An article caught my eye earlier this year about the Best Trail Runs in the National Parks. For Zion National Park, my running backyard, the author chose Angel’s Landing. I thought, “Whoa, I’d never run that trail!”. Don’t get me wrong, Angel’s Landing has it all as a hike: it’s paved and accessible, 5 miles roundtrip, beautiful views, some spicy hiking/climbing, and the company of others. But, in my mind, putting all that into a run might mean shin splints, gasping for breath, and jostling through crowds. So I wanted to share some of MY best Zion running trails:
Under 5 miles roundtrip:
WATCHMAN TRAIL: Located near the visitor center, this trail is a great addition to any run into the Park from Springdale. The trail itself is about 2 miles roundtrip and gains elevation in some steep, but run-able switchbacks. Beautiful views and not so many people make this an awesome short run.
PA’ RUS TRAIL: Also accessible at the visitor center, this trail follows the Virgin River for 1.7 miles (3.4 roundtrip). Spring flowers and fall colors are incredible, and this is also my go-to trail if we’ve had recent rain or snow because its paved surface provides an un-muddy terrain option.
ROCKVILLE MESA/EAGLE CRAGS TRAIL: This is really my FAVORITE place in Zion to run! Both are located on the Rockville Mesa, just south of Springdale. The Eagle Crags trail is 4.8 miles roundtrip and starts at the trailhead and runs out to the towers (Eagle Crags) that loom south of town. There is also a loop on the Mesa itself. It’s a great workout to park at the bottom of the big hill, hike up and take the first right on the jeep road, it circles back to the main road in about 3 miles, and it mostly flat, with amazing views of Zion, the Pine Valle Range, and Smithsonian Butte. And it’s usually all yours!
Over 5 miles:
CHINLE TRAIL: Out and back, this trails winds 14 miles roundtrip through the lower elevations of Zion and you are running through sections of the northernmost range of the Mojave Desert ecosystem. Cactus, birds, snakes (!), and packed, sandy trails abound. A great cold-weather run, as it gets full sun, making it one of the warmest spots in the area.
COALPITS WASH: This is near the Chinle Trailhead, featuring similar conditions and length. As with the Chinle, this is a backpacking trail, so you could easily create a 14-mile roundtrip (out and back) run, or decide to turn around at the mileage you want to run. Another fun lower-desert run.
PROSPECTOR TRAIL: This trail is in the Red Cliffs Preserve, on the west side of I-15 near Zion. The trail starts near the town of Leeds and continues one-way to Washington City. One way is about 6 miles. Great up-and-down run through sandstone formations and sandy washes. Watch out for the protected desert tortoise!
Desert Running Tips:
□ Be aware of the season and weather! Zion is known for hot, scorching days but also gets some cold, wet weather during winter, especially at higher elevations. Check the forecast and ask someone in town what they think of the plan for your run. It’s also good to know when sunrise and sunset are that time of the year.
□ Tell someone where you’re going! A twisted ankle or another emergency could mean you need help. Make sure someone knows where you are, when you left, and when you thought you’d be back. These are BACKCOUNTRY running trails – treat them as such.
□ Watch out for wildlife. Snakes and lizards are common, so keep your eyes peeled on the trail. Most snake bites are occur when hikers or runners step ON the snake and are bit in defense. In addition, be aware of mountain lions. Zion has never had a reported attack, but there are mountain lions in our area.
□ Take plenty of water. Water is not available on most of these hikes. Remember that despite cooler winter temperatures, the dry air will dehydrate visitors fast. Camelbaks (or any bladder/backpack device) are great for desert trail running.
□ Good Shoes! These trails are rocky, sandy, and often have cactus and/or other prickly plant materials on them. I know there is a barefoot running craze going on out there, but I enjoy running in trail running shoes. Specifically, I really like the Brooks Cascadia or La Sportiva Imogene. Be ready to empty some sand from your shoes before you get home though!
Happy running out there! Stop in and ask us about other running, hiking questions here at ZAC.