I’d planned an early-March trip to hike several spots I wanted to explore near Zion and St. George. But, with a very favorable forecast, I decided to ‘upgrade’ the plan and link several spots to do a longer LOOP backpack. Veteran Zion hikers know about the “Trans-Zion” route which stretches all the way across the park in about 44 miles. Well, I wanted to do an “Around-Zion” route; a great loop of about 120 miles around the heart of the park and neighboring areas.
My 9-day plan went like this: After starting at Huber Wash outside the little town of Rockville, I’d make my way up through the southwest portion of the park. From Coalpits Wash I’d do a cross-country section to go up over Cougar Mountain and back down into Right Fork. From here I would make my way up to Cave Valley and then over to Wildcat Canyon before following the West Rim Trail down to Zion Canyon. Then the plan was to climb back up the East Rim and then south to the Barracks before exiting to the south and rounding the bend to Canaan Mountain. From here I’d use an old stock trail to descend toward the Eagle’s Crags and back to Rockville thus closing the loop.
Unfortunately… it didn’t exactly turn out that way. Though the day-time temps were great, the technically-still-winter nights were long and cold — literally freezing in fact as any water left out would freeze solid by morning. And though I was snugly-warm in my bag in my tent at night, I didn’t have warm enough gear (or the desire) to get up in the chilly early morning hours to get on the trail. This lead to me spending about 12 hours a day inside my bag in my tiny tent. I tried reading some — but it just was not that enjoyable. So, on Day 5, I decided cut a few days off the hike and complete a slightly smaller loop around Zion. The following few days I spent doing day hikes to the East Rim and Canaan Mountain — thus I got to experience more of my planned route, but then had the luxury of a motel room at night! 🙂 Here’s a little more detail of my experience along the way:
The hike up Huber Wash was fairly uneventful. Near the top there is a dryfall which can be bypassed by going up a brushy side gully on the west side. Later in the season when the brush is thicker this could be a real drag. Also, there’s a small climb at the very top which could be a little tricky for the solo backpacker.
From here I followed the Chinle Trail north admiring the petrified wood along the way. There’s quite a bit of it, including some fairly large logs. Unfortunately almost all of it is fairly eroded and somewhat dull in color. Just past Scroggins Wash I cut cross-country toward the saddle which would connect with Coal Pits Wash where I camped in the at-large area and I was happy to find ample flowing water.
The next day I sized up the saddle in the ridge to the N which I would use to connect to Trail Canyon and then to Right Fork. I didn’t have any exact beta for the route, but thought it looked doable.
After making my way up lower Terry Wash I cut back to the W to reach the higher slopes. The cliffband which looked problematic from afar, wasn’t bad at all when I got there. Up higher there was actually what looked like the remnants of a stock trail. When I got to the saddle, I actually dropped the big pack and climbed higher to access the upper plateau and a nearby highpoint which yielded incredible views back over Coalpits Wash and the westside of the Towers of the Virgin.
Back at the saddle I continued north and down Trail Canyon. The old trail was easy to follow for quite a ways before it dumped into the wash and then soon came to a 100′ dryfall! Oops — I didn’t plan on this! I climbed back out of the wash on the E side only to find the cliffband continued for quite a ways with no way to get down. Looking back to the W side it looked more feasible, but that would require backtracking and it was already getting late in the day. Stubbornly I pushed on looking for a way down. I found myself scouting some fairly precarious ledges as the Sun was going down when I realized — this is crazy! I was so anxious to get down and to the running water below, I wasn’t thinking my best. So, I retraced my steps to the wash and diverted to the western slopes which looked more forgiving. They were. It was a pretty steep and brushy descent, but no exposure. By the time I got down to the stream the sun was down and I quickly found one of the few suitable places to make camp.
The next morning I got a semi-late start because of the cool temps in the shadows of the canyon. But, once up, I quickly made my way down to the junction with Right Fork.
Here I dropped my pack and headed up canyon to see the waterfalls. Along the way I wasted quite a bit of time trying to keep my feet dry. Finally I came to a spot where the canyon walls pinched together and I was forced to get wet (up to my thighs.)
This was actually a good thing as once I succumbed to wet feet, I didn’t care any more and I could travel so much faster right up the canyon. About 2hrs after leaving my pack I made it to Double Falls — a really nice area:
I wanted to explore above Double Falls up to Barrier Falls (the end of the line for upward hikers), however it was getting late in the day and it looked like it would take some effort to continue upstream at this point — so after a few more fun pics, I turned around.
On the way back down canyon I spooked a herd of elk across the stream from me. The majestic group probably numbered 30-40 and fled with the roar of a stampede.
