Don't be afraid to lace up your boots and hit the trails when it's chilly outside. Learn to embrace cool temperatures and warm up to hiking during every season. Unfortunately winter is when many people close their doors, crank up their heaters and hibernate until they feel the warmth of spring, but this is a magical time that holds a special beauty that you cannot find during spring, summer or fall. Get out and get some sun, admire the contrast of snow and brilliant blue skies, find icicles tucked away in shady alcoves, enjoy views that are usually obscured by dense vegetation, but most of all see the beauty of Zion when it has been transformed into a winter wonderland. Although mornings can be brisk, you could actually find yourself throwing off your jacket and rolling up your sleeves in the afternoon.
An ideal winter route begins just off the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway on the east side of Zion, where weathered earth claims the land, showcasing acres of white domes streaked with crimson hues and dotted with whimsical shaped hoodoos and evergreen trees. This route traverses slickrock on the way to a remote viewpoint overlooking Parunuweap Canyon, then descends into a surprisingly beautiful drainage that culminates at the twisting, polished flute referred to by locals as Cockeye Falls. During much of the year the pour off is dry, but in the winter you might discover a partially frozen cascade as it works its way into the wash. After heavy rain it's delightful to see water gaining momentum as it zigzags down fluted channels of porous sandstone dropping into Clear Creek.
At a Glance
Trail Access: Zion-Mt. Carmel Hwy is open year-round. If there is water in Clear Creek the trail may not be accessible.
Trailhead - Park at the west end of the small tunnel, which is 1.5 miles east of the longer Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. Follow the steep worn path, south and down into the drainage below. Travel the generally dry wash for 150 yards until it intersects with Clear Creek.
Clear Creek - After a rainstorm the creek can be a raging torrent of rushing water and you will not be able to continue. If the creek is fairly dry then head upstream through the sandy and cobblestone streambed. From the trailhead it is .35 miles to the entrance of Hidden Garden. The somewhat apparent opening to this short slot canyon is on the right and is partially blocked by a large ponderosa tree. Continue past this landmark and up the creek 200 yards, looking for a less prominent drainage which will also be on the right. Follow this cleft a short distance before working your way up and onto the slickrock on the left.
Before you go: Never scramble on slickrock without the proper footwear and skills required to keep you safe. Remember, you are responsible for your own safety.
Slickrock Ascent - Climb .7 miles up the slickrock slab. The ascent is steep, but manageable. By scanning before proceeding, you should be able to find weaknesses to follow. Moki-marbles are common along the 900 foot, vertical ascent where sparsely scattered pine trees and sculpted bowls create a road map as the path steers toward the right side of the nearing sandstone butte. If you look on a topographical map, the peak will be listed as 6460' which identifies the reference point you will need to find. Views to the north and west expose ridges, valleys, slot canyons and towering summits. You should be able to locate both the East and West Temples, East Rim, Deertrap Mountain, Bridge Mountain and Progeny Peak (6275').
The Saddle - As travel continues to the right side (west) of Peak 6460' the slickrock slabs yield to a flat valley of low brush, grass and cacti. Deer and sheep wandering south toward the expanses of Parunuweap have worn trails through the vegetation cutting a path for easier travel through the thickets. From the point where you left the creek, it is one-mile to the saddle on the western flank of peak 6460'. Impressive views open to the south exposing the plateaus on the north and south sides of Parunuweap Canyon.
Hidden Dragon - From the saddle, bear slightly southwest and down into the slickrock bowl. Descend toward a white dome that is just a few hundred feet away. Once there look above and to the northwest 200 yards and you should be able to locate the rock that locals have dubbed Hidden Dragon.
Exit - Retrace the route you came in on until you reach the saddle. From this point, skirt around the base of peak 6460' in a generally north direction until you get to an obvious north-south running ridge. Stay on top of the ridge as it steers toward Clear Creek where it will twist north-easterly after a half-mile. The ridge becomes narrower and begins to fall off steeply on both the left and right as well as straight ahead. By carefully picking a route off the right side of the ridge and switchbacking you will be able to reach the floor of the canyon.
Cockeye Falls - Follow the canyon floor as it descends north toward the highway and the creek. Along the path there will be some dry falls to negotiate. It's easiest to bypass them on the right (east side) but you will have to do some careful down-climbing on the steep slickrock. Once past the obstacles, the wash makes a quick turn to the left where you will see the highway and creek below. Cockeye Falls, which can actually be seen from the road, winds through sculpted sandstone and touches down into Clear Creek. Be careful not to walk too far down the falls as the grade becomes very steep.
To post trip reports, offer corrections, updates, or for more information please visit the Zion National Park Forum
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