Looking to hike in Zion National Park? The Watchman Trail is an often-overlooked, moderate hike that’s perfect for first-time visitors in search of Zion National Park’s beauty.
During my most recent visit to Zion National Park, I was determined to make the most of the plentiful hikes nearby. I bit a chunk out of all of the biggies, but it was the Watchman Trail that quickly became one of my favourites.
The winding trail leads to an impressive vista that overlooks The Watchman and the Zion Valley. And, thanks to its convenient location near to Springdale’s park entrance, it’s ideally placed to be the first trail you take on during your time in the park.
The best part about it, though? It’s not as crowded as some of the other trails in Zion (Angel’s Landing, I’m looking at you).
Here’s a handy guide to help you take on the Zion National Park Watchman Trail.
To ensure you’re well-prepared for the trip here, read up on my list of things to know before travelling to Zion National Park.
Hiking the Watchman Trail: In Detail
The Watchman Trailhead
The Watchman Trail begins just a few minutes from the visitor centre. Leave the visitor centre and prepare to substitute the tar road for the dusty trail.
You’ll find signs pointing you precisely to the trailhead, so there’s little chance of getting lost.
The Watchman Trail Hike
The trail begins with a flat, unglamorous trek alongside the banks of the Virgin River with a parking lot on your right. Continue on this levelled trail before crossing the tar road to get to the foot of where the real fun begins.
As the ascent begins, whip out your smartphone and get ready to snap some impressive shots of Bridge Mountain. Carry on along the narrow path and navigate through some desert vegetation and a myriad of small-to-medium-sized rocks.
After a relatively straight hike, you’ll come across snaking switchbacks that go up a dusty trail. Moenave Formation rocks, over 200 million years old, play host to these fantastic zigzag routes.
If you’re feeling tired at this point, look up and you’ll see the promised land within reach. This should be enough to give your legs the jolt they need to carry you to the top.
As you hike further up, you’ll have some awe-inspiring peaks to look at. This includes the West Temple, which is Zion Canyon’s highest point. The former is a part of a collective of mountains called the Towers of the Virgin, which you can also see along the way.
The Watchman Trail Summit
After following the marked path, you’ll reach the end of your trail at the base of Watchman Mountain —this is what you came for. At the summit, stand back and enjoy sweeping views of the Watchman Peak, desert flora, and other craggy mountains in the distance.
But here’s a little secret: there’s more. Many people tend to stop by the first plateau and call it a day, which I think is a big mistake. There’s a short loop that has even more spectacular views I recommend seeing.
The Watchman Trail Loop
To get to the premier observation point, the Watchman Trail at Zion National Park has a marked path you can follow. Hike it counterclockwise for the best journey, as it is quite easy to follow. Many people miss out on this, which is a pity as it arguably features the trail’s best views.
To the east, you have some rugged mountains and canyons best seen in the morning when the sun rises behind them. In other directions, you can see Springdale from afar as well as the visitor centre. This is the perfect spot to sit and have breakfast (or lunch) if the sun isn’t scorching hot.
The loop back to the first plateau has Bridge Mountain right in front of you and views of the magnificent Watchman peak on your right. Back at the plateau, you can begin the descent back the same way you came.
Practical Tips for Hiking the Watchman Trail, Zion National Park
- The trail is rocky, so a pair of hiking boots with good grip and protection will be your best friend.
- This hike’s popularity is growing day by day – I recommend setting off early to avoid the crowds (and the midday heat). There’s no shade on the trail, so I suggest bringing lots of water and ensuring you’re wearing ample sun cream. Stay safe.
The Watchman Hike Zion National Park: FAQs
How Long is the Watchman Trail?
The Zion Watchman Trail is a 3.3-mile (5.3 km) roundtrip that should take you between 1.5 and 2 hours to complete.
How Hard is the Watchman Trail?
I would rate the Watchman Trail as an easy to moderately difficult hike that just about anyone can complete given enough time. It’s short and has just 300 feet (91.44 metres) of elevation gain to reach the summit. You don’t need to do much to prepare for this hike, just ensure you have a basic level of fitness.
When Should I Attempt the Watchman Trail?
Whilst I enjoyed hiking the Watchman Trail in the blaring hot weather, I’ll admit that it was SO hot. And there’s very little shade on route.
I recommend taking on the Watchman’s trail at Zion either first thing in the morning or in the autumn/fall, between September and October, to avoid the high temperatures and any potential sunstroke or dehydration.