The mellow meadows and pine forest contrasting with sweeping views across the Zion’s confounding southern landscape provide a fascinating and lightly traveled counterpoint to the popular destinations within Zion Canyon. Several trailheads accessing beautiful and lightly traveled corners of the Kolob Plateau yield hiking opportunities that most visitors neither expect nor experience. The route to Northgate Peaks, a pair of peaks that complete a trinity with North Guardian Angel Peak, offers a mixture of cool pine forest, stunning views, and some adventurous scrambling.
From the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead, follow the wide, sandy trail generally east through grassy meadows and clusters of ponderosa pines of Pine Valley. Due south from the trailhead stands Pine Valley Peak, which could yield to adventurous peak baggers if time and energy permits. For less ambitious hikers, the trail descends almost imperceptibly toward the Little Creek drainage, which usually runs dry.
Just past the west fork of Little Creek, you reach a junction at 0.9 mile with a connector trail to Hop Valley, which helps backpackers completing the Trans-Zion Route to travel between the Hop Valley Trailhead and this point. A second junction occurs just 1 mile beyond the first junction. Turn right here to travel south toward the Northgate Peaks.
Just past this junction, a second trail will split off to the left to drop into Russell Gulch. This informal trail is part of the “Top down” technical route that follows Russell into the Left Fork North Creek down to the Subway.
Keep left and continue through pine forest over mostly flat terrain for another 1.1 mile toward a minor ridge splitting the western and eastern Northgate Peaks. A rocky viewpoint offers a stopping spot. For those not interested in the steep climb up to either of the peaks, the view through the two peaks and north of North Guardian Angel Peak reveals a broad slice of the convoluted, complex southern canyons and buttes where the Horse Pasture Plateau melts away into the signature buttes and canyons characterizing Zion.
If you do wish to climb one or both of the peaks, you have the option of climbing either, although North Guardian Angel is probably off-limits to the casual hiker. No matter though as both of the peaks offer impressive views. The western peak is about 100 feet higher than the eastern peak, and there is a bit more work to do to reach a point where you can scramble up the peak’s northern spine. My track does not include a route up to the western peak, so you’re on your own if you want to bag it.
If you’re only looking to bag one of the two peaks, the eastern peak is a better option since the climb up is shorter, and you have to do less navigation to reach it. Follow an informal trail from the viewpoint northeast to a saddle overlooking Russell Gulch to the north. From here, turn right and follow cairns over slickrock sandstone on a steep incline. Eventually, you will find the tread of an informal path that climbs steeply through pine and Douglas fir up to the summit.
Once upon the summit, you will enjoy a greatly expanded version of the view available from the viewpoint. Peak-spotters will benefit from bringing a topographic map encompassing most of the park to pick out some of the landmarks, which include the West Temple, the Watchman, Ivins Mountain, Greatheart Mesa, and Church Mesa. The view north and west aren’t bad either, even if they are not as distiguished as the view to the southeast.
Retrace your steps downhill, and resist the temptation to cut across country to reach the trail. The dense vegetation makes the shortcut unworthy of the effort. Instead, follow the informal path back to the viewpoint, and return via the main trail.
The trail to viewpoint is well-traveled and easy to follow. If you want to climb one or both of the Northgate Peaks, the route is off-trail on a steep, rugged scramble.
The nearest camping options are the Zion Canyon and Watchman Campgrounds near the entrance of Zion National Park
From I-15 north of St. George, follow Highway 9 east for 6.2 miles to Kolob Terrace Road. Continue north on Kolob Terrace Road for anoter 15.7 miles to the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead. Note that you will need to get your permit first from the Zion Visitor Center just beyond the main park entrance north of Springdale.