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Exploring The Kolob Canyons

In the northwest corner of Zion National Park lies the Kolab Canyons. This is the most remote, and least visited area of Zion so it’s a great way to experience isolated hiking trails, towering arches, and cascading waterfalls without the crowds.

The Kolob Canyons are 50 miles north of the main park entrance. Parallel box canyons form stunning, 2,000-foot cliff walls which make the area a favorite among photographers. Located at a higher elevation, temperatures stay up to 10 degrees cooler than southern Zion.

If you want to experience one of the most popular parks in America without standing in line, Kolob Canyon is the best place to visit. In this article, we’re going to cover how to get there, things to do, and tips for spending the night.

exploring kolob canyon

Getting There

The Kolob Canyons are located inside Zion National Park. That means you’ll need to pay the Zion park entrance fee or use an interagency park pass to visit.

Kolob cannot be reached from Zion’s south entrance unless you intend to a multi-day hike. Instead, from the northwest side of the park, take Exit 40 on Interstate 15. 

You can get to the entrance with any type of vehicle, but as soon as you pass the visitor center you’ll be greeted with a winding uphill drive that quickly rises 1,000 feet in elevation. 

Kolob Canyon Visitor Center

Exiting Interstate 15, the first stop is the Kolob Canyon Visitor Center. This is where you pay the park entrance fee. There is also a bookstore, snacks, drinks, and hiking information available.

You can obtain a wilderness permit for backpacking sites and canyoneering routes in the area. Day hiking the canyon is free, but if you want to do some backcountry camping, permits cost $5 per person.

Kolob Canyon is located about a 1-hour drive away from the visitor center.

Things To Do In Kolob Canyon

Kolob is one of the least visited sections of Zion which makes it the perfect place to explore if you want to get away from the crowds. Due to Kolob’s higher elevation, the canyon walls are taller and more striking than southern Zion. It has some of the greatest viewpoints and opportunities for photography in the park.

Deep snow in winter can make some of the canyon roads impassable so the best time to visit is between May and October.

  • Scenic Drives
  • Hiking
  • Canyoneering
  • Backpacking
  • Camping

scenic drive through the kolob canyon in zion national park

Scenic Drives

There are two scenic drives in the Kolob area. Kolob Canyons Road stems from the Visitor Center and its impossible to miss because you have to take it to get to Kolob Canyon, Lee Pass Trailhead, or the Timber Creek Overlook Trail.

Kolob Canyons Road

From the Visitor Center, Kolob Canyon Road stretches 5 miles and ends at the Timber Creek Overlook Trail. Although the road is paved, it climbs 1,000 feet in elevation and has hairpin turns so this is not somewhere you would want to take a large RV.

Along the way, numerous pull outs and interpretive signs line the ridgeway. You’ll get views of Zion’s tallest peak–Horse Ranch Mountain, and access to miles of backcountry hiking trails.

Reaching the turnabout at Timber Creek Overlook is the most spectacular view of Kolob Terrace. This is a great place to take panoramic pictures of Zion.

Kolob Terrace Road

South of Kolob Canyon is the scenic drive along Kolob Terrace Road. This is where you should travel to get to The Subway canyoneering route and access to the Lone Pine Campground.

The scenic route starts in Virgin, Utah which is just outside of Zion. Rising 8,000 feet in elevation, Kolob Terrace road gives you a top-down view of Cedar Breaks, the Pink Cliffs, and the Narrows. Much of the route is isolated so it’s a favorite among campers who enjoy solitude.

hiking in kolob canyon

Kolob Canyon Hiking Trails

There are three main hiking trails in the Kolob Canyon area: Timber Creek Overlook, Taylor Creek Trail, and Kolob Arch via La Verkin Creek.

Timber Creek Overlook

If you want spectacular views without the stress of a long hike, the Timber Creek Overlook Trail is short and easy to access. Timber Creek starts at the end of Kolob Canyons road where you’ll find a large parking area and restrooms. The trail extends 0.5 miles out along a ridgeline and rises only 100 feet in elevation.

A picnic area breaks away just yards from the start of the trail. This is a popular place for families to share a mid-afternoon snack.

During spring, the trail can get muddy from snowmelt; but colorful wildflowers bloom in the early summer months. The trail is regularly breezy and stretches parallel along the Horse Rance Mountain Range.

Reaching the overlook, you’ll be provided with some of the best views of Kolob Canyon, Kolob Terrace, and the Pine Valley Mountains. On a clear day, you can see as far as Mt. Trumbell, which is 100 miles away on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

double arch alcove at the end of the middle fork taylor creek trail in zion national park

Middle Fork Taylor Creek Trail

Located only 3 miles from the Kolob Canyon Visitor Center is the Taylor Creek Trail. This trail is like a miniature version of Zion National Park itself–you get to experience canyons, rivers, and arches all within 6 miles.

Stretching nearly 3 miles out, Taylor Creek leads you up and down muddy steps crisscrossing the creek before leveling off onto a sandy canyon trail. There are multiple stream crossings although with some carefully placed stepping stones you may be able to avoid wet feet. Throughout winter, the area can get particularly icy.

