The 13 Best Hikes in Zion National Park - Travel for Your Life

The 13 Best Hikes in Zion National Park

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Utah has unbelievable natural scenery, and it’s one of my favorite places to hike in the United States. There’s no shortage of incredible trails in this geologic wonderland. From the hoodoo amphitheatre of Bryce Canyon National Park to the sandstone arches of Arches National Park, Utah never fails to leave me speechless. But there’s one national park in Utah that reigns supreme for hikers, Zion.

Zion National Park is a special place for American nature lovers and boasts many of the best hikes in Utah. Some of Utah’s most unique hikes are in Zion, and you’ll have an epic experience on its beloved trails. The exhilarating treks inside Zion include wading through rivers, using metal chains to ascend ridgelines, and exploring narrow slot canyons.

Zion National Park easily ranks among the best-hiking destinations in the United States and might be my favorite. To help you organize a Zion hiking trip, I’ve listed 13 of the best hikes in the park.

 

The 13 Best Hikes in Zion National Park

 About Zion National Park | Top Trails in Zion National Park | Angels Landing Trail | Zion Canyon Overlook Trail | Emerald Pools Trail | The Zion Narrows Riverside Walk | Zion Narrows Bottom-Up to Big Springs | The Subway Trail | Scout Lookout Trail | Observation Point via East Rim and East Mesa Trail | Hidden Canyon Trail | Weeping Rock Trail | The Watchman Trail | Middle Fork Taylor Creek Trail | Pa’rus Trail 

 

About Zion National Park

Out of Utah’s “Mighty Five” national parks, Zion is undoubtedly the most famous and sacred to the state’s culture. Wedged into southwest Utah just outside of Springdale, Zion unlocks the secrets to ancient civilizations and geologic wonders. The park’s centrepiece is the 2,640 ft deep Zion Canyon that dazzles visitors with its red-hued sandstone cliffs.

Eons of erosion by the Virgin River carved one of the most jaw-dropping images anywhere in the United States. Within the canyon walls and red-rock cliffs lies a desert oasis that supports a diverse ecosystem. The park’s coniferous forest, desert, riparian, and woodland life zones allow hundreds of plant and animal species to thrive.

Hiking through Zion Canyon enables you to follow the footsteps of Native American tribes and Mormon settlers who called this place home. From its narrow slot canyons to flowing rivers and verdant forests, Zion National Park continues to inspire. And with 3.6 million visitors clocked in 2020, Zion ranks among the top-3 visited American national parks. Zion is obviously a hikers dream and that includes kids as well as adult hikers. Look for the easy hikes in my list below. However, if you are visiting with your kids and they need a break from there trekking there are lots of other things to do in Zion with kids as well. 

best-hikes-zion-the-narrows-trail


 

Top Trails in Zion National Park

Zion National Park features several of Utah’s most iconic trails and jaw-dropping viewpoints. Many of the hikes lead to spectacular viewpoints of Zion Canyon or explore the depths of the verdant gorge. Around every corner, you’ll spot towering red-rock cliffs, slot canyons, desert flora, and more. And to reach Zion’s most famous spots, prepare for some brutal climbs and to get a little wet.


 

1. Angels Landing Trail

  • Length: 5.0 miles
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Hard

Angels Landing Trail isn’t just the signature hike of Zion National Park but possibly the best one in Utah. Starting from the Grotto trailhead, the path soars high above the Virgin River with a spectacular viewpoint of Zion Canyon. You’ll climb roughly 1,600 ft while tackling steep switchbacks and narrow ridges. And the heart-racing ascent follows exposed cliffs that will terrify those afraid of heights.

For the first couple of miles, you’ll make a brutal ascent along the vertical canyon walls. As you teeter on the canyon’s edge, it gets frightening looking at the precipitous drop below you. Walter’s Wiggles pushes your nerves and increases your heart rate with 21 winding switchbacks straight up the canyon. But the grand finale on the final half-mile to the top of Angel’s Landing elevates this trail to five-star status.

