Sandbench Horse Trail, Court of the Patriarchs, Zion National Park, Utah
Sandbench Horse Trail - 3.8 Miles
Court of the Patriarchs
|Round-Trip Length:||3.8 Miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||4,265' - 4,265' (4,710' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+445' net elevation gain (+900' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
The Sandbench Horse Trail is one of the more interesting and unique hikes beginning on the Zion Canyon floor. Unlike most trails here that generally require abrupt climbs up sandstone canyon walls, the Sand Bench plateau rises nominally above the Virgin River, rolling gently through forested hillsides and open sage fields.
This environment - elevated and distant from the busy canyon floor - is ideal for spotting wildlife, especially at dawn and dusk. Deer, turkey, coyote, fox and even mountain lions all benefit from the area's diverse vegetation, shade and proximity to water.
On the canyon's west side, hikers will enjoy excellent views of The Streaked Wall, The Sentinel (7,157') and Court of the Patriarchs. Mount Spry (5,823'), The Twin Brothers (6,863') and Mountain of the Sun (6,722') can all be seen across the canyon.
Much of the trail passes just above an area affected by several recent landslides. Most shuttle operators will explain these events and resulting consequences in detail.
A few things hikers should know before getting started - First, the bad:
- As the name suggests, this is primarily used as a horse trail. With that in mind, you can expect to see - and yield for - horse riding tour groups that run regularly throughout the day.
From the Court of the Patriarchs shuttle stop, go west on the service road and continue over the bridge to the trailhead. There is little signage here, but know that the bridge crossing puts you on the correct path.
The trail rises nominally for .3 miles until connecting with the 'main' Sand Bench Horse Trail (4,290'). Turn left (south) and continue to the 'Loop' junction at (.6 miles : 4,345'). From here you can travel in either direction - the following description follows the Loop counter-clockwise:
Bearing right at the loop junction, the trail begins a moderate rise amid varied vegetation. Pinyon-juniper stands intersperse with open areas populated by manzanita, yucca, cacti, grasses and various small brush species. Wet springs produce colorful blooms and wildflower exhibitions.
The trail maintains a steady climb through deep sand; when resting - which will likely be more frequent than anticipated - be sure to look up and enjoy the surroundings. A good map will help identify the many landmarks towering above in every direction.
The trail crests at 4,680' after 1.4 miles, then descends through a spacious, sage filled meadow. This open, unobstructed area is particularly good for wildlife viewing. The descent levels off at a hitchrack and picnic area used for horse tours; this is the Loop's 'turnaround point' (1.75 miles : 4,545').
Continuing in the deep sand through 2 miles, the trail reaches another crest at 4,710'. The trail now drops through alternating stretches of forest and open areas back to the start of the loop (3.2 miles).
Retrace your steps for the final .6 miles to the Court of the Patriarchs Trailhead and shuttle stop.
GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84View these GPS points on a Google Map
- N37 14.215 W112 57.756 — Court of the Patriarchs Trailhead
- The trail's deep sand can significantly impact travel time and energy expenditure. Despite the relatively short distance, prepare for a longer, more strenuous hike.
- On the return, there are no signs explicitly directing you to the trailhead, so it's important to recognize where you are and not miss the final right turn you'll need to make at the 3.5 mile mark. Having a map will help avoid any missteps.
- From the start of the loop (traveling counter-clockwise), there are a few 'social' trails that travel west. Do not follow these - stay straight. A sign located just inches from the ground points you in the correct direction.
- The trail can also be accessed from the Emerald Pools Trailhead at the Zion Lodge shuttle stop. This will add an additional 1.8 net miles to the roundtrip distance shown here. However, with the shuttle, it is not necessary to return to the Zion Lodge...Simply complete the hike and exit at the Court of the Patriarchs shuttle stop.
- This is one of the least used and most underrated trails in the Zion Canyon area. It's ideal for those seeking solitude during busy times.
- Some resources suggest the trail is only 2.5 miles. This is inaccurate. Though the 'loop' itself is approximately 2.5 miles, this distance claim ignores the roundtrip mileage necessary to reach the loop portion of the trail.
Take the Zion Canyon shuttle to the Court of the Patriarchs shuttle stop. The trail can also be accessed from the Emerald Pools Trailhead at the Zion Lodge shuttle stop.
Zion Canyon Visitor Center
Closed: December 25
Spring: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Summer: 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Fall: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Winter: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Backcountry Info, Camping & Permits Desk (including camping in the Narrows)