Best Views of Zion!
The very popular Grotto Trailhead in Zion Canyon is most often used to access Angel's Landing and the Emerald Pools. However, Angel's Landing is off of the West Rim Trail, an historic trail leaving from the Grotto Trailhead. The West Rim Trail was carved into the Navajo Sandstone cliffs in the 1920s, and ascends through cliffs, canyons, and various checker board features of sandstone to the very scenic Horse Pasture Plateau. A loop, returning on a short connecting trail from just past campground #6, and south of Potato Hollow, utilizes the 1.4 mile Telephone Canyon Trail. This loop hike makes for an excellent full day outing in, and is a very scenic and enjoyable way to experience, Zion National Park. Distance views extend to the Pine Valley Mountains to the west, and orange cliffs in the grand Staircase region north of Kanab, and beyond.
Fighting the likely crowds during full tourist season, hike up the West Rim Trail from the west side of Zion Canyon, leaving from the Grotto Trailhead and crossing the Virgin River via foot bridge. Ascend the paved trail up Walter's Wiggles, into Refrigerator Canyon, and approach Angel's Landing. From here, leave the crowds behind and proceed up to the north on the West Rim Trail. Views really open up once above the Angel's Landing split. You will hike over some exposed slick rock segments, and then drop down in to a pine filled drainage, crossing over a wash on a second foot bridge. Beyond this part, you continue to gain elevation as you climb steadily up and past the bright white cliffs of Navajo Sandstone that surround you on this slick rock shelf above Zion Canyon. Continue to climb on more trail which was cut into the white cliffs and has dramatic views of Zion Canyon below the Narrows.
Once you reach the rim of the Horse Pasture Plateau, you lose the exposed cliff faces, and enter an area of Ponderosa Pine forest mixed with Gambel Oak, as well as Pinyon and Juniper. Near the side trails for the first campsites, you encounter a side trail to a spring, and the southern end of the Telephone Canyon Trail. I recommend proceeding west on the main West Rim Trail, returning on the Telephone Canyon Trail later. Several backcountry campsites are encountered over the next mile or so as you gain elevation circulating south and west around the plateau. Views of the south end of Zion Canyon are very impressive here. Continuing on, you approach the west side of the plateau, and views to the west open up. From here on, you hike the upper stretches of the loop on top and along the western edge of the plateau. The Pine Valley Mountains, a personal favorite of mine when viewed from Humphrey's Peak during periods of clear winter air, come in to view and are impressive along the west side of the plateau.
This upper plateau area has been subjected to numerous stand replacing fires, and only scattered pines remain. What this area looked like 100 years ago is a distant memory, and today a chaparral of oak dominates what was probably a mixed forest of old growth orange bark ponderosa and scrub oak, over a grassy landscape. Elements of this remain in scattered stands of dense second growth pine with old growth trees, but several stand replacing fires have steadily burned off most of the old growth, leaving only scattered blacked skeletons with very limited young pine reproduction. However, though the forest is not what it historically would have been, the views from this section are spectacular.
After several miles you will arrive at the northern junction for the Telephone Canyon Trail, just after encountering campsite # 6. From this point, you hike down into upper Telephone Canyon and south, back towards the point where you initially gained the plateau top. Views are lost as you rapidly lose elevation dropping into upper drainages which have maintained their forest cover. This is the shortest segment of trail and it goes quickly. Soon enough, you will meet up with the original section of the West Rim Trail under two very large old Ponderosa Pines. If you didn't do so when you reached this point on the way up, take a side trip to the spring, or relax under the large pines and enjoy the spectacular view of Zion Canyon. Thereafter, hike back down the trail to Angel's Landing, and out to the trailhead. If you choose to ascend Angel's Landing, plan for about an hour of additional hiking, and add in the appropriate miles and elevation gain to your trip log.
This hike is going to be best in warmer months. It can be done most of the year, but snow can accumulate to depths on the plateau, so you may have difficulty attempting it in winter. Starting earlier in the morning and finishing in later afternoon, even in summer, will give you pretty warm but comfortable conditions to hike this. As always, beware of thunderstorms during summer, and stay out of exposed sections, which is most of the plateau, when lighting is nearby. I had a fantastic break day in mid-August, and a great day out on the trail.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.