Court of the Patriarchs & Virgin River in Winter

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When snow arrives at Zion Canyon, you don’t have to venture very far to find a magical spot.  One of my best memories of Zion in the snow was near the Court of the Patriarchs area, where I took a nice long walk along the Virgin River — no steep climbs or scary drop-offs necessary.

Location

Zion National Park is located in southwest Utah, about an hour east of St. George.  From Interstate 15, take exit 16 (or exit 27, if you are approaching from the north).  Follow Utah Route 9 into the park.  Route 9 runs through the park and continues east, allowing access from Kanab, Utah, and US 89.

In the winter months, you can drive directly to the Court of the Patriarchs area and park – either at the tram stop or at some other turnouts further up the road.  For most of the year, you’ll need to take the shuttle into the canyon, and exit at stop #4.

My Visit

 

My third full day in Zion National Park in late January 2017, was a transition day for the weather.  The previous days had been snowy, and the rest of the week would end up being pretty clear, but on this day, the weather was changing.  Everything had been frosted overnight, and tree branches and bushes were sagging with the weight of the snow. It was the kind of idyllic scene that wouldn’t last forever, and I wanted to make the best of it.

I drove into the canyon, looking for a good spot to shoot some time-lapse video.  I pulled off the road just north of Court of the Patriarchs and found a nice spot to secure a camera.  (You can see that time-lapse shot, and others, in the video on this page.)

Once the camera was in place, I took a look at my surroundings and realized it couldn’t get much better than this.  I was alongside the Virgin River, walking amongst skeletons of trees covered in snow, along a path that hadn’t seen a single footprint that morning.  I would be the first to spoil the sparkling, smooth surface of the snow, as I crunched down the path.

The park road was on my left, but there was so little traffic, it didn’t spoil the silence.  On my right, across the river, was the Court of the Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, along with Mount Moroni and The Sentinel.  If I looked back, up the canyon, I could catch glimpses of Angels Landing.

I walked down the path until I ended up at the Court of the Patriarchs shuttle stop.  I took the trail up the hill to the official viewpoint and marveled that most visitors never go any farther than this spot.

I backtracked to the trail, and made a second set of footprints in the snow, as I headed back to the car.  But at some point, I stopped paying attention and didn’t notice that the original footprints were gone. I had wandered up the canyon, far beyond my car, lost in this real-life snow globe.  I made my way back over to the road and tried to figure out where I was. After rounding a curve or two, I found the car, then headed off to find another perfect spot.  There were plenty of them in Zion on that day.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a look at the drive around Zion in the snow:

The Bottom Line

If you’re fortunate enough to visit Zion National Park, immediately following a snowstorm, don’t hesitate to try the easy option.  Just find a spot to access the edge of the river, and go for a walk, in one direction or the other.  It’s a lot simpler than hiking a long, challenging trail, and it will be just as memorable.

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