With the assistance of metal chains, you’ll climb the spine of an extremely narrow, rugged sandstone cliff. The dramatic drop-offs on either side make concentration and patience essential to navigate this final ascent. And the addition of crowds makes this last section to Angels Landing a challenging task. Please use caution as several people have tragically died on this famous hike. Once you reach the Angels Landing Summit, it’s a mind-blowing panorama of the red-rock cliffs rising high above the verdant gorge.

best-hikes-zion-angel's-landing


 

2. Zion Canyon Overlook Trail

  • Length: 1.0 miles
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The Zion Canyon Overlook Trail offers the same spectacular canyon views but skips the fear-inducing climb. At only 1 mile long and less than 200 feet of elevation gain, less experienced hikers can enjoy sweeping vistas of Zion Canyon. Photographers and hardy trekkers pressed for time can view many of the most remarkable geologic formations inside Zion National Park. The viewpoint offers perfect vantages of West Temple, Towers of the Virgin, and Beehive.

To start this essential Zion hike, drive along Highway 9 and park near the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. For this observation point, I’d recommend going early in the morning since crowds are often ridiculous and finding a parking spot is sometimes tricky. Unfortunately, the Zion Canyon Shuttle Service doesn’t stop near the canyon overlook.

The trail climbs a series of stone steps before ascending a ridgeline that rises above the highway. As the path snakes along the cliffside edge, handrails offer support on exposed sections. Shady trees and rocky overhangs provide respite from the heat before reaching the miraculous viewpoint perched above Zion Canyon.

best-hikes-zion-canyon-viewpoint


 

3. Emerald Pools Trail

  • Length: 3.0 miles
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The Emerald Pools Trail takes you deeper into Zion Canyon and explores the desert oasis. Located beside the famous Zion Lodge, the tumbling cascades and shimmering pools make this a magical spot. The entire Emerald Pools trail has three sections, Lower Emerald Pools, Middle Emerald Pools, and Upper Emerald Pools.

Some hikers choose only to see the Lower and Middle Pools due to the accessibility of this section. The path to Lower Emerald Pools is paved and navigable for handicapped travelers. You’ll make slight elevation gain to the Lower and Middle Pools but won’t present much of a challenge. Things get trickier when you venture onwards to Upper Emerald Pools since the trail is steeper and has unstable surfaces.

Small streams tumble against the cliff faces throughout the trail and fill the sparkling pools. During spring snowmelt, the cascades transform into majestic waterfalls plunging into the pools. Other times, it’s just a slight trickle that resembles other weeping rock surfaces of Zion National Park.

The Upper Pool boasts the most stunning scenery as the cascade drops into the pool from a sharp cliff. As you gain elevation to Upper Emerald Pools, the trail provides sensational views of the Virgin River snaking through the canyon and the towering red-rock formations.


 

4. The Zion Narrows Riverside Walk

  • Length: 1.9 miles
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Easy

Appropriately called the Zion Narrows, this path courses through the narrowest part of Zion Canyon. Waterproof hiking boots are essential for this route since you’ll trudge through the Virgin River. I’d also advise staying updated on the weather forecast since flash flooding can close The Narrows. But on a balmy afternoon, the crisp water of the Virgin River helps to cool you down.

Most hikers start at the Temple of Sinawava, a gigantic sandstone amphitheatre at the end of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Canyon walls soar high above the paved trail, and the Virgin River is often only 20-30 feet wide. You’ll hike upstream through the river and face hazards such as slippery terrain and large boulders.

Most hikers use a walking stick to trek through the Virgin River, and I’d advise you to take one for added safety. If you choose to hike past the Riverside Walk, water levels can rise to waist-deep or higher. Please check with park rangers about current conditions and use caution if you do. Flash floods can turn slot canyons extremely dangerous in minutes.

best-hikes-zion-slot-canyon


 

5. Zion Narrows Bottom Up to Big Springs

  • Length: 8.9 miles
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Hard

Adventurous hikers wishing to explore more of the Virgin River can continue further up The Narrows. Before I continue, let me stress the importance of proper preparations for this hike:

DO NOT do this hike if there is any chance of rain in the forecast. Slot canyons like The Narrows can be life-threatening during heavy rain or flash flooding. In minutes, ankle-high water can burst into a raging river that rises to chest level or higher. Before your day hike, check the Visitor Center and ask park rangers regarding the weather forecast and safety advisories.

When you pass the end of the Riverside Walk, continue upstream directly in the Virgin River. The slot canyon gets extremely narrow in many sections as sandstone walls soar 1,000+ feet above you. As you navigate the slippery riverbed, water levels sometimes rise to chest level or even force you to swim.

