Today we enjoyed two very different sides of
Zion National Park -- the remote high wilderness and the very
popular Zion Canyon along the Virgin River.
This entry will cover the day trip we took in the morning to the far
upper end of Kolob Terrace Road, a smooth paved road that runs north for about
24 miles from the town of Virgin, UT. The next entry will cover
scenes from this afternoon along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive on the Pa'rus
and Riverwalk trails.
distant domes and mesas from the southern end of Kolob Terrace Rd.
Kolob Terrace Road begins west of Springdale about 16 miles from the
park's main gate. From our campground it was a total of about 40 miles one way,
mostly uphill, to the reservoir at the end of the road.
I marked our route in
yellow on this small map of Zion National Park. You can see the
reservoir near the top center of the map:
The legible version of this map is
here (p. 5 of the park's pdf. guide)
The park's irregular
boundaries are green on that map. The slanted rectangular box at the lower right is
the most heavily-visited part of the park, Zion Canyon. Our campground near the
west (south) gate of the park is the orange dot; a bit of I-15 up
by the Kolob Canyons entrance to the park is marked in purple.
We took the dogs with
us, and Jim's bike.
The potential plan
was for me to do some hiking with the dogs on one of the trails that can
be accessed from Kolob Terrace Road, and for Jim to
ride his mountain bike on the road from the reservoir back down to
Virgin, a drop of more than 4,500 feet. Outbound, our goal was to see
what the terrain was like and to find which trailhead I'd use.
The narrow two-lane road is mostly smooth all the
way to the reservoir.
worked out but we enjoyed our sight-seeing trip with hardly anyone else
We went from about 3,550 feet elevation at Virgin up to 8,118 feet at
the reservoir, passing through several eco-zones along the way. That
made it very interesting -- lush green river valley to
snow-covered plateaus and an iced-over reservoir in 24 miles -- from
spring to winter and back down to spring again:
along the Virgin River (Hwy. 9 going west toward Virgin)
Above and below: green fields and trees on
Kolob Terrace Rd. along North Creek,
a tributary of the Virgin River (there are three
horses in the picture above)
As we gained elevation, we morphed from riparian habitat to sage-covered plateaus within a few
miles; here the deciduous trees aren't leafed out yet:
A few miles before we reached the reservoir the sage-juniper-pinyon
eco-system changed to conifers in the 7,000-8,000-foot elevation range
and we began to see some snow along the roadway:
It's an interesting drive through both private and park land.
As you can (maybe) see on the small map above, the narrow
road passes in and out of private and public property several times,
with a few ranches, cabins, and summer homes visible along the way:
We also passed free-ranging cattle in the road a couple
It was a beautiful sunny day, especially at the lower elevations. Temps ranged from 49 F.
in the morning to the upper 60s in the afternoon at 4,000 feet in Zion
Canyon and Springdale.
However, it was only in the low 30s F. about 10:30 AM at Kolob
Reservoir at 8,000+ feet elevation and more cloudy in some places along
Kolob Terrace Road. We let the dogs out to play in the
snow at the lake but we didn't stay long; we weren't dressed for
temperatures that cold and there was nowhere else to go with all the mud.
A dirt road
encircles the reservoir but it was too muddy to explore.
It was so cold
at the reservoir, where we had to turn around, that Jim
decided not to ride his bike back down to Virgin.
wasn't all downhill on the way back "down" to Hwy. 9, either. There were
a couple long uphill grades going back to Virgin that would have been difficult
for him to ride, as well as some long, steep descents that might have fried
his brakes. We had to keep the car in low gear part of the way down.
It's a good
thing he was able to see the terrain on the way up to the reservoir so
he could decide whether to ride back down.
He had a much better time riding the same distance in Zion Canyon in the
Nor did we see any trailheads that we could
access today so I didn't hike any of the trails along Kolob Terrace Road
with the dogs.
The dirt roads and trailhead parking areas were full of mud from melting
snow and a
couple days of rain that fell before we got here, so we didn't drive on
them. This one was typical:
When I saw conditions
at the higher elevations I also realized I wouldn't be able to do the
West Rim Trail from up here for
18 miles down to Zion Canyon, either;
there is too much ice and snow left along the trail this early
in the season.
According to one local station, Zion National Park officially got only
7/10ths of an inch of rain recently but I'd guess the higher elevations got
more than that, considering all the mud we saw and the condition of the
Virgin River, which is running fast, brown, and a little high this week through
Zion Canyon and Springdale:
The views to various rock formations, cliffs, peaks, and mesas are
interesting along Kolob Terrace Road. We're glad we did the drive even though Jim
decided not to ride his bike and I didn't find a good place to hike with the dogs.
We even spotted some wildflowers blooming along the side of the road
at the lower elevations:
This drive would be much prettier at the higher elevations in the
summer and early fall when the leaves are out, the lake is free of ice,
and trails and side roads are drier.
If you get tired of the crowds in the more popular areas of Zion,
head up this road or drive to the Kolob Canyons section in the far
northwestern part of the park. Even in the summer neither area gets
nearly as many visitors as Zion Canyon.
Above and below: two more
scenes from Kolob Terrace Road this morning
link has a very good overview of
several hikes you can do from Kolob Terrace Road, including the West Rim
Trail that runs 18 miles from Lava Point to Zion Canyon (later in the
week I hiked the lower section of that trail) and the Left Fork of North
Creek, a popular but strenuous route through the backcountry that requires a permit
and reservation to reduce crowding through the unique Subway slot
Next entry: scenes from the Pa'rus
and Riverside Walk in Zion Canyon
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup
© 2016 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil