Zion's Horse Trail - Sand Bench
Kids and those wanting to take a horseback ride will enjoy this trail. Trail runners would be hard pressed to find a better path in the canyon. This trail can be hiked, but it's also used for the horse rides in Zion Canyon. Hiking is best done in late fall, winter and early spring when the trail ride (horse) concession is not in operation. If doing the hike during the time the trail rides are operating, be courteous and yield to the riders, and remain still and quiet as the horses pass by. The horses cause a phenomenon (I will refer to as "horse-di-doos") much like the large divots referred to as "whoop-di-doos" on motocross tracks. The difference is that in the bottoms of "horse-di-doos" also awaits "horsey-poos," thus making navigation even more of a challenge! Enough on the distractions and on to the hike. Named for its sandy path up on the bench. Early settlers used the trail to get up the canyon when floods made other ways difficult or impossible.
Sand Bench at a Glance
This trail offers a stroll along Birch Creek to the west and then ascends the plateau to the south known as Sand Bench. Views of the massive stone peaks of the Patriarchs, Sentinel, Streaked Wall, Twin Brothers, Mountain of the Sun, East Temple, Bridge Mountain, Watchman and Johnson Mountain all seem to be within a stones throw. Along the eastern flank of Sand Bench, the trail will periodically expose glimpses of the Left Fork of the Virgin River below as well as nice vistas to the south, showing a section of the Pa'rus Trail. If the shuttles are in operation, ride the shuttle from the Zion Canyon Visitors Center, the Zion Human History Museum or Canyon Junction. Get off at the stop following the Canyon Junction stop. This will be the Court of the Patriarchs viewpoint shuttle stop. Carefully cross the road to the west and notice the service road.
Either continue west on the service road or look for a dirt trail on the left bank above the service road. After walking past the maintenance area and water tank, look for the trail that leads to the bridge, crossing the Virgin River. Cross over the bridge where the trail branches right and left. Walk along Birch Creek for the next 200 yards, taking the left fork. The trail will cross onto the south side of Birch Creek and continue west for a short time along the bank of the creek. Soon the trail begins to ascend to the south and west, and will turn at several switchbacks until it arrives at another junction and a sign indicating the Sand Bench Loop Trail. By turning left, the majority of the ascent to the bench is on hard-pack and rock trail, versus by turning right, the majority of the ascent to the bench is in deep sand.
Any direction traveled will eventually arrive at the southern end of the bench, and the picnic area, hitching posts and vault toilet used by the trail rides. This is a nice area to relax in the shade of the junipers and pinions and prepare for the hike back to the trailhead.
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Suggested Gear: A sturdy pair of shoes are recommend to hike the trails in Zion National Park. Many quality shoes will help grip the rocks and prevent injury.
Zion National Park, Utah
History of the Thunderbird
This is my new favorite quote:
"I don't know who Tanya Milligan is, but I mean www.zionnational-park.com
It's a better site than the NPS's anyway."
Written by the authors of the book: Favorite Hikes in and around Zion National Park