Ninety-five percent of visitors to national parks and monuments stay within five minutes of the road that leads them there.
At Zion National Park, that 95 percent can take in great views from the comfort of their cars driving up Kolob Canyons Road, but they are selling themselves short when it comes to experiencing the magnificence of a place like Zion Canyon and the Virgin River that flows through it.
Zion National Park, located in southeastern Utah, features the 15-mile long, half-mile deep Zion Canyon. The park has incredible diversity in its landscape, including the Mojave Desert, Great Basin and Rocky Mountain ecosystems, which keeps visitors wondering what's next at every turn of the 90 miles worth of trails the park has to offer.
Each trail from the northwest corner to the southeast has its own unique features and personality. Though extended exploration of the canyon is spectacular, you don't have to do it all to have great experiences.
The trails that dip into the canyon and pass along the ridge are, for the most part, connected end-to-end. All are individually accessible, so, depending on the length of your stay and amount of difficulty you are seeking, you can create your ideal excursion.
The La Verkin Creek Trail begins at Lee Pass at the northwest corner of the park. Meandering down into Kolob Canyon, the thick shrubbery and trees, combined with the proximity of Timber Creek and La Verkin Creek, provide a much appreciated cooling effect though the bright reds and oranges of the trail. And surrounding cliffs remind you of your desert surroundings.
The trail stretches 6.6 miles until it meets the beginning of the Hop Valley Trail, which makes for a good half-day hike.
The 10 campsites scattered along this section are pretty secluded, and the surroundings would make any one of them an easy place to spend the better half of a day.
Easy access to water is also a luxury not afforded on other trail sections in the canyon.
Campers up for an evening hike can venture to Kolob Arch on a trail less than a mile long off of La Verkin Creek. The challenge is to keep your head up from the rocky creek-lined track you are following to not miss the arch, which is prominent on a high cliff ahead of the trail.
Those continuing on the Lake Verkin Creek Trail will soon reach the Hop Valley Trail with the first of countless creek crossings along this route.
Feet don't take too long to dry after inevitably getting wet, but hot spots must be monitored closely before turning into blisters that can ruin a hike.
Climbing steep switchbacks along the trail is soon rewarded by an opening into the Hop Valley, where walking along the sides of canyon walls leaves you feeling infinitely small.
Continuing on the Connector Trail provides a climb over sandstone before ending in grassy meadows. With scattered tall ponderosa pines along the way, it not too strenuous of a 10.1-mile hike.
Wildcat Canyon Trail gradually ascends the side of the canyon 5.8 miles through a mostly wooded area before ending at the West Rim of the canyon.
Lava Point is about a one-mile walk up a dirt road before a one-tenth of a mile climb on Barney's Trail that leads to a campground and picnic area.
The view from the overlook at the campground satisfies the desire to take in the massive landscape and the terrain that has been traversed.
Potato Hollow is a fitting name for the unspectacular area that the West Rim Trail initially dips into before coming onto the West Rim, but gratifying views come quickly as you continue along the rim getting to the main part of the canyon. Here it becomes apparent you are hiking along centuries-old solidified sand dunes.
The trail is chiseled into the sides of cliff faces and continues along as the trees begin to thin out. It exposes more views of rocks ranging in colors from red to white. Eyes struggle to keep up with the changes in depth in the layers of rock ahead, but Angel's Landing and Walter's Wiggles are soon arrives.
The East Rim Trail completes the traverse of the canyons of Zion National Park. It is easily the most demanding of the trails described.
It is easy to get distracted by the view of Weeping Rock while doing the 2,150-foot climb out of the canyon, a slot canyon that you were probably expecting to see at some point while in Zion. It is easy to do the East Rim on its own with the 10-mile trail beginning and ending at parking areas.
Planning for an extended backpacking trip is crucial to enhance the experience of the trip and your safety. On a multi-day excursion, access to water and ways to filter it must be accounted for.
The National Park Service website is an excellent resource, but when it comes to water levels of streams, contact a park ranger to verify the most up-to-date information. Park rangers can also help provide details on where you can leave water along points where the trail meets roads.
It is also important to look into camping in advance. Some sights can be reserved, but others are on a first-come, first-serve basis.