next and signals a deepening of the water -- waist-high in some places -- and an increase in the speed of the flow. Soon you'll see Big Springs gushing over moss-covered stone on the right wall of the canyon, signifying the beginning of the Narrows.
For the next 3 miles, there is no place to climb out of the water in the event of a flash flood, and there is practically no vegetation to grab onto, as any small seedling is periodically ripped from its hold by raging waters. The river spreads from wall to wall, requiring constant wading in a deep canyon with little light. The water has even undercut the walls near the confluence with Orderville Canyon. Runoff from above oozes from the canyon walls here, providing moisture for hanging gardens and habitat for the minuscule Zion snail, found nowhere else in the world. About a mile farther, where the canyon opens out, a narrow ribbon of water slips out of Mystery Canyon above, and skims down the rounded canyon wall. Just beyond, you can finally climb out of the water onto the paved Riverside Walk that takes you to the Temple of Sinawava and the end of the hike.
Permits are required for full-day and overnight hikes originating from Chamberlain's Ranch. Walk-in permits are available the day before or the day of your trip at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center; campsites are assigned and the number of hikers, both day and overnight, is limited. Backcountry reservations are also available online via the park's website, www.nps.gov/zion, although the permits must still be picked up in person at the visitor center. Short day hikes, starting and ending at the end of the Riverside Walk, do not require permits.
Several local companies, including Zion Adventure Company, offer guided trips through the Narrows, with rates starting at $149 per person for two or more people.
16 miles one-way. Difficult. Permit required. Access: Chamberlain's Ranch (outside the park); arrange a shuttle for delivery and pickup. From Zion National Park's east entrance, drive 2 1/2 miles east on Utah 9, turn north onto the road to the North Fork and Navajo Lake -- impassable when wet or snowy -- and go 18 miles. Immediately after crossing the bridge over the Virgin River, turn left onto a gravel road, and go 1 mile to the trail head, which is just before the river ford.
The Narrows: Safety First -- Hiking in the Narrows, which are subject to flash flooding, can be treacherous, as there are many sections where there is no place to escape a rushing wall of water. Hiking here is not advised when rain is forecast or threatening; park officials strongly recommend that hikers check the latest National Weather Service forecast before setting out, even when skies appear clear. Weather forecasts are posted at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, and rangers are available to discuss current conditions, but park officials emphasize that all hikers are responsible for their own safety.
Even those planning just a short day hike into the Narrows, entering from the end of the Riverside Walk, need to spend some time on preparation. Hikers should wear sturdy boots or shoes with good ankle support that they won't mind getting wet; carry an empty bag to pack out all trash; take drinking water, sunscreen, and a first-aid kit; be prepared for cold temperatures with a sweater or jacket; and put everything in waterproof containers. Equipment can be rented from Zion Adventure Company.
Experienced Narrows hikers also recommend that you take a walking stick to help steady yourself against the strong currents. Sticks are sometimes available near the end of the Riverside Walk, but you're better off taking your own. Hikers are prohibited from cutting tree branches to make walking sticks. Because there are no restrooms in the Narrows, hikers should use the restroom at the Riverside Walk Trail Head before heading out. Park officials request that human waste be buried as far away from the river and other water sources as possible.
Because of strong currents and deep pools, park officials recommend kids under 4'8" tall not hike in the river.
West Rim Trail
This trail has a net elevation loss of 3,400 feet over 14.5 miles to the Grotto Picnic Area, and many hikers choose to arrange for a shuttle rather than attempting the strenuous climb back to Lava Point -- most of the rise is achieved in the first 6 miles from the south end. The easiest way to do this is to leave your car at the south end (lowest point) and get a shuttle to the top to begin your hike.
Over half of this very popular hike is spent atop the Horse Pasture Plateau, a finger of land pointing toward Angels Landing, which affords incredible vistas all along the trail. The plateau boasts a wide range of plant life, and consequently, a fascinating variety of birds and animals. The many blackened trees attest to the numerous lightning strikes that have occurred here. You'll also find stark reminders of a 1980 wildfire.
At the southern end of the plateau, you can choose to take the Telephone Canyon Trail or stay on the Rim Route; the first is a little shorter, and they come together again at West Rim Spring Junction, just before the steep descent into Zion Canyon. The climb down takes you around and behind Mount Majestic and Cathedral Mountain, following part of Refrigerator Canyon, and connects to Angels Landing Trail before depositing you at the Grotto Picnic Area.
29 miles RT. Difficult. Access: Lava Point Trail Head. From Virgin, take Kolob Terrace Rd. north about 21 miles, turn right toward Lava Point; after about a mile, there's a fork: If it's dry, take the left fork and drive about 1 1/3 miles to the trail head; otherwise, take the right fork to Lava Point Campground, where there's a connecting trail to the trail head.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.