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West Rim Trail (Grotto Picnic Area to Cabin Spring Camp 3)

Zion National Park

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May 17th, 1998

5.0 miles
3330 vertical feet
Total Time: 5:51

Rating: 8/10

Directions:   View Driving Map


Ben, Jay, Weihaw, and I hiked the West Rim Trail, from the Grotto Picnic Area to Cabin Spring camp 3, at Zion National Park.

We parked at the Grotto Picnic Area. Parking here is sparse...we had to circle a couple times to find a space. In the summer, it must be a zoo.

The trail starts by crossing a bridge over the Virgin River, then heading north and up, up, up. Switchbacks are the rule, heading up with little shade, the river still visible for the first mile, until it turns left into Refrigerator Canyon. Here, as you might expect, it's a bit cooler, as there are walls on either side (hence the term canyon!). The trail is flat for a while, heading roughly west, before going east up numerous switchbacks along the face of the canyon wall, including what are referred to as Walter's Wiggles, named after Walter Ruesch, who supervised the building of the West Rim Trail in 1924 (a few days later, in a gift shop at Bryce, I found a bookmark with this information and a picture of the switchbacks). These switchbacks are very short -- no more than 20 feet long each, and zig-zag quickly up to Scout's Lookout.

Weihaw, Jay, Ben, and I, turning the corner and going toward Refrigerator Canyon.

Weihaw heading up Walter's Wiggles

Scout's Lookout is at the intersection of the West Rim Trail and the Angels Landing trail. It's a popular place for day hikers who are making the Angels Landing hike to have lunch. While we were eating there,we ran into a couple of backpackers coming the opposite direction. In fact, they had done the exact same hike I had originally planned -- Wildcat Canyon to West Rim in a southerly direction. They said one ranger had told them it was snowed out, as well, but another had told them it was okay. They went, and said there were patches of snow, and a bit muddy in places, but nothing that couldn't be tolerated. They said it was a great hike. At this point, we were definitely upset at the rangers for misleading us, but there wasn't much we could do. It was too late now to revert to our original plan. We'd just have to deal with it and enjoy our hike. Besides, most people we talked to said that the best part of the West Rim trail was the part we were doing. The northern part of the trail is mostly just flat, forested land. (side note: one of those backpackers was wearing the same REI shorts I was, and in fact had bought them in the same store and was from Los Altos!)

A view of the Virgin River from Scout's Lookout

We decided to press on without going to Angels Landing. We figured we'd have time to see it on the way back down the next day. Angels Landing and Scout's Lookout is a popular day hike. On our way up we saw many other hikers. But once we went past the intersection, hikers were few and far between.

Higher up, the park almost looks Yosemite-like

Up we went again. The trail quickly changed from red rock sandstone, to a white rocky path with normal soil -- more like the Mt. Tallac or Half Dome trail. After going up a bit, the trail started descending. Bad news -- what goes down must come up! It dropped down about 400 feet as we slowly rounded Cathedral Mountain and Mt. Majestic. After crossing a bridge near the bottom, it was back to the uphill. Lizards, the most prevalent wildlife we saw, darted across the trail every so often. The temperature was mild -- high 70's maybe.

If you look closely, you can see Jay, Weihaw, and Ben going up the trail (diagonally upward)

There were still patches of snow at 6000 feet when we did the hike in mid-May. No snow on the trail itself, however. The trail was somewhat routine for a while until it turned a corner and suddenly we were hiking on the side of a mountain. The trail is blasted out of the rock and one false step would lead to a fall of 200, 300, 400 feet...as we climbed higher. But the trail is fairly wide (4-5 feet), so it wasn't too bad. And soon we were back on solid ground again, crunching through a forest near the top. And then we were there. We reached the trail junction with signs pointing toward Cabin Spring itself 100 yards away, Telephone Canyon Trail, and West Rim Trail. We weren't sure where camp 3 was (which is where we had reservations), so after hiking up the West Rim Trail a bit more, I dropped my pack and headed up to see while the others waited. After dropping my nearly 50-pound pack, I felt completely liberated and started running up the trail. Of course, given the thin air at 7000 feet, that exuberance didn't last too long. After going a quarter mile (and up 100 feet), I found the sign for camp 3 and headed back to tell them. Weihaw and Ben went on ahead to the camp while Jay and I retreated to the spring to filter some water. The spring is just a trickle, but my MSR Miniworks filter provided clear, great-tasting, cold water!

After returning to our packs, we headed up to camp. The area near Cabin Spring was burned when an illegal campfire went out of control in 1992. Our campsite was set in a cleared-out section amongst burned-down trees. Deer walked around us as we set up our camp, peering through the leafless, dead trees.

Return to Zion/Bryce/Grand Canyon trip report.


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