The most prominent feature of Zion is the steep red rock canyon carved by the North Fork of the Virgin River. Zion Canyon stretches 15 miles long and spans up to half a mile deep.
Access to Zion Canyon Drive is via the Park’s South Entrance off State Route 9 in Springdale, Utah.
The East Entrance is on Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, also known as SR-9, and passes through the 1.1 mile long tunnel nestled inside the rock. No Visitor Center is located here.
The 3rd Entrance is the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center off Interstate 15 at Exit 40. This 5 mile scenic drive is located in the northwest corner of the Park.
Enough info for now. It’s time to hit the trail and experience the mesmerizing majesty of Zion. We can walk to the South Entrance since we are staying a mere half-mile away. So, let’s go!
The watcHman trail
Starting at the Visitor Center, along the east bank of the Virgin River, this hike passes by the South Campground, employee housing, and a construction yard.
But nothing can spoil the beauty beyond… the blue sky, white clouds, bright green evergreens contrasting with the sage-green shrubs, and of course the red, brown, pink, salmon, gold and white layers of the Navajo Sandstone.
After crossing the road restricted to employee and maintenance vehicles, we head upward into the cliffs and get close up and personal with some canyon walls.
The trail is moderately strenuous due to the 600 some feet gain in elevation. But I use my picture-taking need as an excuse to take a breather. And no, the hike does not proceed to the top of Watchman, but to a viewpoint on top of the first layer of cliffs overlooking the main canyon.
It’s crowded here so we take the loop trail and get some amazing views of lower Zion Canyon and the town of Springdale where we are staying.
The end of the trail also offers views of the Towers of the Virgin and Watchman Mountain. Since I don’t know this at the time or what these rock formations look like, I miss these photo ops. My excuse is that the sun obscures their view. I just take pics that inspire me.
This is also the “loop less traveled” and we share the solitude with a young family taking a lunch break.
As we head back, it starts to rain hard intermittently. But I still stop to take pictures.
The Towers of the Virgin are in the distance below…
And I capture Watchman in the pic below…
Another downpour threatens again…
…and when it hits we find shelter underneath a rock. Two hikers from Germany join us.
When the rain stops we slosh our way through the red mud, collecting the clay soil on our hiking boots. Each step gets heavier. But the inconvenience of the mud doesn’t stop me from taking a few more pics as we continue back to the trailhead.
Zion canyon scenic drive
Wet and muddy we head back to the Visitor Center and catch the Zion Canyon Shuttle. Starting here the shuttle makes 8 stops along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive from the Visitor Center to the “Temple of Sinawava” where the canyon narrows.
Private vehicles are not allowed beyond Stop 3, Canyon Junction, which takes you to Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, the tunnel, and the East Entrance of the Park.
We take the shuttle to the end of the line, Stop 9, The Temple of Sinawava, and walk the 2.2 out and back trail along the Virgin River at the bottom of the canyon. Since the path is paved it is rated wheelchair accessible with some assistance.
It’s still raining off and on but it does not ruin our day. Clouds gather and disperse, coloring the sky various shades of blue and gray.
Actually the weather adds an eerie sense of grandeur to the ferns, trees, moss, and river on the floor of the canyon…
as the imposing weeping walls of rock embrace it all…
The paved trail ends as the canyon narrows into a gorge.
We watch as a few folks wade into the water as they continue into the Zion Narrows, a day-hike following the Virgin River as it winds through a 2,000 foot deep canyon that narrows into 20-30 feet wide passages. A longer hike requires a backcountry permit. Either way, you will get wet.
When we return to the trailhead we board the shuttle back to the Visitor Center. It takes about 40 minutes to get there as the shuttle has to make 8 stops along the way.
From the Visitor Center we walk back to Zion Canyon Campground where we are staying. It is also a Quality Inn motel. That’s our RV to the right of the couple walking toward us:
What a great day!