Backpacking the West Rim Trail in Zion National Park is the perfect adventure for those seeking solitude and mind-blowing views in southern Utah. Zion is a geographically small but incredibly popular national park. This means that the handful of easily accessible trails and famous landmarks, like Angel’s Landing and the Narrows, are often overflowing with crowds. Finding solitude to enjoy this beautiful place in peace can be challenging.
But look no further than the West Rim Trail, where you can experience some of the most unique and beautiful views the park has to offer and escape the crowds! The West Rim Trail leads past Angel’s Landing, where most people turn back after climbing the famously narrow ridge, leaving the rest of the West Rim Trail nearly empty. We believe that backpacking is the best way to experience the West Rim Trail in Zion. In this article, we’ll cover all the details you need to know to plan the perfect backpacking trip!
- West Rim Trail: Zion National Park
- Route Options
- Visiting Zion National Park
- Best time to backpack in Zion
- Backpacking Permits
- Choosing a campsite
- West Rim Trail packing list
- Other useful resources
Backpacking the West Rim Trail: Zion National Park
While Zion National Park is be best known for Angel’s Landing and the Narrows, the less visited West Rim Trail completely blew us away with its stunning desert vistas and surprising solitude. A backpacking trip is a fantastic way to experience all that the West Rim Trail has to offer, and even allows for a quick detour to the famous Angel’s Landing.
- Hiking distance | 15 – 16 miles (depends on the route)
- Permits Required? | Yes
- Permit Fees | $20 – $30 (varies by group size)
- Designated campsites? | Yes
- Trip length | 1 night/2 days
Read more about Zion National Park
- Unique and beautiful landscapes
- Option to take a detour to Angel’s Landing, one of Zion’s most famous hikes
- Experience hard to find solitude in Zion National Park
- Heavy crowds below Angel’s Landing
- Advance permits required and can be difficult to obtain
- No water sources on trail
There are 3 possible route options for backpacking the West Rim Trail in Zion. We’ll cut to the chase and say we believe the best route is option 3, the West Rim Trail Loop from the Grotto. As such, the hike details in this article will focus primarily on this route.
But to help you make the best decision based on your own goals and interests, we’ll describe each of the possible routes below, complete with the pros and cons of each.
1. Top down from Lava Point to the Grotto
The most popular way to backpack the West Rim Trail in Zion is “top down” from Lava Point to the Grotto. This 16 mile one-way route begins from the West Rim Trailhead near Lava Point, the tallest point in Zion National Park. The trail leads through Potato Hollow, joins up with the West Rim Overlook trail and Telephone Canyon loop and continues down past Angel’s Landing to the Grotto Trailhead.
PROS: 3600 feet net elevation loss; see the entire West Rim Trail
CONS: not much to see in the Potato Hollow area between Lava Point and the West Rim-Telephone Canyon loop; one-way hike requires transportation between trailheads
2. Bottom up from the Grotto to Lava Point
If you feel like taking on a challenge, reverse the direction and hike bottom up from the Grotto to Lava Point.
PROS: see the entire West Rim Trail; easier to get to Angel’s Landing early in the morning
CONS: not much to see in the Potato Hollow area between Lava Point and the West Rim-Telephone Canyon loop; one-way hike requires transportation between trailheads; 3600 foot net elevation gain
3. West Rim – Telephone Canyon Loop from the Grotto
Our favorite backpacking trip option starts and ends at the Grotto. The route includes a detour to Angel’s landing, continues along the West Rim Trail up to the West-Rim Telephone Canyon loop. We love this route because it allows you to see the best of the West Rim trail, skip less exciting sections, and avoid having to arrange transportation between trailheads.
CONS: miss part of the West Rim trail (between Potato Hollow and Lava Point)
PROS: cut out less exciting portion of the West Rim trail; loop hike does not require additional transportation between trailheads; easier to get to Angel’s Landing early in the morning
West Rim Trail Zion Hike Details
This section will focus on hike details for the West Rim Loop from the Grotto (option 3 described above), as this is the backpacking trip that we took and based on what we have heard from others, seems like the best option.
- Hiking distance | 15.5 miles
- Elevation gain | 4400 feet
- Total time | 9 – 12 hours
- Epic-ness rating | 8
- Difficulty | difficult
Find this hike on AllTrails: Angel’s Landing, West Rim, Telephone Loop
This route gives you the option to take a quick detour to the famous Angel’s Landing, before leaving the crowds behind to explore more of the West Rim Trail. We’d even say that the views from the rest of the West Rim Trail are more stunning than those from Angel’s Landing!
How difficult is backpacking the West Rim Trail?