The upstream trail includes several waterfalls, notably the serene Mystery Falls that trickle-down sandstone cliffs. Further up the path, you’ll pass other remarkable sights such as the ultra-narrow Wall Street and Big Springs.

best-hikes-zion-waterfall


 

6. The Subway Trail

  • Length: 9.1 miles
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Hard

Canyoners searching for the ultimate challenge will find it at the Subway Trail. Similar to The Narrows, you trudge through water and scramble across rocks in a slot canyon. But for trekkers up for the task, the Subway cranks up the intensity level. You’ll start this journey at the Left Fork trailhead on Kolob Reservoir Road and head down the left fork of North Creek.

The trail can be completed from top-down or bottom-up, but you need a Zion wilderness permit for either direction. Just know that the adventure is WAY more challenging if you choose to hike bottom up. Regardless of the direction, you’ll encounter barriers inside the canyon, such as slippery rock formations and steep rock scrambles.

As you descend into the tubular section of the canyon, notice the stream that cascading against the slickrock. Once you enter the Subway, it’s a magical world of trickling streams, sparkling pools, and weeping walls. It’s hard to believe you would find this surreal setting amid desert terrain.

Warning – Similar to The Narrows, this canyon has the potential to become deadly in case of rain. Do NOT attempt this hike if the forecast calls for rain and ask park rangers about current weather conditions. 

Due to the growing popularity of The Subway, the National Park Service has an advance lottery system for trips from April-October. For more info, check out the Zion Plan Your Visit page.


 

7. Scout Lookout Trail

  • Length: 3.6 miles
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Hard

The Scout Lookout hike is a worthy alternative to Angels Landing for thrilling views of Zion Canyon. You’ll make a challenging ascent of over 1,100 feet and hike along exposed edges toward Scout Lookout. If you’re not feeling the Angels Landing crowds, I’d suggest this hike until things calm down.

Starting from the Grotto trailhead, follow the West Rim Trail to climb a series of steep switchbacks to the lookout. After crossing the Virgin River, you’ll walk parallel to the stream on a paved path. The switchbacks soon come into view, and you’ll ascend until flattening out at Refrigerator Canyon. But the final part of the hike is the real test of your endurance.

The winding 21 switchbacks nicknamed Walter’s Wiggles from the Angels Landing Trail present the last challenge. After a never-ending stretch of twists and turns, you’ll arrive at Scout Lookout and have breathtaking vistas of Zion Canyon. If the crowds at Angels Landing have faded, you can include the ascent along its spine after reaching Scout Lookout.

best-hikes-zion-virgin-river


 

8. Observation Point via East Rim and East Mesa Trail

  • Length: 6.8 miles
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Hard

For possibly the most mind-blowing view of Zion Canyon, Observation Point is worth the effort. The viewpoint sits above Angels Landing and shows the Virgin River twisting through the canyon. To start the climb, take the Zion Shuttle and hop off at the Weeping Rock trailhead stop. You’ll begin with a series of switchbacks before hiking through the red-rock walls of Echo Canyon.

The area around Echo Canyon is filled with interesting sights to explore, such as slot canyons and shallow pools. You’ll begin gaining elevation once again, and the path winds around exposed edges. But the views only get more tempting the closer you are to Observation Point.

Once you finish the climb, the views above Zion Canyon are nothing short of unbelievable. It feels like you’re standing atop the world as you’re around eye-level with the rocky walls above the verdant valley. The entire canyon sits before you, and the narrow spine of Angels Landing doesn’t seem that high from this vantage.

*Trail Closure – Due to a major rockfall in 2019, the trail to Observation Point from Weeping Rock is closed until further notice. However, you can still reach Observation Point via the East Mesa Trail from the East Mesa trailhead or East Rim Trail from the East Rim trailhead.

best-hikes-zion-observation-point


 

9. Hidden Canyon Trail

  • Length: 3.1 miles
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The hike to Hidden Canyon is an awesome addition to a day trip to Observation Point. You can trek to Hidden Canyon by itself or as a side excursion heading to or from Observation Point. What’s fantastic about Hidden Canyon is that the path offers similar thrills to Angels Landing but with fewer crowds. But similar to Angels Landing, those terrified of heights should avoid this adventure.

