Zion, IL

For Fewer Crowds Visit Zion National Park’s Secret Sister Canyon

Rene Cizio

The Zion National Park has a secret. The beautiful canyon that makes up Zion may not be as unique as we once believed. It turns out Zion has a sister – the Kolob Canyons – right around the corner.

And you know the best part? While Zion is packed with thousands of people each day, the Kolab Canyons are almost empty and dare I say, just as beautiful.

OK, maybe it’s not so secret. The park does mention on the visitor’s map. But hardly anybody goes there. I spent several hours one day to find out why. What I found is a great park with excellent views and few awesome quiet hikes.

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Kolob Canyon

The sister canyon is tucked away in the northwest corner of Zion, but you can’t get to it from the park; you must take a long way around. To get to it from Zion, you must drive through Springdale, Virgin, La Verkin and Tocqueville. It’s about 40 miles. I’ve been staying in LaVerkin, so it’s an equal distance for me to go to either park, but it still took me three weeks to run out of other hikes before I decided to explore it.

The park is a narrow box canyon cut into the western edge of the Colorado Plateau. It forms the classic Zion majestic peaks and features 2,000-foot cliff walls. You can easily see the view by taking the five-mile scenic drive along Kolob Canyons Road. It’s the main road through the park and also how you’ll access the trails.

There are three main trails at Kolob Canyons – one for each skill level – and the trip begins at the Visitor’s Center.

Kolob Canyons Visitor Center

Upon entering the park, you’ll find the Visitor’s Center on your right. Everyone is supposed to stop and show their pass or pay the park fee. I visited on a Saturday afternoon and the center was closed, but the park was open. I have a yearly pass, so I drove in. There is also a small bookstore, a place to fill your water bottle, and a bathroom. There are bathrooms at the trailheads as well, but no place else to get water.

Timber Creek Overlook Trail

The trail that most people head to is the one at the top. Take the 5-mile byway up to the viewpoint at the top. Here you’ll get great views of the entire canyon. Nearby you’ll find the trailhead.

If you’d like to find a slightly different view than you’ll get at the overlook, take the trail at the end of the Kolob Canyons Road. It’s just a short 1-mile roundtrip hike with an elevation gain of only 100 feet.

The entire hike will take less than an hour and it’s a fun little jaunt through the trees and across a small ridge. There you’ll have views of the Kolob Canyons, the Kolob Terrace, and the Pine Valley Mountains.

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Beginning the trail, there is a small picnic area for a scenic lunch. You’ll find it’s been reinforced with wood along the trail to make build it up and make convenient steps to ease your path.

At the end, you’ll have the entire canyon view and to the south, on a clear day, you can see Mount Trumbull over 100 miles away near the Grand Canyon.

Taylor Creek Trail

The Tayor Creek trailhead is a 5-mile roundtrip hike with an elevation gain of about 450 feet. It will take you up to 4 hours. It took me three and I go pretty slow.

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This is an attractive hike with several shady parts, interesting scenery and a big reveal of Double Arch Alcove at the end. I passed very few other hikers along the trail as it led me down about 100 steps into a narrow box canyon. This trail crosses back and forth along the Taylor Creek more than a dozen times. The creek, as of this writing, was so shallow I never got my boots wet.

The trail passes along interesting formations, towering granite rocks hundreds of feet above, and as much vegetation as you’ll find on any river trail. One-quarter of the way in, you’ll see the first two historic homestead cabins built in the early 1930s. The second one is about ¼ of the way to the end before arriving at the Double Arch Alcove. Have fun with the amphitheater-style echo.

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La Verkin Creek Trail

To get to the La Verkin Creek Trail, you’ll have to take the Lee Pass Trailhead on the Kolob Canyons Road. This 14-mile roundtrip hike has an elevation gain of 1,037 feet and takes about 8 hours to complete. Many hikers choose to overnight and do this hike in two days.

I didn’t take this trail because it’ beyond my capacity while hiking alone. But the hikers I talked to said it’s beautiful and secluded and after about seven miles (which is my daily limit), a side trail leads hikers to the Kolob Arch.

The Kolob Arch has a span of 287 feet and is 75 feet making it one of the world's largest natural arches, so probably worth the hike if you can manage it.

All told, the Kolob Canyons are a great, lightly trafficked area of Zion National Park. Here you can enjoy soaring Navajo sandstone peaks, canyon streams and interesting formations with over 20 miles of hiking trails – with almost nobody to block your views.

Find Kolob Canyons at Exit 40 on Interstate 15 in Utah.

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Digital nomad, solo traveling full time. I write about travel, adventure, universal energy, and the journey through life. Pictures on Instagram @renecizio

Chicago, IL

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