Utah really has an embarrassment of riches, in terms of stunning US National Parks. Of the five (Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park and Zion National Park), I’ve been to all except Capitol Reef. But US National Park travel in all cases deserves repeat visits; Zion, in particular, I hadn’t explored since the mid-1980s, and since then, the National Park Service added Kolob Canyons as an entirely new section of the park. Zion National Park hiking at Kolob Canyons’ Taylor Creek is terrific. The Society of American Travel Writers’ Western Chapter Conference was held near Zion National Park, giving me the perfect excuse to get to explore that part of Kolob Canyons in northwest Zion National Park. A half day hike up the Middle Fork of Taylor Creek with fellow SATW conference attendees and a couple of amenable park rangers made for a great hike, a great US National Park experience, and altogether, a great day outdoors.
Kolob Canyons is more easily accessible than some other parts of Zion National Park, as it is right off of Interstate 15. Traveling by car, take exit 40 and pull up to the Visitor Center first. The park service staff will point you up the road to easy parking at the perfect spot to start a fantastic hike. The Middle Fork of Taylor Creek in Kolob Canyons is marked well, starting off as an easy hike but then mostly moderate with some strenuous elevation changes and a couple of rocky uphill scrambles.
Meandering switchbacks keep the trail crossing over the creek multiple times. In the heat of the summer, Taylor Creek is low enough that water shoes aren’t needed (and if you do slip, and get your boots or sneakers wet, the 4% humidity should dry your shoes out in no time). The water levels are higher other times of the year, though, so it’s best to pack a pair of water shoes just in case.
This is a 5.4 mile hike, in and out. Able bodied hikers should plan for four hours start to finish, but longer if you plan to take breaks. The end point of the hike up the Middle Fork of Taylor Creek in Kolob Canyons, Zion National Park is a real stunner, and and obvious resting spot. The Double Arches Alcove is a true stunner. After over two and a half miles of hiking in mixed sun and shade, to come upon the soaring red cliffs that encircle the area is glorious. We sat on the flat, cool rocks, ate our packed lunches, and basically gawped at the scenery. Double Arch Alcove is about as perfect a picnic spot as you can imagine after a hot dry hike. Our group couldn’t stop remarking about the spot’s natural beauty.
Along the way to and from the Double Arch Alcove in Kolob Canyons, hikers will see many of the animals seen throughout Zion National Park. We saw a surprisingly calm mule deer, heard a couple of rattlesnakes, and saw dozens of lizards, scrub jays, ravens, squirrels (one tried to steal my lunch! Brazen little fellow) and other denizens of Taylor Creek. You may see red tail hawks, golden eagles, coyotes, bobcats, gray foes and skunks. While my hiking group didn’t see these animals, remember that if you do, don’t approach them — do I need to tell you this about the skunks? — because they are wild animals, protected by the national parks system, and shouldn’t be allowed to get comfortable with humans.
Also along the way, hikers will see the remains of two old cabins. These homestead cabins, small and weather worn, are reminders of the rough experiences those people had, eking out their lives, not encountering many other people on a daily basis. Peek inside the 1930′s-era cabins; sure, not a lot of space, but perhaps not a lot of indoor space was needed back then. After all, those homesteaders had more outdoor space than most of us have these days.
Contemplating the lives of those homesteaders who lived out their lives in those two cabins, Larson Cabin and Fife Cabin, can give us thoughtful hikers pause. Times, and people, change. The US National Parks are preservations of our country the way nature intended it, and that — the red rocks, the green trees, the sounds of birds calling overhead — should never change. Instead, the National Parks should stay as it ever was, and for our children’s children, as it ever will be.
Thank you to SATW Western Chapter for hosting me, and providing this US National Park hiking experience.