The West Rim Trail is a long distance hike through Zion National Park. Starting at Lava Point, the trail slowly descends into the heart of Zion, the views getting better the farther you go.
This is a beautiful hike, but it is long and requires some advance planning. With amazing views, very few hikers on the trail, and a chance to walk the length of Zion National Park, this hike rewards your efforts.
The West Rim Trail can be hiked as a long day hike or as a two day backpacking trip. We elected to do the day hike in the top-down direction, starting at Lava Point.
About the Hike
Distance: 17 miles point-to-point (from Lava Point to The Grotto)
- Starting elevation: 7900 feet at Lava Point Campground
- Ending elevation: 4474 feet at The Grotto bus stop
- Overall descent: 3,156 feet
- It is an overall 3,156 foot descent, with 1486 feet of climbing (mostly in the mid-portion of the hike)
Length of Time: 9 – 12 hours is average, although it can take up to 16 hours, depending on your pace
When to go: May through November. Snow can block the trail during the winter and spring months.
Please note: If you read other blogs and information provided by the National Park Service website, you will see the distance for this hike ranging from 14.2 to 18.5 miles. We hike with a Garmin GPS and use the stats it outputs for these hiking posts. Reading other hiker’s reports, many people also report a length of 17 miles for this hike.
How to get to Lava Point
The trailhead is located near Lava Point Lookout, a 45-minute to one-hour drive from Springdale. The Zion Shuttle does not provide access to this point. Getting here requires a 34-mile drive from Springdale on Kolob Terrace Road, which travels along the western boundary of Zion National Park.
There are shuttle services that you can hire to drive you from Springdale to the trailhead. We used Zion Adventure Company and paid $39 per person for the service. Yes, this sounds expensive, but it saves you the hassle of later trying to retrieve your car from Lava Point.
I strongly recommend booking your shuttle service at least several days in advance. There are a limited number of seats and they do sell out!
On the West Rim Trail
Tim and I did this hike at the very beginning of May. Temperatures were in the 90’s midday, but the morning started off cool, about 65 degrees. Almost the entire first half of this hike is at the higher elevations on Horse Pasture Plateau, which keeps temperatures pleasant, even on the hottest of days.
Getting to the Trailhead
Our day started early. At 6:30 am we were on our way to the trailhead in a van with seven more hikers. This is a much different experience than waiting in line with hundreds of other people for the Zion Shuttle!
At 7:30 am we arrived at the Lava Point Lookout.
Before starting the hike, it is worth taking in the view from Lava Point Lookout. This gives you an idea of how far you will be hiking. Just in front of you is the green plateau that makes up the first part of the hike. Beyond it is the canyon of Zion National Park, your final destination.
From the Lava Point Campground (and your last chance to use a bathroom for quite awhile), it is a one-mile hike on Barney’s Trail to get to the official West Rim Trail trailhead. Most of this section is on a wide, gravel road.
The West Rim trailhead is marked with small, black sign. Now the trail becomes a dirt, singletrack trail along the forested plateau. Almost immediately past the trailhead is the turnoff for Wildcat Canyon Trail. Make sure you stay to the left, staying on the West Rim Trail.
On the Plateau
This first, forested section lasts quite awhile (about six to seven miles). It’s a cool, somewhat shady trail with a slight overall decline. This part of the trail is easy to hike and scenic views are few and far between (those come later!!), so this is a good place to hike with a fast pace.
Occasionally, there is a teaser view out to the west, spaced at just the right intervals to keep this part of the hike interesting.
The nice, overall downhill ends at Potato Hollow. From here, it is two short climbs spaced out over the next two miles. After enjoying the downhill for so long, it seemed like a bit of a slog to get up these hills, even though they are not very difficult. But it’s worth it. From here, the views also begin to change. Now you can see more of the stunning canyons, but the best is still to come.
At the top of the second climb, the trail splits. Stay to the right to remain on the West Rim Trail, with the best views from Horse Pasture Plateau. If you go left, the Telephone Canyon Trail offers more forested trails with less spectacular views. Both of these trails meet up again.
