|Sand Bench Loop
Length: 3.5 miles roundtrip
Trail Map: Zion National Park Trails Illustrated - Buy
Description: The Sand Bench is the massive earthen shelf off to the left of the Floor of the Canyon Road as one enters Zion Canyon, below the colossal heights of the Sentinel. The remains of an ancient large landslide, and several more recent, smaller landslides, the Sand Bench is famous as Zion’s horse trail. The trail is extremely sandy, making it a much harder hike than it is a horseback ride, though it is still worth the effort to hike the trail in order to enjoy the scenery along the route, and the picnic area at the end.
The trailhead begins at the shuttle stop for the Court of the Patriarchs, crossing the Virgin River and heading northwest for a fifth of a mile before turning left and climbing the north slope of the Bench. Prior to, and during this semi-gradual 500-foot ascent, the trail provides an up-close and personal view of the Patriarchs. Once atop the Bench, the trail meanders southwest until it splits and actually becomes a loop. At this point hikers, or horseback riders can go either left or right. The right fork of the loop—closest to the base of the Sentinel—offers great views of the mountain, and the remnants of many of the landslides that created the Bench. The left fork—closest to the river—offers outstanding views of the canyon floor below, and of the rocky slope of the Bench itself.
Though it is a great trip for hikers as well, those afoot need to watch for horse waste along the trail. During summer months in particular, this loop trail is especially popular with the equine community. Generally, early morning is a good time for hikers to enjoy the bench during riding months. Though mostly open to the blazing sun of the southwest, there are a number of sites along the trail where hikers can find shade cast by overhanging juniper and pine.
Sand Bench Trailhead
The bridge at the Court of the Patriarchs marks the beginning of the trail, leading towards the Sand Bench and a closer view of the Patriarchs.
Fork in the Trail
At this point, visitors can simply admire the Patriarchs, or they can head northeast to the Emerald Pools, or southwest to climb the Bench.
Isaac (Center Patriarch)
Isaac sits between Abraham, on his left, and Jacob, on his left. Mount Moroni is the shorter mountain farthest to the right, at the foot of, and somewhat concealing, Jacob.
The 7,047-foot peak of the Sentinel is one of the first things that draws the eyes of visitors to Zion, standing nearly 3,000 feet above the floor of the canyon. This mountain is responsible for the creation of the Sand Bench, as its rockslides and landslides damned the river long ago and allowed the build-up of sediment.
Sand Bench Picnic Area
Located at the southwest end of the Bench, the far end of the loop trail, this picnic area overlooks the mouth of Zion Canyon, and even the switchbacks are visible from this section of the Bench. The picnic area is partially shaded by scraggly juniper, giving a welcome break from the desert sun.