On Zion's Edge
Before you explore Zion's trails and temples, do two things: Drop by the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, and take a leisurely journey up Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The Visitor Center contains a wealth of guidebooks and maps, an extensive array of exhibits explaining the area's natural and human history, and knowledgeable rangers with information on weather, trail conditions, and backcountry permits. Zion Canyon Scenic Drive follows the North Fork Virgin River upstream, allowing your eyes to roam from green-tinted water bordered by Fremont cottonwoods to the kaleidoscope of color on cliffs and summits.
The Scenic Drive also gives access to several trails that let you experience all aspects of the surrounding terrain. For an easy stroll, walk the Emerald Pools Trail. It initially travels through riparian habitat near the river's banks (a good place to spot mule deer) then climbs to views of canyon cliffs streaked with dark desert varnish. The three perennial pools highlight the hike. The trail passes just behind the waterfall feeding the green lower pool, offering cool-mist refreshment on hot days.
But more solitude and the best views await on the opposite side of the canyon. Start with a short hop to the lush, fern- and flower-festooned environs of Weeping Rock. Continue up the path to explore Hidden Canyon, a narrow crack wedged between The Great White Throne and Cable Mountain. Cool air fills this hanging valley 700 feet above the North Fork Virgin River, creating a haven for you and numerous ponderosa pines, Douglas firs, and white firs.
The main trail continues under the sheer pink walls of Cable Mountain. Squeeze through a slot canyon harboring Echo Canyon Creek, then meet a backpacker trail that heads to the summits of Deertrap Mountain and Cable Mountain.
Climb up East Rim Trail, noting the salmon and coral colors of the finely layered Navajo sandstone. Higher up the Navajo sandstone turns white, with numerous crisscrossing lines giving evidence of the many desert dunes compressed and sculpted since the Jurassic Period into the open-air cathedral around you.
Once on the rim, traverse past juniper and pine to Observation Point. Take an hour or a lifetime to imbibe the essence of Zion Canyon's painted walls, numerous nearby summits, and the varied mountainous topography of the Markagunt Plateau stretching beyond in all directions.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication