Zion National Park: Kolob Canyons

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This less-visited corner of Zion National Park is only slightly less dramatic than the more popular Zion Canyon area.  Thanks to its convenient location off Interstate 15, you can quickly explore the area, by driving the scenic drive out and back.

At the end of the scenic road, Timber Creek Overlook Trail is also worth a quick hike.  It’s 1/2 mile, one way, and should be easy for most hikers.

Admission to Zion National Park is required — which might be the only reason for a casual tourist not to make a brief detour onto the scenic drive.  As of 2013, park admission is $25 per car.  The fee covers your entrance for 7 days, so if you’re headed on to Zion Canyon, you might as well pay your admission here.

Also worth noting: during my visit in mid-March, the visitor center was not open, and there was no self-pay station.  So, it’s possible that access is, essentially, free during this time of year.  However, I’d only suggest skipping the payment here, if you plan to pay park admission later (or buy an annual pass, which remains a good value at $80, good at all National Parks and many other federal lands).

My Visit

Wow.  It’s hard to say anything else, when you climb the hill from Interstate 15 and enter the world of Kolob Canyons.  A road paved with the dust of red rocks leads you towards a towering display of dramatic mountains.

This scene blew me away.  I had just driven down from Salt Lake City, and decided to make Kolob Canyons my first stop on the trip, just a couple of hours before sunset.  I had been here before, but in my mind, I had downplayed the beauty of this part of the park.  It was nice, I thought, but not awe-inspiring like the main canyon.  But when I got here, my jaw dropped.

Then, it was one stop after another, to take endless photographs of that perfect road, gracefully curving as it leads toward the mountains.

Consider hiking the Middle Fork of Taylor Creek Trail.  The trailhead is located along the side of the road, roughly 2 miles from the Interstate.  Expect to hike about 3 miles, one way, through a canyon that ends at a beautiful alcove, passing some historic cabins along the way.  I hiked this trail back in 2007.

The scenic road ends at a parking area, and this trailhead.

You can walk 1/2 mile to the end of the Timber Creek Overlook Trail, but the view to your left remains great, throughout the entire hike.

The canyons in this area line up like outstretched fingers, about seven of them, all pointing towards you.

I hiked back and forth on the trail, making it much more than just a one-mile round-trip.  Along the way, there are plenty of trees, rocks, and other features to add some foreground interest to your photos.

This is one case where the spectacle of the sunset is towards the east, not the west.  The sun was at least a half-hour away from dropping below the mountains.  As beams of light poured through the clouds, it looked nice, but I couldn’t take my focus away from the mountains in the opposite direction.

Looking closely at the mountains of Kolob Canyons, I spotted a waterfall, streaming down a stained red cliff.  It would be very difficult to hike up to this area, and as far as I know, there are no official trails that would take you there.

As I waited out the final minutes of daylight, the shadows started creeping up from the valley, and the mountains glowed pink and red.  Eventually, I had to quit for the day…

… and hike back towards the car.

The Bottom Line

Even if you don’t have a lot of time, or if you’re not planning a visit to the more crowded portion of Zion, I’d still recommend taking the time to drive the scenic road.  If you have a little extra time, hike the trail.  And if you can do both, right before sunset, the experience will be even better.

Location

Take exit 40 off of Interstate 15.  The scenic drive is approximately five miles long, and it dead-ends at a trailhead for Timber Creek Overlook Trail.

From Springdale (and Zion Canyon), take Utah 9 west to Utah 17, which will connect with Interstate 15 northbound.

Drivelapse Video

Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive into, and out of, the Kolob Canyons section of Zion National Park.

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