With about 4400 feet of elevation gain over 15.5 miles, this hike is no walk in the park (even though it actually, kind of is a walk in the park, but you get the idea). There are two very steep sections, which are particularly challenging carrying a heavy backpack.
You’ll meet your first tough section only minutes into the hike when you encounter the 21 short, steep switchbacks known as Walter’s Wiggles on the trail leading up to Angel’s Landing.
Then, prepare for another steady incline climbing towards the intersection of the loop trail. While there is some elevation in other sections of the hike, most of the elevation is in these two areas.
Parking and getting to the trailhead
To backpack the West Rim Trail – Telephone Canyon loop, you will start and end at the Grotto trailhead. During peak season, you will need to take a park shuttle to the trailhead, which you can pick up from the main Zion National Park visitor center.
If you plan to take a detour to Angel’s Landing, be sure to get an early start as the crowds at this popular spot are insane. Waiting in line to get up and down the narrow ridge can add significant time to your hike.
Zion West Rim Trail Map
The entire hike can be divided into 5 main sections:
- West Rim Trail to Angel’s Landing
- Angel’s Landing
- West Rim Trail Past Angel’s Landing
- Telephone Canyon
- West Rim overlook trail
In the following sections, we will go into more detail on each part of the trail. On the map below, we’ve highlighted each of the sections to help you follow along as we describe each part of the hike.
West Rim Trail to Angel’s Landing
When you arrive at the Grotto trailhead, head across the bridge and follow signs for Angel’s Landing. The trail starts out fairly moderately, winding through the canyon alongside the beautiful Virgin River.
As the trail diverges from the river, the seemingly endless series of switchbacks begin. As you enter Refrigerator Canyon and start to think the trail has leveled off, you’ll round the corner to see 21 tightly winding switchbacks known as Walter’s Wiggles staring back at you.
Pace yourself and rest often – remember that you’ve still got a long way to go after reaching Angel’s Landing.
Eventually the trail levels off, and you’ll arrive at a clearing where the infamous narrow ridge known as Angel’s Landing comes into view.
We recommend finding a discrete hiding spot for your packs while you take the roughly 1/4 mile detour up to Angel’s Landing. Climbing Angel’s Landing requires focus, steady feet and good bit of scrambling – you really don’t want to be hauling a huge bag up the very narrow, crowded ridge. Collect your nerves and head up for the adventure of a lifetime!
If you are afraid of heights, you may have trouble with this section of the hike. That being said, I (Sarah) am prone to panic attacks in sketchy sections and I did not find Angel’s Landing to be particularly frightening. I absolutely loved this climb.
We’ve mentioned this a few times but it is worth repeating – Angel’s Landing is very popular and is almost always packed with people.
Because the trail leading out onto the ridge is narrow, it can be difficult to maneuver around slow moving hikers and you’ll probably have to wait for people coming in the opposite directions at times. It is still very much worth the extra effort but know the 1/4 mile detour can add a bit of time to your trip.
West Rim Trail past Angel’s Landing
After you’ve checked off the ultimate bucket list hike at Angel’s Landing, it’s time to leave the crowds behind and experience the remote beauty of Zion National Park’s West Trim Trail! I’d estimate that over 95% of the hikers do not go past Angel’s Landing.
What those poor souls don’t realize is how much they are missing out!
Telephone Canyon – West Rim Trail Loop
After a long and grueling climb, you’ll finally reach the intersection of the West Rim – Telephone Canyon loop.
Which direction should I hike?
If at all possible, we recommend hiking the loop counter-clockwise, starting with Telephone Canyon. This allows you to leave the best views for your hike out tomorrow morning. If you chose to hike clockwise, don’t expect to see any spectacular new views the next day.
That being said, the direction you chose to hike will depend heavily on which campsite you are staying at and how much time you have each day.
Quite frankly, the views from Telephone Canyon are the least impressive of the entire hike. The majority of the trail leads through a heavily wooded forest with no real viewpoints.
At the intersection of the loop, the trees open up a bit offering vistas looking down over Zion Canyon. These sights are cool, but nothing compared to what you’ll see on the Rim Trail.
Finding your campsite
Each of the campsites along the West Rim Trail – Telephone Canyon loop are well-marked with numbered stakes. As you hike, keep an eye on your location and be on the lookout for a post marking your campsite.
West Rim Overlook Trail
After a good night’s sleep, pack up camp and prepare to be blown away by more incredible West Rim views. If you didn’t get a chance to see the sunset over the West Rim, we highly recommend getting up early for sunrise.
As you make your way along the West Rim overlook trail, you’ll enjoy stunning views of swirling striped ridges and honeycomb-shaped rock formations to the West. The landscape here is unlike anything we had every seen before! The majority of the hike along the West Rim Trail offers sights, with a few forested sections here and there.
