Hidden Canyon Trail – Zion National Park

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Day 4 felt a bit like deja vu.  For the second day in a row, I stepped off the Zion Park shuttle at Weeping Rock, and started up the Observation Point Trail.  This time, however, I was headed for Hidden Canyon, and I was quite thankful that it would be a much shorter hike (only about 3 miles round trip, compared to Observation Point’s 8 mile trek).

The view starts out the same.  I looked up at Observation Point and marveled that I had actually made it up there and back, without dying along the way.

For the first half mile or so, I followed the same path, rounding one switchback after another, climbing a steep trail that quickly lifted me up from the canyon floor.  After about a half mile, there’s a fork in the road.

This is a picture of the trail, which I took from Observation Point.  In the lower left hand corner, you can see where Observation Point Trail and Hidden Canyon Trail split.  After you make the turn, you’re in for several more steep switchbacks, followed by a walk along a sheer cliff edge.  It looks scarier in this picture than it really is, I promise.

The views are great along the way…

… but the trail is a little scary.  Once again, I was amazed that the greatest thing about the trail wasn’t the destination, but the trail itself.

The Hidden Canyon Trail briefly dips into a small side canyon, then out again…

… revealing this great view, looking back into the main canyon.

As the trail circles around another hillside, it becomes even narrower than before.  In places along this part of the trail, you’ll only have about a 3-foot-wide shelf.  It’s sandstone (slickrock), and if the rock is sandy, it can be slippery.  The park has installed chains in a few particularly narrow areas, which will allow you to hold tight to the canyon wall.

When you reach this water tank…

… you’ve reached the mouth of Hidden Canyon, and the end of the official trail. However, “end of maintained trail” doesn’t mean “you can’t go any further”.  If you turn around here, you’re missing some of the best parts of the Hidden Canyon Trail.

If you decide to continue into Hidden Canyon, you will need to climb a few rocks.  I believe there were about a half-dozen obstacles…

… like this one, before the trail became impassable.  These are the kind of climbs that require you to use your hands and feet, and quite possibly you’ll need to slide on your butt from time to time.

Aside from a few boulders in the way, most of Hidden Canyon is easy to hike.  The canyon floor is level and sandy.  Unless it’s the middle of the day, you’ll enjoy cool shade, too.

On my way into the canyon, I walked right by this free-standing arch without noticing it.  Thankfully, I spotted it on the way out.  The arch is only about 12 feet tall, and it’s on the right side (as you’re headed in).

It’s an impressive arch!

Just a few hundred feet beyond the arch, there’s a barrier that I found to be impassable.  I spent a few minutes here, examining possible ways around the pile of rocks that blocked the canyon.  It looks like it would be easy to climb straight up the left side, but the rocks are sandy and slick, and there’s almost nothing to hold on to.  If the park had decided to install a chain here, it would have been no problem.

As I pondered the road block, a couple of other hikers came up behind me.  We shared theories on the best way to make it over the obstacle, and one of them tried–successfully–to make it to the top.  He told us that the canyon continued on, looking much like the part we had already seen.  The view of the mountains at the end of the canyon improved a bit.  But, he couldn’t see any compelling reason to hike any further.

Once he decided to come back down, things got more complicated.  It had been moderately difficult to climb up, but the descent appeared much more difficult.  He tried to climb down in several different spots, each time deciding the drop was too steep.  Finally, he found a way down the pile of boulders (in the middle of the picture above), using the trunk of a dead tree as a makeshift ladder.  Watching him struggle convinced me that I didn’t need to go any further.  After all, this would be a bad place to twist an ankle or break a leg.

I took my time on the trip out of Hidden Canyon, allowing the others to hike on ahead, then enjoying the silence.  This would be the last long hike I would make in Zion Canyon on this trip, so I savored every minute of it.

Note: This trip was first published in 2007.

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