Hidden Gems of Zion

A Temple in the Sky
  |  Gorp.com
A tiny stream running down sandstone slabs

East Temple is a monster of a butte, a cream-colored mass with no easy way to its dead-flat top. Relax: This jaunt will avoid the summit, instead taking you around a shoulder of the monolith into a world of stark slabs and panoramas that make you want to sing hosannas. This half-day hike is not easy—it involves steep terrain, ball-bearing slabs, and tricky route-finding. Be careful, be brave but not foolish, take your time, don't take small children—and all will be well.

Park at the east end of the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel and follow the marked path that begins just across the highway. Hike a half-mile to trail's end, a railing at Canyon Overlook. East Temple is the overpowering mass rising just to the north; your first chore is to head up steep slabs for 800 vertical feet and reach a saddle to the right of a cluster of small white pinnacles. Zigzag up the slabs, keeping fairly close to a series of layered buttes on the right. Don't stray too far left: It's steep out there. As you climb, all of the convoluted southern Zion National Park wilderness spreads out before you.

From the saddle drop north a short distance, then curve right into a splendid basin dotted with trees. Zigzag down slabs and ledges to the prominent red and white terraces that mark the bottom edge of the basin. An impassable cliff lies just below; immediately turn left and contour north along sloping ledges that overlook a hideous gorge. After about 100 yards, cross the head of this cleft just behind a solitary ponderosa pine. Then immediately turn right (south) and saunter down a rounded spur, paralleling the gash until opposite the red and white terraces. Make sure you go far enough: This is a vital position check.

One can now, and only now, drop down east for several hundred feet, choosing the path of least resistance along ramps and short dropoffs. When the terrain levels out somewhat, contour north for about 600 yards along easy ledges, paralleling Pine Creek Canyon, the gorge below and to the east. You'll want to drop into this eventually, but few opportunities exist. Be patient and, before committing yourself, find this distinct landmark: a watercourse (usually dry, but recognizable by black water stains) on Pine Creek Canyon's opposite vertical wall. When abeam this feature, continue north about 100 or 150 yards, then drop down a devious slab system leading to the sandy floor of the canyon. Follow the streambed downstream (south) for 15 minutes and you'll reach the highway; your car is 400 yards to the right.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 9 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »