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)|
Sandbench Horse Trail - 3.8 Miles Round-Trip
The Sandbench Horse Trail runs along the Sand Bench plateau above the Virgin River in the heart of Zion Canyon. Unlike most trails here that scale steep sandstone walls, the Sand Bench Trail rises gently across wide, elevated banks of the river.
This diversely vegetated space is ideal for seeing wildlife, especially at dawn and dusk. Deer, turkey, coyote, fox and mountain lion are drawn to the bench's shade and proximity to water.
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 hit by landslides, and shuttle operators will explain these events and resulting consequences in detail.
A few things hikers should know before heading out:
- As the name suggests, this is primarily used as a horse trail. Expect to see - and yield for - horse riding tour groups that run regularly throughout the day.
- You'll need to sidestep plenty of horse droppings, and the trail itself - intended for livestock use - is comprised almost entirely of deep sand that can challenge tired legs and slow travel.
- Very few hikers visit this trail, and you'll likely have it all to yourself.
- Most tours end no later than 5 pm, so it's very easy to avoid both man and horse with a late afternoon start. Such a time features excellent lighting, wildlife viewing opportunities and cooler temperatures.
From Court of the Patriarchs shuttle stop, go west on the service road and continue over the bridge to the trailhead. There's little signage here, but know that the bridge crossing puts you on the correct path.
The trail rises nominally for .3 miles to the 'main' Sand Bench Horse Trail (4,290'). Turn left (south) and continue to the 'Loop' junction at (.6 miles : 4,345'). The following description travels counter-clockwise on the loop:
Turn right at the loop junction and rise into pinyon-juniper stands with clearings filled by manzanita, yucca, cacti, grasses and small brush. A good map will help identify many landmarks in the canyon.
The trail crests at 4,680' after 1.4 miles, then descends through an open, sage-filled meadow. 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').
The trail continues through deep sand to another crest at 4,710', then drops through intervals of timber and meadow back to the start of the loop (3.2 miles). Retrace your steps .6 miles back to the Court of the Patriarchs Trailhead and shuttle stop.
Note: The Sandbench Trail can also be accessed from Emerald Pools Trailhead at the Zion Lodge shuttle stop. This will add 1.8 miles to the total distance. However, with the shuttle, it's not necessary to return to the Zion Lodge...Simply complete the hike and exit at the Court of the Patriarchs shuttle stop.
Interactive GPS Topo MapKey GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84
- N37 14.215 W112 57.756 — Court of the Patriarchs Trailhead
- Signage is limited and social trails can obscure the correct path. On the return, there are no signs explicitly directing you back to the trailhead. Carry a detailed map to avoid 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.
- Some sources suggest the trail is only 2.5 miles long. This is a little misleading. Though the loop itself is approximately 2.5 miles, you must travel 1.2 miles roundtrip to reach it.
Camping and Backpacking Information
Permits are required for all overnight backpacking trips in Zion National Park. Permits are available at both Visitor Centers the day of or day before your trip. Permits are limited.
- $15: 1-2 people
- $20: 3-7 people
- $25: 8-12 people
Permits may also be reserved up to 3 months in advance through the online reservation system. A $5 non-refundable fee + an additional fee determined by the size of your group is required when using the online reservation system. Click here to reserve.
- Camp only in designated sites.
- Fires are not permitted at backcountry campsites or within the backcountry in Zion National Park.
- Desert water sources are scarce and fragile. Do not bathe or wash dishes in creeks or pools.
Rules and Regulations
- There's a $30 fee per vehicle to enter Zion National Park (defined as private passenger cars with 15 people or less). Passes are good for 7 consecutive days.
- $25 per motorcycle.
- $15 per person (walk or bike).
- Dogs are not permitted on trails in Zion National Park.
Directions to Trailhead
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)