The Northgate Peaks Trail is a perfect choice to escape the crowds and the hot Zion Canyon National Park weather. Located northwest of the main Zion park area, this easy hike is a pleasant stroll through a mature Ponderosa Pine forest, paying off with great views of the Northgate Peaks and the Zion Canyon in the distance.
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We did this hike on a hot Saturday in April, on a day when park admission was free to celebrate National Park Week. We feared the crowds that would descend on the main park, so we found this hidden gem and achieved our two goals: finding a cooler hike in Zion NP and having the place nearly to ourselves.
Northgate Peaks Trail Hike Stats
Distance: The round trip distance of this hike is 4.5 miles / 7.2 km.
Elevation Gain: Northgate Peaks Trail hike is very flat, with few discernible elevation changes. Our GPS calculated the total elevation change as a mere 240 feet / 74m.
Difficulty: The total distance may be a bit long for some kids, but it’s flat enough to still rate as easy.
Duration: This hike took us 2 hours to complete, which is way faster than typical with our kids. This is due to the fact that we ran into another family with slightly older kids.
Our kids were more than happy to run along the trail to keep up with the bigger kids. Our normal pace with our kids would have been closer to 3.5 hours.
Northgate Peaks Trail Location
How to Get There: The biggest charm about the Northgate Peaks Trail is the distance it is from the main area of Zion National Park (just north of Springdale).
To get to this hike from Springdale, you’ll need to drive south-west on Highway 9 and then turn north on Kolab Terrace Road. The views on this road are spectacular, but keep an eye on the road as there are a significant number of deer in the area.
The Northgate Peaks trailhead begins in the Wildcat Canyon Trail parking lot. The turnout to the parking lot is in the midst of a hairpin turn, so it’s easy to miss it (we did!)
Northgate Peaks Trail Highlights
- Keep your eyes open for wildlife. We saw tons of deer on the drive to the trailhead and also while on the hike. We also saw (and smelled), a half-eaten carcass of an elk, presumably left there by a mountain lion.
- The first portion of the hike is through a wide open meadow with sage bushes. The lack of tall trees here affords great views of the beautiful, bright white Pine Valley Peak.
- Once the trail leaves the meadow, it enters a beautiful forest filled with mature Ponderosa Pine trees. Be sure to smell the bark of these trees; people can’t agree what they smell like, but most either say butterscotch, vanilla or even fresh baked cookies. Either way, these trees smell great!
- The trail ends in a rocky opening with great views of the East & West Northgate Peaks and the vast Zion Canyon in the distance.
Hiking Northgate Peaks Trail with Kids
- There are bathrooms in the parking lot, but no water filling station. Be sure to fill your bottles and hydration packs before you leave for the hike.
- The trail is mostly soft dirt, with lots of rocks jutting out. You can get by with normal shoes, but we’d recommend hiking shoes if you have them. Flip-flops would be a bad idea on this hike.
- Despite much of the hike taking place through a forest, the trail is quite wide and you will be in the sun quite a bit. Wear hats, drink lots of water and apply sunscreen continually.
- That said, this trail will be quite a bit cooler than the main Zion park below. On the day we did the hike, the temperature at the trailhead was 12F (7C) cooler than when we left our campground. Be sure to dress with this temperature differential in mind – wearing layers works best.
- Northgate Peaks trail is not stroller accessible. The most common method parents used to transport small kids within Zion NP was a backpack carrier.
- No dogs are allowed on Northgate Peaks Trail.
- The trail follows Little Creek for much of the first half and there are a few crossings using improvised bridges (fallen logs etc.). Kids love these mini-adventures!
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
Hiking through a mature forest gives lots of opportunities to stop and have lunch on a fallen tree trunk. But the best place to stop is the end of the hike where you can sit on the rocks and enjoy the views of the Northgate Peaks.
- The sun can get intense in southern Utah, so bring more water than you think you will need.
- The altitude of this hike is approximately 6,500 feet above sea level. While this is below the ‘typical’ altitude sickness warning level of 8,000 feet, symptoms can occur anywhere higher than 5,000 feet.
- As mentioned, there are mountain lions in the area. Encounters with these majestic cats are extremely rare, and according to the National Parks Service there has never been an attack on a human within Zion National Park, but it’s worth knowing a few safety tips just in case.
What to Bring
Other Zion National Park Hikes
Other more-challenging, yet very do-able family-friendly Zion Canyon hikes you may enjoy are:
- Enjoy the incredible canyon views while Watchman Trail with kids
- Walk behind a waterfall at Lower Emerald Pool Trail with kids
If you have an adventurous parent in the family, consider treating them to a day without kids while they hike Angel’s Landing, while the other parent spends an enjoyable day with the kids doing some of the easier hikes in the park.
Zion National Park with Kids
For more Zion National Park things to do with kids, family friendly Zion hotels and campgrounds, visit our Zion National Park with Kids post.
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