Kolob Canyons Drive

kolobmap picture

Round-trip 10.6 miles (17 km)
Allow 3/4 hour

Welcome! This guide takes you through 10 stops along the Kolob Canyon scenic drive. Numbered arrowheads on posts mark each stop.

In this spectacular section of Zion National Park you'll see sheer, narrow canyons and forested plateaus where striking orange-red cliffs contrast sharply against the blue sky and green valleys. Here you can explore over 30,000 acres of canyon wilderness that is still home to mountain lions, mule deer and golden eagles. You can reach the world's largest freestanding arch by hiking 7 miles (11 km) into the heart of the Kolob Canyons. This road guide offers you insight into Zion's history, geologic past, and the park's varied plant and animal life.

Drive carefully. The road ascends 1100 feet (335m) in 5 miles (8km) with moderately steep grades and many curves. Several stops are on the opposite side of the road; use caution when crossing to a pullout. Watch for rocks on the road, especially after heavy rains or during snowmelt. Expect deer to cross the road during morning and evening hours. Have a safe and enjoyable visit in Zion National Park!

The National Park Service protects and manages unique cultural, historic and natural areas that are preserved for public use. Please help take care of these national treasures so they will remain unchanged for future generations.

  1. You're now driving along the Hurricane Fault, a 120 mile (192 km) long fracture in the Earth's crust. The Hurrican Cliffs are the tall, gray precipices along this fault. These cliffs are predominantly Kaibab limestone, formed from limey solutions laid down in a shallow ocean. Land east of this fault was raised over one mile. Have you ever witnessed the quick and powerful destruction of an earthquake? Unlike an earthquake, most crustal movement along faults occurs very slowly.
  2. Look on the hillsides above Taylor Creek. Growing here is a pinyon-juniper woodland. Notice the wide distances between the evergreen trees and the lack of undergrowth. This spacing reduces competition for water. Many plants on these poor, rocky soils have shallow, spreading roots that quickly soak up summer rains. The cottonwoods along the creek sink deep taproots to utilize underground water. Waxy coatings on leaves and a smaller leaf surface area reduce water loss in many shrubs like mountain mahogany, manzanita and shrub live oak.
  3. This is the Taylor Creek drainage. The peak on the left is Horse Ranch Mountain (8726 feet, 2660m), Zion's highest point. In the middle is Tucupit Point. The tall spire on the right is Paria Point. The sheer cliffs are primarily composed of Navajop sandstone. On this drive you'll see many colorful rock layers: sandstones, siltstones, limestones and lavas. Each was deposited in environments ranging from lakes and streams, to deserts and shallow seas.
  4. The South Fork of Taylor Creek is a box canyon - a place where sheer rock walls over 1500 feet (457m) high prevent passage. The meager creek that flows from this canyon hardly seems capable of cutting such a deep, magnificent canyon; yet water was the principal carving agent. In full flood stage, such creeks can change into raging torrents, carrying tons of rock downstream and scouring the valley deeper and wider.
  5. Look at the tilted layers of rock where the road cuts through the hillside. Imagine the powerful forces that caused these rock strata to move, fold and tilt. The Earth's crust is not a stable fixed shell. It is in constant motion as continents inch slowly along the surface, mountain ranges rise, and suboceanic rock layers sink to molten depths. The multicolored rocks of this roadcut are part of the Kayenta formation, layers of siltstones and sandstones that were deposited by streams.
  6. Observe how the lines on the rock wall across the canyon sweep and curve at angles. This cross-bedding is evidence that the rock was probably deposited as sand dunes, and represents the top of dunes as the wind blew sand across them. Over 2000 feet (605m) of sand was laid down as the whole region continued to drop below sea level. After another ocean invasion, limey solutions from the sea water seeped into the dunes and cemented the sand grains together.
  7. Look up this side canyon and you'll see several large arched alcoves. Some sandstone layers are not as compact as others. Groundwater seeps through such layers and erodes shallow recesses into the canyon walls. Under certain conditions these alcoves may become arches. The tremendous weight of the cliff above the alcove's roof causes tensions which create a curved ceiling. If a fracture is present above and behind the alcove, running water may eventually create a gap between the alcove and the cliff, producing a freestanding arch.
  8. Locate Timber Top Mountain from the overlook exhibit. Looking from the valley to the mountain top you'll notice differences in the plant communities. On its lower slopes, Utah juniper, pinyon pine, Gambel oak and sagebrush grow in a hot, dry environment. Aspen, white fir, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine grow in the hanging valleys and on ledges where the shady, northern exposure results in cooler, wetter conditions. Similar nicroclimatic conditions on its 8000 foot summit allows forests of fir and pondderosa pine to grow. These same trees are found at much lower elevations in the northern states.
  9. See the huge rock scar on the largest mountain to the right? This section of the cliff fel in July 1983. Rockfalls occur for several reasons. The sun's heat expands and weakens rock layers along fractures. Ice forms in cracks pushing out on slabs and boulders. Weaker rock layers are undercut by water, causing unsupported slabs to collapse. Most erosion occurs slowly, as grain by grain, the towering walls are worn away. But we are shown nature's power when a thousand foot slab of rock crashes to the ground.
  10. Many Canyon walls have vertical black stripes. Water which runs down the cliff face carries dissolved minerals. These minerals act as dye, staining the rock over which the water flows. Other processes such as organic stain and desert varnish can produce these stripes. Iron oxides account for many of the colors on the rock. Hematitem an iron oxide, colors the rock faces of the Kolob Canyons a salmon to orange-red color.

