CRATER HILL to COALPITS WASH
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Yet another alternative start to exploring the desert section is via the high-clearance Dalton Wash Road west of Coalpits Wash. The trailhead is located at the western park boundary just north of Crater Hill and provides somewhat easier access to Upper Coalpits Wash. As the landscape is hot and desolate, this option would not be appealing during the hotter months. The faint trail heads east and joins up with Coalpits Wash at the official end of the Chinle Trail.
Getting to the Trailhead:
Located roughly 1.5 miles east of the town of Virgin and 5.4 miles west of the Coalpits Wash crossover on Route 9, the Dalton Wash Road is a fairly rough dirt road that heads northeast up the wash to eventually climb to the top of the bench under Cougar Mountain. Important: This road is outside of the NPS border and there are several ranches up here, so please drive carefully and be respectful of private property to guarantee future access.
While the Dalton Wash Road is usually accessible by normal cars, there are two steep and somewhat exposed sections as the road climbs up two distinct benches. Warning: This road could be problematic after a big rain or snowstorm. About a half a mile after the top of the first hill, turn left at the intersection to head north. After another 2.7 miles of driving, you will be on top of the second hill. Once at the top of the bench, turn right to head southeast to the border of Zion National Park and the Crater Hill Trailhead. Crater Hill is the old volcanic cone formation that dominates the skyline to the south.
The 2.3-mile hike from the Crater Hill Trailhead to the junction with Coalpits Wash could take a casual hiker 1-3 hours to comlete (one way). There is no offical trail, but you should be able to see a faint trail of use that heads due east. As this corner of the park doesn't get much love, it is quite easy to lose the trail, so it is recommended that you take a map and GPS for navigation. It is easiest to follow the contours of the land as the route slowly descends into the valley to the east.
After roughly one mile of hiking, the valley turns south and slowly transforms into a more defined and easy-to-follow sandy drywash. Near the junction with Coalpits Wash, the little drywash is peppered with large boulders that you must hike around or scramble down, but there are no major obstacles that require too much thought or effort. Soon enough, you will be standing in the much larger Coalpits Wash near Campsite 5. Across the way will be a marker for the end of the Chinle Trail (the only official trail of the area). Continue down the Chinle Trail or up or down Coalpits Wash, depending on your plans. And if you need fresh water, Coalpits Spring is only a five-minute walk downstream.
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Backpacking and Campsites:
For those looking for a leisurely backpacking experience, hiking the Chinle Trail and exploring Crater Hill, Scoggins Wash, and Coalpits Wash could make for a pleasant multi-day hike. In 2008, the National Park Service constructed several official campsites along the Chinle Trail. (Prior to this, open camping was permitted anywhere in the desert section.) A backcountry permit is required for any multi-day hike; see the official Zion Backpacking page for more info. For descriptions of the individual campsites, please see the Chinle Trail description.
Not too many people would be interested in doing the hike from Crater Hill, but if you are looking to explore Upper Coalpits Wash, this could be a good alternative to starting at the Coalpits Wash Trailhead. With a car spot, this could also be an interesting start or end to a one-way hike on the Chinle Trail. As with any hike in the desert section, save this for the cooler months or a cloudy, cooler day in the summer.