Location: Kolob section of Zion
Trailhead: Wildcat Canyon Trailhead
Difficulty: Easy with minimal elevation gain
Distance: 2.25 miles one way
Time: Two or three hours round trip
Directions: Take the Kolob Terrace Road off State Route 9 on your way to or from Zion. Follow the road until you see a sign for Wildcat Canyon. It takes roughly 20 minutes after the turn onto Kolob Terrace Road and the trailhead is just beyond the Hop Valley Trailhead sign.
Normally the Northgate Peaks Trail would be inaccessible in winter, at least by car, as the Kolob Terrace Road is typically closed when there is snow. But with this unseasonably warm and dry weather, the road is open as are all the backcountry trails.
If you like taking scenic drives, this hike offers both a beautiful drive and hike. Unlike the narrow scenic canyon in the main park with its towering red and white walls, the Kolob Canyon section of Zion is wide open with expanses of meadows framed by jutting sandstone formations all around. The road winds through this valley in the sky for quite some time so sit back and enjoy it. And keep your eyes open — you just might see a California condor.
The Northgate Peaks Trail is one of my favorite hikes to do in the spring because of the wildflowers growing in the meadow, but it is a nice hike most of the year. I also like it because it is mellow and my kids can do it. This hike is particularly enjoyable because it is a variety-filled hike with meadows, springs, a ponderosa pine forest, and the usual canyons and vistas normally seen in Zion. It is also usually quiet and peaceful and has a little bit of everything.
This hike is always a bit cooler than the main canyon in Zion no matter what time of year and makes it a great choice for a summer reprieve from the heat, but make sure to bring a jacket and give yourself plenty of time to do the hike before nightfall. Several times, I have returned to my car at twilight because I started the hike late in the afternoon. And don’t forget the drive time to get there. It is also a nice trail to hike if you want to get away from the crowds. I have never seen more than a handful of hikers at any given time that I have been out there.
The trail is an obvious dirt trail that meanders through meadows and tall ponderosa pine groves. When you reach the Wildcat Canyon trailhead that leads to the Subway (which requires a permit), you will get great views of Wildcat Canyon and Russel Gulch to the east. As you make your way further through more meadows and trees, you will see tall, white, monolithic peaks scattered throughout. The trail ends on a craggy knob of volcanic rock.
The elevated basaltic lava rock pile allows the viewing of the Northgate Peaks East, West, and The North Guardian Angel with views of slickrock and sandstone towers as far as the eye can see. Virtually anywhere along the hike makes for a nice place to stop and have some lunch, but the end is probably the best.
It can get very windy at the end of the trail, so check the weather before you go. After all that, enjoy this peaceful day hike. There’s no rush.
Editor’s note: Northgate Peaks Trail is located in the Kolob Terrace section of Zion, not the Kolob Canyons.