Backpack the West Rim Trail, Zion NP

Utah West Rim Trailhead

  • Activities:

    Chillin, Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:

    Intermediate

  • Season:

    Year Round

  • Trail Type:

    Point-to-Point

  • RT Distance:

    14.5 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    3000 Feet

Romantic
Scenic
Wildflowers
Wildlife

Another piece to the epic Trans-Zion Trek or a noteworthy standalone trail in its own right. Eye-popping vista views, ponderosa pine groves, canyon descents, and slickrock slabs! A 14+ mile (one-way trek) and access route to Angel's Landing and Park's central area.

This 14.5 mile (one-way) trek is a multi-functional trail. The trail can serve as standalone trail allowing hikers to get in either a solid in-and-out day hike or as a leg to a much bigger and epic Trans-Zion Trek. For those interested in the later, the West Rim Trail is the leg of the journey that either precedes or follows (depending on which side of the park you started) the Wildcat Canyon Trail. For purposes of this adventure, lets focus on the specifics required for this 14.5 mile trail starting up near Lava Point.

*NB: The West Rim Trailhead can be accessed directly by vehicle from any of the local outfitter shuttles (4x4 recommended in bad/wet conditions). You can also be dropped off at the Lava Point Campground or Overlook and trot on foot from by using a shortcut trail until it intersects with the dirt road. Follow the dirt road south until it intersects with the West Rim Trailhead.

Once at the West Rim Trail Trailhead, follow the trail roughly 1 mile until you reach the access point for the Sawmill Springs. There are several backcountry camping spots along this stretch as well as the remnants of a recent forest fire that scorched the plateau. Depending on your water situation you can just continue along the relatively straight trail across the top of this pleasant plateau. The elevation changes will eventually become much more severe so enjoy the flat hike while you can. This is also a very enjoyable section of the trail because you will not likely encounter any crowds and may very well have the hike to yourself.

A couple miles further (maybe 3), you will encounter a sweeping vista of the maze of canyons and valleys below. You’ll know when you've hit it. These spectacular views will be in no short supply for the remaining 10 miles. The West Rim Trail may be the longest trek or the Trans-Zion Trek but its full of the most vistas without a doubt.

Following this first series of vistas, the trail begins its first descent…this time into the Potato Hallow Valley. The scenery will begin to take a noticeable change. The descent is gradual. Tall, yellow grass fields begin to dominate the landscape, as do sporadic trees. If you feel you need a break, this is a good place to consider taking one as the trail is about to see its first incline. There was a massive downed tree that I found in the hollow to be exceptionally comforting.

Anyway, like I said, the trail begins to climb once you hit the treeline. Breaking up this series of ups and downs will be some camera worthy viewpoints.  You will know you’ve reached your next landmark when you reach the junction for the Telephone Canyon Trail. If you decide to take the Telephone Canyon Trail, it will eventually meet back up with the West Rim Trail though I would recommend staying on the West Rim Trail proper so you don’t miss the most spectacular views on the entire trail. Along this section of trail I found myself stopping quite often. Not only from being a bit tired but mainly because I couldn’t walk ¼ mile without the horizon blowing my mind. Depending on the time of day and season, no one will be up there to judge you anyway.

The trail from here will first begin to decline prior to rejoining with the Telephone Canyon Trail. Obviously you will not want to circle back on the Telephone Trail so continue onwards on the West Rim (maybe you do want to do the loop….thats your call). As your orientation begins to shift east you will start to see the distant eastern Telephone Valley begin to show itself. You will have a hard time deciding where to focus your attention. As you decline, your surroundings are about to drastically change. A massive tree near the access point for the Cabin Spring will be your indication to prepare for a massive descent – also a great place to rest and soak in the views.

