This route is a hike only, avoiding Fat Man' Misery, a demanding technical slot canyon, allowing hikers to access Parunuweap Canyon.
One of the most magnificent slot canyon experiences in southern Utah begins at Checkerboard Mesa in Zion National Park and continues into BLM land and through sections of the East Fork of the Virgin River, dubbed Parunuweap by John Wesley Powell. Along this hike you can view the memorial plaque dedicated to Powell's historic journey and envision the difficulties and sheer excitement that was confronted during his trip through this magical wilderness. Sheer canyon walls envelope the meandering, yet sometimes - violent flow of the East Fork of the Virgin River, as it makes its way westward to join the Virgin River in Springdale. With some effort it is possible to go downstream and look at Labyrinth Falls from above and wonder how a century ago explorers conceived of continuing. A short stroll upstream allows a glimpse of the warm desert oasis and spring fed, lush pool known as Sulfur Spring, located just outside of the popular technical canyon route of Fat Man's Misery. Along the way revel in the narrow passage way cut in the Navajo sandstone that rivals the famous Zion Narrows.
At a Glance
Checkerboard Arch - The trail now bears southeasterly where Checkerboard Arch is visible to the north as well as some large white sandstone ridges to the east.
East Zion Slickrock - - The south end of the furthermost white ridge will become the objective as the path to follow passes through several small washes en route. Sometimes the "trail" is very prominent were it has been worn into the sandy terrain, yet other times it is necessary to locate the cairns marking the path across the sandstone. Once peering east into the large canyon below, it is important to locate the "trail" steering south that contours the ridge above Fat Man's Misery, a technical slot canyon to the east that will be avoided in this trail description.
River Descent - - At 3.5 miles into the hike the path begins a fairly steep descent as Parunuweap is seen to the south and Fat Man's Misery to the east. At 4 miles there is a tenuous "slab" down climb and traverse just prior to the steep third class scramble to the river.
East Fork Virgin River - At the river now, locate the Powell plaque which will be found at the west end of the peninsula, somewhat buried by overgrowth. There is a beaten path through the vegetation or you could reach it by walking downstream but then it is easy to miss.
Upstream - - A truly magnificent section of narrows is located .3 miles upstream, between the Powell plaque and the mouth of Fat Man's Misery. The hike to Sulfur Spring requires no special equipment and ends at a unique desert oasis. The warm water pooled at the end of a rock "slide" is a welcome end to canyoneers that exit the cold, wet and dark caverns of the technical slot canyon. Here you will find an almost tropical ecosystem which makes a great spot to relax and rejuvenate for the hike downstream and the long ascent back out.
Downstream - Turn around after visiting Sulfur Spring, hiking downstream, past the Powell plaque and explore as far as you can comfortably go. If you are not doing the technical section, turn around at this point and return the way you came. Keep in mind that the hike out is uphill and in full sun making it very strenuous. This part of the route is better done later in the day when it is not as hot, but it is extremely important to gauge your time so you are done before dark.
Optional Technical Section -To get to Labyrinth Falls it will be necessary to use a rope. Head downstream approximately a half mile from the Powell plaque, bypassing several obstacles including a 12' down climb on the right side of the two-falls watercourse. Once near Labyrinth Falls you will find that the river has cut a narrow slot in the rock where you can carefully traverse the left side on a narrow ledge for 20 yards before arriving at the top of the falls. A rope is needed for this section to aid non-climbers. Once at Labyrinth Falls, it is difficult to look down the entire falls, but is magnificent nonetheless.
Option One - Return the way you came.
Option Two - Elephant Butte Exit via a 4WD shuttle. If you can set up a 4WD shuttle this is a great way to end this hike. Drive to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes toll booth. The dunes are 11 miles from Mount Carmel Junction which is located on the east side of Zion National Park. Drive 4 miles past the rangers station (toll booth) and turn right at the gravel pullout. Follow the sandy road. Ignore the off-shoot roads, staying right (north-northeast). At 3.5 miles from the turn off from the Sand Dunes Road, turn left at sign post K1265. At 4.2 miles, at the junction, go to the right. There is a good view of Zion's West Temple from this point. At 7.2 miles is another intersection. Turn left here. At 9 miles there is another junction and sign: K1290, go right at this junction. The roads will begin to twist and turn sharply through the junipers. At 10 miles is another intersection, stay to the left. Soon you will be able to see Parunuweap below. At 11.5 miles is a wilderness study area sign. At 12 miles is a dirt parking area and the exit for Parunuweap Canyon. Elephant Butte Map
Locate Elephant Butte Exit: From Sulfur Spring (Fat Man's Misery end) , bear left (upstream) on the Virgin River for 2.5 miles. (Note: Poverty Wash enters from the north, left side, at the 2 mile mark). At the 2.5 mile mark you'll see a prominent wash entering from your right (south) side and this is the exit canyon to arrive at the Elephant Butte - Elephant Gap Road. Turn right into this canyon and hike upstream (beware of the poison ivy on your right) for .35 of a mile. The slot canyon ends at a seemingly impassable dry fall. At this point bear right up the steep vegetated dirt slope until level with the top of the dry fall., then bear left and cross over the slickrock dry fall. aiming for the steep rock/dirt/vegetated hill in front. Continue in a north-easterly direction up this slope until arriving at the cliff base and a broken chute. Work your way up (northerly) this chute until arriving on top of a ridge. You have traveled approximately a half mile since you left Parunuweap and will now steer to the south following the ridge for .75 of a mile until it intersects with the Elephant Butte/ Elephant Gap Road.
Fat Man' Misery plus Parunuweap Canyon.
Be sure to see Checkerboard Arch along the way.
GPS Coordinates WGS84 Datum
Trailhead Parking Lot
Gravel Pit on Sand Dune Road
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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