Hiking Guide Photos 1 2 3

Coalpits WashNamed for the dark volcanic boulders that cover the hills to the west, Coalpits Wash is the major drainage in the southern desert section of Zion National Park. As you drive Route 9 from La Verkin to Springdale, you may pass right over the drainage and not give it a second thought. From the road, Coalpits Wash may appear to be a barren and uninteresting drainage, but if you're looking for a long day hike or a mild backpacking adventure, you can hike up Coalpits Wash for roughly nine miles of sublime and lonely scenery to surround yourself with the great Zion formations.

Getting to the Trailhead:

Roughly 2.7 miles west of Rockville or 6.7 miles east of the town of Virgin, Route 9 crosses over Coalpits Wash. On the east side of the wash is a pullover with a short dirt road that heads to the parking area. Once parked, follow the NPS boundary fence back to the elaborate wooden gate that marks the Coalpits Wash Trailhead. (Note that the parking lot is in the flood plain, so don't park here if there is any concern about flash floods or high water levels.)

Detailed Description:

From the Coalpits Wash Trailhead, head for the streambed. For the first 1.75 miles, you will be hiking right up the open wash. Coalpits Wash typically has a small amount of flowing water throughout the year and cottonwood trees, reeds, and other vegetation will dominate the scenery as you walk the sandy banks. Coalpits Wash Note that you will likely get your feet wet on this hike, so if you have breathable footwear, save yourself the effort of avoiding the water and just let yourself get wet. Alternatively, if you are looking to make fast time, there is a trail of use on the eastern shelf above the stream. (This trail takes you away from the stream and the NPS occasionally put a "this is not a trail--don't bust the crust" on this trail, but I would argue that keeping everybody on a single trail in this section would do less damage than having people wander randomly off-trail along the banks.)

Soon enough, you will reach the confluence of Coalpits Wash to the left (west) and Scoggins Wash to the right (east). From this section on, the hiking may get a bit slower as the wash narrows and boulders litter the streambed. While there are no major obstacles that would prevent access upstream, you may spend a fair amount of time finding the easiest way around the various boulders and pools. Roughly 3.5 miles into the hike, the wash narrows further and both walls become solid rock as we make our way to the next strata. On the west side of the canyon is a small undercut section of rock known as Coalpits Spring where lush plants take advantage of the dripping water. In most seasons, this is a good water source, but check for the latest conditions at the backcountry desk as the spring can run dry.

Coalpits WashOnly minutes upstream of Coalpits Spring is the junction with the Chinle Trail where the wash opens up. For the next two miles, the hiking will be easier as you walk the banks or the streamcourse to make your way upcanyon. Most people who picture the desert section of Zion to be desolate and lifeless would be surprised by the idyllic and lush scenery here. Roughly 5.6 miles into the hike, look for an odd landmark on the east banks above the stream: the old drill hole/oil well ruins which are a collection of odd pieces of metal and wood that were abandoned from a failed drilling attempt. This random landmark would make a good hiking goal and turnaround point for most dayhikers.

Beyond the oil well ruins, the wash slowly gets narrower and more overgrown as you make your way behind the Towers of the Virgin. Because your view may be constricted by the surrounding hills and vegetation, you may not appreciate how close you are to the towering mountains above. Roughly 7.6 miles into the hike, the wash narrows again for a brief canyon-like section as we prepare to ascend above another major layer of rock strata. Here you will see three little waterfalls, which can be ascended with a little bit of scrambling on the right (east) side of the canyon. (Watch out for possible quicksand at the base of the second little waterfall.) Above these waterfalls, the wash opens up yet again and you can explore further until you have had your fill or have run out of time.

Coalpits Wash Map 1 Coalpits Wash Map #1: Lower Desert Section.
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Coalpits Wash Map 2 Coalpits Wash Map #2: Upper Coalpits Wash.
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Backpacking and Campsites:

Coalpits WashFor 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.

Joe's Spin:

This hike isn't for everybody, but Coalpits Wash is much more scenic and interesting than you would initially expect. The wash makes an excellent long day hike and you are unlikely to encounter many (if any) other people in this section of the park. As with all hikes in the desert section, this could be brutally hot during the summer months, so save this for the cooler seasons or a cloudy/rainy day.

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