Summertime is busy time at Zion National Park. Unless I’m guiding a tour, I generally avoid visiting Zion Canyon during the heavy tourist season between May and October, but it doesn’t mean I stop exploring the park. Living just minutes from the park boundary offers a few advantages. One of the perks I enjoy is being able to make a spontaneous mad dash to the park during a thunderstorm to see waterfalls cascading from the cliffs, or hiking the trails and washes freshly buried by snow in the winter months. What I enjoy most is discovering the best places to hike during high season to escape the crowds.
Unlike the ultra popular Zion Canyon located between Springdale and The Temple of Sinawava, or east side plateau along the Zion Mt. Carmel Highway, there is a lessor known section of the park called Kolob Terrace. This is where I’ve been spending time with my wife and hiking buddies exploring wilderness trails this year. This is the back country, no services are available in this section other than a few pit toilets.
Northgate Peaks Trail
This trail starts from the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead located approximately 15.8 miles from the town of Virgin on the Kolob Terrace Road. Pit toilets are available at the trailhead parking lot. From the trailhead, head east 1.2 miles following a well defined trail through open grasslands and pinyon-juniper to the Northgate Peaks, Wildcat Canyon junction (approx. 1 mile). From the junction turn right, the Northpeaks are located another mile from the junction. The trail meanders through tall Ponderosa pine groves with white, monolithic peaks scattered throughout this high country region of the Kolob Terrace.
The Northgate Peaks trail is the jumping-off point for the popular Subway canyoneering route. For an amazing view of the nearby canyons, take a short out and back side trip on the Subway route before continuing on to Northgate Peaks.
At about the mile mark the trail ends at a craggy lava rock overlook between the east and west Northgate Peaks where you’ll have great views of the North Guardian Angel, a large sandstone formation that juts up from the surrounding landscape. If you feel up to a moderately strenuous climb, scramble up the East Northgate Peak where you will be surrounded by some of Zion’s most dramatic scenery. It’s important to note that the approaches beyond the main trail are not sanctioned park trails. Please be aware of your surroundings and stick to defined paths to avoid trampling delicate desert fauna.
Much of this section of the park is protected in the Zion Wilderness Area. This is one of the park’s lesser used trails, but given its tame nature, it makes for a great family hike.
Difficulty: Easy, with minimal elevation gain
Distance & elevation gain: 2.1 miles one-way or 4.2 miles roundtrip, 250 feet elevation gain.
Trail type: Singletrack dirt trail
Multi-use: Hiking and trail running
Dogs: Not allowed on Zion National Park trails
Fees: Zion National Park entrance fee
Seasonality: March to November. Summer days are pleasant. Bring water; none available on the trail.
Bathroom: Vault toilet at the trailhead