I’ve been fortunate enough to make multiple trips to Zion National Park but haven’t been able to explore a whole lot of the park by foot. I always end up going with different people and always end up hiking Angels Landing (I think three times now) and maybe one other shorter trail during our quick stays. The guys over at Outdoor Vitals had permits to backpack the West Rim Trail (top-bottom) and were gracious enough to invite me along and I knew I had to make to the nine hour drive down to join them.
The West Rim Trail is about 16 miles running north and south through the park and is typically completed top-to-bottom and most people would drop their packs off and make the ‘outdoor detour’ up to Angels Landing before returning into the valley. Unfortunately, Zion experienced some very severe flash flooding during a recent storm, and the trail leading back to Angels Landing and the valley was completely closed, so we were completing this trip as a 18-mile RT out-and-back to backcountry site #4.
Since I was driving in from Denver and the Outdoor Vitals crew were making the short drive from their headquarters in Cedar City, Utah and there would be limited cell service at the trailhead, we set a rough time to meet at the trailhead and if either group couldn’t make it by then, we would simply meet at the trailhead.
The drive to the trailhead on Kolob Terrace Road and Lava Point Road was spectacular and exposed me to yet another part of Zion that I had never seen or explored before. The trailhead parking lot was just big enough for about tens vehicles max and there was no one present so I prepared my pack to make the hike out, not knowing if any of the vehicles there were the Outdoor Vitals crew.
I quickly geared up and hit the trail in hopes of catching up to the guys in case they were already on the trail. The trail started out flat and then stayed surprising flat. I guess I hadn’t fully examined the vertical chart, but the lack of elevation change allowed me to cruise by myself at “Randy Pace.” I completed the first five miles in a blistering 1hr 24min. It was a wildly unspectacular and flat five miles. I was not impressed.
Right at that five mile mark though, you catch your first glimpse of Zion’s beauty. There’s a perfect tree to get some coverage and rest and an absolute perfect scenic viewpoint looking west into Zion’s Potato Hollow.
After the viewpoint, the trail stays flat for some time and then steadily goes downhill. I hiked some truly unique terrain where a trail of fine desert sand travels through a field of wildflowers. It was very bizarre and undoubtedly beautiful. But this is where things took a turn for me.
Immediately following the beautiful field of sand and wildflowers, the trail starts climbing steeply and suddenly into a forested area. It’s at this point where my legs decided to stop working. I had been cruising through the flat desert at a blistering pace, and I think the lack of water and calories caught up to my body as soon as it had to do any real uphill work.
I carried around 3L of water for the trip, thinking that at least one of the four potential water sources I read about would provide me with all the additional water I might need during the desert hike. I was wrong. Zero water throughout, so I was forced to ration my water for the rest of the trip.
After struggling up the first of the two main uphills on the hike, I was welcomed with wide open sprawling views of Potato Hollow. I took plenty of breaks to take photos and catch my breath and soon realized that there are no roads (or developed trails) into the Potato Hollow area. So the only people that have really seen it are those who have hiked or backpacked the West Rim Trail to those viewpoints. Pretty wild to think that so few people have been fortunate enough to see those amazing views of Potato Hollow.
Moments like this are exactly why I spend so much time exploring the great outdoors. I was so grateful in the moment that I had the physical capacity to get there and grateful that I even had to opportunity thanks to the invite from the Outdoor Vitals team.
The trail continues on the West Rim up one more hill toward the backcountry campsites, providing many more similarly amazing views of Potato Hollow. I arrived at campsite #4 to find that I had beaten the Outdoor Vitals team there. They had to go all the way to the West Zion entrance to obtain the backpacking permits, so I must have beaten them to the trailhead after all. I quickly set up my tent, took a few photos and videos, and took a short nap as I waited for the rest of the crew.
The other guys showed up about an hour after I did and staked out a wide variety of different set-ups. Dave set up a 1-person prototype tent that Outdoor Vitals is working on, but he went the minimalist route with just the footprint and rainfly. Derek opted for just his sleeping pad and sleeping bag under an A-frame rainfly/tarp. And joining them was Shawn who, like me, is a “social media influencer” (check out his YouTube channel) that was invited on the trip. Shawn was sporting an Outdoor Vitals hammock under a rainfly.
All the guys were super friendly like-minded individuals. Just typing this out makes me realize that this was basically a blind-backpacking-dude-date (ahaha I’ll try anything twice!). We sat around resting our legs and sharing outdoor adventure trip stories and ideas while a deer perused around our campsite. When sunset was approaching, we grabbed our dinners and camera gear and made the short walk to the nearby scenic viewpoint. Unfortunately, it’s been an exceptionally bad year for wildfires and the thick smoke from California ruined any chance we had for a decent sunset.
As the sky darkened and clouds slowly rolled in, we were treated to quite the show of heat lightning. When there were breaks in the clouds, we pointed out satellites and planets, as Mars and Jupiter were easily identifiable this time of the year. We crashed early so we could get packed up early in the morning and beat the desert afternoon heat for the 9-mile hike out.
We all slept well, had a quite bite for breakfast, and packed up even earlier than we expected. We cruised on out of there to beat the heat and were able to make it back out to the trailhead in about 3.5 hours. Nine miles before noon—not too shabby! Ice cold Gatorades awaited us and couldn’t have tasted any better! A quick change into flip-flops and we were on our way to our next campsite—at the developed Zion Canyon Campground just outside of the West Zion entrance in Springdale.
After driving into town and quickly setting up at the campground, we bought some adult beverages and Dave led us to a hidden swimming hole within Zion. Jumping off a large boulder into the swimming hole couldn’t have felt much better! A much needed rinse after too long hikes through the Utah desert the previous two days!
I was originally planning to spend the night with them and head back to Denver in the morning, but I once again decided to beat the heat by taking off just before sunset so I could start knocking out the nine hour drive. I made it to Colorado National Monument around 12:30am and decided to take some night shots there before sleeping in my truck and finishing the drive home in the morning.
Huge shout-out to the guys at Outdoor Vitals for inviting me along on the trip. So thankful to have the opportunity to backpack in Zion and explore more of the park. They continue to make some great gear so go check them out. Big thanks to Shaun for documenting the trip and for shouting me out in the video. He’s got a huge following on YouTube so go check out his trip videos and subscribe to his channel!
Randy is a Cleveland native who has made Colorado his home for over 5 years. He eats scrambled eggs and bacon for every breakfast, has been to every MLB ballpark, and has no sense of smell.