Watchman Trail, Zion National Park

Distance: ~2.2 miles (3.5 km) round trip
Highest Elevation: 4,419 ft (1,346 m)
Elevation Gain: ~450 ft (137 m)
Date: Many times January-April 2011

The Watchman Trail in Zion National Park is a fairly short and easy trail in the lower section of Zion Canyon.  The trail does not go near the famous mountain known as the Watchman, however it does provide fantastic views of it.  It is easily hiked at any time of year, and there are many ranger-guided hikes along this trail if you wish to learn more about the park.

The Towers of the Virgin from the Watchman loop

The trail departs the Zion Canyon Visitor Center and follows the Virgin River a short distance before it crosses a service road and heads up a small side canyon.  Once in this canyon, the trail begins to gain elevation moderately for a short distance, and there are no strenuous sections.  In a very short distance the trail rises above the lowest vertical layer of rock in the canyon.   This rock layer acts as a shelf which you will walk along the edge of for the remainder of the hike.

Bridge Mountain from the Watchman trail before the ascent up the side canyon

Soon the trail will reach its highest point and a split.  It does not matter which direction you follow at the split because it is a loop.  Just do not stop at the split as I have seen many people do because the views from the loop are vastly superior.  The trail will eventually reach a point that provides fantastic views both up and down the canyon.
Looking up Zion Canyon from the Watchman loop

If you are willing to explore a bit further and experience some of Zion's past and what could have been one of park's great trails, take the left fork (or do the loop first) and look closely to the left (towards the higher cliffs) for an abandoned trail that has been somewhat blocked off.  Follow what remains of the trail a ways until you may have difficulty following it.  Then head directly uphill and aim a short distance to the left of the narrow canyon above you.

Bridge Mountain from the Watchman Trail loop

If you look closely you will be able to see where the trail was carved out of the canyon walls.  The trail follows the base of the main canyon before turning into this narrow canyon.  You will eventually reach a point where where you cannot continue any longer unless you have the proper skills and gear.  The Watchman trail originally continued along the path you just followed into this canyon.  The remnants of a ladder remained in this canyon until a flash flood hit the canyon several years ago, and that would have helped you pass the obstacle you have reached.  The trail was originally planned to go through this canyon and take you all the way to Parunuweap Canyon on the inaccessible and rarely visited south side of Zion.

Towers of the Virgin from the abandoned Watchman trail at the exit of the narrow side canyon

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