Zion, IL

Why The Watchman is the One Trail You Shouldn't Skip at Zion, but You Probably Will

Rene Cizio

The Watchman Trail in Zion National Park is the most underrated and overlooked trail in the system. That's to your disadvantage. It may be my favorite of all the hikes in the park.

Now, hear me out. I have my reasons.

Rene Cizio

Why I Love The Watchman

The Watchman trail is the only “real hike” available without getting on the shuttle; that right there makes it awesome. You find it right at the front of the main entrance to the park near the Visitor’s Center. Simply park (if you’re lucky enough to get a spot in the parking lot), and walk a few hundred yards to the trailhead. It’s convenient!

This trail is rated as moderate. How perfect is that? Not easy (because let’s face it, that’s a walk), not strenuous (because my God, I’m only human), but moderate. This is a nice middle-ground for the average hiking person to accomplish.

It is a 3.1 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail with an elevation gain of roughly 650 feet. Completely reasonable and achievable within a few hours. If you’re short on time and want to hike instead of ride around forever in the shuttle, this is the trail for you.

One of my favorite things about this trail, in super busy Zion, is that most people overlook it and go for the other well-known, more populated trails. That means it’s often one of the least crowded in the park. Huzzah.

  • Easy access
  • Good workout/two hours
  • Moderate, perfect hike for a quick trip
  • Less populated

A Trail by Any Other Name

Rene Cizio

Also, it has a cool name. “The Watchman.” One of the bus drivers told me it’s named such because of the way the mountain is shaped. It looks like a stout barrel-chested patrol person looking out over the canyon. I can see it.

The first day I did it was about 95 degrees, which isn’t bad by recent Utah standards. The trail makes a meandering way past the shuttle stop, the campground and the Virgin River because ascending.

After the initial approach, the length of the trail continues upward along a gentle incline. It is just the right amount that causes you to exert yourself, but not too much, like Angel’s Landing, for example.

On the Trail

Like most Zion trails, there isn’t much shade to be found. But you’ll also make some trail friends when you do find it. The small amount of shade on offer also happens to be spaced far enough apart to make great places to stop. Oh, you'll stop for breaks and drinks of water. Keep up on that water! The heat and dry climate dehydrate you faster than you suspect.

Rene Cizio

The majority of the trail is filled with graceful switchbacks looking into a shallow, picturesque canyon of Watchman tower with green shrubbery and desert plants. At the top, you’ll have a great view of the outlook plateau. It's facing the opposite direction of the main part of the park most people take pictures of.

The Top of Watchman

There at the top, you'll also find a short, flat, ¼ mile loop you can circle before heading back down.

I love The Watchman because you get a workout, get to see the best aspects of Zion, have a bit of space and avoid the shuttle. Don’t skip it.

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Digital nomad, solo road tripping through the USA in my van. I write about travel, adventure, culture, and self-improvement. Pictures on Instagram @renecizio

Chicago, IL

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