Pine Creek Falls

Zion National Park, Utah, USA

About Pine Creek Falls


Hiking Distance: 1/2 mile round trip; scramble with bouldering obstacles
Suggested Time: 30-60 minutes

Date first visited: 2003-04-27
Date last visited: 2018-04-04

Waterfall Latitude: 37.21657
Waterfall Longitude: -112.96187

Pine Creek Falls was a pleasant little waterfall (possibly 25-30ft) downstream from its technical slot canyon near the giant alcove known as the Great Arch (not really a natural arch as the name implied).

What stood out to us about this waterfall was that we typically didn’t expect to find quiet waterfalls like this in Zion National Park.

Pine_Creek_Falls_104_04042018 - Pine Creek Falls
Pine Creek Falls

After all, the park was not exactly known for waterfalls, and Pine Creek Falls was somewhat tricky to find despite its close proximity to Zion Canyon (i.e. the main touristy part).

Yet perhaps that was the very reason why this quiet little spot was somewhat secluded and far less busier than its neighboring Zion Canyon attractions.

It certainly seemed like the perfect escape to enjoy the relative quiet while cooling off from the desert heat, or at least provide an opportunity to enjoy a waterfall with a pool to play in.

Julie and I visited this waterfall back in April 2003 and then again in April 2018.

Pine_Creek_Waterfall_008_04272003 - Pine Creek Falls when Julie and I first saw it back in April 2003
Pine Creek Falls when Julie and I first saw it back in April 2003

Based on our limited sample size, we can say that the flow of Pine Creek is highly dependent on how much snowmelt would drain into Pine Creek.

During the Summer monsoon season, there can be a flash flood risk, which was why we tended to time our visits to avoid rain.

That said, we can’t say much else about the reliability of its flow at other times of the year.

Anyways, I suspect that the reason why this waterfall wasn’t very well known (relatively speaking when you consider how crowded the Zion Canyon and its shuttle system can be) was because it wasn’t all that easy nor obvious to reach.

Pine_Creek_Falls_004_04042018 - There were so many cars along the UT9 during our April 2018 visit, but strangely just about everyone weren't doing the Pine Creek Falls excursion despite parking next to the starting point
There were so many cars along the UT9 during our April 2018 visit, but strangely just about everyone weren’t doing the Pine Creek Falls excursion despite parking next to the starting point

First, it wasn’t easy to find as there was no signpost indicating its presence (see directions below).

Second, we had to get through some fairly rough scrambling obstacles involving some mild dropoffs.

Indeed we had to exercise a little patience with the rough parts despite the relatively short distance we were covering on this excursion.

Then, there was the flash flood risk, which wasn’t lost on us as the boulder obstacles seemed more frequent on our latest visit than they were on our first visit 15 years prior.

Pine Creek Falls Trail Description – the scramble

Pine_Creek_Falls_014_04042018 - The group hiking into the Pine Creek Wash
The group hiking into the Pine Creek Wash

This excursion started innocently enough with a fairly well-used informal trail that left the UT9 at a bridged hairpin turn traversing Pine Creek itself.

We then followed the trail as the wide canyon quickly narrowed, and pretty soon we found ourselves walking on sandy terrain belonging to the Pine Creek Wash.

Beyond the wash, the canyon narrowed even more to the point that we had to cross the creek a couple of times then negotiate some boulder obstacles.

In perhaps the most difficult obstacle of the excursion, we had to go around a fairly large stagnant pool that was wall-to-wall.

Pine_Creek_Falls_041_04042018 - Contextual look at the most difficult part of the Pine Creek Falls excursion
Contextual look at the most difficult part of the Pine Creek Falls excursion

Both times we were here, we had to scramble up a wedged boulder on the right side of the pool.

Then, we had to cling onto a somewhat dicey sandstone ledge, which allowed us to climb even higher up the wall.

Finally, after scaling the wall, we’d finally get to flat enough ground to continue further upstream past this pool.

With the ever-present drop-off danger, a misstep here (especially with the potential for a slick surface due to rain) could mean a real nasty fall.

