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Hiking the West Rim Trail at Zion National Park

The view from the top of the Rim along the West Rim Trail at Zion National Park
The view from the West Rim Trail just before it drops into the valley shows the plateaus and deeply cut valleys of the park

A great way to see all the diversity of Zion National Park is to hike the West Rim Trail. The trail begins (or ends if you are feeling a challenge) on the west side of the park and takes hikers into Zion Canyon. With a total elevation change of 3,400 feet, it takes hikers through high alpine terrain and deep canyons that make Zion National Park such a wonderful place.

The view from the rim is shown along the West Rim Trail at Zion National Park

While hiking along the rim in Zion, The West Rim Trail provides sweeping views of the deeply cut canyons before sharply dropping down into them and surrounding you with towering walls. I used the park’s website and the Falcon Guide “Hiking Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks” guide book to help me plan.

Trail Distance

The park’s website states that the trail is 14.2 miles one way. However, my GPS mapped me at 15.4 miles. I’ve seen other bloggers state that it’s 17 miles. For this blog, I’m using milage based on what my GPS mapped me. I use Topo Maps+ and it’s usually fairly accurate.

In Potato Hollow the trail takes you through tall grasses

Backpacking the West Rim Trail at Zion

Like most national parks, especially those that are popular, you need to obtain a backcountry permit. The West Rim Trail is one of the more popular hikes in Zion National Park, so you won’t want to put off getting your permits.

The West Rim trail take you through beautiful meadows

At Zion National Park, they open permits three months before the month of your trip on the fifth of each month, which can be booked online here. I hiked the West Rim Trail on August 13-14, so the ability to obtain permits for me opened up on June 5 at 10 a.m. Mountain Standard Time. The park’s website has a great table to show you when to reserve your permits. You can view it by clicking here.

A valley is shown on the west rim trail at zion national park

I, fortunately, did not have any problems getting permits for my hike, but the park’s website does advise that they can go extremely quickly – sometimes immediately. I took this warning seriously so I set an alert on my calendar at work for 11 a.m. (I’m in Central Time) on June 5, so I could score the permits I wanted. It’s always good to have a backpack plan in case you don’t get the itinerary you want. You can read more tips on making reservations here.

Walkup permits

Not all the backcountry campsites along the West Rim Trail can be reserved online. Backcountry sites, 1,3,5,7, and 9, are available for walk-up permits. This is great for those who have decided to take an impromptu trip or didn’t get the backcountry itinerary they wanted. The walkup permits can be obtained the day of, or the day before, your trip at either of the park’s visitor centers.

A cougar footprint is shown along the West Rim Trail at Zion National Park
No bears here, but be on the lookout for mountain lions

If you were able to make a reservation online, you also need to pick up your permit in person from either visitor center the day of, or the day before, your trip.

Finding the trailhead or shuttle

The West Rim Trail at Zion is a point-to-point trail. I chose to hike it downhill so I began at the West Rim Trailhead and hiked to the Grotto Picnic Area. The West Rim Trailhead is near Lava Point Campground about an hour’s drive from Zion Canyon Visitor Center.

The View from West Rim Trail at Zion National Park

From the Zion Canyon Visitor Center follow Utah Highway 9 west for 13.3 miles. Then turn right onto Kolob Terrace Road and continue for 20.3 miles. Make a right on Lava Point Road and veer to the left at mile 0.9 mile and then to the right. Continue straight for 1.4 miles to the trailhead.

Because I was solo, I used Zion Adventure Company to shuttle me. My shuttle was $39 plus a $5 booking fee, and I had the option of a 6 or 10:30 a.m. shuttle time. At first, I booked the later time but changed my mind so that I could get an earlier start and not be hiking in the heat of the day.

The view of some valleys are shown

There is no free parking anywhere in the town of Springdale, Utah, which is right outside the national park and where you will find the Zion Adventure Company, which has a pay lot. I chose to park at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center because it was free. However, the parking lot can fill up by 9 a.m. during the busy season – another reason I switched to the early start time. The visitor center is about a half-mile from the shuttle company.

My backcountry itinerary

Many people choose to hike the West Rim Trail at Zion National Park in one day. However, that is too many miles for me, and I love to sleep in the backcountry. I chose to camp one night on the trail and picked the West Rim Campsite 8 for one main reason – Potato Hollow Spring is right there. I like having water nearby.

A neat valley is shown near the West Rim Trail site 8 at Zion National Park

The park’s website and my guidebook warned that it could be dry in August. So I packed extra water just in case. However, when I was there it was flowing and the best tasting spring water I ever had. (I wish I had gotten more of it. More on that later)

Cliffs are shown in the distance at zion national park

By camping at site 8, that gave me a five-mile hike my first day and then a 10-mile hike my second day. With my early start and short mileage day, I got to camp by 11 a.m. and had a wonderfully relaxing day in the backcountry.

Zion’s West Rim Trail to Potato Hollow Spring

The West Rim Trail at Zion Nation Park departs from the trailhead heading south about 0.1 miles before the Wildcat Canyon Trail splits from it to the right. I mistakenly went the wrong way here. To stay on the West Rim Trail, you want to go straight at the first intersection.

Hiking through alpine forest at Zion National Park

From here it follows along the rim and is fairly level with gorgeous views of the canyons below and the surrounding mountains. Around mile 4.1, it begins to drop down about 500 feet into Potato Hollow. Here the trail takes you through a beautiful meadow with tall grasses. At mile 5.3, there is a spur trail that takes you to Potato Hollow Spring and West Rim Campsite 8.