Once back to my pack I made my way down Right Fork to the junction of Left Fork. This whole region has been scorched by a fairly recent forest fire. I continued up along the black basalt rocks and the heavier flow of Left Fork. I was hoping to explore farther up canyon to find a route up to Lee Valley and Little Creek, but it was late in the day and I didn’t want to get stuck in the no-camping zone so instead I huffed it up the rugged Grapevine Trail and hit the Kolob Terrace Road. From here I pounded the pavement to get up to Lamb’s Knoll where I made camp. I’m not a big fan of hiking roads — but at least this is a nice one with the Sun going down:
The next morning I considered cutting across Cave Valley and Lee Valley to connect to the Northgate Peaks area, but there are several parcels of private land in the area and I didn’t have the proper maps to devise an efficient route, so instead I walked the road up to the Hop Valley trailhead and then picked up the connector trail.
After circling the impressive Pine Valley Peak, I made my way up to Wildcat Canyon. I was worried about snow in this area. The rangers told me that the snow shouldn’t be too deep, but that mud could pose the bigger problem. When I arrive I found that neither was a problem at all — very few patches of snow and mud that was usually easy to walk around. This has to be a fairly rare condition for so early in the season.
With these ideal conditions I quickly made my was across Wildcat Canyon and up to the West Rim Trail. Here a chilly wind was blowing off and on, but it was still an enjoyable walk. I’m glad I had filled my water up at Wildcat Spring, because Blue Creek was dry as well as Potato Hollow. Climbing out of Potato Hollow I encountered the most snow yet, but it still was hardly an issue as many previous hikers had made shallow postholes in the snow.
The sun was already nearly down by the time I got to the highly scenic section of the route. I stopped for a bit to enjoy the final fading colors on canyon walls below — even though I knew it would mean I’d be hiking after dark.
Sure enough 1/2 hour later it was dark, but thanks to an almost-full moon I didn’t have to pull out the headlamp. As I got close to my camp (#5) I got to see a sight I’d never seen before — the lights of St. George from the West Rim. By this point the wind was blowing hard and the temperature was dropping quickly, but I still managed a bit of time to appreciate the view and snap a few hurried pics. After that, I got to my camp and got into my tent as quickly as possible.
After a long cold night, I got up and took some pics of the great views to the west. The views from the West Rim are truly incredible and pictures just don’t capture the magnificence. I really would like to explore these canyons more from below some day.
Soon I loaded up and headed down the trail. As I was still bundled up trying to get warmed up by hiking, I intersected a trail runner who was in shorts and a t-shirt. She was AMAZED at the great early-season conditions. I concurred, but still wasn’t willing to part with my extra layers just yet. I guess running 6-miles up (and 6 back down) the West Rim keeps the body warm!
I made my way down enjoying the incredible views along the way into Phantom Valley and Heaps Canyon. After refilling my water at West Rim Spring (Cabin Spring) I descended the big drop toward Behunin Canyon and into Little Siberia.
As I approached Angel’s Landing, I was excited to spot a great viewpoint of the Walter’s Wiggles portion of the trail below. I’d seen pics from this spot, but never knew exactly where it was — but now I do!
Besides the trail runner, I’d only seen a few other groups of people in the last 5 days (two groups near Northgate Peaks and two along West Rim Trail.) But, all of that was about to change as I neared Angel’s Landing — it was a sunny day during spring break and the obnoxious young crowd was out! Dozens upon dozens of people yelling and screaming and carrying on like a theme park. Two different groups were looking to score some ‘bud’ and one guy was bragging about how he took a leak off the top and it was F’ING AWESOME MAN. For the first time ever, I would leave Scout’s View without hiking to the top of Angel’s Landing. Instead I was just ready to get down and away from the crowd.
I made quick work of the paved trail down to the Grotto Picnic area where I refilled my water, got rid of some trash and enjoyed a snack. But, as I relaxed for a bit — it hit me that I didn’t really want to continue back up and camp on the East Rim and then spend a day hiking through water in the Barracks. That’s when I decided to instead hike down and out of the park and enjoy the next few days with some some day hikes.
So, the hike out from this point wasn’t the most exciting wilderness experience, but I will say that it was surprisingly peaceful to walk along the Virgin River and gaze up at this magnificent canyon. I was amazed by this canyon as a kid, but for the past 20+ years it seems I just buzz through it (usually on the shuttle) just to get to other places. So… it was good to slow down a bit and take it all in again. I even shared the views with a bunch of deer and several wild turkeys.
Though not warm by any means, it was definitely a little more pleasant to camp my final night at a lower elevation. I also got to see a great sundown on the Watchman:
The next day I pretty much just followed the road all the way out of the park and back to my Jeep. Unlike the pleasant walk through the park, the trek through Springdale and Rockville wasn’t as much fun and I hope to never “hike” it again!
I spent the next two days doing a day hike up to the lower flanks of Canaan Mountain and on an exploratory hike up in the East Canyon. I’ll share more on those hike in a separate post.
All in all I ended up hiking about 80 miles on the six-day loop hike and then another 20 miles or so in the two days of shorter hikes. Some day, in a warmer season with longer days, I hope to get back and complete the the entire Around-Zion Loop! Until then… check out the map of the route below or scroll farther down to see the gallery for a BUNCH more pictures from the hike.
View full-sized map in new window.
Around Zion Hike Gallery — click any thumbnail so see larger and/or the slideshow: