As with most national parks Zion is busy, really busy. The parking in the park is full by 9AM and parking in town stretches on for miles. I am grateful for the shuttle system in both town and the park, because all those cars on the canyon drive would spoil the experience.
Parked on the side of the road in Springdale I got out the map and my phone and started to try and make a game plan. With a couple of quick searches I came across the Zion Traverse, a route that strung together most of the trails in park allowing you to hike from the far north west corner to the far south east over 50 miles. The starting point being Lees pass in the Kolob Canyon area off I-15, an hour drive from Zion Canyon.
To do the hike unless you have your own shuttle you need to hire one from in town. I suppose you could try and hitch hike but the last 20 miles is on the interstate and would be really hard. I used Zion Adventure company and paid a hefty 65$ to tote my butt across the park, in a 3 hours shuttle ride.
The traverse starts on the La Verkin Creek trail, which dips down into the canyon from the pass, the trail is sandy and takes some extra effort to walk but it is scenic, there is a side trail to the Kolob Arch supposedly one of the largest free standing arches in the world. Unfortunately the side trail only takes you to an overlook, pretty distant from the arch.
La Verkin Creek takes you to the Hop Valley trail over a short saddle, and back down into the valley. The first 3 miles or so of this trail section are very scenic as you cross back and forth over a shallow sandy creek. Unfortunately the last 3 miles are a sand trudge from hell though private land, taking you back up to Kolob terrace road. A connector trail leads 4 miles to the wildcat canyon trail, connector trail is an unfortunate name, because this section is actually pretty scenic, but I was almost tempted to walk the road because of the sand and the name, glad I didn’t.
Wildcat goes though some giant ponderosa forest and along the bottom of a lava cliff, meeting the west rim trail just south of Lava point. It was cold and windy all day and I was surprised to see two kids standing on the trail with no gear and in tank tops and shorts. They asked me if there was a spring close by. I couldn’t tell if there were out of water, lost, or both. Checking my map however did not show a spring close by, I told them where the next water source was and pushed on. Less than half a mile down the trail a great freezing cold spring was trickling out of the mountain side.
The trail climbs again along the west rim as you get closer to Zion Canyon, I had campsite 8 that night down in Potato wash, which apparently used to have a spring, but a fire thru the area seems to have dried it up. It was getting dark and colder still as I got close to camp, but there was enough light to set up my tent, crawl in, eat a pro bar and try and sleep.
The wind whipped the tent around all night and at about 4am snow started to fall. Not a lot but enough to accumulate a bit on the ground, but made for some pleasant contrast on the ground in the morning. The west rim continues descending down into the canyon eventually meeting up with the grotto trail and angels landing. There were probably 50 people already on the landing when i got there and chose to skip it. The descent down to the canyon floor is just about as scenic as any area can be. The canyon gets narrow and then explodes into views of the valley floor below. Hundreds of people puff past on their way up to Angels Landing, I was happy to be going the other way.
At the trailhead I filled up 2 liters of water, and hopped on the shuttle bus that would take me up to the trailhead that leads to the east rim trail. The first 5 miles of the ascent are just as scenic as the descent from the west passing through tight narrow canyons and interesting formations. Still lots of people but not the hoards on the other side of the canyon. After the overlook trail breaks off from the east rim trail the scenery goes downhill and the sand comes back. The last 6 miles to the east rim trail head were a sandy slog back to the truck.