The views of mountains in the distance are shown along the West Rim Trail at Zion National Park

West Rim Campsite 8

Like I said before, I chose this campsite because of it’s proximity to the spring. However, the views here are amazing, and I’m really glad I chose it. You don’t get the sweeping views of the valley, but if you explore around the site a little bit. You do get to peer over the edge of a cliff into a narrow valley below.

A cliff face is shown at Zion National Park

Pictures can’t do the view justice. It gave me vertigo as I looked across the valley at the Navajo sandstone eroded with long lines that draw your eye deep into the bottom.

Potato Hollow Spring to Telephone Canyon Trail

Aspen trees are shown on the rim at zion national park

Shortly after the intersection with the spur trail to Potato Hollow Spring, the trail begins its climb out of Potato Hollow. There are not a lot of switchbacks so it was steeper than I expected. I didn’t expect any uphill, so this part took me by surprise a little.

A tree is shown at zion national park

But once at the top, you are treated to wonderful views of the eroded valleys below. There’s one more dip down and then a short steep climb back up to the rim.

Telephone Canyon Trail intersection to Cabin Spring

Hiking the West Rim Trail at Zion National Park

Once you get to the top of the rim at mile 6.9, the trail splits and together they make a circle, so it doesn’t matter which way you go. The Telephone Canyon Trail is a little shorter, but the views of the West Rim Trail at Zion are much better.

Sweeping views of valleys below are shown along the West Rim Trail at Zion National Park

To stay on the West Rim Trail go to the right. Along this section of trail, you are treated to view after view of the valleys and plateaus that make up this unique and beautiful terrain. I often caught myself saying that “this truly is a unique place.” The views were like nothing I have ever seen before.

Around mile 8.7 the trail begins to descend from the top. Here it takes you closer to the plateaus on the other side of the valleys, and you can see the flat-topped mountains from a bird’s eye view.

Deep valleys are shown along the West Rim Trail at Zion National Park

At about mile 10.25 the West Rim Trail meets back up again with Telephone Canyon Trail. The spur trail to Cabin Springs is also here. This is where I made the mistake of not refilling my water, which caused me to run out of water and put myself in danger. You can read more about that here.

Cabin Spring to Scout Lookout

From Cabin Spring the trail begins to steeply drop down into the canyon. Zion’s West Rim Trail is cut into the canyon wall. Around mile 10.9, it puts you into the crook of the crevasse before rounding the base of Mount Majestic and Cathedral Mountain.

The West Rim Trail at Zion National Park begins its descent into the canyon along the canyon wall

Here you are hiking on white rock with little shade. The temperature also rises the deeper you get into the canyon. In a few places, the trail can be a little hard to follow. It’s very different from hiking along the rim.

The baren terrain is shown

At mile 12.1 there’s one more uphill push which isn’t too terrible. But you’ll want to be sure to have plenty of water as it can bet hot with little shade.

Hiking in the desert can be hot while hiking along baren rocks
The last push switches back and forth across this hill

After the uphill push, you come to an open slab of rock and there are signs with boot prints on them that mark the way since there is no trail to follow. You also get a wonderful view of Angel’s Landing from above and the valley below.

The solid rock is hard to find the trail

Angel’s Landing Option

At mile 13.4, you come to Scout Lookout, where you have the choice to continue to the trailhead or by adding a mile to include Angel’s Landing.

Angel's Landing along the West Rim Trail at Zion National Park is shown
Angel’s Landing rises high above the valley

The spur to the top of Angel’s Landing is only about a half of mile. However, it is steep to the top, and it has sheer drop-offs from both sides in places. The park service has installed chain hand rails to help you hold on, but the trail is not for those who are afraid of heights or who have problems with balance.

I debated the entire time, whether I would add the spur and hike to the top of Angel’s Landing. However, I didn’t prepare well and ran out of water. I knew adding a mile to my hike would not be a safe move, so I skipped it.

Scout Lookout to the Grotto Picnic Area

From Scout Lookout, the West Rim Trail begins numerous short switchbacks down to the Zion Canyon. This section of trail is paved, but steep and can be hard to walk on.

The Virgin River is shown on the descent from Angel's Landing

It soon makes a long straight stretch toward the Virgin River before you get to another long series of switchbacks. And then it descends on down to the floor of Zion Canyon.

Backpacking the West Rim Trail at Zion National Park

The West Rim Trail is one of the most beautiful hikes I have done. It shows the diversity of Zion National Park and the difference between the ecosystems on the rim and deep in the canyon. It is a great way to sample the park.

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Trail facts:

  • 15.4 miles one way
  • Elevation gain 1,234, elevation loss 4,362
  • Be sure to bring lots of water!
  • Dogs not allowed
  • Backcountry camping is allowed, but you must have a backcountry permit
Everything you need to know about backpacking the West Rim Trail at Zion National Park, a wonderful way to see the diversity of park.
Everything you need to know about backpacking the West Rim Trail at Zion National Park, a wonderful way to see the diversity of park.

Pin it! Hiking the West Rim Trail at Zion National Park

Everything you need to know about backpacking the West Rim Trail at Zion National Park, a wonderful way to see the diversity of park.
Everything you need to know about backpacking the West Rim Trail at Zion National Park, a wonderful way to see the diversity of park.

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