(Zion National Park)
Utah's Incredible Backcountry Trails
by David Day
Distance: 5.4 miles (round trip)
Walking time: 3 hours
Elevations: 490 ft. gain/loss
Trail: Generally good trail, although parts of it are occasionally washed out by flash floods.
Season: Spring, summer, fall. The trail is often covered with snow during the winter months.
Vicinity: Kolob Canyons Section of Zion National Park
Maps: Kolob Arch (USGS)
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The Kolob Canyons section of Zion National Park offers visitors a splendid opportunity to enjoy Zionís unique redrock canyons without enduring the crowds of people that are usually present in Zion Canyon. Of particular interest to hikers are the Finger Canyons of the Kolob. These scenic canyons are deeply etched into the western side of the Kolob Plateau, and from above they look like so many fingers clawing their way into the plateauís rouge colored sandstone. None of the canyons are more than a few miles long, but they are notable because of their sheer walls. Typically the cliffs are over a thousand feet high, rising nearly vertically through the Navajo Sandstone Formation that underlies the plateau.
The Fingers can all be accessed from the Kolob Canyons Road that runs along Timber and Taylor Creeks a half mile to the west. There are six of them in all, and their rugged beauty is enough to make the heart of any outdoorsman beat a little faster. The most popular hikes are into the canyons formed by the North, Middle, and South Forks of Taylor Creek. Of the three, Middle Fork Taylor Creek Canyon is the only one that contains a maintained trail. In my opinion this hike is also the most interesting one, and it is the one I will describe here.
From the road the trail drops down about 60 feet to the confluence of Taylor Creek and the South Fork, then continues in an easterly direction along Taylor Creek. Very soon the trail crosses to the north side of the creek, the first of many crossings to come, but it never strays far from the bottom of the drainage. There is usually at least a little water running in the streambed, although late in the summer the flow may dry up completely.
You will be walking through a low montane forest of ponderosa pine, white fir, juniper, and pinion pine. This area was heavily logged during the first half of the last century and few of the trees are older than 50 years, but fortunately the vegetation has made a remarkable comeback and now the area seems as pristine as ever. There are few signs of the earlier destruction.
After 1.0 mile you will come to another confluence where Taylor Creek splits into its north and middle forks. There is a primitive hiker-made trail branching off to the left that goes about 2.0 miles to the back of the North Fork. You are likely to meet far fewer people along the North Fork of Taylor Creek, and for that reason some prefer that hike. Also, backcountry camping is allowed along the North Fork, but you must obtain a permit first from the visitor center.
There is an old settlerís cabin beside the trail just a few hundred feet north of the North Fork-Middle Fork confluence. The cabin was built by Gustav Larson who raised pigs here for sale in Cedar City during the early 1930s. A trip to Cedar City meant a 23-mile ride by wagon or horseback for Mr. Larson, but he did have at least one other neighbor in the area. In 1930, about the same year that the Larson Cabin was built, a professor named Arthur Fife from the agricultural college in Cedar City built a cabin along the Middle Fork of Taylor Creek. Professor Fifeís cabin is located on the left side of the creek 1.0 miles further upstream.
Middle Fork Canyon begins about 300 yards upstream from the Larson cabin, and by the time you reach the Fife cabin the canyon will have narrowed to just a few hundred feet. Fife raised goats on his property, and he built a fence across the canyon in order to contain his animals. There is now no trace of Fifeís fence, but both his and Larsonís cabins are still in remarkably good condition. The Fife cabin is right by the trail, but if you are walking in the streambed, as many people do, you might miss it. It is located about 20 feet from the left bank of the creek in a heavily shaded grove of trees.
The trail ends at the Double Arch Alcove, 0.7 mile beyond Arthur Fifeís cabin. This alcove is a large cave, about 150 feet deep and 150 feet in diameter, located 20 feet above the streambed on the south side of the canyon. Like most sandstone alcoves, this one was formed by a seep in the side of the cliff. Water seeping out from the canyon wall weakens the sandstone and eventually causes it to crumble away. A great deal of water is still seeping out of the Double Arch Alcove, and, judging from the size of the cave, the seep has been active for many thousands of years. The alcove was named after two blind arches (arches that have not yet been completely formed) that are located on the cliffs above.
If you still have energy left when you reach the Double Arch Alcove it is possible to continue up Middle Fork Canyon for another 0.8 mile before the walls close in and make further progress impossible. 0.2 mile above the alcove the canyon is blocked by an ancient rockslide, but if you are willing to do some scrambling you can easily climb around the right side of this obstacle. After climbing about a hundred feet to the top of the slide the canyon floor flattens out again and widens into a small hanging valley. From there you can continue another 0.6 mile or so before further progress becomes impossible.
The book includes more text, more photographs, and trail maps.
If you are interested in a supplemental map of the Zion
Narrows area, we recommend:
Zion National Park (Trails Illustrated, map #214)