The Zion Traverse: A bucket-list backpacking trip through Zion National Park
This trip report summarizes my experience completing the Zion Traverse, an increasingly-popular 50-mile backpacking route through one of Utah’s most famous national parks. I hiked from April 18-19, 2019, and was blessed with plentiful springwater due to the high snow fall this past winter. Disclaimer: I hiked 37 miles of the route, from Lee Pass to Zion Canyon, as the East Rim Trail section of the route was closed for maintenance. The information below will be useful to anyone considering the Zion Traverse, as it details water sources and terrain information for the lesser traveled, more remote sections of the route.
Recommended starting point: I hiked the Zion Traverse from North to South, starting at Lee Pass Trailhead off of Kolob Canyons Road, and finishing at the Grotto in Zion Canyon. This is the most popular direction to go, as it requires less uphill travel and allows for a grande finale in the most famous part of the park.
Overnight camping permits are required in Zion National Park; you can reserve in advance or try to get a same- or next-day permit from the Zion Visitors Center. Having only heard about the Zion Traverse two days prior, I waited in line for the Wilderness Permit desk to open (8-12 am daily) the morning of my traverse, and obtained a permit for “camping at large” in the Wildcat Canyon area (I had a few other sites to choose from, too!).
Getting a ride to Lee Pass: I then packed up my bag, parked my car at the Visitor’s Center, and walked (actually hitched, because I was late) the mile or two out of the park to Zion Adventures, where my shuttle driver Ricki was waiting for me. It only cost me $40 to catch their 11 am group shuttle to Lee Pass, a 50-minute drive from Springdale. The female staff I spoke with at Zion Adventures were considerably more supportive of my trip plan than the grumpy park rangers, and went out of their way to provide what knowledge they could about trail conditions. I would use these guys again.
My Day One: Kolob Canyons/La Verkin Creek, Hop Valley, Wildcat Canyon Trail (about 22 miles)
Lee Pass Trailhead to Kolob Arch Trail: 6.7 miles via La Verkin Creek Trail. Easy downhill/flat miles, an explosion of flora and fauna, and tons of water the entire way (note: this was true on April 18, 2019 — a high meltwater year — last year was a drought).
Kolob Arch spur trail: 1.2 mile round-trip. A must-do, the first major destination on the traverse.
Beatty Springs to Wildcat Canyon Trail: 10.6 miles via Hop Valley Trail and Connector Trail. There is water along the Hop Valley Trail, but it’s shallow and runs through a major cattle grazing area. Per the advice of some kind gentlemen I ran into after Kolob Arch, I filled up 5 liters of water at Beatty Spring before entering Hop Valley, and was very glad I did so.
Wildcat Canyon Trail: 4.8 miles. Yes there are wildcats here, but you’re more likely to get hit by a car on the way to the trailhead than to get eaten by a mountain lion. Or so I told myself as I hiked this section. This trail does not go through the canyon; it stays high, to the west of the canyon. I encountered my first patch of snow at the Northern Peaks Trail junction, just after the trail begins. Fill up enough water at Wildcat Spring to last you all the way to Potato Hollow Spring.
My Day Two: Lava Point to Zion Canyon/The Grotto via the West Rim Trail (about 15 miles)
Lava Point to West Rim Spring: 9.7 miles via West Rim Trail. I encountered a solid snowpack for a little less than a mile on either side of Lava Point. By the time I passed the Sawmill Spring spur, the snow had melted into large but shallow patches that continued throughout Horse Pasture Plateau. The road to Lava Point was still closed from snow as of 4/18/2019.
The trail gets muddy for about a mile on either side of Potato Hollow. I stopped to refill water at Potato Hollow Spring (this time, I only needed enough to last the four miles to West Rim Spring). I sought refuge from the sun under a huge shady tree in the middle of a meadow. From there I rested, ate lunch, and watched the rushing stream empty into a small pond.
I don’t know anything about the Telephone Canyon alternate route just before West Rim Spring, but it sounds like a cool option (literally — it ain’t too shady on the West Rim).
West Rim Spring to Zion Canyon/Angels Landing/the Grotto: 4.5 miles via West Rim Trail. A lot has been documented about this section in the past, so I will not focus on it in this trip report. Needless to say, this section is chock-full of geologic wonders, logic-defying rock formations, and a rainbow of wildflowers, birds, lizards, and shrubs. I did not spend nearly enough time here as I was hungry and had a commitment in Escalante that evening. I can’t wait to return for more exploring.