EAGLE CRAGS TRAIL (and Lower Mountain)

Hiking Information Photos 1 2 3 4 5

Looking up at the jagged Eagle Crags formations (Zion National Park) -- © 2011 Joe Braun Photography

A Rugged Hike into the Hills:

If you look south of Springdale, you may notice the jagged rock formations of the Eagle Crags looming in the distance. Located in BLM land south of Rockville, the Eagle Crags Trail is a pleasant half-day hike that approaches and circles east of the Vermilion Cliffs to end just under the imposing Eagle Crags formations. Along the way, you will get good views of the mouth of Zion Canyon to the north and Parunuweap Canyon to the east. And for those looking for something longer and more strenuous, the hike can be extended to reach the top of Lower Mountain.

Eagle Crags Trail: moderately strenuous day hike. (Lower Mountain option: long and strenuous hike.)
Eagle Crags Trailhead via 2 miles of dirt road south of Rockville
Time Required:
3-5 hours for the Eagle Crags Trail. (8-11 hours for Lower Mountain option.)
5.7 miles round-trip for Eagle Crags Trail. (10.7 miles total round-trip for Lower Mountain option.)
Elevation Change:
Gradual 1000-ft ascent from trailhead to end of Eagle Crags Trail. (An extra 1200-ft ascent to top of Lower Mountain.)
Technical Challenges:
None for the Eagle Crags Trail. (For Lower Mountain option, navigation along faint trail of use in extremely remote territory, Class 2-3 scrambling and route-finding in the chute up to Lower Mountain.)
Spring and fall. Summer may be brutally hot. Winter is doable, but snow may make things more difficult, especially for the Lower Mountain option.

Getting to the Trailhead:

To drive to the Eagle Crags Trailhead, follow Route 9 out of Springdale until you enter the small town of Rockville. Look for Bridge Road that heads south across the river. (Bridge Road may be easy to miss if you are not looking for it, but drive slowly and look for the small lattice truss bridge that crosses the Virgin River.) Once across the bridge, keep heading south as the road turns to dirt and heads up a steep slope. Ignore the side roads and follow the main track as it loops around and heads northeast. Look for the trailhead (which may or may not have a sign) on the right and park. Note: The ascent up this dirt road is often ungraded and difficult, so a 4WD vehicle is recommended. If you have low-clearance vehicle, you may need to find a place to park below the first bench.

Rockville to Eagle Crags Trail topo map Eagle Crags Map #1:
Rockville to the Eagle Crags Trail.
Eagle Crags Trail to Lower Mountain topo map Eagle Crags Map #2:
Eagle Crags Trail to Lower Mountain.

a lovely view into Parunuweap from the Eagle Crags Trail (Zion National Park) -- © 2011 Joe Braun Photography

Hiking the Eagle Crags Trail:

The Eagle Crags Trail is a family-friendly easy-to-follow 2.8-mile trail (one way) that takes hikers through the area's arid desert terrain up the Vermilion Cliffs to end at the base of the impressive Eagle Crags formations. This hike may take between 3-5 hours and is family-friendly, although it may be a bit too long for younger children. The trail starts by heading southeast through fairly level terrain, but after passing an old hiker's gate, the trail gradually gains elevation as it makes its way up the sandy hills.

As you get higher up the slopes, the scenery gets more interesting offering impressive views of the mouth of Zion Canyon to the north and Parunuweap Canyon to the east. (The lake in front of Parunuweap Canyon is the Short Creek Reservoir which was in the news in December 2010 when the Trees Ranch Dam was feared to be breached during record rainfall.)

As the trail passes east of the Eagle Crags, it aggressively zig-zags further up the slopes and then heads south. Soon enough, the Eagle Crags is due west and the trail abruptly ends. There are numerous inviting boulders to sit on and relax with a lunch before turning around and heading back. It is possible to scramble up to the base of the Eagle Crags formations, but take great care as the approach is steep and there are loose sand and rocks everywhere.

one of the many irritating gullies that must be crossed to climb up to Lower Mountain (Zion National Park) -- © 2011 Joe Braun Photography

Eagle Crags to Lower Mountain:

In the 1980s, there were plans to continue building the Eagle Crags Trail south to join up with the trail on Canaan Mountain via an old steep stock trail that climbs up Lower Mountain, but those plans never came to fruition. But for those looking to do something remote and strenuous, it is possible to do this hike, but there is no official trail and the route is difficult with several navigation challenges. This hike is not recommended for casual hikers.

Starting at the end of the official Eagle Crags Trail, follow the faint trail-of-use south as it continues to hug the slopes just to the east of the Vermillion Cliffs. The unofficial trail is easy to follow at first, but it often fades out and you may feel lost several times until you stumble upon it again. Now comes the hard part... as you continue south, you will face a series of 16 gullies that you must traverse. Some of them are insignificant, but several will break your will, requiring you to scramble down the best trail-of-use and scramble up the other side, and repeat ad nauseum. Even though this stretch of the hike is only 1.5 miles, it could take up to two hours to get past all of the gullies.

looking back at the old stock trail under Lower Mountain (Zion National Park) -- © 2011 Joe Braun Photography

As Lower Mountain gets closer into view to the south, look out for a spire formation in the near distance. When only one gully separates you from the spire formation, the trail will turn right (west) and head straight up the sandy hill to the base of the cliffs. Walk south along the convenient shelf system and then look up to the right (west) to locate the old stock trail that heads up the notch pass.

The stock trail may be difficult to recognize at first; it's a lot more vertical than you would expect and it doesn't look anything like a trail from below. Resist the urge to hike down into the large gully to the south and instead, look more to the east to locate the most reasonable scrambling route up--this is the stock trail. Cairns will hopefully confirm the way. While the stock trail/notch pass may look intimidating, the route up (and down) is actually quite reasonable and fun if you're comfortable with Class 2-3 scrambling. As you make your way up the notch pass, you will be able to see the spire formation behind you in the distance. Soon enough, you will top out and it's time for the fun and leisurely part of the hike!

a lovely view from the edge Lower Mountain (Zion National Park) -- © 2011 Joe Braun Photography

From the top of the notch pass, follow the trail-of-use south as it skirts past the top of the large gully. Continue hiking south along what I call the "isolated plateau"--a lovely sandy stretch with cliffs to the east and more mountain formations above to the west. There is no trail at this point, so explore at will, but be sure to take in the wonderful views at cliff's edge! Continuing south, you will see the large open valley of Lower Mountain beneath you. Head west away from the cliffs to find an easy way down the slickrock shelves. The dryfall at the end of the valley makes a great viewpoint and destination for dayhikers.

For the return hike, it would be easy to simply say "retrace your steps," but a few notes for your exit hike. When trying to locate the drop-in point for the notch pass, remember that it is just beyond the gully at the north end of the isolated plateau; do not descend that first gully. When descending the notch pass/old stock trail, be sure to keep an eye out for the exit shelf on the left; it is very easy to miss the exit and accidentally keep following the old stock trail down too far. And finally, traversing the 16 annoying gullies is no easier on the return hike, so allow plenty of time for this stretch. When you're finally back on the official Eagle Crags Trail, you will breathe a sigh of relief!

Joe's Spin:

The Eagle Crags Trail is a pleasant hike that is a bit off the beaten path. While perhaps not as astounding as some of the popular hikes within Zion National Park, the views are unique, offering glimpses into Parunuweap Canyon, South Creek, and Lower Mountain. 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. As for the Lower Mountain option, this strenuous route would only be enjoyed by the most foolhardy of adventurers. If you do this long hike, start as early as possible and allow plenty of time for navigation challenges.

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