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My goal on our January 2022 Zion trip was to do as many hikes as possible that I hadn’t done yet. And we did it! Mostly.
I think we actually did do all of the hikes in the main canyon and near the visitor center but we were only able to do one on the east side because it was too snowy and we weren’t prepared for that (our bad.)
Travel Services I Recommend:
AllTrails – This is my favorite hike tracking app.
America the Beautiful – The national park pass is essential.
Booking.com – This is great for finding and booking hotels.
Get Your Guide – I recommend Get Your Guide for booking tours.
National Park Obsessed – This is the best national park planner.
Skyscanner – Skyscanner is great for finding and booking flights.
Enterprise – This is my rental car recommendation.
See all my resources here.
The first trail on my list of hikes to do in Zion was the Sand Bench Trail. We didn’t get started particularly early any of our days there so we probably did this mid-day/early afternoon.
Since we were there in January, we didn’t have to use the shuttle (it wasn’t even running) and managed to get a spot in the small Court of the Patriarchs parking area.
The trail is just across the street from the parking area so off we went! We crossed a short bridge and made a left at the fork where we soon had to cross a little creek. If you go right at the fork here you’ll go to the Emerald Pools.
It was an easy crossing and we were able to make it across just stepping on rocks. Then we started the hike up and up and up some more.
I kept thinking we were at the top then we would have to go up just a little more. Any effort made in the elevation gain was totally worth it though because we were rewarded with beautiful views of Zion Canyon below and the amazing cliffs around us.
This trail is used for horseback riding in the summer so we didn’t see any while we were there but we did see the resting/picnic area for them at the top. Its a nice shady area good for a little break.
When we got to the for for the loop section, we went to the right and hiked the inside part of it first, the part closer to the base of the canyon wall, and ended on the cliff edge side.
While we were on this side we got to see (what we think were) California Condors flying around! They were so far away it was hard to tell but they looked pretty big. I took a bunch of pictures but they were hard to spot in them at all.
We watched the birds for a while and enjoyed the views before continuing around the loop. On the edge side of the loop, you can get pretty close to the edge and I would imagine it can be pretty loose, so do so with caution.
It’s a long way down to the river below. You can see the main canyon road from here, too. This whole time I had no idea this trail was even here but it’s such an easy to see place!
The trail itself on the top part of the loop is mostly packed sand with some sort of open grassy areas around it. The climb up and down is more tree tunnels and uneven rocky/rooty so you’ll want to watch your footing there. That’s also where it was muddier. It’s very easy to follow.
While the trail itself wasn’t very snowy here, the cliffs across from and above us were dusted with snow and it was so beautiful! I loved being able to see it this snowy (but not too snowy down here.)
I really loved this hike because it was so quiet and we had almost the whole loop section of it to ourselves. The weather was perfect and even though the hike up was a little rough, it was entirely worth it.
National Park Goodies
- If you’re planning to visit three or more national parks within a year from your trip, definitely get the America the Beautiful pass. It will save you money in the long run if you’re going to more than three parks in a year. Buy the pass here.
- If you’re planning on doing a lot of hiking on your trip, or even at home, check out AllTrails! This is my favorite app to find, keep track of, and track my hiking activity. And it’s FREE! Sign up here.
- This Ultimate National Park Planning Bundle is a must-have. You get two ebooks and a planner, saving 50% by getting them as a bundle! If you want all the details, this is the bundle for you. Buy the Ultimate bundle here.
- This National Park Planner (one of the ebooks from the bundle above) is perfect if you just want some guidance in your planning. Buy the planner here.
- Get yourself a National Park journal for all of the NPS sites (400+!) to keep track of your travels!
- Consider reading some of these books set in national parks before your big trip, on your adventure, or once you get home to take you back to the parks until next time.
Where is the Sand Bench Trailhead?
The Sand Bench Trailhead is at the Court of the Patriarchs shuttle stop/parking area. The Emerald Pools can also be reached from this trail if you go right at the fork instead of left.
How long is the Sand Bench Trail?
AllTrails says it’s 3.8 miles round-trip as a loop but I tracked our hike and it says we hiked 4.6 miles. I’m not sure how it’s so different but AllTrails tracking can be weird. I would plan about two hours for this hike.
Is the Sand Bench Trail hard?
Coming from someone that doesn’t do lots of long hikes (8+ miles) with lots of elevation, this is definitely moderately difficult. It’s not hard, but like most trails in Zion, you are going up most of the time. It has 721 feet of elevation gain. If you’re in really good shape, this probably won’t be too bad.
Do you need to take the shuttle to the trailhead?
Yes, unless you’re visiting in December-February. It is about 1.5 miles down the main canyon road which requires the shuttle. It’s not that far so if you really don’t want to take the shuttle I suppose you could walk from the visitor center.
If you do walk from there, it will add almost seven more miles but you could also walk the Pa’rus Trail which is nice and flat. Or you could walk there then take the shuttle back or vice versa.
If you are visiting when you can drive the main canyon yourself, know that parking is very limited at this trailhead and if it’s busy, they will temporarily close the drive if parking is full so you may have to check back.
What is the best time to hike the Sand Bench Trail?
I would say spring/fall/winter just because hiking here in the summer is not something I enjoy but it does have quite a few shady spots which is nice, just be prepared for heat and have lots of water.
If you are hiking in the summer, I would do it in the morning to avoid peak mid-day heat. In the spring this trail could definitely be very muddy because of melting snow. The same goes for monsoon season (July/August, usually).
In the winter, there can be snow on the trail. We encountered some but not enough to make it hard to hike. Some spots were muddy. It can be pretty cold in the winter so dress in layers and consider bringing microspikes for icy trails.
Is hiking the Sand Bench Trail in Zion worth it?
Yes! I loved this trail and while I complained a lot of the hike up, it was definitely worth it. We saw a few other people at the beginning/end but no one else while we were on the loop part of the trail.
Though we were there in January so it wasn’t as busy but I had never even head of this trail before we planned this trip so I’m not sure how busy it will really be even in peak season.