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If you’re looking for a hike in Zion National Park that offers beautiful views away from the crowds, then Watchman Trail is a fantastic option.
The Watchman Trail hike showcases the south end of Zion Canyon and its most magnificent rock formations, especially the trail’s namesake, The Watchman.
While hiking Watchman Trail, we experienced much more than pretty views. We got to admire Zion’s distinctive rock layers, pass through a small canyon, see a variety of desert plants, and travel along a bench to a viewpoint near The Watchman.
Whether you’re a novice or veteran to Zion National Park, the journey along Watchman Trail is just as enjoyable as the final destination.
About Watchman Trail in Zion National Park
Watchman Trail is located near the south entrance of Zion National Park, starting just north of the visitor centre. The out and back trail climbs 112 m (368 ft) and is rated moderate. Round trip, the Watchman Trail hike is 4.3 km (2.7 miles) and takes about 2 hours to complete.
Hiking Watchman Trail- Our Experience
Our Watchman Trail hike started with a leisurely walk along the Virgin River before the dirt path turned and headed towards Zion Canyon’s east wall. Apart from the view of Bridge Mountain, the scenery wasn’t too impressive until we crossed the service road and made our way into a small valley between Bridge Mountain and The Watchman.
Soon after crossing the road, we began the gradual climb into a side canyon of the main Zion Canyon. It only took a slight gain in elevation to get our first taste of the lovely views we’d see during our hike on Watchman Trail.
Continuing on, the trail was dry and dusty, lined with loose rock and patches of vegetation. The juniper, buffaloberry bushes, and prickly pear cacti added some colour and visual interest to the rocky debris hugging the trail.
As we meandered along the side of a steep slope, I kept looking back at the West Temple across Zion Canyon. The views got better and better as we switch-backed up to the first layer of cliffs above the main canyon.
After the series of switchbacks, Watchman Trail looped around the back of the valley before opening up to a sprawling view of Zion Canyon and some of its most notable rock formations. As we continued hiking to the end of the trail, we enjoyed several different views of The Sentinel, West Temple, and Towers of the Virgin.
My pace slowed significantly along this section of Watchman Trail because I kept stopping to take photos of Zion’s beautiful scenery bathed in warm afternoon light.
Eventually we made it to the loop at the trail’s end, following that path along the perimeter of the viewpoint. We saw the south end of Zion Canyon, the town of Springdale, and The Watchman’s craggy peak looming above it all.
After taking in the sites along the viewpoint loop, we headed back on the same trail we arrived on, making our way downhill towards the Virgin River then returning to the visitor centre.
Back on lower ground, it was interesting to look up at where we just hiked and remember how beautiful the park looked from above. This was definitely a great hike to get us primed for more adventurous trails in Zion National Park!
Final Thoughts About Our Watchman Trail Hike
Even though Watchman Trail was not the most exciting hike we did in Zion National Park, it’s one we’re glad we didn’t miss out on during our southwest USA road trip.
Hiking Watchman Trail on our first day in the park was a great introduction to the beauty of Zion Canyon. The Watchman Trail hike had the perfect amount of challenge (not too strenuous, but steep enough to attain impressive views) and took us to many great vantage points for admiring some of Zion’s most recognizable landmarks.
Perhaps best of all, is that Watchman Trail is inexplicably overlooked by many visitors to Zion National Park, meaning the trail was far less busy than other hikes in the park.
For those reasons, we think that hiking Watchman Trail should be included on any Zion National Park itinerary, especially if you’re looking to experience Zion’s famous scenery without having to embark on a long or difficult hike.
Pictures of Watchman Trail
Here are some more photos from our hike on Watchman Trail.
Tips for Hiking Watchman Trail
Trail Details: Here is some information about Watchman Trail so you can prepare for your hike.
- Type of Trail- Out and Back
- Distance- 4.3 kilometers/ 2.7 miles
- Elevation Gain- 112 meters/ 368 feet
- Difficulty- Moderate
- Length of Time- 2 hours
- Trailhead- Just north of the Zion Canyon Visitor Centre beside the Virgin River (stop #1 on the Zion shuttle). Follow the dirt path along the river then cross the service road to reach the trailhead.
Best Time to Hike Watchman Trail: The trail can be hiked year round. It was comfortably warm and sunny when we did it in the winter, but can get very hot in the summer. Since the trail is exposed to the sun, it’s best hiked on a cloudy day, early in the morning, or late in the afternoon when it’s not so hot.
Facilities: There is water and restrooms at the visitor centre, but no other facilities along the trail.
Gear/What to Bring: The trail is rocky and sandy so hiking shoes/boots with sturdy soles and grips will make the hike more comfortable. Bring water and wear sun protection.
Safety: There are a few cliff edges and moderate drop-offs to be aware of. The trail also has some protruding rocks, so be careful not to trip.
Accommodations in Zion National Park
For your convenience, here is a list of HOTELS IN SPRINGDALE, the closest town to Zion National Park. Please consider booking your Zion accommodations through the included link. It costs nothing extra and helps support this website. Thank you!