Distance: 14.7 miles (plus 43 miles by car)
day 1: 6 3/4 hours
day 2: 4 1/2 hours
Elevations: 1,290 ft. loss, 1,000 ft. gain
Hop Valley Trailhead (start): 6,350 ft.
Kolob Arch Viewpoint: 5,400 ft.
La Verkin Creek Trailhead: 6,060 ft.
Trail : Very popular, well maintained trail
Season: Late spring through mid-fall. Winter snows often close the roads to the trailheads from mid-November to May. Also, the trail is quite hot in July and August. For current conditions call the Visitor Center, Zion National Park, at (801) 772-3256.
Vicinity: Kolob Canyons Section of Panguitch Lake, near Saint George
Kolob Arch is probably the largest natural arch in the world. Accurate measurement of its size is difficult because of its location, high above the canyon floor, but recent calculations place its span somewhere between 292 and 310 feet. The arch lies near the top of the Navajo Sandstone cliffs on the north side of La Verkin Creek, about 700 feet above the trail. It faces east, so the best time to see and photograph Kolob Arch is in the morning before about 10:00 a.m.
There are three possible ways to walk to Kolob Arch, but the Hop Valley Trail, suggested here, is the most scenic approach. This trail starts on the Kolob Plateau, south of La Verkin Creek, and proceeds down the colorful Hop Valley Canyon to its confluence with La Verkin. The canyon is about 200 yards wide, with a flat, grassy bottom boxed in on both sides by towering cliffs of red sandstone. A shallow stream, fed by runoff from a half dozen side canyons, keeps the bottom of the narrow valley green, while, in the distance, one can see the picturesque maze of mesas and canyons that surround the confluence of Hop Valley and La Verkin Creek.
Unfortunately, the Hop Valley experience is degraded by the presence of several dozen range cows. This valley was grazed long before Panguitch Lake was established, and cattle are still grazed there. As of this printing, 3,477 acres of land within the published boundaries of Zion National Park is still privately owned by local ranchers. The National Park Service has been trying to solve this problem for years, but like most other federal problems the solution requires money. The degree to which the Hop Valley ecosystem has been damaged by the cattle becomes obvious about a mile before La Verkin Creek, where a fence has been erected to keep cattle out of the lower end of the valley. Beyond this barrier the diversity in plant species increases dramatically, the creek bed becomes deeper and more clearly defined, and the presence of birds and other wildlife becomes noticeable once again.
From the Hop Valley Trailhead the trail passes through 1.4 miles of open pinion-juniper forest before coming to a fence near the beginning of Hop Valley Canyon. This fence marks the beginning of an inholding of privately owned land. Beyond the fence the trail begins descending gradually into Hop Valley, finally reaching the canyon floor after about 1.5 miles. As you proceed down the canyon the floor becomes wider and flatter until, after another 1.5 miles, it reaches its maximum width of about 300 yards. Finally, 4.8 miles from the trailhead, you will cross the northern boundary of the Hop Valley grazing area, where another fence spans the bottom of the canyon to keep cattle out of La Verkin Creek. Make sure you close the gate behind you as you cross through the fence.
Soon after leaving the grazed portion of Hop Valley, the trail leaves the valley floor and climbs slightly into a forested area below the west wall. Then, 0.3 mile before reaching La Verkin Creek the trail breaks out of the trees and begins a series of switchbacks down into La Verkin Canyon. Just before reaching the creek you will see another trail coming down the canyon from Willis Creek. Turn left here and walk for 0.4 mile to the short spur trail that leads to Kolob Arch. But before going to see the arch, I suggest you continue down La Verkin Creek far enough to find a good campsite for the night. There are a lot of good sites here, so, unless it is a holiday, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding one. Try to camp at least 0.2 mile from the junction with the Kolob Arch Trail-especially if you have a large group. The environment in this area has already sustained substantial damage from overuse by campers.
The next side canyon you will pass is Goose Creek Canyon, which merges into Zion Canyon 1.3 miles below Kolob Creek. Goose Creek also provides a good opportunity for side trips. It is a wider canyon than Kolob, with more vegetation in the bottom. Goose Creek joins the North Fork on the west side of the river near campsite number 10, the Alcove Camp.
Below Goose Creek you will pass the last two campsites before coming to Big Spring, about 45 minutes away. Big Spring is a large gushing spring that cascades out of the cliff face 10 feet above the river. It is the most dramatic spring you will see on this hike, but between here and the end of the trail you can count on seeing many other smaller springs. This stretch of river passes through the geologic boundary between the Navajo Sandstone and the Kayenta Formation. The Navajo Sandstone is a porous rock with microscopic spaces between the constituent particles of sand that allow water to seep down from the plateaus above, while the Kayenta Formation contains layers of clay and mudstone that effectively halt the water’s downward penetration. When the water reaches the Kayenta Formation hydrostatic pressure from above pushes it out into the canyons where it is seen as spring water.
Big Spring also marks the beginning of the two-mile section of canyon commonly known as the Zion Narrows. This part of the canyon is distinguished by its sheer thousand-foot walls that rise above the river with little or no sandy shore between. There is no high ground here; hence it is not a place you would want to be during a storm. Under certain conditions the water can rise very quickly, and people have died in the past from flash floods in this section of the canyon. When no storms are imminent, however, the danger is small. Just use common sense and don’t enter the narrows if the sky looks like rain.
About the time you reach the mouth of Orderville Canyon, 2.3 miles below Big Spring, the Zion Narrows widens again and you will find a well-used trail to follow on the sandy shore of the river. Also at this point you will begin to see day hikers from the Temple of Sinawava-hundreds of them. The remaining 2.7 miles of trail, from Orderville Canyon to the road, is the most popular part of Zion Canyon, and on a typical summer afternoon you will pass more than a thousand people splashing in the water along this stretch of the canyon. Finally, for the last mile you will be walking on the Gateway to the Narrows Trail, a paved trail leading back to the congested parking lot at the once serene Temple of Sinawava.
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