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Chinle Trail


Getting There Lodging Restaurants Hiking Backpacking The Narrows The Subway Springdale
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 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's 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.

East Rim West Rim Chinle

To get to the Chinle Trail, you leave the park, drive into Springdale, find the Anasazai Plateau neighborhood, park, walk past a few residential homes (whose inhabitants enjoy magnificent views), and reenter the park through the gate shown here at right. It's a rather inauspicious entry to one of the park's more intriguing sections.


The Chinle Trail leads you past and through a Badlands area, a smaller version of the Badlands seen in other states. The bright colors and unique formations make this a very photogenic area. What is happening here is that the Chinle Formation, a layer of muds deposited long ago and then buried under layer after layer of other deposits, has been exposed. It is exposed in several other places. Wherever it is exposed, these Badlands are visible. The Chinle Formation, whether in Utah, Arizona or other states, also contains extensive petrified wood fragments. The greatest exposure of the Chinle formation is in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.

A large percentage of these deposits are Volcanic, but the volcanoes were not here. They were further West. Rivers carried the sediments, and the trees, here.

A major reason people hike the Chinle Trail is to see the petrified forest fragments. This is not a spectacular petrified forest location. If there were large tree trunks or branches here, they were carried off before the national park was created. What is here are hundreds of small fragments. It's illegal to carry any of them with you, so you just have to enjoy them in place.

We say repeatedly that this is a desert and the streambeds ("washes" in local parlance) are usually dry. But it does rain here occasionally. When it rains over Wild Horse Pasture Plateau and the upper Left Fork basin, that water flows down into the Chinle Basin and quickly fills up the low areas, resulting in views like the one at left. These don't last long, because the water runs off, sinks down in the sandy soil or evaporates. Within 48 hours these pools are usually gone.

In the Winter, snow does fall in Zion, and sometimes it accumulates. Then, as it melts, the runoff fills the Basin.

The most likely time to see the scene at left is late Winter and early and middle Spring. By late Spring, rains are becoming less frequent and the runoff from Winter snows is subsiding.

This photo is taken in Coalpits Wash, which is at the other end of the Chinle Trail.

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