From here you will begin your descent down the mightily switch-backed canyon wall. The trail hugs the stone monolithic canyon wall for what seems like miles. Be careful though. Certain death is…certain….for any who try to look too far all the edge. Be especially careful if passing any other hikers at this point. Eventually you will feel yourself appearing smaller and smaller as the canyon walls consume you. By the time you reach the bottom of the canyon, you will have an enjoyable time surfing through the slickrock covered canyon floors. Inside the canyon can be a nice escape from the heat as well. Your time in the canyon will feel short-lived as you eventually begin your ascent. Reaching the top of this opposing canyon you will be on a massive surface of slickrock. Take caution on this smoothish surface – especially during the rain. There is nearly nothing that can stop you if you begin to slide off. Rock cairns help to remove any confusion on which direction to follow. Here is also where you may begin to see more day-hikers.

Once off the slickrock, it’s a short trail before reaching a spectacular glimpse of Angels’ Landing. If you have never seen Angels’ Landing before this point…prepare yourself to have your breathe stripped from you. A short jaunt further along the trail and you will actually reach its junction with the Angels’ Landing trail. If you can muster the courage, strength, and stamina after that long haul, I highly encourage you to test your mettle on this side hike. More so than usual, please exercise caution here if you do. Unlike the rest of the trail behind you, you will now be in a hive of tourists and dayhikers. Consider your solitude gone for the day.

Either choosing to pass on Angels’ Landing of giving it a go, you will eventually return to the West Rim Trail. The final stretch of the trail will take you along a, seemingly, never-ending series of switchbacks - known as Walter's Wiggles. While marching down them, be sure to marvel at the canyon walls. Absolutely stunnning! Once at the bottom you  will find yourself at the Grotto. From here you can take the shuttle to either the Watchman Campground to fuel up for the night (recommended) or take the shuttle to Weeping Rock and begin the East Rim Trail.

For those hiking the Trans-Zion Trek…your adventure continues at Weeping Rock and the start of the East Rim Trail.

Pack List

  • SUNSCREEN (Spring and Summer are HO
  • Water (Sources are scarce or contaminated)
  • Sturdy hiking boots
  • Backpacking Kit (Season Appropriate and Optional)
  • Camera
  • Eagerness
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Reviews

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This backpacking trip is incredible! We stayed at site #5 and watched the sunset over the canyons, it was unforgettable. This was my wife's first backpacking trip and she was able to tackle it fairly easily other than the blisters she got on day 2. Her boots were too small and the decline on this trip is very aggressive. There are so many different types of trees and terrain along this trip, it really captures the beauty and variety of Zion National Park.

4 months ago
4 months ago

Along with the Narrows this is the only other backpacking trip I've done in Zion. The views were beautiful and it gets you to parts of the park where no one else ventures- we were the only ones on the trail until we reached Angels Landing.

10 months ago
10 months ago

The West Rim Trail is entirely unforgettable! Having trekked the entire Trans-Zion Trek, the West Rim offers some of the most drastic changes in scenery and terrain along the way. Sweeping vistas and razor-edge trails all leading up to the terminus at Angel's Landing. Unbelievable! Fall is also the best time to do this to avoid the heat and catch the change in foliage.

about 1 year ago
about 1 year ago

The West Rim was my first backpacking adventure, and we did an in and out to backcountry site #8. The West Rim from the Grotto trailhead has a lot of switchbacks especially to get to Angel's Landing. Another large switchback portion to reach Cabin Springs. The hard work is worth the views once you are on the sparsely forested plateaus of the West Rim! Heads up there was still some snow in Potato Hollow in March. Also, Cabin Springs was the only place for water so be sure to fill up whenever you can!

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

This is such a great trail and the views at the top of rim are stunning. Once you get past Angel's Landing, the crowds all but disappear (even on the super crowded Labor Day weekend), so you and your adventure buds will feel alone in the wilderness, save for the occasional group of deer. The switchbacks up to Cabin Springs are not for the faint of heart, but it's so worth it. We spent two nights at camp site 4 (reservable online), which gave us a chance to day hike and relax at the top. The sunsets over the canyon were mesmerizing and watching lightning storms on the other side of the park was an unexpected highlight.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

Mike QuineStoryteller

...a year long journey through the American landscape of our National Parks. Disengaged from societal pursuits to set out alone and face the uncertainty guaranteed by the Wilderness. Hardening both hands and mind through tempered resolve.

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