Pine_Creek_Falls_048_04042018 - Looking back at another family negotiating the tricky stagnant pool obstacle on the way to Pine Creek Falls
Looking back at another family negotiating the tricky stagnant pool obstacle on the way to Pine Creek Falls

We felt that this was the one part where it was pretty sketchy for kids.

That said, according to some people we encountered here, there might be an easier path going around the left side of the stagnant pool though it was not as obvious to us.

And since we didn’t do it, we can’t really say more about it.

In any case, beyond the difficult pool and bouldering obstacle, we had to do a little more awkward scrambling.

Pine_Creek_Falls_050_04042018 - The group continuing with the awkward boulder scrambling in pursuit of the Pine Creek Falls
The group continuing with the awkward boulder scrambling in pursuit of the Pine Creek Falls

One such bouldering obstacle involved getting through a stack of big wedged boulders that forced the adults to sprawl and crawl onto the bottom boulder while trying not to hit our heads on the upper boulder as we squeezed through the tight opening.

Since the kids were smaller, this was one obstacle where they actually fared much better than the adults.

When Julie and I first came here back in April 2003, I didn’t recall having to go through these additional boulder obstacles before.

So this suggested that years of flash flooding may have deposited more boulder obstacles, which wound up making this scramble a bit trickier than in the past.

Pine_Creek_Falls_179_04042018 - This was another somewhat tricky boulder scramble, which required us to crawl through the tiny hole left open between the wedged boulders
This was another somewhat tricky boulder scramble, which required us to crawl through the tiny hole left open between the wedged boulders

Who knows if in the coming years whether this excursion will be even more difficult or perhaps easier depending on the whims of Mother Nature?

So that difficulty rating above (which we actually bumped up from our first time here) is really a snapshot of our assessment given our latest visit.

After the crawl obstacle, we then finally made it to the secluded Pine Creek Falls.

With the waterfall’s plunge pool, the kids wasted no time chucking rocks as well as also playing in the water.

Pine Creek Falls Trail Description – the return scramble and final thoughts

Pine_Creek_Falls_092_04042018 - Once we made it to the Pine Creek Falls, it was time to enjoy our well-earned visit
Once we made it to the Pine Creek Falls, it was time to enjoy our well-earned visit

On our April 2018 visit, there was another family who arrived just as we did, and they seemed to already know this place.

So the father scrambled his way all the way to the backside of the Pine Creek Falls.

He then used the sloping surface as a waterslide to slide right into the plunge pool immediately at the base of the waterfall.

In addition to being a fun little play waterfall, the reddish ledges and the hint of even more tall sandstone cliffs in the distance made the falls pretty friendly for photographs.

Pine_Creek_Falls_180_04042018 - The group scrambling back towards the UT9 just as quite a few more people started making their way to the Pine Creek Falls
The group scrambling back towards the UT9 just as quite a few more people started making their way to the Pine Creek Falls

Once we had our fill of the well-earned visit to Pine Creek Falls, we then scrambled back the way we came.

We had to be careful not to miss the tricky pool and scrambling obstacle on the return (or else risk going to a dropoff dead-end as my Dad almost did).

Then, we had to carefully maneuver our way back to the flatter terrain at the mouth of the pool.

Beyond the difficult scramble obstacle, the rest of the hike was pretty much a cake walk.

Pine_Creek_Falls_182_04042018 - The group headed back to the UT9 along the sandy wash after having our fill of the Pine Creek Falls and getting by the tricky obstacles
The group headed back to the UT9 along the sandy wash after having our fill of the Pine Creek Falls and getting by the tricky obstacles

Overall, we spent on the order of 90 minutes on our April 2018 visit, and we probably spent closer to a little less than an hour on our first visit back in April 2003.

According to my GPS logs, the distance only covered about a half-mile round trip.

However, it was the bouldering obstacles and hazards that forced us to bump up the difficulty score.

Finally, we were aware that there was another more strenuous way to reach the waterfall, but that would require technical gear as it would involve canyoneering through the Pine Creek slot canyon.

