lower Zion Canyon - one of the most easily reached panoramic viewpoints in the national park - yet the path is not well known and most visitors drive past without stopping, en route to the more famous sights and trails further north. The well maintained path starts within a short walk of the visitor center, the Watchman campground and the park entrance, so is a good choice for an introduction to Zion hiking, as well as being popular with those staying at the campground, especially as an early morning or late evening hike. The trail is just 1.4 miles long though fully exposed to the sun and is perhaps best avoided during the middle of the day in summer.
360 Degree PanoramaPanorama over Zion Canyon
, from the end of the Watchman Trail.
The best place to park is the main lot by the visitor center; the path begins just opposite the shuttlebus stop, first running alongside the Virgin River for a short distance then crossing a service road and a range of low hills, before starting a steady climb up the north side of a ravine. The trail has quite a respectable upwards gradient as it ascends the hillside, which is composed of red, ledgy sandstone of the Kayenta Formation and bears mixed, desert-like vegetation of small bushes, pinyon pines, yucca and cacti. It reaches a narrow part of the ravine at the edge of a plateau, crosses the streambed (usually kept moist by several seasonal springs nearby) then heads back southwest along the rim, descending slightly to the viewpoint by the edge of the promontory, where the path ends.
The visitor center, campground and employee residences are directly below, with the huge cliffs of West Temple and Towers of the Virgin opposite, rising to 7,810 feet and framing the bowl-shaped valley of Oak Creek. A fair amount of the Zion Canyon upstream is in view, as far as the Three Patriarchs and Mountain of the Sun, while downstream to the south, the canyon opens out to a wider valley, with Smithsonian Butte and the village of Springdale visible in the distance. Further along the bench is the distinctive red spire of The Watchman (6,555 feet), part of a semi-circle of vertical-walled peaks above the trail that includes Bridge Mountain just to the north. It looks tempting to walk back to the trailhead in a straight line over the edge of the plateau, as the starting point is less than half mile away, though a band of sheer cliffs about 15 feet high would stop all but experienced climbers. Still, the hike downhill on the path is nice and easy, and the 2.8 mile round trip takes around an hour. A short loop around the bushy land behind the viewpoint allows for a minor diversion on the way back.