Kolob Terrace Road: Lava Point, Hop Valley – Zion


Most people who visit Zion National Park never explore any further than Zion Canyon. That’s not a bad thing–Zion Canyon is spectacular.  But, the park does have two other areas that are easily reachable, and pretty remarkable: Kolob Canyons (which is accessed from I-15 north of St. George) and Kolob Terrace Road, which slices through the middle of the park, in between Zion Canyon and Kolob Canyons.

After hiking Angels Landing earlier in the day, then eating a late lunch/early dinner in Springdale, I was ready to spend a couple of hours exploring from the comfort of an air conditioned car (it was still about 105o outside).  Kolob Terrace Road seemed like a good choice.

Kolob Terrace Road begins in the small town of Virgin, Utah, about 13 miles from Springdale.  It’s not well marked, but you can spot it by looking for the biggest intersection in Virgin.  There’s also a brown sign pointing to the Kolob Reservoir.

As you travel up Kolob Terrace Road, you pass by a variety of scenery.  At times, there are no impressive mountains in sight.  Then, you round a corner, and something dramatic pops up right in front of you, or over to the side.

You’ll probably be all alone out here…

… except for a few cows, as you pass by private farmland that borders the park.  The road goes in and out of the park boundary a couple of times, and you can normally tell if you’re in or out of Zion based on the color of the road (most park roads are paved red).

By the way, that’s Tabernacle Dome, one of the summits that will no doubt catch your eye.  Its roundness seems a bit out of place amongst Zion’s mostly jagged peaks.

As the road gains elevation, you’ll pass through a stand of birch trees.

Lava Point

After you’ve exited the park the second time, you’ll pass a side road that leads to Lava Point.  This road will once again take you back into Zion National Park, past the Lava Point Campground, and finally, the Lava Point Overlook.  If it’s a clear day (the picture above is a bit hazy) you’ll enjoy a different perspective on Zion Canyon, just slightly above it all.

At 7,890 feet, Lava Point is the highest point in Zion, except for two peaks in the Kolob Canyons section of the park.

Kolob Reservoir

Back on the main road, it’s only a short distance to Kolob Reservoir.  I was hoping the reservoir would be squeezed in between some impressive sandstone mountains, but the scenery here wasn’t very exciting.

Kolob Terrace Road continues north, eventually connecting with Utah Route 14 near Cedar City.  I turned around at the reservoir and headed back the way I came, so I can’t vouch for the quality of the road from here on.  But, while on Rte. 14 a few days later, I did see a sign for the Kolob Reservoir, so I know it does go all the way through.

Hop Valley Trail

After turning around at the reservoir, I made my way back down Kolob Terrace Road.  This was a beautiful time of day, with the sun low in the western sky, casting a deep orange glow and some shadows on the surrounding hills.  It must have inspired me so much, that I forgot about the long, difficult hike that morning, and the significantly tired status of my feet.  So I stopped at a trail that was much too long for a quick hike: the Hop Valley Trail.

The Hop Valley Trail is officially listed as a backcountry trail.  It heads north, and eventually connects with the La Verkin Creek Trail, which leads into the Kolob Canyons section of the park.  To make the entire journey, one way, would require two full days and at least one night of camping.  I’m not much for sleeping out in the wild, but the Hop Valley Trail looks beautiful enough to tempt me.

I knew I would only be able to see a very short portion of the Hop Valley Trail, but it seemed like a worthwhile reason to step out of the car, so I set off.  You can see the entire area I hiked (probably about a half mile, one way) in the picture above.

Shortly after starting up the Hop Valley Trail, I decided on a goal: to reach these beehive-shaped rocks, which were just off the right side of the trail.  I managed to get fairly close…

… but as I waded through desert vegetation and a thicket of larger bushes, I began to realize that I was very much alone in a wilderness area.  A bite from a poisonous snake out here, I thought, would be a big problem, since it was unlikely anyone else would pass by this late in the day.  Of course, once I started thinking like this, it was all over.  I couldn’t enjoy the solitude anymore; instead I was spooked by it.

So, aside from stopping to take a few more pictures, I quickly headed back to the car.  I really had done enough for one day.

Kolob Terrace Road really is a great place to be, for the final hour of the day.  As I drove back to Rte. 9, sandstone mountains lit up brilliantly ahead of me…

… and in my rear view mirror.

One reason few visitors make their way up Kolob Terrace road, I’d imagine, is because there aren’t many short trails suitable for day hiking.  A few long trails start or end here, like the aforementioned Hop Valley Trail.  You can also access the Left Fork of North Creek Trail, which leads to the popular destination known as “The Subway”–a rounded, subway-tube-looking tunnel eroded out of the walls of a slot canyon.  The park limits access, permits are required, and depending on the route you take, you may need some canyoneering skills.  Joe Braun’s excellent website has more information.

Note: This trip was first published in 2007.

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