Pine_Creek_Falls_186_04042018 - Making it all the way to the UT9 to end our Pine Creek Falls adventure
Making it all the way to the UT9 to end our Pine Creek Falls adventure

While canyoneering is a pretty popular cult sport in the slot canyons of the desert southwest, this probably wouldn’t be an option for those of us who haven’t taken up the sport and would not be well-equipped enough to handle the technical obstacles.

Authorities

Pine Creek Falls resides in Zion National Park near Springdale in Washington County, Utah. It is administered by the National Park Service. For information or inquiries about the park as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Pine_Creek_Falls_007_04042018 - The family approaching the Pine Creek Wash after leaving the UT9 en route to the Pine Creek Falls during our April 2018 visit
Pine_Creek_Falls_010_04042018 - Looking back at the chaotic parking situation along the UT9 as we were headed into the Pine Creek Wash en route to Pine Creek Falls during our April 2018 visit
Pine_Creek_Falls_018_04042018 - The family hiking into the Pine Creek Wash en route to the Pine Creek Falls during our April 2018 visit
Pine_Creek_Falls_022_04042018 - The family moving further along the Pine Creek Canyon as the walls closed in and we found ourselves hiking on the sandy surface of the Pine Creek Wash. This was taken on our April 2018 visit
Pine_Creek_Falls_026_04042018 - Pretty soon, the canyon narrowed even more to the point that we had to start getting around and over some boulder obstacles en route to Pine Creek Falls during our April 2018 visit
Pine_Creek_Falls_029_04042018 - This was one of the minor crossings of Pine Creek during our April 2018 visit, where we had to give the kids a little help
Pine_Creek_Falls_036_04042018 - This was another crossing of Pine Creek en route to the Pine Creek Falls during our April 2018 visit
Pine_Creek_Falls_038_04042018 - More bouldering obstacles to negotiate en route to the Pine Creek Falls during our April 2018 visit
Pine_Creek_Falls_044_04042018 - While it was pretty, this pool presented the most difficult obstacle on the way to the Pine Creek Falls as seen on our April 2018 hike
Pine_Creek_Falls_046_04042018 - While it may not look like much in this photo, there was actually a dicey dropoff between Julie and Dad at the most difficult obstacle en route to Pine Creek Falls as seen in April 2018
Pine_Creek_Falls_057_04042018 - The family climbing over another little bouldering obstacle en route to the Pine Creek Falls during our April 2018 visit
Pine_Creek_Falls_177_04042018 - My nephew getting through the tight sprawl and crawl bouldering obstacle en route to Pine Creek Falls in April 2018. I never recalled having to do this the first time Julie and I were here back in April 2003
Pine_Creek_Falls_063_04042018 - Julie getting past the last of the bouldering obstacles with Pine Creek Falls right behind it during our April 2018 visit
Pine_Creek_Falls_068_04042018 - The family finally making it to the Pine Creek Falls on our April 2018 adventure
Pine_Creek_Falls_076_04042018 - Looking downstream immediately from the Pine Creek Falls area during our April 2018 visit
Pine_Creek_Falls_109_04042018 - Looking right at the Pine Creek Falls backed by signature Zion National Park cliffs during our April 2018 visit
Pine_Creek_Falls_115_04042018 - The family enjoying themselves at the Pine Creek Falls while we had it to ourselves for the moment during our visit in April 2018
Pine_Creek_Falls_125_04042018 - Another look at the family enjoying themselves at the Pine Creek Falls during our April 2018 visit
Pine_Creek_Falls_128_04042018 - Another look at the family enjoying their well-earned visit to the Pine Creek Falls in April 2018
Pine_Creek_Falls_141_04042018 - Focused long exposed shot of the Pine Creek Falls during our April 2018 visit
Pine_Creek_Falls_144_04042018 - Another direct naturesque look at the attractive Pine Creek Falls at midday with some overcast skies on our April 2018 visit
Pine_Creek_Falls_163_04042018 - Angled look at the Pine Creek Falls from the far left side of the plunge pool during our April 2018 visit. I recalled the first time we were here back in April 2003 that it was easier to approach the falls on this side
Pine_Creek_Falls_172_04042018 - Angled look at the Pine Creek Falls from the right side of its alcove as seen during our April 2018 visit
Pine_Creek_Falls_184_04042018 - The family making their way back along the Pine Creek Wash after having had their fill of the Pine Creek Falls during our April 2018 visit
Pine_Creek_Waterfall_001_04272003 - Angled look at the Pine Creek Falls when Julie and I first saw it back in late April 2003
Pine_Creek_Waterfall_002_04272003 - More zoomed in look at what the Pine Creek Falls looked like when we were first here back in late April 2003
Pine_Creek_Waterfall_010_04272003 - Direct look at the Pine Creek Falls when Julie and I first saw it back in late April 2003
Pine_Creek_Waterfall_011_04272003 - It was sunnier and brighter on our first visit to Pine Creek Falls back in late April 2003 so there were some shadows making for difficult photographs
Great_Arch_001_06182001 - View of the Great Arch (the Great Alcove?) seen from the switchbacks on the Zion-Mt Carmel Highway.  If you're driving on the UT9 and you start seeing this arch, then you missed the switchback by the bridge you're supposed to park the car to do the Pine Creek Waterfall scramble
Zion_002_03152003 - This is the Zion-Mt Carmel tunnel at the top of the switchbacks.  If you're intending to do Pine Creek Falls and you made it this far, you definitely went too far up.

