|THE SAND BENCH TRAIL (Sand Bench Loop)|
|TRAIL INFORMATION||VIEW PHOTOS!|
If you have ever taken the Zion Park shuttle bus past the Canyon Junction stop, have you ever noticed that the scenery seems rather bland until you get to Court of the Patriarchs? That's because your view of the majestic 2000-ft tall mountains is being blocked by a massive landslide that dammed up the main canyon several thousand years ago. (The landslide was caused by a large piece of the Sentinel mountain collapsing.) In April 1995, a smaller landslide off of the "sand bench landslide" trapped tourists in the canyon for several days. The Sand Bench Loop is the underrated trail that takes you to the highlands on top of the landslide slide and offers great views of the surrounding mountains and the main canyon road below.
The Sand Bench Loop starts at the Court of the Patriarchs shuttle stop and is roughly 3.5 miles (round trip). From the shuttle stop, cross the main road and walk the access road to a large water tank and the hikers' bridge across the Virgin River. The trail initially heads west to offer a good view of the Court of the Patriarchs, then it heads south and crosses a small stream, then climbs to the top of the landslide. (From the Court of the Patriarchs, a small spur trail also heads north to connect with the Zion Lodge/Emerald Pools trailhead.) Total elevation gain up to the top of the sand bench is roughly 500 feet, much lower than any hikes to the canyon rims. Be sure to do the entire loop as both parts of the trail offer unique views. The eastern trail is more rocky with many interesting boulders scattered about and good views of the main canyon and the road below. The western loop of the trail offers amazing unobstructed views of the actual ancient landslide.
This trail sounds too good to be true, right? Well here's the downside: SAND. They don't call it the "sand bench" for nothing; much of the trail is fine sand, some of it quite deep which makes the going slow and miserable in some spots. To make things even more enticing, the Sand Bench Loop is the trail that is designated for guided horseback rides within the park, so during the peak season (usually April through October), you will have to watch out for "steaming gifts" and wet spots. As of 2005, there are typically two guided horseback tours a day, so at least you won't be completely inundated with passing horses. Because this trail is also quite hot and exposed, the best time to hike this trail is probably the cooler season: September to May.
The Horseback Ride Option:
Okay, my site is a hiking guide, but I must admit that during the Summer months, the horseback ride is the way to do this trail in style! Currently the concessionary horseback ride provider is "Canyon Trail Rides" -- please see their website for more information: www.canyonrides.com. The 1/2 Day Trip (3 hours on the Sand Bench Trail) is a great diversion for $80 a person (as of 2012). It is a very fun time through some beautiful scenery. Tell them that "Joe's Guide to Zion National Park" sent you, so they can say "Huh? Who or what is that?"
This hike is an underrated gem. Although it is an official trail in the main canyon, nobody comes here, so you can escape the crazy Emerald Pools crowds and see some unique scenery. During the Summer months though, sand, heat, and horse dung could make this less than pleasant. So pay for a ride and let a horse or mule do all of the work for you!