The hike to Zion National Park’s The Watchman overlook is considered a classic. Only two miles roundtrip, it’s doable by most and can be completed in a few hours. What makes it a nice fall hike is that it’s exposed most of the way, which in the summer means early morning or evening departure times are recommended if you don’t want to swoon in the heat. Fall, however, means this hike can be tackled at midday and generally won’t send you into a dehydrated stagger.
While an excellent hike that highlights the natural sights that make up Zion’s famous features, the Watchman Overlook Trail is not overcrowded at all. While everyone else is attempting Angels Landing or wading up the Zion Narrows, by heading off on the Watchman trail you’ll likely have plenty of elbow room.
How to do this hike:
1. Park at the Visitor Center just inside the southern (Springdale) entrance. (Note that the free, mandatory shuttle has stopped running for the year, but Park personnel recommend visitors still use the now voluntary system, which is running on weekends through November. During the busy April-October season, it’s a good idea to park in Springdale and hop on the shuttle rather than endlessly circle for a space at the Visitor Center.)
2. The trail, marked by a sign, heads across the Virgin River (no, you won’t get wet as you use a road here) and then north, uphill. It winds around a drainage and skirts the hill.
3. Return the same way once you have reached the lookout, which is at the base of the Watchman itself. There’s a little loop add-on at the very end that you can do if so inclined.
Tips on doing this hike:
1. Even in the fall, be prepared for sun, especially if you go midday. In a warm fall season, such as this current one, you can still get plenty of sunshine on your head. Wear a hat, bring water, and actually drink your water.
2. This is a very kid friendly hike. Bring the tykes along.
3. The elevation gain is 456 feet, which is something you’ll feel, but it’s nothing like, say, the 1,488-foot elevation gain of Angels Landing. Translation: semi-wimps can do this trail.
4. It goes without saying, but do bring your camera. Views along the route include Towers of the Virgin, the Beehives, West Temple, and the imaginatively-named Altar of Sacrifice (believe it or not, that name is biblical in origin).
Random facts about this hike:
1. 1934 marked this trail’s original completion by the industrious Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC).
2. The Watchman is so named because the stately sandstone monolith seems to watch over Zion Canyon.
3. The Watchman’s spire juts upward at an impressive 6,555 feet above sea level; it rises 2,200 feet above the canyon floor itself. No, you can’t get to the top without wings.
For an additional list of great fall hikes in Zion, check out this handy guide.