It’s no secret that the iconic landscape of Zion National Park draws visitors from all over the world. However, some might be surprised to learn just how popular it has become: in 2017, Zion was the third most heavily visited national park in the country, beating out both Yosemite and Yellowstone with an impressive total of 4.5 million guests. The oldest of Utah’s national parks and the closest of the five to Los Angeles features a deep gorge cut by the Virgin River where serene woodlands of pines and cottonwoods lie beneath imposing red and white cliffs, making for an instantly recognizable backdrop. This edition of “Beyond L.A.” focuses on the Pa’rus Trail, an easy hike that offers a sampling of the park’s serious eye candy.
TIPS FOR L.A. HIKERS
Getting to Zion National Park: Zion National Park’s south entrance is a little over 400 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Without traffic, expect a 7-8 hour drive (and note that Utah is one hour ahead, in the Mountain time zone). The park is about 160 miles and a 2.5 hour drive from Las Vegas. St. George Express offers shuttle service from Las Vegas, Mesquite, NV, anywhere in St. George, UT and other options. St. George Airport (SGU) is about an hour’s drive from the park. For information on flights from LAX to SGU, click here. The park entrance fee is $30 per vehicle (good for one week). Annual passes are $50 and the America the Beautiful pass ($80 per year) is also accepted. The Pa’rus Trail is one of the first trails in the park after the entrance station but if the park is crowded (peak season is May – September, with an average of 300,00 monthly visitors) parking may not be available, requiring visitors to park in the town of Springdale and take the Zion shuttle.
Staying at or near Zion National Park: The two campgrounds closest to the trail are the South Campground ($16 per night, first come first serve) and the Watchman Campground ($16-20 per night, reservations accepted). For more information about staying at these campgrounds or elsewhere in or near Zion National Park, click here. Other articles with tips on camping in or staying near Zion are here and here.
Weather: Temperatures in nearby Springdale range from average lows of 28 degrees in January to average highs of 99 degrees in July. Average annual precipitation is comparable to L.A. at 15 inches.
Cell phone reception: Good
Dogs: Allowed on leash but exercise caution on warm days (for tips on hiking safely with dogs, click here). Watch out for cyclists. Note that pets are NOT allowed on Zion shuttle buses.
Approximately 3.2 miles round trip, 100 feet elevation gain; allow 2 hours
The Pa’rus (pronounced PIE-roos; from the Paiute word for “bubbling water”) Trail is the easiest and one of the most popular trails in Zion National Park. While experienced hikers and backpackers will doubtlessly want to venture deeper into the park for more ambitious and adventurous hikes such as Angel’s Landing and the Subway, the Pa’rus Trail is ideal for cyclists (it’s the only bike-friendly trail in the park), families with young kids and dogs (it is the only dog-friendly trail in Zion and one of the few dog-friendly trails in any national park), providing a taste of Zion’s unique and spectacular scenery.
The official access point is by the Watchman Campground entrance, just past the south entry point. However, during the park’s peak season, you may have to find alternate parking at the overflow for the South Campground or where allowed along Highway 9. Access to the trail from these other points is easy and obvious.
Assuming you start from the south end, begin by crossing the Virgin River Bridge and picking up the signed Pa’rus Trail. The paved pathway curves around the campground and begins heading north, paralleling the Virgin River. Soon you get your first look at one of Zion’s signature landscapes: the lush, cottonwood-filled valley framed by towering red cliffs. The trail crosses a service road and a small footbridge, continuing north. The vegetation includes cottonwood trees, pines, cacti and willows. A few use trails head down to the river. Traffic noise is noticeable but not too obtrusive.
The trail crosses several footbridges, passes a small check dam which results in a cascade and finally crosses under Highway 9 to reach its terminus, by stop #3 on the Zion shuttle.
Text and photography copyright 2018 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.