Along the trail, you’ll wind past vertical canyon walls 1,700 feet tall and beautiful foliage. The colors are especially breathtaking in the fall. With 450 feet in elevation change, Taylor Creek is rated as a moderate hike; but it’s certainly one that you can do with children. The first few miles are shaded so it stays cooler in the summer months.

Reaching the end of the trail, you’ll be greeted with a fantastic double-arch alcove and two old cabins built in the early 1930s. A little known secret is that if you travel another 0.25 miles beyond the double arch you’ll run into a cool cave waterfall.

Kolob Arch via La Verkin Creek

One of the world’s largest free-standing arches is Kolob Arch. It spans 287 feet and can be accessed via the La Verkin Creek Trail. Starting from Lee’s Pass, the La Verkin Creek Trail is not something to take lightly. This trek is 14 miles round-trip and has over 1,000 feet of elevation change.

This hike can be done as a day trip, but many people choose to backpack because there are 13 dispersed camping sites along the way. Of course, you’ll need to purchase a permit to spend the night.

The trail starts with a walk along Timber Creek where you can view the open finger canyons. It then gradually descends to LaVerkin creek before heading upstream to a sandy pathway. The arch doesn’t reveal itself until the very end.

We recommend avoiding this trail in the winter because it can get icy and covered in snow.

the subway trail in kolob canyon zion

The Subway In Kolob Canyon

One of the most picturesque sections of Kolob Canyon is The Subway. It’s a tubular slot canyon where you can go hiking or canyoneering next to waterfalls, past boulders, and through emerald pools deep enough to swim in. The Subway can be reached from Kolob Terrace Road and experienced either from the top-down or from the bottom-up.

Wilderness permits are required for all hikes within the subway. Although it can be hiked year-round with the proper gear, you should never enter the canyon if there’s rain in the forecast.

hiking through the subway trail past emerald pools in kolob canyon

Hiking The Subway From The Bottom Up

Swimming and rappelling are not necessary when exploring the Subway from the bottom up, but you will get wet! This is a strenuous, 8-mile hike and you should be prepared to spend the entire day exploring.

The hike starts at the left fork trailhead and begins with an easy 0.5-mile walk before turning into a steep, 400-foot downward trek through loose rock and sand. Once you reach the base of left fork, a roughly 2-mile hike across dessert trails and boulders awaits. As you get closer to the canyon, a slick rock stream appears and two large, 15-foot waterfalls shower down.

Just south of the waterfalls, you’ll come across the lower subway. This is the most photographed area; a short section of emerald pools, shallow potholes, and carved tunnel walls. Take your time to admire the glistening water and consider cooling off with a swim.

Beyond the lower subway, you can continue to the waterfall room. It features a 20-foot tall waterfall that can sometimes only be reached with a swim.

The hike out of the lower subway is a grueling steep, and hot climb. You’ll want to save plenty of water for this portion of the hike because many people underestimate how tiring exploring the canyon can be. Pay careful attention to the trail because it’s easy to miss the exit on the way out.

canyoneering in the subway at zion national park

Canyoneering The Subway From The Top Down

Canyoneering in the Subway from the top down is for experienced hikers only. This trail requires rappelling, swimming, and extensive route-finding. You should only attempt to go canyoneering in the subway with an experienced guide.

Anyone canyoneering in the subway will need to obtain a wilderness permit. You’ll also want at least 60 feet of rope, belays, a dry bag, and a wetsuit.

Starting from the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead, the route continues 9.5 miles and ends at the Left Fork Trailhead. Both of these are on Kolob Terrace Road, but they’re 7.5 miles away so you’ll need a spot car to drop off your group. Pack some food, because this route will take the entire day and leave you ravaged at the end.

The route is very technical and has several 30-foot rappels and required swims. You’ll pass emerald pools, keyhole waterfalls, and end up in the picturesque lower subway which can be hiked out.

Kolob Canyon Backpacking

Backpacking is a popular activity throughout all of Zion National Park. In Zion, the wilderness area is divided into sections, and a set amount of permits are granted in each area. About half of the permits can be reserved ahead of time and the rest can be picked up the same day on a first-come, first-served basis.

Wilderness permit reservations can be made up to three months in advance.

Campsites and wilderness trails in the Kolob Canyons include:

waterfalls and rushing rivers in the kolob canyon area

Camping Near Kolob Canyon

Lava Point Campground is open May-September and can be accessed 2-miles off of Kolob Terrace Road. A high-clearance vehicle may be required to get there.

There are 6 campsites at Lava Point that have picnic tables and fire rings as well as pit toilets. There is no running water in this area so you’ll need to pack your own. The campground is free and cannot be reserved so you’ll want to arrive early during the busy season.

The Subway and Wildcat Canyon hiking trails are only a short drive away so Lava Point Campground is a great starting point for summer adventures.

Nearby Attractions

After exploring Kolob Canyon, don’t forget to spend some time in the southern part of Zion. Angel’s Landing and The Narrows are two unique hikes that cannot be missed.

Outside of the park, take some time to explore Cedar Breaks National Monument which is in the Dixie National forest 1-hour northwest of the Kolob Canyon Visitor Center.

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