This section was easily our favorite of the entire backpacking trip!
After reaching the Telephone Canyon – Rim Trail intersection again, continue back down into the canyon retrace your steps past Angel’s Landing and Refrigerator Canyon to the Grotto trailhead.
About Zion National Park
Zion National Park is one of Utah’s “might five” national parks, located is the southeastern corner of the state. The main entrance to Zion is located in Springdale, Utah, a cute but a bit touristy town with plenty of food and lodging options.
The park itself is known for its towering canyon walls, majestic red rock, and unfortunately, large crowds. Make sure you plan to get into the park as early as possible.
There are a few well-known hikes in the park including Angel’s Landing, the Narrows, and Observation Point. When we visited, the main trail to Observation Point was closed due to a rock slide and the Narrows is only accessible when weather is dry. But, like we keep saying, if you are willing to explore beyond these popular adventures, solitude isn’t hard to find!
How to get to Zion National Park
Zion National Park is an essential stop on any Utah National Parks road trip. It is easily accessible from:
- Las Vegas in 2.5 hours
- Bryce Canyon National Park in 1.5 hours
- Capitol Reef National Park in 3 hours
- Page, Arizona in 2 hours
- The Grand Canyon (South Rim) in 4 hours
- Salt Lake City in 4.5 hours
Getting around via Zion shuttle
The majority of the park is closed to personal vehicles during peak season (March – November), so you will need to a take a shuttle to get around. The shuttle is free and at this time, advance tickets are not required.
You can pick the shuttle up from the visitor center. Parking is limited, so arrive early to secure a spot. You can find more details on the Zion shuttle here.
As with most national parks, Zion charges a $35 per vehicle entrance fee which is valid for 7 days. If you plan to visit at least three national parks within a one year period, it makes practical sense to purchase a U.S. National Parks pass for $80, giving you unlimited access to all parks across the country.
You may read more about Zion entrance fees here.
Permits are required for backpacking the West Rim Trail in Zion National Park. Backcountry permits are in high demand, so make sure that you are prepared to reserve your permits as soon as they are released.
50% of all available permits are reservable in advance. Permit reservations are made available on the 5th of every month, two months in advance of your trip. For example, if you are planning a trip any time in May, reservations would be released on April 5th. Most backcountry reservations book up with minutes of being released.
The remaining sites are available on a first come first serve basis in person at the visitor center on the day before or the day of your trip. You can find more details about permits and fees at Zion here.
Choosing a campsite
There are six campsites available along the West Rim Trail – Telephone Canyon loop. We highly recommend trying to snag campsite #6, as it almost perfectly splits up the hike. A short walk from the campsite leads to some of the most incredible views we experienced on the West Rim Trail – a perfect spot to watch the sunset!
Best time to backpack the West Rim Trail in Zion
The best time to hike the West Rim Trail in Zion is in the spring or fall, when temperatures in southern Utah are typically mild. During the summer, temperatures can often reach 100°F and the trail offers little shade, making for a blazing hot hike.
Note that the campsites are located at higher elevation than the rest of Zion National Park, so prepare for significantly cooler temperatures at night. When we hiked in early April, we got snow at the higher elevations of the West Rim trail and temperatures reached below freezing at night.
Expect the trails to be covered in snow for much of the winter. Heat, lack of shade and fresh water sources can make backpacking during the summer unbearable. Be sure to check the National Weather Service for update weather forecasts before taking off on your trip.
Please be aware that there is no reliable water source along this trail. Furthermore, toxic cyanobacteria have been found in the Virgin River making the water unsafe to drink even after filtration.
It’s best to pack in all the water that you will need for the entire hike.
West Rim Trail Zion packing list
In addition to your standard backpacking gear, below are a few additional items we highly recommend making sure you bring for backpacking the West Rim trail.
Waste Disposal | Biffy Bags
It’s not glamorous, but you must pack out all your waste (that includes your #2!) so be prepared with waste disposal bags. These Biffy Bags do the trick (and they’re actually quite “luxurious” in the backcountry!).
Water | Platypus 2-liter
There are no reliable water sources along the trail, so you’ll need to pack in all the water you need for drinking and cooking. We use these 2-liter Platypus bags to pack extra water on backpacking trips in the desert and have found them to be reliable.
Sunscreen | a significant majority of the hike is very exposed, and the desert sun is strong no matter the time of year
Sunglasses | Goodr
We both love our Goodr sunglasses for hiking! They are cheap ($25) and non-slip, making them perfect for a day out on the trails.
Warm Layers | Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody
Even during the summer, it gets quite cold at night here. Pack a warm sleeping bag and extra layers for when the sun goes down. My Arc’teryx jacket is incredibly warm, lightweight and packs down small!