A series of steep switchbacks up the cliff face briefly test your endurance and a rocky staircase leads to the intimidating cliffside edge. If you’re nervous about heights, this is the spot where things get sketchy and frighten you. The rocky path narrows and metal chains aid you along the exposed edge to Hidden Canyon.

After scaling the chains, you’ll enter Hidden Canyon and have to navigate numerous barriers. Fallen trees and huge boulders test your scrambling skills until the trial ends. When you decide to turn around, head back to an earlier split in the trail where you can continue to Observation Point.

*Trail Closure – Since the Hidden Canyon hike also starts from Weeping Rock, the 2019 rockfall has closed this trail. The closure is expected to be long term, but you can gather updates at the Zion National Park website.


 

10. Weeping Rock Trail

  • Length: 0.3 miles
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Easy

Weeping Rock is the shortest hike in Zion National Park but presents one of its most serene images. The trail starts immediately from the road and courses through radiant gardens to an arching cliff. But the slow carving of groundwater through the rocky canyon is what makes Weeping Rock such an iconic sight.

Water trickles from the crevices of the overhang and mimics a light rain shower above the path. The steady water flow produces fertile surroundings and seeps into nearby pools. With wildflowers, hanging gardens, and rich birdlife, Weeping Rock forms a miniature desert oasis. From the overhang, you’ll have stunning views of the woodland and riparian zones beneath the red-rock cliffs.

*Trail Closure – Weeping Rock is a popular shuttle stop and the trailhead used for several hikes on my list. Unfortunately, due to the significant damage from the 2019 rockfall, this trail is closed until further notice. Stay updated on the trail’s recovery at the Zion National Park website.

best-hikes-zion-the-narrows


 

11. The Watchman Trail

  • Length: 3.1 miles
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Moderate

For spectacular views over Springdale, the Watchman Trail sits right at the Zion National Park Visitor Center. Often overlooked due to other famous Zion attractions, the Watchman makes the perfect intro to the park. You won’t need to ride the shuttle, and the trail doesn’t present a challenge for most hikers.

After a brief stroll along the Virgin River, you’ll steadily climb to the craggy Watchman peak. Desert shrubs and wildflowers adorn the path as red-rock cliffs span across the horizon. As you get closer to the viewpoint, the rising elevation provides stunning vistas of the gorge.

The hike leads to the base of the Watchman Spire, but you won’t actually ascend to the rocky summit. Instead, there’s a short loop that offers several different vantages around Zion Canyon.


 

12. Middle Fork Taylor Creek Trail

  • Length: 5.6 miles
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The Kolob Canyon section of the park doesn’t see the number of visitors as Zion Canyon, but the Taylor Creek Trail has beautiful scenery. Just over two miles from the Kolob Canyon entrance, the Taylor Creek trailhead enters one of the area’s finger canyons. Wander the narrow passage and watch the red-hued sandstone cliffs glisten during balmy days.

Before entering the depths of the finger canyon, the trail passes two preserved cabins built nearly a century ago. The trail follows a small creek as dense vegetation and wildflowers fill the canyon floor. With its piercing red walls and weeping striations, Double Arch Alcove is one of Kolob Canyon’s most picturesque sights. The arched cave offers respite from the heat and a beautiful spot to rest before turning back.

best-hikes-zion-park-sign


 

13. Pa’rus Trail

  • Length: 3.4 miles
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Easy

For my final Zion hike, the Pa’rus Trail offers a peaceful stroll for hikers and cyclists of all skill levels. The paved, mostly-flat path won’t provide a challenge, but the surrounding scenery is quintessential Zion. Starting near the Zion Visitor Center, Pa’rus follows the Virgin River and makes several crossings along the waterway. Red-rock cliffs soar above you, and desert wildflowers dot the terrain.

If you look closely, you’ll often see deer roaming the landscape around the trail. Pa’rus Trail is Zion’s only path that allows dogs, but your furry friend must be on a leash at all times. As you hike along the banks of the river, many of Zion’s famous sights, like The Watchman and Beehive, come into view. The trail ends at the Canyon Junction shuttle stop, where you can continue to other beautiful sections of the park.

 

Which of the best hikes in Zion will you head out on next? Let us know in the comments below.

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