Zion is a perfect little gem of a national park. The ruby red rock, the sapphire skies, the incredible soaring cliffs and towers surrounding a beautiful little winding river: it’s hard to believe that so much beauty can be concentrated in what is really a pretty small space.
It’s a grand example of how to run a small national park, too. Beginning in March only shuttle buses are allowed in Zion Canyon, which means you can look down from the top of Cable Mountain (as in the picture above) and not see a steady stream of cars. And it’s not hard to lose the crowds, even if you arrive during the ridiculously busy weeks surrounding Easter. As in most parks, once you hike a mile or two from a trailhead, you are pretty much guaranteed solitude.
The hike to Cable Mountain on the East Rim of the canyon is a perfect example of this. There are three ways to reach the mountain: a really strenuous 11 mile hike from the bottom of the canyon, past the Weeping Rock, through Echo Canyon and then up and up, an 8 mile hike from the East Rim trailhead on the east side of the park that is not as spectacular, but also not as hard, or a 4 mile hike from the Stave Spring trailhead that is really not difficult at all, but is at the end of a 4-wheel drive road that can be not too passable if the weather is wet.
We’ve taken the first two options on previous trips and have ended up camping below Cable Mountain. This time we wanted to camp right on the rim, and I didn’t want to kill myself getting there, so we chose the Stave Spring Trailhead.
When you get to camp at a spot like this, you know you’ve made a good choice:
The trail starts high, and I think it only climbs about 500 feet over 4 miles to get to the top. (You do go up, then down, then up again, so if you do this hike be prepared for that!) Water can be an issue, since Stave Spring is not always flowing, but on our trip water was trickling from the spring’s pipe, and there were plenty of snow patches around for melting.
The trail crosses the mesa top, and then begins a gradual climb to Deertrap and Cable Mountains.
After a bit of a climb, the view starts to open up.
But it’s the views from the rim of the canyon that are the real reward.
We found a campsite away from the trail, but on the edge of the canyon, and spent the afternoon watching vultures and ravens soar below us. We were visited by western bluebirds and a fearless chipmunk, and I could even watch people hiking the switchbacks across the canyon on the trail to Observation Peak.
All in all, not a bad way to start the backpacking season!