Hiking Southern Utah Chinle TrailHiking Southern Utah: Chinle Trail in Zion’s west desert backcountry

Trail name: Chinle Trail

Difficulty: Not difficult

Length: 15.4 miles roundtrip

Elevation Gain: 650 feet

Family-friendly: yes

Not all hikes are created equal, especially when you consider seasons and time of year. What is great for summer is not necessarily great for winter and vice versa; unless you like hiking in lower elevations in sweltering heat or in ice and snow when it’s cold. That being said, the lower elevation hikes that you might avoid during the summer make for great winter hikes.

Hiking Southern Utah: Chinle Trail in Zion's west desert backcountry
Photo: Doug Dolde / CC BY-SA 3.0

The Chinle Trail, located outside of the main tourist areas of Zion Nation Park, is one of those great backcountry winter hikes. Chinle Trail is an off-the-beaten-path trail located in the lower elevation west desert wilderness area, offering wide open vistas (that I particularly love), unique desert landscapes, and a reprieve from the more touristy trails in the park. And though it’s a long trail, it’s a mellow hike that can be cut off whenever you feel like turning around. Plus, it’s a great hike with kids because it’s not treacherous, slippery, or steep. However, I would avoid it after snow or rain as it will be muddy.

The Chinle Trailhead starts outside of Zion, south of Springdale. If you are coming from St. George, the turn is about a block before you hit the apple orchard and stand as you leave Rockville off of State Route 9. There is a small parking area off the right of Anasazi Way near the Anasazi Plateau housing development. If you hit houses, you missed it. And yes, the trail starts below the housing development and takes you right through it. Don’t worry though, it doesn’t last long.

Shortly after you get through the housing development, you will hit a sign letting you know you are entering the Zion Wilderness. At this point, you can breathe a sigh of relief, because you have gotten away from civilization to enjoy nature, and chances are that you won’t see another soul until you return to your car.

Hiking Southern Utah: Chinle Trail in Zion's west desert backcountry
Photo: brewbooks / CC BY-SA 2.0

The trail is 15.4 miles round trip and can even connect you to the Coal Pits Wash trail if you decide to grab a permit and camp there overnight. Right at the beginning of the hike, with Zion in the background, you will see the bluish-purple lines in the rock formations that gave the trail its name. As you hike along you will be graced with views of the West Temple, Mt. Kinesava, Towers of the Virgin, and Sundial. And don’t forget to turn around and take a look at the famed Eagle Crags in the distance behind you.

Not all of the views to be had, however, are vistas and peaks; they are also on the ground. The trail goes through a near petrified forest, with petrified wood strewn everywhere. Many pieces look like they were painted or dyed by blood and are fascinating to look at up close. Definitely stop and look at them, but make sure not to take any – you are within Park boundaries, and it is illegal. The trail meanders all over and offers you a wonderland of water carved gullies, strangely shaped rocks; over rocky outcrops, and into wide open desert as far as the eye can see.

If you continue all the way to the end, you will also get views of Cougar Mountain and Smith Mesa. The greatest part about this trail and particular location is that it offers quiet solitude and peace, something sorely needed this time of year in the hustle and bustle of shopping and activities and of which nature has an abundance to give. So give yourself the gift of peace, exercise, and mental rejuvenation; you won’t regret it.

If you decide to head out for a this winter hike, grab a thermos of coffee or hot chocolate and a healthy snack to go along with the required water. You may just want to sit and enjoy the peace and quiet out there before you return, and what better way than with something piping hot? Just remember, if you decide to do the whole hike in one day, plan ahead — you don’t want to run out of daylight. In fact, bring a headlamp just in case, and go enjoy one of the less visited areas Zion has to offer. Happy trails!

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