West Rim Trail, Zion: Backpack and Photography

landscape photograph over the West Rim Trail in Zion
East Temple as seen from the West Rim Trail
Background:
The West Rim Trail is one of the top backpacking trips in all of Utah.  It is the best and most renown backpacking trail in Zion National Park.  For over a decade I've had it on my wish list and never seemed to get things started.  Finally I made a short bucket list of things to do, short enough that I could accomplish some of these things each year.  I have less than 10 things on this list.  West Rim Trail made the list and I finally stopped making excuses and instead took those days off work.  Time to stop planning and start doing.

The Permit:
I went as a walk-in to the ranger station at 6 AM, waited in line and got my lucky top-choice campsite:  # 5.  Why #5?  Campsite 5 is right in the middle of the hike, it's right on the edge of Phantom Valley, it's right where I wanted to be for sunset and sunrise.  And I got it.  Yes!  Campsites 4 and 6 are also on the plateau but were reserved in advance online.
Two hiking women in Zion National Park
Lava Point Trailhead:  13.5 or 14.5 Miles to the Main Zion Canyon on the West Rim Trail.
Pictured are my sister-in-law and my wife.
The Hike:
Starting at Lava Point at over 7,000 feet we began the long gradual hike toward Zion's main canyon which is near 4,000 feet.  The first few hours are pretty, nothing spectacular.  The hiking is easy with a gradual downhill journey.  At about 3 miles, we got a fantastic view into the Left Fork of North Creek.
West Rim Trail and south guardian angel
First View into the Left Fork of North Creek
and South Guardian Angel

Women backpack high over cliffs in Zion, Utah
West Rim Trail:  the Viewpoints and Views become more numerous and better throughout!
This is just the beginning of the amazing scenery to come.  The trail hugs the canyon edge the rest of the hike.  There are a few ups and downs but the big rise comes up to Horse Pasture Plateau.  Here we passed a vacant campsite 6 and reached #5.  The views from #6 to #4 all look down onto the spectacular Phantom Valley.  I spent my sunset hour shooting over this valley.  We had a quiet camp that night and I again shot over the Phantom Valley for sunrise.  Inclined Mountain, South Guardian Angel, North Guardian Angel and the great Right Fork were some of the more prominent landmarks.

Zion West Rim Trail landscape photography
West Rim Trail sunset photograph

West Rim Trail Zion National Park, Utah
Inclined Temple as seen from the West Rim Trail at dawn
During my wandering north and south along the rim, I discovered that campsite 4 was also vacant.  We had the whole plateau to ourselves.

West Rim Trail Camping and Tent
West Rim Trail:  Camp Site 5
(On a side note, I feel that it's so wrong that these coveted campsites got reserved months before by people who never came.  I can understand that plans change, but there ought to be a way to release those campsites to people to really want to backpack.)

I never sleep that great while camping, especially on the first night.  The campsite is pretty basic with a log or two for sitting and some rocks in a rectangle around our tent site.  You must carry all your water and can only fill up at natural springs.  Our first and only opportunity for this would be at Cabin Springs, a few miles ahead.  We broke camp in the morning and kept hiking with great views all on our right (to the West).
panorama from West Rim Trail Horse Pasture Plateau
Panorama of the Views from Horse Pasture Plateau over Phantom Valley.  Campsites 4 - 6 each share this massive view!
Hiking along this section is very easy, flat, smooth.  The scenery is world class!  Spectacular tall pine trees grow atop the mesas and straight out of the cliffs too.

After Cabin Springs, the trail descends on a path cut into the stone cliff!  There are switchbacks cut into the cliff that make a pathway about 3-5 feet wide which allowed us to hike single-file down into a hanging valley above the main canyon floor.  We passed Behunin Canyon at the bottom of the switchbacks.  It is here that we began to see day-hikers coming up from Angel's Landing.  The closer we got to Angel's Landing, the more neighbors we had.
High mesa and cliffs in Zion, Utah
West Rim Trail looks down on all these finger canyons:  Phantom Valley on the Right, Behunin Canyon on the Left.

Hiking switchbacks in West Rim Trail, zion
Burnt Tree over West Rim Canyon.  Before
long the trail drops down to the lowest point visible.

View from Cabin Springs:  the trail is down there.  Look for it skirting in and out of the shadows!
This is the hanging valley above Scout's Lookout but below Horse Pasture Plateau.
Switchback cut into the sandstone on the West Rim Trail
West Rim Trail Switchback

Some parts of the switchbacks are more sketchy than others.  Here's a scary part: see the trail?  Cut into the cliff face with a huge death-drop on the right side?  Yeah.  This is unforgettable!  We came down that!
Tall trees in Zion national park
Typical scenery below Cabin Springs and
the switchbacks with tall Pines and Cliffs
This section is also very scenic but the trail is part of the scenery here instead of on top of it all.  Just before Angel's Landing, the West Rim Trail makes its' only prolonged uphill climb.  Once on top of this last obstacle, it's all downhill.  You're looking down on Angel's Landing and my footsteps got heavy, reckless and quick.  Before long, we crossed the Virgin River and were waiting for the shuttle to take us back to the parking lot where we'd spotted a car.
West Rim Trail ascending to Cabin Spring
West Rim Trail just higher than Scout's Lookout and Angel's Landing.  The trail on the right is headed
up the West Rim Trail.  You can see the trail cutting diagonally up from the lower left of this
picture.  That's the beginning of the ascent to Cabin Springs.  It get much steeper later on.
My Take:
West Rim Trail won't disappoint.  5/5 Stars!  It's challenging without being technical, long enough to escape the crowds without being too long.  It's perfect.
Most beautiful place in Zion national park.
West Rim Trail Photography and Backpacking

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