Our Backpacking Essentials
Good gear can make all the difference on a backpacking trip. Below we’ve compiled a list of our tried and true backpacking gear essentials – we use these items every time we backpack and couldn’t live without them.
Backpack | 40L Osprey Tempest / 65L Osprey Ariel / 55L REI Co-Op Flash
For one-night backpacking trips, I (Sarah) love my 40L Osprey Tempest! It fits the essentials but is super lightweight. For longer trips and/or carrying more weight, the 65L Osprey is more spacious, really comfortable, and provides more hip support. Matt’s go-to pack for most trips is the lightweight 55L REI Flash.
Backpacking Tent | Mountain Hardwear Aspect 3
A reliable tent makes all the difference in the backcountry, and the Mountain Hardwear Aspect 3 has not let us down. Though it’s not cheap, it’s lightweight (less than 4 pounds), durable, easy to set up and feels spacious enough to fit 2 people comfortably.
Campstove | Jetboil Flash
Picture this: you wake up in the dark in the backcountry, aiming to catch the sunrise somewhere nearby but its so cold you don’t want to get out of bed… then you remember you’ve got a Jetboil and piping hot coffee can be ready within minutes! Morning made.
Coffee | Sea to Summit Collapsible Coffee Filter
If you’re a coffee snob (like me…) who needs *real* coffee in the morning, even in the backcountry, the compact Sea to Summit collapsible filter makes it easy. Pair with the Jetboil Flash and Sea to Summit cups and you’ll have your cup of joe in no time!
Sleeping Bag | REI Co-op Women’s Magma 30 / REI Co-op Men’s Magma 30
At this price point, you can’t beat the REI Co-op Magma 30 (Women’s and Men’s). We both use this sleeping bag, and it’s lightweight enough for backpacking without sacrificing on warmth and durability.
Sleeping Bag Liner | Sea to Summit Reactor Thermolite Sleeping Bag Liner
I’m a very cold sleeper so I often bring this Sea to Summit sleeping bag liner,even for summer nights. It’s super cozy, lightweight, adds 8 degrees of warmth and helps keep your sleeping bag cleaner.
Trekking Poles | Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking Poles / Distance NFZ Trekking Poles
I had always thought trekking poles were silly until one very steep, exposed, slippery hike in Death Valley left me feeling quite insecure even with solid tread on my boots. Immediately after I bought my Black Diamonds and haven’t hiked without them since.
Sleeping pad | Women’s Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xlite Sleeping Pad / Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xlite Sleeping Pad
I often sleep better on my Therm-a-rest sleeping pad than I do in a hotel bed… this thing is so comfy and weighs only 12 ounces! Only downside I have found is it is a bit noisy if you tend to move in your sleep a lot.
Inflatable Pillow | Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow
This Sea to Summit inflatable pillow is super lightweight and packs down tiny (I’ve actually lost it a few times because it packs down so small), so it’s great for camping and backpacking trips. The best part, it’s shockingly comfortable! I am a light sleeper (in a normal bed), so this is huge for me!
Dehydrated Meals | Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai with Chicken
Backpacker’s Pantry has a huge variety of dehydrated meals that we’ve found to be surprisingly tasty. The Pad Thai and Chana Masala are our all time favorites!
GPS | Garmin InReach Mini
The one piece of gear you hope you never need to use, but is worth its weight in peace of mind. We always carry our Garmin In-reach Mini in case of emergency in areas without cell service and it gives us (and our parents) peace of mind. It can also be used to simply let a loved one know you’ve arrived at your destination.
Headlamp | Black Diamond Storm 400
Navigating around a campsite is nearly impossible after dark without a headlamp. We both use Black Diamond Storm 400’s, and we’ve found them to be reliable and long-lasting despite the compact size.
Be confident you have everything you need with our Zion West Rim backpacking checklist!
Our interactive excel checklist is complete with all the essentials you need for backpacking the Zion West Rim and customizable based on your trip length and hiking distance.
Other useful resources
Planning a road trip through Utah? We think you may also be interested in the following:
- Zion & Bryce Canyon | The Best 3 Day Zion & Bryce Canyon Itinerary
- Road Trip: Adventurous One Week Road Trip in Arizona and Southern Utah
- Canyonlands: How to Hike to Druid Arch in Canyonlands
- Bryce Canyon: How to Hike the Figure Eight Loop in Bryce Canyon
- Grand Canyon: How to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
- Grand Staircase: 9 Amazing Grand Staircase Escalante Hikes
- Grand Staircase: The Ultimate Coyote Gulch Backpacking Trip: Grand Staircase Escalante
Have you backpacked the West Rim Trail in Zion? Interested in taking on the adventure? Let us know in the comments section below!