Backpackers.com — You’ve found yourself in Zion National Park during winter. Maybe you’re taking an extended holiday in a cozy lodge — maybe you’re a hardcore trail-junkie who hates crowds. Whatever the reason, if you’re in that stunning southwest corner of Utah when it’s freezing and snowing, there is a solid trail for you to hike.
There is more than one, actually, but a number of them have ice and mud in patches, making them unpleasant most of the time, especially if the temperature drops too low. But, for the most part, Zion National Park is actually quite nice in winter — due to the low elevation and desert-like conditions, it’s a much better place to visit than, say, a 10,000 foot peak.
The Sand Bench Trail
The Sand Bench Trail is a short, 3.4 mile loop that is primarily a horse trail in summer. This means hot, dry conditions and lots of poop (seriously). But in winter the horse tours shut down, and the Sand Bench Trail can be explored in peace and quiet. As the name implies, there is some sand. This will be less of an issue when it’s cold.
The history of Sand Bench, and the land you’ll be hiking, is worth noting. Seven thousands years ago a part of The Sentinel — the peak that stands watch over the entrance to Zion — collapsed, causing the Sand Bench landslide. The land you’ll be walking over is the remnants of that landslide, and the reason for such epic views.
The Sand Bench trailhead starts at the Court of the Patriarchs trailhead, which can be reached by shuttle during the summer months, or your car in winter. Just get off at the Lodge and follow signs (it’s Zion, there are plenty of signs) to the Court of the Patriarchs. Then follow signs for Emerald Pools, and in a couple hundred yards you’ll see signs for the Sand Bench Trail.
The trail is a loop, which makes it a perfect, fairly easy hike. You gain and lose just 400 feet in elevation and have stunning views of the stone peaks that make up Zion. The Sand Bench trail provides a different vantage point than your typical Zion hike, and in winter this will be a great way to catch the beauty of the park in a light dusting of snow.
ZionNational-Park says of the hike,
“Views of the massive stone peaks of the Patriarchs, Sentinel, Streaked Wall, Twin Brothers, Mountain of the Sun, East Temple, Bridge Mountain, Watchman and Johnson Mountain all seem to be within a stones throw. Along the eastern flank of Sand Bench, the trail will periodically expose glimpses of the Left Fork of the Virgin River below as well as nice vistas to the south, showing a section of the Pa’rus Trail.”
For those that want a play-by-play of the hike, read Joe Braun’s guide, and check out his photography, too!
You’ll find this hike a breath of fresh air in Zion National Park. Enjoy.
Images in order: Evening Light and Winter Trees by Mac H; The Sentinel courtesy NPS; Landslide by K Rupp via Flickr