Road Tripping 3: Luxury Backpacking in Zion

Are you a dirtbag who wants to travel in style? Are you completely broke? Do you have low standards, but barely enough self-awareness to feel awkward if you stink? Then a trip down La Verkin Creek Trail is just right for you!

This greeted us from the trailhead.

Our view from the trailhead.

Start your day shouldering a pack stuffed with only the bare essentials, for if Yosemite taught us anything, it’s that we’d rather starve in an emergency than carry an ounce of extra weight. You can traipse a merry three miles downhill until you reach the sweet waters of La Verkin Creek. This lovely tributary runs all year, thanks to our sponsor, the Colorado River.


Fireworks of color

A true aristocrat

I recommend starting in fall, when the cottonwoods are shimmering golden and the gamble oaks are rusting their leaves along the sandy ground. In mid October, it’s warm enough to take off your shirt and release your inner dirtbag…

Pure grace.

Pure grace

but the water’s cold enough to wake you up from an afternoon stupor! Take an ankle-breaking stroll up a side canyon and frighten your girlfriend by climbing too high on crumbling sandstone: It’s all part of the experience.


Our five-star campsite, Camp 6, was a dangerous leap over slippery rocks in the creek toward a flat knoll raise high above the trail. Nestled in a lovely East-West valley, we were able to watch the sun set downstream; the twilight cast purple shadows over distant cliffs and raised enough wind to banish flies nipping at our blisters. Someone had fashioned low chairs from flat rocks, and perhaps that same artist had carved Tolkien’s “Not all who wander are lost” in a fallen trunk. After a cold bath and a gourmet meal of freeze-dried fajita mix (thanks again, Arielle and Casey, for the ride and your leftover food!) we slept under a jeweled sky to the tinkling of water.

Cool observation.

Sweetly singing wren.

One of our bedfellows.

One of our bedfellows.

We rose to tea and oatmeal, and after joining some of our canyon-dwelling neighbors for a morning stretch, we set off once more. This day was certainly coach seating after a 1st class flight—we had to fill all 7 heavy liters of water to sustain us in Hop Valley, which has a cow-contaminated water source. There was one highlight, however. Before we climbed out of La Verkin Creek Canyon, we took a detour toward Kolob Arch,

Kolob Arch

Kolob Arch

which is, according to who you ask, the second largest freestanding arch in the world. We scrambled up loose hillsides and scarred our legs from Manzanita bushes to catch a spectacular glimpse. We congratulated each other, returned to our packs, and began a grueling mile uphill.

Once we left the water, the air became unbearably hot and dry. Our lips started to peel. Each step in the pink sand gave way under our feet, and we thought it would never end. But all things must pass, and we finally found ourselves deposited into Hop Valley. Unlike its predecessor, Hop Valley runs North-South and rarely sees the sun. Its river is mostly a flat collection of scum, surrounded by cow patties, sage and grass. Distant lowing echoed across the red cliffs, low and gentle. In fact, the most beautiful part of Hop Valley was its population of cows, whose voices are lovely in reverb. We also saw a family of turkeys in a tall Ponderosa and heard the plaintive yelp and howl of a lonely coyote deep in the night.

We rose before dawn, left our packs near a particularly large cow patty, and hiked toward Langston Canyon. Scrambling up these boulders tossed like pebbles in a stream fulfilled some childhood fantasy,

Some of the smaller boulders.

Some of the smaller boulders.

footprintsespecially as our footsteps mingled with coyote, big cat, mouse, deer, lizard, and bird tracks in the pink and rippling sand. We had to scramble up the thorny hillsides to round cliffs in the streambed, and the long views of Kolob cayons, Red Butte, Hop Valley, and unnamed cliffs and canyons left us breathless. We reached a natural amphitheater and tested the echoes again. Five stars: My version of Queen’s “Somebody to Love” has never sounded better.

We were quickly running out of water, so we scrambled back down the canyon, resumed our place under the packs, and retraced our steps back over the ridge toward our luxurious Camp 6, where I washed my dusty (and significantly hairier) legs. Ah, bliss, to stand among running water! The sunset never dipped into deep colors, but stayed baby blue and lemon yellow until the first stars twinkled above the cottonwoods.


We woke to coffee and tea, and spoiled ourselves with two packets of oatmeal to finish off the last bit of food.

A discerning guest admires  her accommodations with all the grace and poise accredited to her class.

A discerning guest admires her accommodations.

Our three-hour hike uphill kept us warm in the chilly morning, but by 9:30 the sun was so hot we both took our shirts off. We found our car at noon, ragged but feeling fresh. We removed our shoes, ran some water over our hands, and high-fived in the air-conditioned pod of my Subaru. I never felt so fancy.

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