Watchman Trail Log:
- Mile 0 Watchman Trailhead 3,965′
- Mile 1.5 Watchman Overlook 4,405’
What is the easiest trail in Zion? Many people would say Watchman Trail for good reason. True, it has roughly 500’ of elevation gain but the three-mile round trip starts right at the Zion Visitor Center. This is a way Zion visitors can explore the red cliffs and spires without having to fight the crowds on the shuttle bus. You might not have the epic exposure of Angels Landing or the experience finding your zen canyoneering, but you will have a logistically easy hike that still gives amazing views.
Reaching Watchman Trailhead
The best thing about Watchman Trail is the proximity of the trailhead to the visitor center. You pass the pay station and saunter by the shuttle stop. Then… boom, you’re there. The trailhead is by the river right across the road from the shuttle stop. How easy is that?
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Difficulty of Trek / Length of Hike
The trail is 3 miles round trip more or less, depending on where you start counting from. You climb from the visitor center at 3965’ to the Watchman Overlook at 4,405’ but end up gaining a total of 560’ with the ups and downs of the trail. What’s more, the trail is in great condition with no exposure or heights.
Best Time to Visit
Spring and Fall are the best time to visit just about any place on earth, and Watchman Trail is no different. However, this trail can be hiked when the shuttles are clogged with summer hikers. Another fantastic time to hike this trail is at sunset. You can get on Watchman as a bonus hike at the end of a day of exploration or your first hike after you arrive in the evening in Springdale. Not having to navigate the shuttle system opens up a world of opportunities.
Zion Visitor center is a juxtaposition of people and nature. The only way to reach the visitor center in the summer is to walk across the pedestrian bridge unless you are camping in the park. From there, the people wander into the Zion Ranger Station or board the shuttle buses. It’s a big chaotic for the first quarter mile or so until you cross the road again and start climbing out of the Virgin River canyon.
Climbing to Watchman Overlook
The trail starts climbs slowly out of the river canyon towards the cliff band. You are traveling alongside a little canyon. As you get closer to the cliff band, the trail picks up a little teeth and you take a series of switchbacks up to the canyon head. You cross the headwall of the canyon and out to the overlook. A small loop trail circles the overlook mesa giving you views of Zion Canyon and the town of Springdale.
Final Thoughts on Watchman Trail
When the Watchman Trail was conceived, the plan was for it to go all the way up Watchman Tower. There is even a faint trail that leads to a chute where a set of ladders were put in. There are people who say the trail was too difficult to complete, but maybe it’s for the best. Imagine the zoo at Angels Landing clamoring up and down ladders. Perhaps it’s better as the gateway trail that gets you into hiking at Zion.
Sure, there are a lot of little trails in Zion but would you really call them hikes? You can reach the end of the Archaeology Trail in ten minutes if you don’t stop to read about the prehistoric sites. You take your car up highway 9 to climb out of the canyon and then hike the mesa top on the Canyon Overlook Trail. That’s another 10-minute walk that gives you amazing views but it’s a very short hike and you have to deal with the logistics of passing the gate and finding parking at the trailhead. You can also walk arbitrarily down the Archaeology Trail on the Virgin River all the way to the junction with Hwy 9 if you want. If you’re absolutely not a hiker these would be great ways to stretch your legs at Zion Park. If you want a hike with a little elevation gain, one where you earn your views, then the Watchman Trail might be just thing you are looking for.