The Kolob Canyons, tucked into the northwest corner of Zion National Park, is the park’s best-kept secret. A half-dozen finger canyons drain west from a high plateau, offering Zion Canyon’s spectacular red-rock scenery, breathtaking views, and rainbow-tinted cliffs but no crowds. Instead, the Kolob Canyons area is a place of solitude, wilderness, and empty trails. While the canyons are easily accessed from Interstate 15, the area sees few visitors compared to Zion Canyon and the main park area about 45 miles away. A bonus is the cool summer temperatures at Kolob which, at 6,000 feet, is more than 2,000 feet higher and usually 10 degrees cooler than Zion Canyon.
Amazing Views from a Scenic Byway
The maze of canyons is a quick jaunt off I-15 north of St. George, Utah. Drive a quarter-mile from the four-lane highway to the visitor center to get acquainted with the Kolob sector. The curvy, five-mile Kolob Fingers Road Scenic Byway, a designated Utah scenic road, climbs 1,100 feet from the visitor center, passing spectacular viewpoints and trailheads to a picnic area and a short trail to Timber Creek Overlook at road’s end. Take a hike out to the overlook for panoramic views of the Kolob finger canyons, Shuntavi Butte, and even Mount Trumbull on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon over 100 miles away. The best times for views and photos are late afternoon and sunset when shafting light reddens and defines the cliffs.
Best Hikes at the Kolob Canyons
The lonesome Kolob Canyons yield some of Zion’s wildest backcountry adventures. This section of the national park is made for hiking and backpacking, with more than 20 miles of uncrowded trails that explore the finger canyons and dip into La Verkin Creek’s wide gorge. Hikers find plenty of trails to suit their ability and experience level from easy hikes to multi-day backpacking trips up remote canyons. One of the best hikes is Taylor Creek Trail, a five-mile, round-trip walk into an enchanting finger canyon. The trail threads along the tree-lined creek, passing the ruins of a couple historic cabins, before ending at Double Arch Alcove. Other popular day hikes explore the secluded canyons of North and South Taylor Creeks.
Canyoneering the Kolob Canyons
Besides hiking, the Kolob area offers watery excitement for intrepid canyoneers in deep slot canyons. One strenuous loop hike—usually done as an overnight trek—heads up Willis Creek and down gorgeous Bear Trap Canyon, ending with a rappel over a silvery waterfall. (Note: You will need a permit for this hike.) North of the park you’ll find Kanarraville Falls, an easy canyoneering trip up a trail through a slot canyon. This beauty spot, offering waterfalls and coral-colored sandstone walls, requires wading up a tumbling creek and climbing ladders past the falls. The favorite hike begins at a trailhead on the east side of Kanarraville. Come on weekdays to avoid crowds.
America’s Second Largest Arch
Deep in the heart of the Kolob Canyons, you’ll find Kolob Arch, one of Zion’s best natural wonders. The arch hangs like a stone wing against a cliff in a side canyon above La Verkin Creek. The massive span, measuring just over 287 feet long, is the sixth longest natural arch in the world and the second longest in the United States after Landscape Arch in Arches National Park. The only way to visit Kolob Arch is on foot, following the trail up La Verkin Creek for 6.5 miles from the trailhead at Lee Pass. Hikers should plan on a long day to complete the 13-mile trek, and be prepared to carry water. Several swimming holes along the trail are perfect spots to cool down.
The Star Next to God’s Home
The Kolob Canyons, like the rest of Zion, boasts a long, colorful history that began with the Ancestral Puebloan people who lived here until about the year 1300. Later the nomadic Southern Paiute camped seasonally in the Kolob Canyons, hunting deer, gathering edible plants, and leaving enigmatic petroglyphs on rock faces and place names like Nagunt and Tucupit, which translates to “mountain lion.” The name Kolob, however, isn’t Native American, but instead derives from Mormon theology. Early settlers gave the etched canyons the name Kolob, the star next to God’s home where a single day equals a thousand years on earth, from the Book of Mormon.
Kolob Nuts and Bolts
Zion’s Kolob Canyons sector remains quiet compared to hectic Zion Canyon. While visitation has increased as word of Kolob’s wonders spreads, the area generally sees crowds only on weekends and major holidays. At the visitor center, the park ranger recommends weekdays or the off-season to avoid people. The visitor center offers interpretative displays, a bookstore, and drinking water, but the Kolob area has no campground and few facilities. Backpackers need to obtain a backcountry permit from the park and camp only in designated sites along trails. Except for the Timber Creek Overlook Trail, hiking groups are limited to less than 12 people to lessen human impacts. Rangers also warn hikers to stay on established trails, watch their footing at overlooks, avoid cliff edges, and not throw rocks since others may be below.
Written by Stewart Green for RootsRated Media in partnership with ZionNationalPark.com.
Featured image provided by Anna Papuga