Many drive through the Zion's East Side, but few stop to visit its quiet canyons and awesome slickrock contours. Those who do spend time here, however, discover a landscape filled with grandeur: deep, serene canyons, high forested plateaus, roving herds of bighorn sheep, and views that reach miles and miles away.
Though the East Side offers few trails (only 2, though the East Rim features three great spur routes), most of the terrain along State Route 9 is easily explored without trails; you can simply choose an intriguing side-canyon and follow it as far as you care to. Away from the business of the main canyon, the East Side is a fine place to find freedom, quiet, and a sense of great adventure.
Canyon Overlook Trail
This short, rocky trail follows the gaping, twisted slot of Pine Creek Canyon and ends at a striking lookout perch. Sit back and gaze out on great views of lower Pine Creek, the Streaked Wall, the Beehives, Altar of Sacrifice, and Mt. Spry.
Trailhead: From Springdale, drive into the Park a few miles, passing the left-hand turn-off for the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Instead, continue straight, up numerous switchbacks, and through the incredible one-mile Zion - Mt. Carmel Tunnel. Find the Canyon Overlook parking lot on the right immediately after the tunnel exit, or continue to another small parking lot located another 1/4 mile further, on your left.
Mileage: 1.0 miles (1.6 km), round-trip
Elevation Gain: 63 feet (50 meters)
Approximate Hike Time: 45 minutes, round-trip
Difficulty: Casual for most hikers
Crowds: Easy access and dramatic views make this one of the most crowded hikes in the Park.
WHEN TO GO
Best Times of Day: Temperatures on this exposed slickrock balcony become quite hot by late morning during summer. Choose cooler times of the day to enjoy the view.
Best Times of Year: Any time is good.
East Rim Trail
A series of long, mild switchbacks follows an old logging road around minor canyon rims and through pinyon/oak forests to gain the top of the mesa. From the high point, the trail passes Stave Spring (an unreliable water source) and meanders through a shallow valley of tall grass and wildflowers to the head of a white sandstone canyon. As the trail follows the northern canyon rim, the gorge below grows deeper and ever-more spectacular, viewable from many spurs off the main trail. As this canyon meets the much larger drainage of Echo Canyon, the hike begins a dramatic descent into the sandstone cliffs. As the trail reaches the valley floor, it continues down-canyon over rolling terrain, following thin paths marked with small rock piles called "cairns". Eventually, this path connects to the Observation Point Trail, passing through a cool, slotted section of Echo Canyon before beginning the steep, switch-backed final descent.
Trailhead: Exit shuttle at the Grotto and follow the West Rim Trail.
Crowds: Common. However, the throng thins out as only the boldest hikers continue past Scout’s Lookout to the top.
WHEN TO GO
Best Times of Day: • Higher altitudes help moderate daily high temperatures, but this hike can still be sweltering during summer. Try to leave early (5 - 7am) for comfortable temperatures and phenomenal light. • Winter hikers should check conditions at the Visitor’s Center; hiking mid-day should reduce icy sections of trail.
Best Times of Year: • Fall brings moderate temperatures and dry trails to these high, eastern mesas, and reduces the chance of heat exhaustion and gnats. • In a drier year, Spring features glorious displays of wildflowers along the East Rim trail.
This trek ranks with the most spectacular hikes in the world, showcasing the spectrum of Zion’s plant communities and dramatic geology. The trail takes you into deep canyons, along high ridgelines, across mountain creeks, through deep sand, and onto exposed rocky rims, bringing you to the many zones of this diverse desert oasis. Few attempt this strenuous hike, but those who do earn unforgettable memories and a certain feeling of accomplishment.
Trailhead: Most people begin this hike at Lee Pass to avoid an extremely steep hike up to Lava Point. As a one-way journey, this hike requires a shuttle, available from Zion Adventure Company. For those with two vehicles who want to self-shuttle, leave your vehicles at the following trailheads:
• East Entrance: From Springdale, drive into the Park and continue east along SR 9, straight, up numerous switchbacks, and through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. Continue, twisting and turning around fins of rock, through another short tunnel and past the immense Checkerboard Mesa. Just before the East Entrance Station, turn left onto a narrow road and drive a short distance to a dirt parking lot and picnic area, which serves as your trailhead.
• Lee Pass: From Springdale, drive west on SR 9 until you reach the town of LaVerkin. At the Chevron/Farmer’s Market intersection, turn right. Drive through Toquerville, eventually reaching Interstate 15. Drive north on I-15 to exit 40 and the entrance to the Kolob Canyons, ZNP. Follow the Kolob Canyons road 3 or 4 miles to the well-marked trailhead at Lee Pass.
Mileage: 47.3 miles (76.1 km), one-way
Elevation Gain: The net elevation change is only 325 feet (99 meters)! Don’t let that number fool you, though... Over the length of this trail, you gain and lose over 6,000 feet of elevation.
Approximate Hike Time: The Park Service restricts camping along many of the trails, so you must plan each day carefully, according to campsite availability. Use the following itinerary as a rough suggestion, then tailor your final plan according to permit availability and the fitness of your party.
• Day 1: Lee Pass to Kolob Arch, 6.9 miles, mostly flat • Day 2: Kolob Arch to Lava Point OR Sawmill Spring, about 16 miles (gradual incline) • Day 3: Lava Point/Sawmill Spring to West Rim, about 8 miles (gradual decline) • Day 4: West Rim to Grotto to Echo Canyon, about 10 miles (sustained steep decline, followed by shorter steep incline) • Day 5: Echo Canyon to East Entrance, about 6.5 miles (steep climbing, followed by gradual decline)
Difficulty: Strenuous, with long sections of steep, sustained hiking. Recommended for experienced backpackers. Not recommended for those with knee problems.
Crowds: On this trek, you see everything Zion has to offer; this includes peaceful solitude and busy, crowded trails. For the most part, however, you'll have the trail to yourself.
WHEN TO GO
Best Times of Day: • Early morning/late afternoon hiking is essential during summer months. Consider the “siesta” lifestyle: rise early to hike, eat and nap in the midday shade, then finish your hike late in the afternoon/evening. • Fall hours are shorter, but temperatures typically allow hiking at any time of day. Plan for a wide range of temperatures.
Best Times of Year: • Early summer and autumn are easiest and perhaps mostly enjoyable, avoiding the travails of other times of year (see below). • Summer heat can be absolutely withering. Plan for a siesta approach (above) to a summer attempt and be sure to carry ample water (at least 4 liters/person/day). • Winter snowpack can make this trip very challenging and dangerous, December through March, April, or even May. Winter attempts should only be made by prepared and knowledgable adventurers experienced with winter travel techniques in steep and icy conditions.