If you like big views then the West Rim Trail of Zion National Park is for you. The trail starts near Lava Point at just over 7,440' and traverses across a series of ridges and high plateaus as it makes its way 16 miles to the heart of Zion Canyon, descending over 3,000 vertical feet to the valley floor.
The West Rim Trail can be completed as a very long day hike or as an overnight backpacking trip utilizing one of the nine designated campsites along the way. Permits are required for overnight use.
This hike is suitable for most adults in good physical condition. Due to many exposed ledges and drops, this trail is not recommended for children or anyone uncomfortable with heights.
There are multiple trailheads that can be used to access the West Rim Trail. The most popular are located near Lava Point on the Kolob Terrace and at The Grotto shuttle stop in Zion Canyon. While many people simply day hike up from The Grotto, the best way to experience the West Rim Trail is to hike the entire length of the trail one-way, starting from Lava Point and ending at The Grotto. This one-way route will be highlighted in the following trail description and requires a shuttle to complete. Commercial shuttle services are available from several outfitters in Springdale if necessary.
From Springdale, Utah:
- Drive 13 miles west on Highway 9 to the town of Virgin, Utah.
- Turn right onto the Kolob Terrace Road with signage for Kolob Reservoir.
- Continue 20.2 miles and turn right onto Lava Point Road.
- Drive 0.9 miles down the dirt road and turn left following signs to the West Rim Trailhead.
- Continue for approximately 1.5 miles to the West Rim Trailhead at 37.381644,-113.022787.
The Grotto shuttle stop (37.259084,-112.951051) is accessible using the free Zion Shuttle. Board the shuttle at the Zion Visitor Center to reach The Grotto.
From the West Rim Trailhead, the trail descends gradually through a ponderosa forest. Soon the trail passes by campsite 9 and Sawmill Spring. This campsite is not ideally located for an overnight trip as it is less than a mile into the hike. After a few miles, there is an excellent overlook into the Left Fork of Great West Canyon, home to the popular Subway hike.
After about 6 miles, the trail reaches Potato Hollow and campsite 8. There is a good seasonal spring here (37.320953,-112.987596) but be sure to check with the park service before your hike to find out if it is currently flowing if you need to rely on it. If you are camping at site 7 or 8, the spring is within walking distance. If you are camping at sites 6, 5, 4 or 3, you should fill your reserves here, as this is the last water source until Cabin Spring near sites 1 and 2.
Beyond Potato Hollow, the trail climbs more than 400 feet through a dense forest before crossing a narrow ridge with Right Fork of Great West Canyon on the right and Sleepy Hollow on the left. The trail then climbs another 300 feet before reaching the top of the next plateau where campsites 6-3 are located. Campsite 6 is located near the top of the climb at the north end of the plateau while sites 5-3 are further down the trail on the south end.
Sites 5, 4 and 3 are all relatively close to each other but still provide decent privacy and excellent views. The views off of the west side of the plateau toward Ivins Mountain and Inclined Temple are particularly amazing.
Beyond campsite 3, the trail descends over 600 feet in about 2 miles before arriving at Cabin Spring and campsites 1 and 2. Cabin Spring is another seasonal water source so be sure to check with the park service before your hike to find out current conditions. Cabin Spring is about 100 yards off the main trail on a signed spur trail. Be sure to treat all water before drinking. A tremendous view is available just below Cabin Spring where a short trail leads to the edge of a nearly 1,000-foot tall cliff. If you look closely, you can see the next section of the West Rim Trail directly below.
From Cabin Spring, the trail descends a fascinating set of switchbacks that have been carved into the face of a sheer cliff. While the trail is sufficiently wide and footing is generally good, this area could cause people afraid of heights to be more than a bit uncomfortable. At the end of the switchbacks, the trail passes by the head of Behunin Canyon and enters a forested area known as Little Siberia, offering much needed shade on a hot day. From this point, there is just one more uphill section before the final descent to Zion Canyon.
As you approach Scout Lookout, the traffic picks up as you begin to encounter people day hiking to Angel's Landing. If you have the time and energy, the hike to Angel's Landing is a great side trip, although not advised for children or anyone uncomfortable with heights. The route to the top involves climbing a narrow ridge with shear drops of 800-1200 feet on either side with fixed chains to assist. If you are carrying a heavy overnight pack, you may want to save Angel's Landing for another day.
Beyond Scout Lookout, the trail receives much more traffic as it descends the final 1000 feet down Walter's Wiggles and Refrigerator Canyon to the Virgin River below. The trail ends at The Grotto shuttle stop where you can take the free Zion shuttle back to Springdale.
For those day hiking from the Grotto, the distance is approximately 4.7 miles to Cabin Spring which makes a good spot to turn around without missing too much. Total distance from the West Rim Trailhead to The Grotto is approximately 16 miles.
Rules and Regulations
- Camping is only allowed in designated campsites and requires a permit issued by Zion National Park. You can make reservations for campsites up to 3 months in advance via the online Zion Wilderness Reservation System. Photos and descriptions of each campsite are available on Zion National Park’s website.
- Visitors must pay an entrance fee (valid for seven days) to enter Zion National Park. The fee is $30 for a private vehicle with up to 15 passengers. You may purchase an annual pass for $80, which is accepted at all National Parks and many other federal lands.
- No pets are allowed.
- Do not litter.
- Pack out all trash.
- The use of human waste disposal bags is recommended and toilet paper is required to be packed out.
The West Rim Trail is very strenuous with frequent exposed ledges and abrupt drops making it unsuitable for most children or anyone uncomfortable with heights.