If you want to ride a horse in Zion National Park, the 3.5 mile Sand Bench Trail is the one you and your trusty equine charge will follow. But if you’re seeking a good old foot hike and prefer not to share with said large lovely beasties, winter is a great time of year on the Sand Bench. The unshaded trail is sunny, unhorsey, and generally not icy in the cold months. Best of all, it offers fantastic views of Zion Canyon.
How to do this hike:
1. Head to the Court of the Patriarchs trailhead. From November-March, you can drive your own vehicle; find parking across the street from the Zion Lodge. April 1-October 31, you must park your car at the Visitors Center or, preferably, in Springdale and hop on the free Zion Shuttle. Take that to the Court of the Patriarchs stop and disembark there.
2. Find the trail heading west. It will cross a bridge over the Virgin River, keep going west, and then cant off south (left).
3. The trail then becomes a long, narrow loop, making the whole thing look like a deflated balloon on a map. Do it all, because the views at either end are really quite different.
4. Once you complete the loop, you’ll return the same way you came in and end up back at the Court of the Patriarchs viewpoint.
Tips on doing this hike:
1. If you hike here during horseback riding season, stand back quietly and let the horses pass you. Pedestrians and bicyclists must always yield to equestrians on any trails anywhere.
2. This is a great one for trail runners. But again, mind the horses and their gifts (uh, droppings) during horse riding season.
3. It’s called Sand Bench because it’s sandy. Which can mean deep slogging. Be prepared.
4. A spur trail leads north to the Emerald Pools/Zion Lodge trailhead. It’s a pleasant little hike that most people don’t do.
Random facts about this hike:
1. The total elevation gain on this trail is 500 feet. What this means for you the hiker is less effort for still awesome gain in views.
2. Millennia ago, a gigantic landslide blocked off access to the main Zion Canyon. A smaller version of this slide occurred again in 1995. The Sand Bench Trail traverses the top of this ancient slide, which is why it offers panoramic views.
image: National Park Service