Zion National Park
The Watchman Trail is a moderately challenging out-and-back hike easily accessed from the Zion Canyon Visitor Centre
Distance: 3.04 miles (4.9 km) roundtrip
Time to Allow: 2-3 hours
Elevation Gain: 158 metres (518 feet)
The Watchman Trail – A pleasant introduction to Zion
When we visited Zion National Park in May 2022, we had plans to venture deep into the park and enjoy a variety of the famous attractions on offer.
However, shortly after arriving at the southwestern Springdale entrance, we discovered that a rockfall in the canyon had blocked the access road entirely.
Rather than queue with the masses by the shuttle buses with no idea when the road would be clear, we sought an alternative plan.
While milling around the visitor centre, we spotted signs for the Watchman Trail, an out-and-back hiking route starting just a short distance away. We would have never heard about this trail had it not been for the rockfall in the canyon.
Sitting just within the park’s sanctuary, the Watchman Trail is often overlooked by Zion visitors, who, like us, have eyes for the more famous attractions on offer, such as Angels Landing, Observation Point and the Narrows.
It is easy to see how visitors may drive by without realising that the Watchman Trail is even there, let alone that it gives hikers views across the entirety of the Springdale area.
Moreover, this is the first classic Zion hike for those entering the park from the southwestern entrance.
Within the short distance covered by the Watchman Trail, hikers witness the contrasts in vegetation ranging from the relatively lush river valley to stunted desert vegetation further up the trail.
Look out for the changing plant species from wildflowers and willows early in the hike to cactus and pinyon pines as the ascent commences.
Where is the Watchman Trail?
Where to park for the Watchman Trail?
A parking lot is adjacent to the south entrance visitor centre, just off Zion Park Boulevard, ideally located for the Watchman Trail just a short distance away.
The precise location is marked on this map with an orange ‘P’.
How to get to the Watchman Trail Trailhead?
Directions to the Watchman Trail will vary depending on which entrance you enter the park via. Whichever way you approach the park, you must join Zion Park Boulevard (Highway 9).
Turn south onto Visitor Center Road immediately east of the toll booths at the Springdale entrance. Cross Virgin River, and the parking lot is on your right.
From the car park, take the path between the visitor centre and the waiting area for the Zion Shuttle. Then, cross Visitor Center Road, and you will see the information board marking the start of the Watchman Trail.
Parking Lot Location Details
Watchman Trail Description
The path follows the Virgin River from the trailhead for approximately 350 metres. It then breaks away from the river, crosses Watchman Road, and begins the gradual climb into the hills with the imposing peak of Bridge Mountain ahead.
After following the trail east for approximately 0.81 miles (1.3 km), you reach several small switchbacks before the path swings to the west, ultimately leading to a flattish area known as the Watchman bench.
Head to the western edge for the best views from the Watchman Overlook. Also, take the short loop section of the trail that winds around the summit plateau.
What’s on view?
There is an abundance of splendour to whet your viewing appetite from the top of the Watchman Trail. To the south is the spire-like Watchman mountain that sits proudly above the park’s southern entrance.
Across the valley to the west are panoramic views of the West Temple and Towers of the Virgin, a succession of soaring sandstone monoliths.
Cast your eyes up the canyon to the north, and again, the peaks are numerous, including that of the Sentinel, a 7,120+ ft (2,170+ m) elevation Navajo Sandstone summit.
Once you have had your fill of the wide-ranging views, retrace your steps back to the start.
Watchman Trail – Our Thoughts
The Watchman Trail is a relatively easy hiking route offering pleasant vistas over the town of Springdale and the many peaks populating the southern end of Zion National Park.
Although it was a reasonably enjoyable experience, we certainly wouldn’t have considered it had a rockfall not blocked the main park access road.
Although the Watchman Trail lacked the kind of ‘wow’ factor we expected from a Zion hike, it would suit those seeking a relatively easy hike close to the Visitor Centre.
Watchman Trail – Q & As
When is the best time of year to visit Zion National Park?
The best time of year to visit Zion National Park depends on what you plan to do and see once you arrive.
If you fancy hitting some of the many hiking trails, choosing the hot summer months is probably not the best decision. Moreover, the summer months are also the busiest, so you will likely share the trails with many more visitors.
The winter months are far colder, and frequent snow at higher elevations makes hiking far more treacherous.
On the flip side, December, January and February have the fewest visitors meaning that you may have some of the trails all to yourself!
Check out this detailed guide on choosing the best time of year to visit Zion.
Are dogs allowed on the Watchman Trail?
No. The only hiking trail that permits pets is the Pa’rus Trail, beginning at the Zion Canyon Visitor Centre. Pets are not allowed on other trails, wilderness areas, shuttle buses, or public buildings within Zion National Park.
Check out the National Park Service website for Zion’s pet policy information.
Have you experienced this trail?
If you have, please share your experience with our readers and us. Please let us know if you have any questions we still need to answer, and we will get back to you as quickly as possible.
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