We’re just back from Cambodia and Laos but my photos (and I) are still an unorganized mess, so I’m going to do a couple of posts to finish off my southern Utah series. I’m usually not a fan of car sightseeing, preferring to walk/ride, but Kolob Terrace Road, in Zion National Park, is a real gem. It starts in the town of Virgin, not far from Zion’s main visitor center, and is only 21 miles to Lava Point, one of the highest spots in the park. Kolob Terrace Road makes a great half-day excursion with plenty of short scenic hikes and viewpoints to give your legs a stretch.The majority of Zion visitors overlook this section of the park, so it’s gloriously peaceful.
Let me start with an interesting, though disturbing fact about the town of Virgin, which gets its name from the adjacent Virgin River. In 2000, a law was passed that every household in Virgin (about 200 of them) had to keep and maintain a firearm. This tidbit was featured in Michael Moore’s film Bowling for Columbine. You might take some comfort in knowing that exceptions are made for convicted felons and the mentally ill…but I digress. As we left highway 9 at Virgin and turned onto beautiful Kolob Terrace Road we were soon greeted by vermillion peaks that appear all the more vivid against the sun-bleached vegetation. The next three photos were all taken from the roadside.
As usual, I got squirmy in the car and needed to get out for a walk. Our first hike started at the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead (mile 16), where we accessed the 4.4 mile (7 km) return trail to Northgate Peaks. This easy trail meanders through meadows and pine woodlands before reaching a lava outcropping with splendid views of the Northgate Peaks and North Guardian Angel. We were the only ones there—such a nice change from the busy hikes of the main canyon.
After lunch at Northgate Peaks Overlook we continued on to our second stop, Lava Point. I preferred the more dramatic roadside scenery up to Wildcat Canyon, but the sweeping views at Lava Point are certainly worth the short, additional drive through aspen forests. If we’d been there a month earlier, in mid-October, I’m sure I would have been raving about the fall colours. My photo below, from Lava Point, does not do the place justice.
On our drive up Kolob Terrace Road earlier in the day, I had spied an interesting area of Navajo sandstone formations. I had become totally enchanted with these geological beauties on our excursion to South Coyote Buttes and was keen to scramble around more of them. For our third and final stop, on the way back down, we parked at the Hop Valley Trailhead. There is no trail to the formations, but they are clearly visible from the road and trailhead. It was quick and easy to trailblaze to the Navajo sandstone and we spent a very fun hour exploring.
Kolob Terrace Road also provides access to epic Zion hikes like Left Fork, West Rim, and Wildcat Canyon, some requiring backcountry hiking and camping permits. But, if you have less time or energy, a drive along Kolob Terrace Road with stops at a few short hikes and viewpoints is a wonderful way to see a stunning section of Zion National Park minus the crowds.