THE WEST RIM TRAIL 

Overview:
The West Rim TrailThe West Rim is one of the classic backcountry trails in Zion: a 16-mile long trail along the upper west plateau that connects Lava Point (the highest point in Zion) with the main canyon. Most visitors to Zion are familiar with the lower section of the West Rim Trail that leads to Angels Landing, but those willing to hike further will be treated to more wonderous views as the clever trail makes its way up to the canyon rim. From atop the plateau, continuous majestic views can be seen to the east and west. Alternatively, a top-down hike from Lava Point is time well spent and can be done either as a long day hike or as a leisurely two-day stroll!

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Several Ways to Hike the West Rim Trail:

Detailed Description (Lava Point to the Main Canyon):
Lava Point isn't actually the starting point of the West Rim Trail; the trailhead is located about a half-a-mile southeast. Lava Point is, however, the typical drop-off point if you are getting a shuttle ride to do the hike. As the highest point in Zion, the view from the lookout is a great teaser that hints at the great scenery in store. To the southwest, you can see Wildcat Canyon and the Great West Canyon in the distance and to the southeast, you can see the White Cliffs above the Zion Narrows and the main canyon. The West Rim Trail takes us south along the plateau between those two large canyon systems.

From Lava Point, look for Barney's Trail, a little shortcut trail (created by a former Zion ranger named Barney!) accessible from the viewpoint or from the campsites (just left of campsite 2) that heads down the thickly forested hill to join up with the main dirt road. The West Rim Trail Hike along the road until it reaches the West Rim Trailhead. Now, we're on our way! (Note: In dry conditions, most vehicles can drive all the way to the West Rim Trailhead although the road can be more precarious that the quicker drive to Lava Point. See map below.)

The first few miles of the West Rim Trail are pleasant hiking through the cooler upper plateau. It is best to rip through here as fast as possible to allow more time for the more dramatic scenery to be seen later. At three miles, the first notable viewpoint is the "SGA teaser viewpoint" that gives a view straight down the Left Fork of North Creek to the majestic South Guardian Angel mountain in the distance. Over the next two miles, the trail makes a gradual descent into Potato Hollow, a good spot for a quick off-trail jaunt to get a good view into the mysterious Imlay Canyon to the east. (Imlay is one of the more treacherous technical canyons in Zion.) Note: Potato Hollow can be a source of water but in the dryer months, the spring is particularly murky.

Beyond Potato Hollow, we have our first short stretch of uphill hiking that takes us to the "Hammerhead Viewpoint" where the scenery starts to become magical, showing clear views of all of the amazing formations of the Great West Canyon: the Right Fork, Greatheart Mesa, Ivins Mountain, Inclined Temple, etc. One more uphill push takes us to the top of Horse Pasture Plateau where the trail hugs the western rim and it is non-stop amazing views for several miles. (Note the seldom travelled Telephone Canyon Trail spur that few people would choose over the amazing views to the west.) Spend as much time here as possible to soak in the amazing views!

The West Rim TrailThe trail slowly descends as it heads east, but at Cabin Spring, it is time to say goodbye to the pleasantly forested upper plateau. The last four miles of trail are much more dramatic as the CCC-constructed trail makes its way down through the chiseled White Cliffs and the wonderous slickrock wonderland to make its final descent into the main canyon. Soon enough we get a full view into the main canyon and Angels Landing can be seen below to the south.

At Scout's Lookout, if you have an extra 1-2 hours and a good amount of energy left, the hike out along the Angels Landing spur trail can't be beat. From Scout's Lookout, it is roughly only one more hour of hiking through the famous Walter's Wiggles and Refrigerator Canyon until you are switchbacking your way down to at the canyon floor by the Grotto Trailhead.

West Rim Trail Map 1 West Rim Trail Map #1:
Lava Point to Potato Hollow.

Note: While viewing the map, click on the map
to return to this page.
West Rim Trail Map 2 West Rim Trail Map #2:
Potato Hollow to The Grotto.

Note: While viewing the map, click on the map
to return to this page.

Backpacking Information:
Camping along the West Rim Trail is permitted only in the 9 designated campsites. A backcountry permit is required for any multi-day hike; choose your campsite when you pick up your permit at the Zion Backcountry Desk or at the Kolob Visitors Center. (See the official Zion Backpacking page for more info on permits.) Please do not squat at any campsite that you don't have a permit for!

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Campsite Descriptions:
Just about all of the designated campsites are appealing in their own way, but if you are doing the top-down two-day hike, logistically, campsites 1-6 are the ones to shoot for.

Note: A handful of first-come first-served drive-in tenting campsites are available at Lava Point. The camping area is primitive, but there is a pit toilet and garbage cans.

Driving To Lava Point:
From Springdale, drive west to the town of Virgin, then turn north on the Kolob Terrace Road. It is roughly a 19-mile drive up through the Kolob Terrace Section until the well-signed dirt road turnoff for Lava Point. Once in the NPS boundary, at the road junction, stay right to head to Lava Point or turn left to drive down to the West Rim Trailhead. The final stretch to Lava Point is mostly level and is easily accessible by non-4WD vehicles. The road down to the West Rim Trailhead may be a problem for non-4WD vehicles in wet conditions. (Most shuttle services from the Springdale outfitters will drop you off at Lava Point.)

Seasons for Hiking:
The best times of year to hike the West Rim Trail from Lava Point are spring through fall. At an elevation of roughly 7900 feet, Lava Point is roughly 3400 feet higher than the floor of the main canyon, The West Rim Trail so cooler temperatures can be enjoyed in the summer, but winters can see a lot of snow build-up on the high plateau. The Kolob Terrace Road is typically closed for winter (not plowed) half a mile before the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead, so Lava Point is only accessible by snow mobile or snowshoe. The descent into the main canyon can also be treacherous with snow drifts and ice formations covering the trail. The West Rim Trail typically clears up in May, but check conditons with the Backcountry Desk as things vary from year to year.

Water Sources:
If you are doing the lower part of the West Rim from the Grotto, bring your own water. On the upper plateau, water is occasionally available at Sawmill Springs, Potato Hollow, and Cabin Springs, but check conditions at the Backcountry Desk. Early in the season, water is plentiful, but during the dry months, these water sources may run thin.

Joe's Spin:
I love the West Rim Trail! From the subtle beauty of the upper plateau to the amazing descent into the main canyon, this is still one of my favorite hikes with incredible views. I have done the top-down route as both a day hike and a two-day backpack, and I can recommend either way as a great experience!

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