Hiking the Gorgeous Watchman Trail at Zion National Park
Zion National Park is, without a doubt, one of the most gorgeous places in the country. A visit to Zion is a fantastic bucket list addition for any fitness and outdoor enthusiasts.
There are so many beautiful trails to explore with diverse scenery that includes gorgeous red rock formations and beautiful waterfalls. Additionally, many trails will take you on a quaint stroll along the Virgin River. Once you get out there on the trails, you will see why the park was named Zion, a term that means “peace” in Hebrew.
The Watchman – a fantastic introductory trail
At Zion, you will find a variety of hiking options ranging from super easy introduction trails to intense all day adventures. A few trails conveniently start right from the visitor’s center. One of these, the Watchman Trail, is a nice easy-mod choice for anyone in basically good shape. It’s not too difficult, yet enough of a challenge to make you feel like you got in a quality workout for the day.
This trail also happens to be completely gorgeous and not at all overcrowded. As it is much less popular than some of the more intense trails, crowds are pretty much non existent for the majority of the year. This is especially true during the off-season (December-February), where you may very likely be the only person on the trail (as was our case during a February visit).
The 1.3 mile out-and-back hike slowly climbs to an overlook, where you will be able to take in stunning views of the unique Watchman Tower rock formation, as well as take in panoramic views of the area. An extra scenic loop at the top offers more great views and adds another 0.4 miles or so into your total mileage. The climb is a nice little workout, without being too strenuous. The way back down, on the other hand, is very easy.
The last portion of the trail takes you on a stroll past the river. As you listen to nothing but the soothing sounds of the water flowing, you really get that feeling of being lost in nature.
The Watchman Trail is a great place to see area wildlife, especially in the early morning hours. We saw plenty of deer out-and-about during our visit. Other mammals occasionally seen in the park include bobcats, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep.
I recommend adding the Watchman Trail to your hiking itinerary while visiting Zion. While not the most popular or challenging trail within the park, the scenery is amazing and the trek through uninterrupted nature is truly relaxing.
Tips for a wonderful hike
*Be careful as there are some steep drops along the course, so stay far away from the edge. Those who are squeamish about heights may want to skip this trail.
*Bring plenty of water and hydrate yourself frequently, especially on hot days.
*If coming from a low elevation area, your body may be a bit shocked at the 4000 foot elevation. Take it a bit easier, and get used to the change in altitude around town for a day or so before attempting a hike. Also drink extra water and eat more salty snacks – it helps a bit.
*Bring with a hiking stick and wear hiking shoes for extra traction for going up and down the sandy path.
*Wear a GPS watch to track your distance and time. It always helps you stay more motivated when you know how far you have gone.
*Dress in layers if you set out early in the morning during the winter months. The start of the hike will likely be very cold (you might even need gloves), however, you will quickly warm up once beginning the uphill climb. Then, once you begin the trek downhill, you’ll likely be cold again as your body isn’t working as hard.
*Pack a camera in your backpack. I highly recommend a camera backpack as it includes extra space for lens and essentials.
*Arrive early to ensure a parking spot at the visitor’s center or take the free town shuttle (not available during the winter season).
After passing the entrance gate, proceed to follow the signs to the Visitor’s Center. You will see a sign pointing the direction you need to go to access the Watchman Trail – it’s just a short walk. Entrance to Zion is $35 per car, good for 7 days. Bike/pedestrian entrance is $20 per person. Take advantage of the unlimited use of free shuttle buses, included with your entrance fee.