Pa’rus Trail, Zion National Park, Utah
Length: 1.7 mi. Visitor Center to Canyon Jct.
Typical width: 13 feet
Minimum width: 6 feet
Surface type: asphalt and concrete
Maximum grade: 13%
Maximum cross slope: 5%
The Pa’rus Trail is a wonderful, scenic paved trail heading toward Zion Canyon from the Visitor Center. It has the classic panoramic views of Zion, the Virgin River, and Watchman Peak. The most photographed landscape in Zion National Park is the Virgin River with Watchman Peak towering above at sunset. You get that wonderous view from one of the pedestrian bridges over the Virgin River on this trail. If you have a short time to experience Zion, this is the trail to check out.
This trail is the only bicycle path into Zion Canyon from the Visitor Center, campgrounds, and the town of Springdale, UT. It is the only trail in the park on which dogs on leash are allowed. It can be used by individuals with disabilities who are ambulatory or who use a wheelchair, with caution and with assistance. However, be aware that the Pa’rus Trail does not fully meet federal guidelines for accessibility yet. They have made nice improvements.
Access to the trail from the Visitor Center is currently dangerous. You have to cross the Virgin River on a highway bridge shoulder that is not wide enough for a wheelchair to meet other pedestrians. Someone has to wait or jump down into the roadway. The bridge shoulder is only 36 inches wide with no guard rail to separate the trail from a 12 inch drop to the highway. If a wheelchair wheel falls off the bridge shoulder, the person is upside down in the traffic lane. The National Park Service is aware of this dangerous access problem and I have been told a redesign of the Visitor Center access route to the Pa’rus Trail and the bridge are in the works.
To access the Pa’rus Trail from the Highway Bridge there is a marked cross walk which leads to a short 13% slope downhill. On your return trip, this 13% uphill slope becomes an issue as you wait on that slope for traffic to clear and you try to get moving again up to the crosswalk.
The first quarter mile of the trail skirts the South Campground. Its surface if rough and partially broken asphalt. Once past the campground the rest of the trail has a 13-foot-wide concrete surface with joints every 15 feet. Several pedestrian bridges over the Virgin River and other drainages provide classic Zion views of the river and cliffs. The bridges are arched with up to 4% running slope. It is important to stay on the trail because typical desert vegetation has thorns and stickers that seek out pneumatic tires, if you use an adaptive device that has them.
Most of the trail has low cross slope but up to 5% for longer distances than you might be comfortable with in a manual wheelchair. The trail ends at Canyon Junction where a shuttle bus connection can take you into Zion Canyon and the Lodge. Be aware that shuttle bus into and out of the canyon may be already full at this stop. The trail ends with a steep slope of 16 % up to the shuttle stop. You will have to cross the roadway to get to the shuttle going into the canyon. There is no crosswalk.
The NPS has recently built nice enhancements along the Pa’rus Trail including shade shelters with benches, several information kiosks, and reduction in grade in at least three locations. There are no restrooms or drinking water on this trail. However, the NPS has just added an accessible paved path from the trail to the South Campground and Nature Center. Visitors can make their way to a campground restroom, when the campground is open (closed in winter). The additional trail access from the South Campground or the Nature Center is an excellent alternative to parking at the Visitor Center and its dangerous trail access. There are two accessible parking places behind the Nature Center for access to the Pa'rus.
The Pa’rus Trail is the main bike path from the Visitor Center leading further into Zion Canyon. It is an excellent handcycle ride out and back, although short, from the Visitor Center to the shuttle stop. For the more adventurous handcyclers, the Zion Canyon Road is closed to tourist traffic during shuttle bus season. Bikes (and handcycles) are welcome on the road, but all bikes must come to a complete stop on the shoulder when a shuttle bus comes up behind. The bus cannot pass you unless you stop. There are some long and steep hills on the road and you may be looking at a bus bumper and wheels in your rearview mirror unless you stop.
The Pa'rus Trail does not require the shuttle bus and its required passes. Therefore the trail is heavily used.
Contributed by Ed Price
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