If you are combining a trip at the Grand Canyon to Zion, you’re in for a wonderful drive. We left a brisk morning at the Grand Canyon and were treated to warm sun, blue skies, open roads, and the tremendous colors of the Vermillion Cliffs. Since we were heading to the less visited Kolob Canyon District on the west side of the Zion, we took the alternate route on 89A, but the other way on 89 through Page near Lake Powell is beautiful as well.
Beginning from Lee Pass Trailhead, there is a great backpacking loop to be done in this district and it serves as a fantastic starting point if you are planning a trip to completely traverse the entirety of the Zion. If I had time for the 47 miles of the Trans-Zion Trek, I would certainly have done it! Of course you can go the other way from Zion Canyon northwest up to Kolob Canyon, but nothing beats walking into Zion Canyon! But we’ll get to that later.
(Map courtesy U.S. National Park Service, click to enlarge)
Due to our trip time limitations we planned one night out & back on La Verkin Creek Trail in order to get a taste of both Kolob Canyon & Zion Canyon, the two major segments of the park. Our plan involved hiking in to our site (La Verkin Creek Site 5), making camp, and hiking to Kolob Arch.
(click map to enlarge)
From Lee Pass following La Verkin Creek Trail south, we were treated to stunning views of the western perimeter of Kolob Terrace. It was late March and a warm sunny day, but less than a week prior there was significant snowfall in Zion. You can spot small bits of snow lingering in shadowy cracks in this photo.
After a long and steep downhill, the trail leveled off, crossing many muddy washes as we tracked back and forth along Timber Creek. Packed red clay and fine red sand make up most of this trail, matching the walls of the towering Kolob Terrace to the left.
Turning away from Timber Creek near La Verkin Creek Site 3, we caught our first views of the La Verkin Creek valley.
Diane and I took a moment to explore some of the small falls on La Verkin Creek. They’re accessible from the trail by an offshoot on your right halfway between Sites 3 & 4. It would make a great spot to swim or lay around! This is also where we both became fixated on singing Allison Krauss’s “Down to The River to Pray.” Conveniently, I had the song on my phone and put it repeat for humor and perhaps a bit of contemplative inspiration.
A short hike from the creekside trail was our site, La Verkin Creek Site 5!
South and across the creek from our campsite (below) were fine views of the towering 6,500 ft portions of Neagle Ridge.
North of our campsite (below) was the magnificent wall of Gregory Butte (7,535 ft). The great thing about sites 4, 5 & 6 are the incredible panoramic views offered in every direction you look. Sites 7, 8 & 9 farther down the trail are beautiful as well, but tucked away in tall ponderosas. Site 9 in particular offers great privacy on the southern side of La Verkin Creek and space for a larger group.
After making settlement and unloading our gear, we decided to hike another 3 miles or so round trip to Kolob Arch, considered the second longest arch in the world. Most people make a 15 mile day hike to see the arch, so it was a nice add-on to our one night of backpacking in Kolob.
From La Verkin Creek Trail, the Kolob Arch trailhead is well marked. We headed up the short 0.6 mile trail and found it to be delightfully more technical, weaving up and down along a narrow creek of rocks and downed trees.
The trail ends in a fairly dense forest of pines, where, if you look closely, you can make out Kolob Arch. There are signs suggesting you don’t go any further in order to prevent erosion, but I’ve seen photos of the arch from different angles than mine, ones that look to be taken from far more open areas. We were short on daylight, feeling hungry, and apparently feeling obedient, so we didn’t break any rules to find more spectacular views.
This shows my feelings on Kolob Arch. It was neat, but don’t expect to be blown away (especially if you’ve been to Arches National Park). It was a bit underwhelming. I was quite impressed, however, with the towering buttes around us in the golden hour on the hike back!
Back at our site, we settled in and made dinner (read: poured boiling water in a dehydrated food bag and sat around) while wondering about the excessive and sudden shouting coming from the guys at nearby site 6, as it was dusk in mountain lion territory after all. We never checked on them. Oops.
To accompany dinner, Diane had the tremendous forethought to pack small wines and other small, packable, “treat-yo-tired-self” beverages on this trip. I will suggest that a dry red, such as the every classy Woodbridge Cabernet Sauvignon, pairs excellently Backpacker’s Pantry’s Fettuccini Alfredo with Chicken (a personal favorite backpacking meal). But doesn’t just about anything pair excellently after a long day of backpacking?
Because I neglected to pack something to hang our food away from animals, we decided to at least move the food away from our site. So we put it in a branch… down by the river! It was lazy and I don’t recommend it, but our goodies went untouched! Not sure what any early morning hikers may have thought of our Bag On A Branch set up, but I’m thankful they didn’t plunder us. Also, this picture shows that perhaps Diane packed too many snacks for a single night. But I won’t judge, snacks are everything. Be prepared.
We slept that night under the stars with the rainfly off. Despite our air pads continuing to fail us yet again, it was the most comfortable night of sleep yet. The air temperature wasn’t particularly warm the next morning, but I think being tucked away between high rock walls and some cloud cover gave us some nice added warmth.
Green tea and Trader Joe’s oatmeal to get the day going.
Back on the trail from our site with the stunning backdrop of Gregory Butte! We left early to pack back out and drive to Zion Canyon.
Diane, with her morning coffee and on the move.
Despite my tank top and pleasant demeanor, it actually was a bit chilly and some buttes had a little more light snow the next morning. Because of all the uphill climbs, I didn’t really realize it was so cold until we neared the trailhead and saw other people in hats and jackets.
From there, we refilled on water and hit the road again for a quick 40 minute drive over to Zion Canyon. Next up, see you on Zion’s West Rim!
- Roadtrippers, fill up on gas when you can. For those coming from Grand Canyon area or points south, it’s pretty desolate on 89A and 59 so there are not that many stopping points.
- Fill up on water at Kolob Canyon Visitor Center before your hike as there’s no water available at the trailhead. Also, this is where you will pick up your backcountry permits. We picked up all our permits for both here and the West Rim so we could head straight to the trail in Zion Canyon the next day.
- Use Beatty Spring for drinking water. We collected and boiled our water for cooking from La Verkin Creek (50 yards from our campsite) instead of the marked Beatty Spring near where Kolob Arch trail meets La Verkin Creek. Because of this, our water was definitely a bit cloudy, but we only noticed it being slightly funky tasting in our hot drinks. I’d recommend getting water from the spring instead for drinking water. We met a lot of other backpackers on the trail asking the water situation – La Verkin Creek is surely drinkable and definitely fine for cooking (when treated), it’s just much clearer and better tasting at the spring. Nearby Hop Valley does have livestock contaminants, so as always, treat all water in the backcountry.
- Day hikers should prepare for steady and strenuous climbs coming back toward Lee Pass trailhead. It’s not unmanageable, but if you’re going for the 15 mile day hike, save some energy for the last mile or so as it’s significantly and steadily uphill (approximately 500 ft of gain). Otherwise, the trail is mellow and flowy along the creeks.
- Hike with a friend and don’t run alone. It’s mountain lion country and lone runners and hikers look like lonely, sad, and weak prey.