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Riverside Walk Trail
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Zion National Park
Riverside Trail
Riverside Trail
Meadow and cliffs near the trailhead (view west).

Overview

This is the best short hike in Zion. This pleasant, paved trail starts at the end of the paved road in Zion Canyon and runs north along the Virgin River for about 1 mile. The trail starts where the canyon is fairly wide and ends when the canyon is too narrow for the trail. Most of the trail is fairly level, but there are a few steep parts towards the end. The trail is wheelchair accessible, but some parts would be hard to navigate without assistance or an electric motor. The trail ends at an overlook a few feet above the river where you can sit and relax or walk in the water and hike farther up the canyon. The views along this trail are spectacular.

During summer, shade provided by the high cliffs and trees, and the moisture provided by the river and seeps along the canyon walls, make for a cool, moist environment with spectacular scenery and a great variety of plants and animals.

Link to map.

Riverside Trail
Desert Swamp in early spring (view northwest).

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this is a safe, well-maintained trail, but a slip from a couple of places along the trail would result in serious injury, so be careful and watch your kids. Hiking here in the rain is safe, but don't get in the river during summer rains because there could be a flash flood. If you get in the water, be careful because moving water is more powerful than you might expect.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. Also, even though this is a short hike, be sure to bring what you need of the 10 Essentials.

Riverside Trail
Trail along the hillside (view north).

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located in Zion National Park, about 3 hours northwest of Las Vegas.

From town, drive out to Zion National Park. From the Visitor Center (Table 1, Site 863), drive or ride the shuttle bus north on Highway 9 for about 1.3 miles to Zion Canyon Road (Site 864). Turn left onto Zion Canyon Road and drive north for about 5 miles to the Temple of Sinawava parking area (Site 178). Park here; this is the trailhead.

Riverside Trail
Looking at the American Dipper nest above the built-up trail along the base of the cliffs (view south).

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 2, Waypoint 1) at the Temple of Sinawava parking area, the trail passes the restrooms and information signs as it runs north along the edge of an open flood plain. Before setting out, check the sign near the trailhead for the latest weather conditions regarding rain and flash floods in the narrows.

Initially, the valley floor is relatively wide with Cottonwood Trees, Boxelder trees, Velvet Ash trees, thickets of Canyon Grape, and open meadows. The green contrasts nicely with the red sandstone cliffs towering above the trail, and when flowing, the waterfall across the river adds a nice touch to the scene. Watch for birds, Mule Deer, Rock Squirrels, and other wildlife along the trail. Rock squirrels are common and beg for food, but don't feed them: they can bite, and their fleas harbor bubonic plague.

There are scattered Cottonwood Trees in the river bottom, and Gambel Oak and other trees grow on the hillside above the trail. Some of the trees on the hillside are covered with grapevines that provide food for birds during summer and fall. Split-rail fences keep people on the paved trail, but several use-trails run out across the flood plain to the river. Be sure to watch for Mule Deer in the meadow and along the river.

Riverside Trail
Hikers in the river past the end of trail (view north).

The trail runs along the river bottom to the Desert Swamp, a boggy area with a spring (Wpt. 2). A sign points out the obvious, that it is unusual to find swampy habitat in the desert. Trees and shrubs grow among grasses and reeds in the swamp. This is a favorite place for Song Sparrows; listen for their melodious song during spring.

Beyond the Desert Swamp, the trail gently angles up the wooded slope to run along the hillside between the river bottom and the cliffs. This gives a better view out over the river. The trail winds down and around a rocky section and arrives at a little bridge over a creek (Wpt. 3). Water emerges from springs at the base of the cliff and higher on the wall. This is a nice place to sit quietly on the stone benches and watch for wildlife, including tree frogs that sing in the spring.

Beyond the bridge, the canyon narrows and the trail runs on the rocky hillside up against the cliffs overlooking the river, and in places they had to build up the trail. Part of the trail runs along a cliff with hanging gardens and great spring wildflowers. The hanging gardens are watered by springs in the walls of the canyon, and the little waterfalls provide nesting places for American Dippers. Watch for these little gray birds along the edge of the river as they bob up and down and jump into the water to look for food. They actually walk along the bottom of the stream looking for bugs to eat.

Riverside Trail
Waterfall near the trailhead. Of the photos here, this best shows the grandeur of the cliffs along the trail (view southwest).

Shortly after the hanging gardens, the canyon becomes so narrow that the trail ends because there isn't room for a trail (Wpt. 4). This is a nice place to sit and rest, eat a picnic lunch, soak your feet in the river, and gaze up the canyon at the cliffs. If the weather is good and the water isn't too cold or too high, you can walk farther up the river. If you do, borrow a walking stick from the stone bin just below the end of the trail -- just be sure to bring it back.

To get back to the trailhead, retrace your footprints (such as they are on the paved trail).

Note: before starting out, use the restrooms at the trailhead. These tend to be clean, and they are the only restrooms along the trail.

Table 1. Highway Coordinates (NAD27; UTM Zone 12S). Note that these are UTM-Zone-12 coordinates.
Download Highway GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Site Location Latitude (°N) Longitude (°W) UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (feet) Verified
0178 Zion Narrows Parking Area Temple of Sinawava 37.2852 112.9468 327417 4128082 4,420 Yes
0863 Zion Visitor Center 37.2000 112.9865 323702 4118706 3,940 Yes
0864 Highway 9 at Zion Canyon Road 37.2176 112.9736 324881 4120630 4,048 Yes

Table 2. Hiking Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27; UTM Zone 12S). Note that these are UTM-Zone-12 coordinates.
Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location Time (hrs) Easting Northing Elevation (ft) Verified
01 Temple of Sinawava Trailhead 1505 327417 4128082 4,418 GPS
02 Desert Swamp 1513 327492 4128475 4,440 GPS
03 Bridge over Side Creek 1518 327473 4128761 4,440 GPS
04 End of Trail 1536 327385 4129356 4,460 GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 120510

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