Hiking Southern Utah: Eagle Crags
Day hike: Yes
Distance: 5 miles round-trip
Average hiking time: 4 hours
Equipment: Wear appropriate clothing for the weather, and be sure to take emergency supplies. Sturdy hiking shoes are recommended. Be sure to carry at least 2–3 quarts of water for each person.
Difficulty: Moderate. An easier trail until the final sections of the trail gain elevation.
Permits: Not required. This trail is outside of Zion National Park on BLM land.
Trail conditions: A wide sandy path strewn with rocks. The trail is in full sun on the arid, hot side of Zion National Park. This is not an ideal hike in the heat of summer. The trail is often used by horseback riders. This is a good path for trail runners. Equip your 4WD with a spare tire and jack. The trailhead is in a remote area. Bring extra water.
Trailhead: Rockville, south of the south entrance to Zion National Park.
Trailend: Same as the trailhead
Trail access: It’s best to use a high-clearance 4WD. The road can be impassable if wet.
Starting elevation: 4,380 feet
Highest elevation: 5,200 feet
Elevation gain: 900 feet
Best season: This is a good winter hike. The best times to do this hike are in the spring, fall, and winter. Summer months will be hot, however an early morning start can be cooler.
Each morning, when I open my curtains, the rugged rock formations of Eagle Crags greet me, and I feel ready to start my day. Living a mile outside Zion National Park, I’m surrounded by towering red and white rocks, but the crags always grab my attention, and so on the last Sunday in January, we decided to hike up to the crags to see if they were as impressive up close as from afar.
The drive from Springdale to the turnoff in Rockville was short for us, but we were aware of the bumpy road that started as soon as we crossed the Grafton Bridge. Heading straight up the dirt road filled with potholes, I looked out for the trailhead, and The Husband looked out for potholes as he drove our Subaru slowly up the hill. About 1.5 miles straight up the mountain past a few homes, the trailhead, complete with restrooms and ample parking, appeared.
We signed the guest book and studied the map. The trail was described as a “family-friendly easy-to-follow 2.8-mile trail,” which sounded good to me, but The Husband, a child of the ’60s, likes to blaze his own trail, and so we headed off on a second path. We headed south on a great trail for about 20 minutes until it completely disappeared into a creek bed.
Although I was already regretting not hiking the level trail the other hikers might be walking, I knew we couldn’t get lost. I could hear ATV’s in the distance and could see a few houses, and it was obvious where the crags were located. They were up.
And so we climbed through juniper and pinyon pine forests on BLM land dotted with dry brush and with dangerously sharp cactus thick on the ground.
“Watch out for the cactus,” The Husband said over and over. “I think we can make it up this way,” he also said more than once.
I was huffing and puffing as we rose in elevation and stopped to shed some of my layers. The temperature was in the low 60s, and the warning from the park service to stay away in summer is great advice.
The regular trail brings hikers up the slopes on a soft red-dirt trail and then heads south. From there, the Eagle Crags are due west.
For those who don’t follow the rules, the crags can also be reached on the south side, and after about two hours of climbing the beautiful hillsides and brush skulking, we realized we had come about as far as we could walk.
And then I saw the eagles.
They were soaring so high in the sky that I wasn’t sure at first, but as the sun caught the belly of the birds, their white chests sparkled in the sky as they soared above the crags.
We found a place for a picnic and watched the birds and took photos of the Canaan Mountains and the tops of the Vermillion Cliffs, and I was happy we had taken our own path, making it feel like we were the only ones on the mountain.
Coming down the mountain was easy in the sense that we could actually see the car in the parking lot from on top of the mountain, but deep gullies were standing in our way, as were the same hills that needed to be climbed a second time to get to the car. The Husband decided we needed to head down a little closer to where the trail might be, and after about 90 minutes of scrambling over rocks and avoiding the sharp needles of the cactus plants, I heard him say, “You’re not going to believe this, but we found the trail.”
Looking back up toward the crags, it was a little difficult to believe we had come so far and finally come back to where we were supposed to be, and I was almost disappointed, but not quite, as we walked on a clear-cut path through the forest.
Back at the car, we surmised that, for the most part, we had walked the Lower Mountain, not recommended for casual hikers, and even though it’s only 1.5 miles to the top, it takes longer because of the damn gullies.
Back at the car, I knew I had viewed a different side of Eagle Crags than most hikers who take the trail, but we might go back again for a leisurely hike along the path next month.
The best part of the hike is that now, when I look out my window each morning, I’ll envision the forests, the cactus, and the soaring eagles that I can’t see, but I know that they’re there.