This is a weekly series that highlights an outstanding day hike or backpacking trip. The goal is to inspire you to want to get out and see these places for yourself. I know for us, just seeing amazing photos and reading about a great hike is enough to get us motivated.
This week's hike is the Trans-Zion Trek in Utah's Zion National Park.
Why this Hike?
This hike takes you into deep lush canyons and on high ridges with amazing views. You'll get to experience both the desert and the forest while accomplishing a strenuous backcountry hike. The Trans-Zion Trek in gorgeous and diverse Zion National Park is an amazing multi-day backpacking excursion that will get you hooked on the wilderness and deep backcountry hiking.
- Total distance of 47 miles / 76 km
- Remote, but accessible trailheads at Lee Pass and East Rim
- Moderately difficult
- Multi-day hike, 3 to 5 days is recommended
- Zion itself is packed with shuttle buses and tourists, but this trail is next to empty
- Motivation? Jaw dropping views only seen by a few!
- This trek is extremely remote, with limited amenities
- The campsites require backcountry permits, so plan ahead
- Because of limited water sources, correct planning and lots of water storage is crucial
- A shuttle will be needed since the trailheads are remote
How do I get there?
Zion National Park is located in southwest Utah. If you are flying in, you will want to book a flight to the Las Vegas or St. George airports. From Las Vegas, take the I-15 north towards St. George and then Highway 9 East to Springdale, the nearest town to Zion and a great base.
After passing through the state park entrance and obtaining your park entrance pass and backcountry permit, follow these directions if you wish to start at Lee Pass. The trailhead is located west of the Park, so head there on Highway 9. You will eventually reach LaVerkin in Washington County. Keep an eye out for an intersection that has a Chevron and their Farmer’s Market, turn right and drive through Toquerville. You will then head toward I-15, enter the freeway, and drive north on the I-15 for 13 miles until exit 40. The sign will be for Kolob Canyons and Zion National Park. From there, head east on Kolob Canyons Road, which will take you to a clearly marked trail head.
If you plan on starting on the other end of the trail, at the East Rim, then from Springdale drive east on Highway 9 through the park for about 30 minutes. Just before the East Entrance Ranger Station, there will be a trail head sign and an access on your left hand side.
The following map outlines our recommended route.
The hike can be done very quickly, but we suggest taking 3 to 5 days to really absorb the beauty of the park. Remember, your total distances is approximately 48 miles, in which you are seeing valleys, creeks, gorgeous rim trails and desert.
- Day 1 - La Verkin Creek Trail (6.9 miles / 11.1 km)
- Day 2 - Hop Valley Trail to Wildcat Canyon via Connector Trail (15 miles / 24 km)
- Day 3 - West Rim Trail ~ (10 miles / 16 km)
- Day 4 - West Rim to East Rim Trail with side trip to Angel's Landing (10 miles / 16 km)
- Day 5 - Finish East Rim Trail (5 miles / 8 km)
Pick up a map of the area when you get your backcountry permits so that you can locate the correct campsites.
Your first day is an easier hiking day, but will require you to travel to the Lee Pass trailhead in Kolob Canyons section which will take some time. It should take a few hours to get to your reserved campsite. Since you should have some time in the afternoon, make sure to visit Kolob Arch, which is a sight to behold. Before you go to Hop Valley on Day 2, make sure to fill up your water, as the cow contaminated water in the valley is not safe for drinking even after filtering.
After a big meal and a good night’s sleep, get ready for perhaps the longest and most difficult day of uphill hiking through cow country, mucky sand, and plenty of creek crossings. Gaiters are suggested if you are worried about your boots leaking through. You will eventually break free of the cow confined area and find yourself following Connector Trail to Wildcat Canyon Trail, both of which are gorgeous meadows plateaued into an enchanted pine forest. This will be a long day, so you'll like be exhausted. Camp along the the Wildcat Canyon Trail in the designated area.
Now that you have endured a long day, you can take a little rest day on Day 3. The West Rim trail is shorter and less challenging. Aim to camp at campgrounds 1 through 5 along the way. The views along the rim will be absolutely stunning!
On to Day 4 along the West Rim Trail, down to the bottom of Zion Canyon and back up the East Rim Trail. This will be another long and grueling day. The first part will be the large descent to the bottom of Zion Canyon, so watch your knees as you work your way down. On the way down, you'll have the option to take the side trip to Angel's Landing, an amazing experience that is highly recommended. You'll like want to leave your packs at the junction since Angel's Landing is no place for a full backpack. Once at the bottom of Zion Canyon, take the shuttle north one stop to Weeping Rock on onto the East Rim Trail. The single most challenging aspect to this day is that there is absolutely no camping permitted in Echo Canyon. As a result, you will have to hustle up to Stave Spring, in relatively difficult and steep trail conditions.
If your legs feel like they are about to fall off from Day 4, don’t fret, Day 5 is a walk in the park compared to what you have now completed. All you'll need to do is finish the last 5 miles along the East Rim Trail. If you have opted to take the Zion Adventure Company shuttle from East Rim to the Lee Pass, than at this point in the trek you will have your car waiting for you. We suggest leaving extra water in your car for extra hydration at the end of this backpacking trip. If you haven’t taken the shuttle, make sure to arrange a ride from East Rim!
What will I need?
This gorgeous trail is remote and does not have the normal amenities at campgrounds that you might expect. Traveling along the trail is best in late Spring and early Fall to avoid snow, massive insects, and extraordinarily hot exposed areas.
A good knowledge of the available water sources and having sufficient water storage to make your water supply last is key. Unlike a normal hike where a liter or two of water storage is sufficient, this backpacking trek will require you to bring excess water along with you. Plan to bring a bladder and perhaps 2-3 collapsible or rolled up water bottles.
If you intend to go during the spring or fall, a lightweight tarp paired with a mesh tent could be a great option for a shelter. The milder weather and dry climate means that you can leave the double-wall tent at home. We also recommend a quilt, since you can then easily adjust your level of warmth based on the nighttime temperatures. Mummy sleeping bags may be too warm for Zion, unless you have a warm weather bag.
Since this is a multi-day trip, you will also need a full backpacking set up. Check out our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List for a complete list of things that we recommend and a handy printable checklist.
Do I need a permit?
For this hike you will require wilderness permits that you can reserve in advance on the Zion National Park website. While you can make your reservation here, you will need to pick up the permit the day before your adventure at one of the Visitor Centers. In order to enter the park, you will also need to pay an entrance fee. Zion is an incredibly popular destination so try to reserve 3 months in advance, and if you have any questions they can be reached at (435) 772-3256. While this a 24 hour line, there is limited staffing, so the online website is your best option.
Have you explored Zion National Park and other trails in this amazing corner of Utah? Do you have other outstanding hikes that you'd like us to write about? Please share your feedback in the comments.