Looking at the Past

Little is known of the earliest Native Americans who lived in the Kolob Canyons. The Anasazi, or "Ancient Ones" left traces of their presence in pictographs, pottery sherds, and stone structures. They hunted and farmed in the area until around 1200 A.D. When padres Dominguez and Escalante passed through the broad valley just west of the visitor center on October 12, 1776, the Paiutes were already longtime residents. Like the Anasazi, they grew crops of squash, corn and beans, hunted deer and rabbits, and gathered grass seeds and pinyon nuts.

Jedediah Smith, a trapper and trader, passed by the Kolob in 1826 accompanied by 16 men to explore the country and to find a way to California. The route he followed was eventually called the Old Spanish Trail. Eighteen years later Captain John C. Fremont described this region in his travels. In 1851 Mormon pioneers settled the Cedar City region. They utilized the Kolob Canyons area for many purposes: cutting timber, raising sheep, horses, and cattle, prospecting for needed minerals, and diverting water for irrigating the valleys below. Farms and ranches provided the needs for growing families and communities. Lee Pass was named after John D. Lee, one of the original settlers who founded the town of Harmony, just west of the Kolob Canyons in the fall of 1852. The Mormons named these canyons Kolob, which means in their scripture, the star nearest to the residence of God.

The people of southern Utah were astonished by the magnificent landscape of the area. The potential for tourism was great, and a need to protect and set aside the most scenic areas was evident. By the mid-1960's a road was built into the Kolob Canyons wilderness. The drive made it possible for the motorist to gain a closer view of this rugged country. Now tens of thousands of visitors from many countries travel to southern Utah and are surprised by the spectacular scenery of the Kolob Canyons.


Because of its diversity of habitats many different animals live in the Kolob Canyons. Remember, you are visiting their homes; try to observe and watch animals without interfering with their activities. Feeding wildlife is prohibited. Animals can injure you and are adapted to a natural diet, not human food. Mule deer are best seen October through March in the mornings and evenings when they browse on the brushy hillsides. The speckled, gray rock squirrel is commonly sighted in summer scampering across the road or perching on boulders. Look for jackrabbits sitting in the shade of sagebrush near the visitor center.

Ravens are familar citizens of the sky, whose flying antics and distinct call are easily seen and heard. You'll probably observe the noisy, bright blue scrub jay who inhabits the pinyon-juniper forest. Golden Eagles (their 6´ to 7´ wingspan is a good field mark) can sometimes be spotted soaring against the backdrop of the red canyon walls. The whiptail and fence lizards frequently sun themselves on rocks along the trails. Rattlesnakes are one of a dozen species of snakes found in the park, but you're much more likely to see a striped whipsnake moving along the road or trail. In fall, tarantulas wander across park roads searching for mates.

Coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, gray foxes, skunks and ringtail cats also inhabit the canyons, searching for food primarily at night. All of the wildlife in our national parks are protected from hunting or disturbance. Because of this protection, parks provide excellent opportunities to view wildlife in their natural habitats.

Kolob Hiking Trails

1/2 hours
(1.0 mi.)*
(1.6 km)
Take the Timber Creek Overlook Trail. The trail leaves from the picnic area at the drive's end. Scenic views of the Kolob backcountry and distant mountains.
1 - 2 hours
(2.5 mi.)
(3.8 km)
Hike to the Larson cabin on the Middle Fork of Taylor Creek. Park at the Taylor Creek Trailhead, 2 miles (3.2 km) up the road.
2 - 4 hours
(5.4 mi.)
(8.6 km)
Walk to the Double Arch Alcove on the Middle Fork Trail.
All Day
(14.4 mi.)
(23 km)
It's a strenuous hike to see the world's largest free-standing arch, the Kolob Arch. The hike starts at Lee Pass and follows the La Verkin Creek Trail in to the Kolob Wilderness.

* Roundtrip mileages.

Hikers Tips

This brochure was published by the Zion Natural History Association. © 1993.

See our map and guide reference section for trail maps and other useful information available from Maps.com. Maps.com has over 3,500 maps.

Return to Day 16
back16 picture

© 1995 - Karen M. Strom