West Rim Hikes In Zion National Park
Distance: 14.4 miles (plus 42 miles by car)
day 1: 2 1/2 hours
day 2: 5 hours
Elevations: 3,140 ft. loss
West Rim Trailhead (start): 7,460 ft. Potato Hollow: 6,780 ft. Grotto Picnic Area Trailhead: 4,320 ft.
Trail: Very popular, well maintained trail
Season: Late spring through mid-fall. The higher parts of the trail are usually covered with snow from mid-November to May. For current conditions call the Visitor Center, Zion National Park, at (801) 772-3256.
Vicinity: Zion National Park
The diversity of this hike, combined with the magnificent views of Zion Canyon from the West Rim, make it one of the most enjoyable trails in the park. Horse Pasture Plateau, where the trail begins, is a long flat finger of sandstone that protrudes from the Kolob Plateau, on the northern park boundary, into Zion Canyon. The path meanders gently downward through the ponderosa pine and pinon-juniper forests of the plateau, dropping 740 feet over a distance of nine miles, before descending abruptly into the canyon. Spectacular views from the West Rim begin about six miles from the trailhead, where the route skirts the edge of Phantom Valley, and climax 3 1/2 miles later at Cabin Spring. Beyond Cabin Spring the trail drops into Zion Canyon and winds through another 4.7 miles of slickrock and canyon country before reaching the North Fork of the Virgin River.
In contrast to the canyons below the rim, the top of Horse Pasture Plateau is remarkably level. West Rim Trail meanders along the plateau for nearly ten miles, depending on your choice of routes, with little hint of the rugged terrain that lies ahead. 0.1 mile from the trailhead you will come to a fork with the Wildcat Canyon Trail branching to the right, and 0.7 miles farther another trail branches off to the right for Sawmill Springs. Keep to the left in both cases. The trail descends very gradually in a southerly direction through an open forest of ponderosa pine, turning slowly to pinion and juniper as altitude is lost.
About 3.5 miles from the Sawmill Springs junction you will begin dropping into Potato Hollow, a shallow drainage that leads to a side canyon on the west side of the plateau. A large grove of quaking aspen occupies the hollow, and the small pond near the canyon rim is a favorite afternoon watering hole for wildlife. The rim of the plateau is just west of the pond, and there are some fine views of Imlay Canyon from there.
Potato Hollow is a delightful place to make camp for the night, but in order to minimize your impact try to select a spot at least a few hundred yards from the pond itself. Also, bear in mind that open fires are not allowed. Be sure to watch the pond in the late afternoon, as you are almost certain to see deer coming for water. If it is still too early in the day to stop when you reach Potato Hollow you may want to continue on for another 4.6 miles to Cabin Spring. But Potato Hollow is such a pleasant place to spend the night it is a shame to pass it by.
About a mile below Potato Hollow the trail crosses Sleepy Hollow, where you will be treated to a panorama of Phantom Valley. On the opposite side of the valley you can also see Greatheart Mesa, one of the landmarks of the park. Another 0.3 mile will bring you to another trail junction where a decision has to be made. The Telephone Canyon Trail, on the left is the shorter route to Cabin Spring, but unless you are in a terrible hurry you should bear to the right here and follow the rim trail. It is 1.4 miles longer, but much more scenic.
The rim trail skirts the southeastern side of Horse Pasture Plateau and affords almost continual views of Phantom Valley and Heaps Canyon below. Telephone Canyon is a more densely forested route that cuts through the center of the plateau to meet the rim trail again at Cabin Spring. The rim trail encounters another fork 1.7 miles from the Telephone Canyon trail junction, and once again you should keep to the right. The other trail is, again, a shortcut which would save you 0.1 mile, but at the cost of the scenic rim views.
Cabin Spring is a good place to stop for lunch. The spring itself is quite unimpressive. It was named after a park service cabin that once stood nearby but unfortunately burned down in the 1970s. From the rim near Cabin Spring, however, you can see a long stretch of the trail below, and it is interesting to gaze down into the slickrock canyon country and trace out the route you will follow below the plateau.
Beyond Cabin Spring the trail begins to descend almost at once, making two long switchbacks down the sandstone cliffs into the canyon below. After loosing about 900 feet you will arrive at a point directly below and to the east of the spring; look back and see the water-streaked cliffs beneath it. Immediately to your right is Mount Majestic and, behind that, Cathedral Mountain. You will spend the next two miles skirting around these two formations to reach Refrigerator Canyon.
After you have walked 2.8 miles from Cabin Creek you will see a spur trail on the left heading for the top of a rocky peak known as Angels Landing. If you have the time, Angels Landing is a side trip that shouldn’t be missed. The top is only 0.5 mile from the main trail, and the view is absolutely incredible. The river winds around a huge 270 degree bend in the canyon, and on the road 1470 feet below cars creep like ants on their way to and from the Temple of Sinawava. The Great White Throne, probably the most famous of Zion’s landmarks, rises 3,420 feet above the canyon floor on the opposite side of the river. A word of caution, however, about the “trail” to Angels Landing. Some scrambling is necessary and, although the park service has installed rails and support chains on a few of the more exposed sections, the route is not for the faint of heart. Small children and people who suffer from vertigo should not attempt this hike. Angels Landing is especially dangerous when it is wet or windy. Also, the top of the ridge is frequently struck by lightning, so avoid it during stormy weather.
If you decide not to attempt Angel’s Landing, at least pause to enjoy the view from Scout Lookout, near the trail junction. Leaving Scout Lookout, the trail drops straight down into Refrigerator Canyon over a series of no less than 21 switchbacks. These switchbacks, whimsically called Walter’s Wiggles, were cut from the rock cliff in 1926 so that tourists could reach the viewpoints above. Viewed from a distance they look more like a rope ladder or a spider’s web than a trail.
Finally, after following the bottom of Refrigerator Canyon for about a half mile, the trail emerges on the west side of the inner canyon and threads its way down to the river, 1.9 miles from Scout Lookout.