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There are three primary backpacking trips in Zion, two for Spring, Summer and Fall and one in Fall, Winter and Spring. They are the East Rim, the West Rim, also referred to as the Wild Horse Pasture Trail, and the Chinle, also referred to as the Petrified Forest Trail or Zion Desert Trail. The East and West Rim trails can be hiked in the Summer as long as you can tolerate hot days (it will cool down considerably at night and you might even need a sweater). But these two are ideal in Spring and Fall. They will be cut off by snow and ice in Winter. The Chinle is just the opposite. It can be hiked in Winter as long as you can tolerate moderate cold. It is ideal in Spring and Fall. But 100+ temperatures make it unbearable in Summer. (Backpacking, after all, is supposed to be enjoyable. If you had to hike it in Summer you could do it, but why be miserable?) You need to register and obtain permits for all three. We recommend doing so ahead of time just to be safe, but applicants are rarely denied. Everyone concentrates on Angel's Landing, Observation Point, the Lower Narrows and the Subway and ignores the rest.

East Rim West Rim Chinle

Your biggest challenge will be water. It's one thing to carry three bottles for a day hike, but something else entirely to carry two or three days of water for cooking and washing for two or more people. You cannot rely on your water purifier, since streams, especially in Summer and Fall, are unreliable. This is a desert. It doesn't rain often, and when it doesn't, the streams dry up. You need to think this through well ahead of time, since there are no outdoor stores in the park. A common strategy is to carry water in milk jugs. This works, but you need to thoroughly clean the jugs several times and keep rinsing them out over and over to get the milk taste and smell out. This has to be done back home. Most people still carry the three bottles for use during the hike, then have each person to carry two milk jugs of water. But this adds significantly to the weight of the pack, so you'll have to calculate what you need to leave out to compensate for the weight of the water. Fortunately, you won't need cold weather gear.

You obviously won't buy a pack just for this trip, but if you own more than one, your external frame model is ideal here. The internal frame models that are currently the fad are extremely unsuitable for desert backpacking.

They don't provide convenient places to attach a water jug (see above), and you're going to need at least two. Trying to attach these large jugs distorts an internal frame back and may damage it.

They also don't allow for air circulation between your back and the pack, which means you'll be swimming in perspiration after about the first half hour. External frame packs also tend to have four to six outside pockets, which allows you to access items without stopping and digging into the pack's main sack. The model shown here is a Universal Loadmaster 40, but all good external frame packs have this same sort of mesh panel.

Next, you need to consider a hat. You need some protetion from the Sun. But the classic Cowboy Hat in fur felt is too hot, and the straw version can interfere with the top of your pack. A Baseball Cap provides no protection for your ears or the back of your neck.

There are two kinds of hats ideally suited to backpacking here. The first is the hat with a long bill in front, ear flaps on the sides, and a sort of trailing flap down the neck. In the Southeast these are sold as Fishing Hats. In the Southwest they're sold as Desert Hats or Coot Hats (after the "old coots" who lived out on the desert, usually with a mule or donkey, prospecting for gold or silver).

The other kind of hat is the Archaeologists Hat, with a broad brim around the front and sides, a long flap down the neck, and a chin strap. The best current rendition of this hat is the Ultra Adventure Storm Hat by Sunday Afternoon Co. You can order one online.

Next, you need to consider tents. If you own multiple tents, the one you want for Zion trips is the mesh interior with the separate rainfly. Versions of these are made by various companies. The reason they become particularly useful at Zion is because it rarely rains, so you can leave the fly off for maximum air circulation to catch any night breezes that might be flowing. You'll be able to peer out through the mesh at the night creatures roaming the desert. And, most important, you can lay in bed and look up through the mesh at the Zion night sky. This is the best viewing location you're likely to be in. You're at high altitude, far from any polluting source, far from any distracting man made lights, and in a land with few clouds. You'll be able to see more stars, see them more clearly, and see the Moon and several planets very well. Before leaving home, you should install one of the stargazing appls on your phone. We use Sky Guide, but there are others. Or you could bring a Planisphere, an old fashioned plastic or card board "sky wheel" that you set for your location, date and time and it shows you a map of the sky. Of course, when you choose a campsite, choose one away from trees so you have an unobstructed view.

Chinle Trail must be avoided in Summer due to broiling temperatures and lack of shade. But if you're here in Fall, Winter or Spring it's a great trip. It traverses the Zion Desert and the Petrified Forest. It offers photographers some spectacular scenes. Especially in Spring, the Cacti in bloom are impressive. The flowers tend to be larger than you would expect. The Chinle Trail begins rather disturbingly at the Anasazai Plateau residential neighborhood, a part of Springdale. It alternates between long sandy stretches and short sections across bare rock, where you'll follow cairns instead of signs. Chinle is not a cliff hugging, high altitude trail. It is on the Zion Desert floor, following the dry creekbeds which only fill up with water during heavy rains. The Chinle takes you around "behind" the major rock formations you saw from the east in Springdale or the valley, so you get a different view of them, especially since you'll see them gleaming in afternoon and evening Sun. There are six officially designated campsites here, which you're required to use. The Petrified Forest is fascinating but remember trying to pocket a piece and carry it home is illegal with serious punishment. This is a very pleasant two day trip, camping at the far end. You need plenty of water, as these streams only run after rains.

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