Looking across Zion Canyon from the top of Cable Mountain
Distance: 16.4 miles (plus 15 miles by car)
day 1: 4 1/2 hours
day 2: 5 1/2 hours
Elevations: 1,190 ft. gain, 2,560 ft. loss
• East Entrance Trailhead (start): 5,720 ft.
• Cable Mountain: 6,500 ft.
• highest point: 6,910 ft.
• Weeping Rock Trailhead: 4,350 ft.
Trail: Very popular, well maintained trail
Season: Late spring through mid-fall. The higher parts of the trail are usually covered with snow from mid-November to May. For current conditions call the Visitor Center, Zion National Park, at (801) 772-3256.
Vicinity: Zion National Park
Zion National Park is probably the best all around hiking area in the state of Utah. The trails here are very popular, so if it is solitude you are looking for this is the wrong place. But you will certainly find plenty of breathtaking scenery and interesting geological formations. The East Rim Trail, especially when walked in the direction suggested here, is a very pleasant way to sample what Zion has to offer. Very little climbing is required, the temperatures are not extreme, and the scenery just keeps getting better and better all the way to the end.
From the East Entrance Trailhead the hike begins by following Clear Creek for about 1.5 miles and then turns north into Cave Canyon. You will soon notice that much of the trail is along an old wagon road. Before Zion National Park was created this area was used extensively by ranchers and loggers. Once it reaches Cave Canyon the trail begins to ascend gradually to the top of the tableland that surrounds Zion Canyon, and after another mile it doubles back to give you a fine view from the mesa top down into Clear Creek Canyon. From this vantage point you can easily see the beginning of the trail, 400 feet below, threading its way along the side of Clear Creek.
Next, the trail veers again to the north to get around Jolley Gulch, and then, free of any further obstacles, it meanders along the contours of the mesa in a westerly direction towards Stave Spring. About 0.1 mile beyond Stave Spring you will see a fork in the trail, where you should turn left toward Cable Mountain. Soon you will cross a small, unnamed stream, beyond which you might want to begin looking for a camp site. There are a number of nice spots along this section of the hike. Please be aware, however, that you should not camp right next to the water and you should be out of site of the trail.
There are two interesting side trips here to consider, either after establishing camp on the first day or before you put on your backpacks on the second day. Depending on how far from the Stave Spring trail junction you camped, Cable Mountain is about 2.0 miles away and Deertrap Mountain about 2.5 miles.
Cable Mountain, the most interesting of the two side trips, is a high promontory, about 2,100 feet above the Virgin River, with an unimpeded view of Angels Landing and the West Rim. It is called Cable Mountain because in the early 1900s, before Zion National Park was formed, the Zion Cable Company operated a tram from the top of Cable Mountain to the bottom of Zion Canyon. The tram was used primarily for lowering lumber from the mesa top to the canyon floor where it was loaded onto wagons and hauled to nearby towns like Springdale and Rockville. Quite a bit of the original structure can still be seen on the edge of the mountain, although the tram hasn’t been operated for seventy years.
The second side trip you might want to consider while you are on the mesa top is the walk to the Deertrap Mountain. Deertrap, which is situated high above the Zion Lodge, offers a fine view of the Court of the Patriarchs and Lady Mountain on the other side of the Canyon. You can easily walk to either one of these viewpoints and back in a couple of hours.
The trail from Stave Spring to Weeping Rock is one of the most scenic walks in Zion. It is all downhill and it is only 5.0 miles. It will only take a few hours to complete the trip, so if you haven’t taken the side trip to Cable Mountain yet you should definitely do so before starting down. The trail to Weeping Rock passes directly beneath Cable Mountain on the way down, and it is all the more interesting if you have also seen it from the top.
The trail first heads north into the back of Echo Canyon, and then turns west to follow the canyon to the bottom of Zion. The scenery starts getting very interesting after about 1.5 miles. Echo Canyon gets narrower and narrower as you go down; in places the canyon is only 20 feet wide, and everywhere there are water-carved etchings in the rock. Finally the side canyon breaks out into the main canyon about 500 feet above the Virgin River, and the trail switchbacks the rest of the way to the bottom. 2.8 miles below Stave Spring there is another junction where the trail to the East Rim Observation Point climbs north out of Echo Canyon. Observation Point offers another possible side trip, but if you have already been to the top of Cable Mountain you will note that the view is quite similar.
Finally, 0.6 miles before you reach the bottom there is still another possible side trip that is quite worthwhile: the trail into Hidden Canyon. Hidden Canyon is another narrow slot canyon, similar to the lower reaches of Echo Canyon, that protrudes for a little over a mile from Zion Canyon into the East Rim. Depending on how much exploring you want to do, it will take from half an hour to an hour more of your time to check it out. Note, camping is not allowed in Hidden Canyon.