The only trail in Zion National Park that is suitable for wheelchairs, allows your pets to join you, and is also bicycle friendly. Pa’rus is from a Paiute word meaning “bubbling, tumbling water.” Both Oak Creek and Pine Creek cross this paved pathway that winds along the Virgin River between the Visitor Center and Canyon Junction. Ideal for start of day or end of day strolls, the sunset in particular dances off the Navajo sandstone formations that surround the river valley. It’s a great way to warm up your legs for the tougher hikes later, or to wind down with a riverside evening stroll. Every time we go to Zion we take in the Pa’rus. The latest was on Monday, October 13, 2014 beginning at 5:30PM and ending about 7:00PM. Our plan was to catch the sunset.
Hike Length: 3.4 miles roundtrip Hike Duration: 1.5 hours
Hike Configuration: Out and back. Blaze: None needed, paved.
Hike Rating: Easy. Wheelchair access. Pets and bikes allowed.
Elevation Gain: 50 feet Elevation Start: 3,970 feet
Trail Condition: Excellent. Paved sidewalk.
Starting Point: South campground at Visitor Center.
Trail Traffic: Likely to be fairly busy with walkers and bikers.
How to Get There: The south trailhead is across the street from the Visitor Center, and the north trailhead is at Canyon Junction. Hike the trail in either direction.
After riding the shuttle back to the Visitor Center following our hike to Observation Point, we still had some time to savor the sights and sounds of Zion. Immediately, the Pa’rus came to mind. For already tired legs, this simple trail is pure relaxation, especially when enjoying at sunset.
South Campground is directly across the street from the Visitor Center, and so too the Pa’rus. The first quarter mile walks directly through the campground with the Virgin River on your right and the tents and popups on the left. As you clear the camping area, the valley is alive with desert scrub. In mid-October we caught the flowering rabbitbrush and even some desert thorn apple.
Keep your eyes and ears open for the occasion bicycle as they can sneak up on you. Stepping out in front of one would not be pleasant for either of you.
The primary landmarks along the way include the Watchman Tower at the far southern end of Zion and the West Temple and the Sentinel on the west side of the river. Also on the west side is the Zion Human History Museum with the Towers of the Virgin sandstone formations directly behind. There is a particularly scenic spot behind the museum at sunrise, so plan accordingly.
As you get more toward Canyon Junction and the northern end of the Pa’rus, there are several footbridges that cross the Virgin River. I have found from experience over the years that most of the best photographs of the area come from these bridges. There are fewer distractions, and you can look directly down the path of the river as you zero in on the picturesque landmarks in the background.
October is after the rainy season, so there won’t be much whitewater in the river. If you’re looking for that, then it’s best to try the Pa’rus in spring. Low river water conditions do make it ideal, however, for The Narrows in Zion Canyon… one of the best hikes in Zion, if not the world.
What October does offer though, is the bright golden Fall coloring of the cottonwood trees that line the Virgin River. These twisty, gnarly desert poplars love to hang around creeks and rivers and are especially tolerant of floods, a common occurrence in canyon country. The cottonwood is distinguished by its deeply fissured bark and triangular to diamond-shaped leaves that glisten in the sunlight much like the quaking aspen.
When you reach the end of the Pa’rus Trail at Canyon Junction you can return the way you came, or hop on a shuttle bus for a ride back to the Visitor Center. If you’re totally enjoying the stroll along Virgin River, you can continue on into Zion Canyon, but you will no longer have the smooth, paved trail underfoot.
To summarize, the Pa’rus Trail isn’t intended to test your stamina or endurance, or challenge your technical hiking abilities. It is simply a scenic walk along the Virgin River that enables you to relax and enlighten your senses with the Zion experience. It is family and pet friendly, handicapped accessible, and level. It’s for anyone, from 9 months to 90 years. If you visit during the hot summer season be sure to slather on the sunscreen because it is exposed, and always bring water to drink in the desert. I especially recommend the Pa’rus Trail as either a sunrise or sunset excursion.