Hiking the full 10.8-mile East Rim Trail is a serious undertaking with extreme ascents and descents. Beautiful views and overlooks can be found along the way, but many hikers choose to do a few miles on either end of the trail for an out-and-back hike and the best scenery.
East Rim Trail
The 10.8-mile East Rim Trail traverses the eastern rim of Zion Canyon between a trailhead at the park’s east entrance and the Weeping Rock Trailhead in the canyon. The best parts of the long hike are the first few miles at either end of the trail. Most hikers do these sections as out-and-back treks, rather than hiking the entire trail, which requires a car shuttle. Hiking the trail is a serious undertaking that takes between six and 11 hours, with 1,000 feet of elevation gain on its east end and a 2,400-foot descent into Zion Canyon on the west. It’s also a dry hike since water is only found at seasonal Stave Spring. Backpackers often combine this excellent hike with the West Rim Trail to make a 47-mile-long, trans-Zion walk across the national park.
Begin the hike at the East Entrance Trailhead. Follow the sandy trail below white cliffs and bend up Cave Canyon to the cliff rim. The trail follows the canyon edge, offering great views west to Checkerboard Mesa. You reach the northern lip of Jolley Gulch, a deep canyon that drops abruptly below the trail, after 2.9 miles of hiking. This is a good turn-around point to return to the trailhead for a pleasant six-mile hike.
The trail evens out beyond the gulch and heads northwest through a sparse ponderosa pine forest on a high mesa. At Stave Spring, the halfway point, water flows intermittently from a pipe. Just past the spring is a trail junction. A left turn leads west to two spur trails that reach overlooks above Zion Canyon on Deertrap and Cable mountains. East Rim Trail continues straight, passing another junction, to the southern edge of Echo Canyon.
The last third of the trail features a steep descent that drops from the rim to Zion Canyon’s floor. The trail switchbacks down rocky slopes, losing almost 1,000 feet in a mile, to twisting Echo Canyon where it traverses slickrock slopes above a narrow slot canyon. Parts of the trail are hard to follow here, so keep an eye out for cairns that mark the way. Observation Point Trail takes off from East Rim Trail in the canyon. Follow its zigzag switchbacks to one of Zion’s best overlooks and a dramatic 275-degree view of Zion Canyon.
East Rim Trail continues down the canyon, passing through Echo Canyon Passage, a shelf-like section chiseled into a vertical cliff, before emerging above Zion Canyon. The steep, exposed trail finishes with a rapid 1,200-foot descent down a dozen switchbacks to the canyon floor, Weeping Rock Trail, and the west trailhead. This is stop seven for the Zion Canyon Shuttle. Catch a ride here back to the visitor center parking lot and the park campgrounds.
Distance & elevation gain: 10.8 miles one-way. From East Entrance Trailhead: 1,000 feet gain; 2,400 foot loss
Trail type: Singletrack dirt trail
Multi-use: Hiking, backpacking and trail running
Dogs: Not allowed on Zion National Park trails.
Fees: Park entrance fee.
Seasonality: March to November. Bring water; none available on the trail except at seasonal Stave Spring.
Bathroom: Toilets at the trailheads
It’s best to begin at East Entrance Trailhead since you gain less elevation to the mesa-top, and the last section is all downhill. Arrange a shuttle through a Springdale guide service to drop you at the trailhead, and ride the free Zion shuttle back to your car at the visitor center after finishing the hike.
Nearest destination: Zion National Park Visitor Center and Springdale on Utah Highway 9
Where to park: East Entrance Trailhead at the end of a short spur road at Zion National Park’s east entrance or Weeping Rock Trailhead in Zion Canyon
Trailhead GPS coordinates:
East Entrance Trailhead: 37.234284 N, -112.877425 W
Weeping Rock Trailhead: 37.270883 N, -112.938528 W
Originally written for Utah Office of Tourism.