If you are looking for a longer hike to challenge yourself, you need not look too far. We are lucky to be surrounded by some of the finest natural splendor the world has to offer, and Kolob Canyons are a lesser known and traveled example. Nestled far back in a corner of the Kolob Canyons portion of Zion National Park is Kolob Arch. It is the second longest sandstone arch in the US, after Landscape Arch in Arches National Park (there is some debate on this from what I understand). There are many benefits to visiting this section of Zion National Park, among which are smaller crowds and a more genuine wilderness experience. You really get the sense that you are in a place that is wild. It is often a bit cooler in this section of the park, making it a good destination for early summer, but spring and fall are good times to visit as well. It can be done as a day hike or multi-day with a permit. There are thirteen campsites along the way that you must reserve and obtain a permit for. Dispersed camping is not allowed.
You will find the trailhead quite easily by entering the Kolob Canyons section of the park off I-15. It is in Zion National Park so you will have to pay a fee or show a park pass. You can get more detailed information from the ranger station at the entrance. After a short drive, you will find the Lee Pass trailhead, the starting point of the hike. Be sure to bring plenty of water, food, and other essentials because it is a long hike. There is no cell phone service so plan accordingly. Don’t underestimate the terrain. Although it is mostly flat and downhill on the way in, the hike out can be grueling. I would recommend getting an early start so that you have time to rest and take in the scenery. Because it is a long hike, take breaks along the trail. Don’t over-exert yourself on the first part of the hike because the real work is the final stretch at the end, which is uphill all the way.
This section of the park is one of my favorites. You won’t see the white rock formations that are prominent in the main canyon, but you will see soaring red rock cliffs with magnificent benches of ponderosa pines. It is every bit as majestic as the main canyon, if not more so, because of the lighter traffic. Beneath the cliffs, mingling with ponderosas, you will see a transition to cottonwood and other deciduous trees, down into the creek. As you head down the trail at the beginning of the hike, it is all downhill through dry pinon and juniper forest. As you descend into the creek it becomes lush, depending on the season. There were tall grasses and numerous shady spots to rest and take in the splendor of the canyon. The cliffs are sheer and bright red. High on top, you can see what appear to be lava flows and massive pines. Dense stands of ponderosa pines on the benches beneath the cliffs convey a sense of grandeur, proudly assembled high above the creek bed, steadfastly presiding in stalwart silence over the canyon below.
You will travel south for quite some time, traversing through various vegetation zones until eventually, you run into LaVerkin Creek, at which point you will begin to head upstream. I found this to be the most beautiful part of the hike. The creek is pristine, and as the canyon narrows, it becomes a verdant paradise. There are markers that will direct you to the arch, which veers off to the left near the end of the seven-mile journey. The arch was difficult to spot at first. It is high up on the cliffs but the thick pines can obstruct your view of it. The arch alone is worth the journey, but I found the entire hike to be overwhelmingly beautiful. The hike is virtuosic in splendor from the beginning to the end.