Backpacking

Zion Traverse Backpacking Guide

Zion Traverse Zion Canyon

Overview

The Zion Traverse (aka Trans-Zion Trek) is a 50-mile point-to-point route that spans the entirety of Zion National Park from the northwestern to southeastern tip. The route can be traveled in either direction as a multi-day backpacking trip or as a one-day trail run.

For those that are lucky enough to trek across Zion, the experience is sure to leave a lasting impression. Your efforts will be rewarded tenfold by the beauty of Zion’s deep canyons, sandstone monoliths, and diverse ecology. Due to its unique location and huge elevation range, Zion is a unique and bewildering place to cross on foot.

In this guide, I will cover the route my group took in late October 2017, from Lee Pass Trailhead to the East Entrance Trailhead.

We took four days and three nights to hike the Zion Traverse as a group of six. I made online reservations for backcountry permits in early August and picked them up at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center on the morning of our hike. Our group left three vehicles at the East Entrance Trailhead, piled into my Ford F-150, and drove one and a half hours to Kolob Canyons to start the hike at Lee Pass Trailhead.

Note: Hike statistics were recorded with Gaia GPS app. To see a full breakdown of the gear I carried and used on this trip, click here.

Zion Traverse Fall Colors
Fall colors in Zion Canyon

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 49.8 miles
  • Hike Time: 4 days
  • Elevation Gain: 6801 feet
  • Fee: $25 per vehicle for a 7-day pass. Backpacking permits are also required.
  • Dogs: No
  • Difficulty: Hard

Map


Download GPX File

Description

Day 1

  • Distance: 8.3 miles
  • Ascent: 925 feet
  • Descent: 1200 feet

Unless you do it from the opposite direction, the Zion Traverse starts at Lee Pass Trailhead on the scenic Kolob Canyons Road, off Exit 40 on Interstate 15.

The hike begins with a gradual descent on the La Verkin Creek Trail, with exquisite views of Navajo sandstone towers and typical plants and animals found in the high deserts of the Colorado Plateau. To our surprise, we encountered wild turkeys both on the trail and at camp.

La Verkin Creek Trail passes six campsites before the marked junction with Hop Valley Trail, six miles in. At this point, bear right to take a short series of switchbacks and gain 600 feet elevation.

A couple miles after the junction, the trail crosses Hop Creek and meets up with Hop Valley Camp Area Site 1 and 2, elevation 5,800 feet. These campsites are also referred to as Campsite A and B, or Horse Camp and Boundary Camp.

Zion Traverse Kolob Canyons Night
Moonlit cliffs and stars in Hop Valley

Day 2

  • Distance: 12.6 miles
  • Ascent: 1836 feet
  • Descent: 471 feet

Before you leave camp, make sure to fill up your water bottles at Hop Creek. There is a good chance you won’t find water until Wildcat Spring. In our case, Wildcat Spring was dry, but a half mile before Wildcat Canyon Camp we discovered a trickle. Some generous hikers also left several gallons at the Hop Valley Trailhead with a sticky note that read, “free water”. We happily partook.

Day two begins with a five-mile uphill jaunt on the sandy Hop Valley Trail. Once you reach the junction at Hop Valley Trailhead, bear left onto the Connector Trail. From here, the trail gains 600 feet over four miles before a marked junction with Wildcat Canyon Trail. Continue to head eastward on the Wildcat Canyon Trail for a little over three miles, before reaching Wildcat Canyon Camp. Elevation at camp is 7,050 feet.

Zion Traverse Angels Landing
Angels Landing from the West Rim Trail

Day 3

  • Distance: 7.7 miles
  • Ascent: 459 feet
  • Descent: 832 feet

Thanks to low mileage, a gradual downhill grade, and some big-hearted gents that filled our water bottles at Lava Point, day three was the easiest day of the trip. Had we known Wildcat Spring was dry, we would have backtracked to the trickle of water we found a half mile before Wildcat Canyon Camp.

The day begins with a mile and a half ascent to the marked junction with the West Rim Trail. Bear right here and continue down the most undemanding stretch of the Zion Traverse. After six miles, head left onto the marked offshoot trail to West Rim Camp Area Site 8, elevation 6,760 feet. Before reaching camp you will bump into Potato Hollow Spring.

Zion Traverse Potato Hollow Spring
A sudden dropoff near Potato Hollow Spring

Day 4

  • Distance: 21.1 miles
  • Ascent: 3581 feet
  • Descent: 4510 feet

If possible, I recommend booking West Rim Camp Area Sites 1-6, rather than 7 or 8 to cut down on the amount of miles covered on day four. In our case, 8 was the only one available.

As a result, we had to cover twenty-one miles in a day. We woke up at 5 a.m. and set off without breakfast. We witnessed a breathtaking sunrise during our descent into Zion Canyon. It took us ten and a half hours to reach the East Entrance Trailhead, but every person in the group was conditioned and capable.

From West Rim Camp Area Site 8, follow the West Rim Trail two and a half miles to the marked junction with the Canyon Rim Trail and Telephone Canyon Trail. Both trails meet up at Cabin Spring, but Telephone Canyon Trail is shorter.

After Cabin Spring, the trail winds its way down the White Cliffs and provides jaw-dropping views of Zion Canyon from an elevation that is higher than Angel’s Landing.

From Scout’s Overlook, continue down to the Grotto, where you can fill water bottles with potable tap water and use the bathroom. The next and final portion of the Zion Traverse begins at Weeping Rock. To get there, walk a mile north along the Floor of the Valley Road.

Once you reach Weeping Rock, take the East Mesa Trail about two miles and 1,200 feet gain to the marked junction with Observation Point and the East Rim Trail. Bear right onto the East Rim Trail and continue up another 1,200 feet gain, out of the canyon and onto a large plateau.

From this point, it is a gradual 1,000 foot descent to the East Entrance Trailhead. Once you reach Stave Spring, it is just another five miles to the parking lot.

Zion Traverse Sunrise
Zion’s cliffs put on a colorful show at sunrise

Location

The hike begins at Lee Pass Trailhead on the scenic Kolob Canyons Road, off Exit 40 on Interstate 15. It is situated within the Kolob Canyons section of Zion National Park in Utah.

Get Directions

Resources

Topographic Map

Tips

If you are unable to facilitate your own shuttle, consider hiring Zion Adventure Company.

As you plan your trip, make sure to get an up-to-date report on water source conditions from the rangers at either Zion Canyon or Kolob Canyons Visitor Center. You can also check this website for info.

At the time of our hike, the spring at Wildcat Canyon was reported as flowing, but turned out to be bone dry. Fortunately, we ran into some kind fellas at Lava Point. They had five gallons of water and were nice enough to fill our bottles.

Photos

Zion Traverse Floor of the Valley Road
Walking along the Floor of the Valley Road
Zion Canyon Floor
The floor of Zion Canyon
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One comment

  1. […] you are interested in doing your own multi-day trip across Zion, I wrote a backpacking guide to help you plan it. I thought you might also like to see a full breakdown of the backpacking gear […]

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