This easy, out-and-back, 4.2-mile hike is an excellent mid-summer hike great for families. It brings you through an open ponderosa pine forest to a high saddle between East and West Northgate Peaks in the Kolob Terrace section of Zion National Park. The end of the trail offers expansive views across Zion, with rocky peaks and domes like North Guardian Angel forming a rugged skyline.
Northgate Peaks Trail
Difficulty: Easy, with minimal elevation gain
The family-friendly Northgate Peaks Trail heads south across wildflower-strewn meadows, passing beneath the shade of tall ponderosa pines, toward rounded East and West Northgate Peaks. Cool air washes across the trail, bringing the smell of desert water up from moist Russell Gulch to the east. The trail, almost 3,000 feet above cliff-lined Zion Canyon to the east, feels like a world apart on a summer morning. While the peak summer temperature climbs toward 100 degrees at the park visitor center and tourists swelter on the popular Angels Landing Trail, the air on Kolob Terrace is refreshing and almost brisk.
The Upper and Lower Kolob Plateaus form Zion National Park’s pristine western sector. This spectacular landscape, called the Kolob Terrace, is creased by wide valleys and deep canyons, with isolated sandstone mountains standing above the wooded plateaus. Most of this area is protected in the 124,406-acre Zion Wilderness Area, a vast swathe of untouched land that includes most of the park except four road corridors. The Northgate Peaks Trail is in the wilderness area, so group size is limited to a maximum of 12 hikers.
The three-hour hike begins at Wildcat Canyon Trailhead, the jumping-off point for the famed Subway canyoneering route, on the paved Kolob Terrace Road. Head east on Wildcat Canyon Trail for 1.2 miles, passing a junction with the Connector Trail, and then go right on Northgate Peaks Trail. Amble south through the open woodland, with occasional glimpses of gleaming white cliffs in the distance and the butterscotch scent of pine trees in the air. After a mile, the trail passes between 7,267-foot West Northgate Peak and 7,153-foot East Northgate Peak.
The final overlook at the end of Northgate Peaks Trail forms a grandstand for some of Zion’s most dramatic scenery. The viewpoint, a jumble of dark volcanic boulders, is a perfect spot to eat an energy bar and sip water. A rugged land of rock and sky stretches beyond, including 7,395-foot North Guardian Angel and its long sweeping ridges. Great West Canyon and its narrowest section, The Subway, twists below. It’s one of the park’s most beautiful backcountry canyons.
After relaxing, retrace your steps back to the trailhead or if you’ve come prepared scramble up the humped Northgate Peaks. The easier east peak is best climbed on its broken northwest face while the west peak offers a superb slickrock scramble up its north ridge. This Class 3 route is exposed and dangerous, and while it’s not a technical climb, bring climbing gear and a rope for safety going up and down.
Distance & elevation gain: 2.1 miles one-way; or 4.2 miles roundtrip; 100 feet
Trail type: Singletrack dirt trail
Multi-use: Hiking and trail running
Dogs: Not allowed on Zion National Park trails
Fees: Zion National Park entrance fee
Seasonality: March to November. Summer days are pleasant. Bring water; none available on the trail.
Bathroom: Vault toilet at the trailhead
The trail, at almost 7,000 feet, is cooler in summer than Zion Canyon to the east, making it a great hot weather destination.
Nearest destination: Virgin on Route 9
Where to park: From Route 9 in Virgin, drive north 15.8 miles on Kolob Terrace Road to Wildcat Canyon Trailhead on the right
Trailhead GPS coordinates: 37.339838 N, -113.075644 W
Written by Stewart Green for RootsRated in partnership with Utah Office of Tourism.