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The Pine Creek Falls was just east of Zion Canyon within the boundaries of Zion National Park.

The nearest town is Springdale, which was right at the southern entrance of the park literally at the mouth of Zion Canyon.

Pine_Creek_Falls_191_04042018 - Looking back at the crazy parking situation along the UT9 from the pullout near the bridge by Pine Creek
Looking back at the crazy parking situation along the UT9 from the pullout near the bridge by Pine Creek

In order to reach the start of the hike and scramble, we had to drive north out of Springdale and into Zion National Park as the UT9 curved eastwards at the mouth of Zion Canyon.

Keeping straight past the bridge over the Virgin River, we’d then find parking at a large pullout area right at the start of a bend in the road at a bridge.

That bridge by the large pullout area was traversing Pine Creek.

Note that turning left at the bridge over the Virgin River would enter Zion Canyon where only authorized vehicles (namely shuttles, maintenance, and Zion Canyon Lodge guests) were allowed to drive in during peak season.

Pine_Creek_Falls_005_04042018 - The crazy parking situation all up and down the UT9, especially near the pullout where we're supposed to start the Pine Creek excursion
The crazy parking situation all up and down the UT9, especially near the pullout where we’re supposed to start the Pine Creek excursion

Anyways, this pullout was where the hike up the Pine Creek Wash began.

It was just under 2 miles north from the Watchman Campground turnoff, or about 1.6 miles down the switchbacks beyond the west exit of the Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel (if you came in from the east).

One thing worth noting in crowded times (which was especially the case of our April 2018 visit) was that the limited parking in Springdale and the Zion Visitor Center area resulted in many parked cars clogging the shoulders all along the UT9.

This included the pullouts fronting the Pine Creek area.

Pine_Creek_Falls_193_04042018 - The parking situation along the UT9 near the mouth of Zion Canyon during our April 2018 visit to the Pine Creek Falls
The parking situation along the UT9 near the mouth of Zion Canyon during our April 2018 visit to the Pine Creek Falls

There were a few more pullouts further up switchbacks on the UT9 towards the Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel, but this obviously increased the hiking distance quite a bit.

For geographical context, Springdale is about 40 miles (about an hour drive) west of St George, 57 miles (a little over an hour drive) south of Cedar City, 43 miles (a little over an hour drive) west of Kanab, 83 miles (under 2 hours drive) southwest of Bryce Canyon City, 117 miles (under 2.5 hours drive) west of Page, Arizona, and 159 miles (over 2.5 hours drive) northeast of Las Vegas, Nevada.

180 degree sweep from attractive downstream pool to the waterfall with people playing at the plunge pool


Semi circular sweep of the right side of the cove containing the waterfall before walking over to the other side for a more direct top down sweep of the falls

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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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