Best Part of the West Rim Trail
The trails meet up at Cabin Spring. And this is where the nonstop, spectacular views of the West Rim Trail start. This is why you are hiking this trail, to be able to see this.
The temperature also changes…it is much noticeably warmer and it will continue to get hotter as you descend down into the canyon.
And descend you do. From Cabin Spring, it’s a rapid descent down to almost the canyon floor.
Now, the trail winds through the canyon, climbing and descending around these rocky formations. This is the most beautiful part of the hike and when we did this hike there were just a handful of people out here.
Soon, Angels Landing will come into view. If you still have energy left in your legs, you have the option of adding a climb up Angels Landing to this hike. It’s icing on the cake after a spectacular hike through Zion.
We did not add on Angels Landing to this hike, although we considered it. Tim and I hiked Angels Landing the day before, early in the morning with very few people on the trail. Even though Angels Landing is a blast and we’d love to do it again sometime, neither of us felt like joining the crowds on the trail, especially in the midday heat.
From Scout Lookout, it’s just 2.5 miles downhill to The Grotto. It’s one massive descent from here, on Walter’s Wiggles, through Refrigerator Canyon, and down to the valley floor.
About Our Experience
Tim and I hiked the West Rim Trail very fast, covering the 17 miles in just 6.5 hours, including time for stops. We enjoyed this hike and even though it was a great experience I did not like it as much as I thought I would.
It’s a long hike, but that’s why we wanted to do it. There is a certain feeling of accomplishment to doing a long day hike. But the first half of the hike, the monotonous trail on top of the plateau, was a bit on the boring side. It was worth it for the views we had later, but if we did this hike again, there are some things we may do differently.
An Alternative to the West Rim Trail
If you like the idea of hiking the West Rim Trail, but a 17 mile point-to-point hike from Lava Point doesn’t sound like something you would want to do, there is an alternative. You can hike just a portion of the West Rim Trail, incorporating Angels Landing into your plans.
Here’s how I would do it. First thing in the morning, I’d hike the West Rim Trail from The Grotto and then hike up Angels Landing. Morning is the best time to avoid the crowds on Angels Landing. Then, from Scout Lookout, I would continue on the West Rim Trail towards Cabin Spring. This section of Zion is spectacular and few people seem to walk back this way. You could go as far as you like or hike all of the way up to Cabin Spring for the best viewpoint.
This would still be a very long day hike, but what an awesome day it would be. The thrilling climb up Angels Landing followed by the spectacular but seldom visited canyons in Zion. Plus, you would not have to arrange and pay for the shuttle service to Lava Point and you could eliminate the monotonous hike on the plateau.
By doing it this way, what you are missing is the point-to-point hike through Zion and the feeling like you are out on your own, hiking through the wilderness of Zion National Park that few others get to see.
Why You Should Hike the West Rim Trail
If you like the idea of a long distance hike, this one is perfect. If you like to feel like you are out in the wilderness, away from the groups of tourists on the more popular trails, the West Rim Trail is a great pick. If you want the accomplishment of hiking down the west side of Zion National Park, there’s no hike better than the West Rim Trail.
Backpacking the West Rim Trail
If you are considering the two-day backpacking trip, you will need to obtain permits in advance. Bearfoot Theory has an excellent post on everything you need to know to go backpacking on the West Rim Trail.
More Important Links:
Zion National Park Service: for up-to-date information on trail closures and more information on the West Rim Trail
Joe’s Guide to Zion National Park: this website was invaluable for us when planning our trip to Zion.
Where We Stayed
We have been to Zion National Park and both times we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Springdale, one of the best Holiday Inn properties we have seen. It is located along the Springdale Shuttle route, so you can get around town and into Zion National Park without a car.
More Information for Your Trip to Zion National Park:
- Angels Landing Survival Guide: Things to Know Before You Go
- 10 Days in the American Southwest: The Ultimate Road Trip
- Zion Narrows: Hiking the Top-Down Route in One Day
- 10 Great Hikes in Zion National Park. Which One Will Be Your Favorite?
- Hidden Canyon: An Unexpected Surprise in Zion National Park
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