Dreams of a trip to Utah might conjure up the red rock arches and slick rock trails of Moab, but down in the southwest corner of the state lies another treasure trove of geological phenomena in Zion National Park. While the best day hikes in Zion National Park are by no means lacking in red sandstone canyons and spires, they also feature magical waterfalls, pools and streams that turn this canyon into a desert sanctuary rich with rare flora and fauna.
Easily one of the best National parks in a state that’s chock full of them (see: our guide to hikes in Moab), the park centers around Zion Canyon, which frankly should be on everyone’s bucket list. The Virgin River cut this 15 mile long canyon up to 2,640ft deep into the earth leaving high red sandstone walls, sparkling waterfalls, emerald rock pools and hanging gardens.
Zion, which over the centuries has been home to the Anasazi and Paiute tribes as well as Mormon pioneers, has the distinction of being Utah’s first national park and it is only a two and a half hour drive from Las Vegas and under two hours from the Grand Canyon. Our picks for the best day hikes in Zion National Park will be more than enough to fill your agenda for a weekend or longer stay here, so lace up your hiking hiking boots, load up your backpack and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime.
Distance: 4.4 miles
Angel’s Landing is a 1,488ft tall rock formation occupying the Big Bend of Zion Canyon and is one of the most famous landmarks in Zion and indeed the world, and rightly so. This precarious trail takes you up a hair-raising narrow rock fin covering 1500ft in elevation gain. The trail is strenuous and often single file, making it a popular feat with thrill seekers, but there is a handrail for the steepest parts.
Pick up the trail from the West Rim and follow it to the mouth of Refrigerator Canyon. Take the 21 steep switchbacks up the wall of the canyon known as ‘Walter’s Wiggles’ then pause for a breather at Scout Lookout. If you decide to push on from here, you’ll encounter steps along the spine of a knife-edge ridge (use the safety chains), a short scramble and an exposed walk across a razor’s edge saddle – none of this is for the faint of heart. At the top, take in the spectacular views of the canyon and spires below. Needless to say, this hike should be approached with caution and is not suitable for children.
Distance: 6.7 miles
Observation Point is a 6,507ft Navajo sandstone rock formation atop Mount Baldy that delivers views of almost every one of the park’s main features from the top.
This hike begins at the Weeping Rim trailhead and follows the East Rim trail through Echo Canyon. Follow a shelf above the canyon floor before leaving the East Rim trail to ascend Mount Baldy where there is a wide, flat summit from which to enjoy the splendid views of the park.
Distance: 3 miles
Hidden Canyon is a precarious side trip from Observation Point that takes you on a rather adventurous scramble to sandstone towers.
From the Observation Point trail, switchback around a rocky promontory using the handrails when available as there are sheer drop offs here before reaching the mouth of Hidden Canyon. The trail ends at the canyon itself but you can explore the sandy wash between sandstone towers and a natural rock arch.
Distance: 3 miles
Another fan favorite, this hike is as idyllic as it sounds, following a stream to a series of rock pools, a true oasis in the desert.
The pools are really areas where the stream water has collected. There are three pools in total, with the lower pool easily accessible via paved trail, while the upper pool requires more difficult climbing on a dirt trail. Due to their accessibility, expect considerable foot traffic to the lower and middle pools. At the middle pool pause and look at the long drop off down to the lower pool, then make your way on to the upper pool and enjoy the peace and quiet here, shaded by high rock walls on three sides and thick forest. If you hike this in the spring, you’re likely to be treated to spectacular waterfalls too.
The Narrows (from the bottom up)
Distance: 6 - 8 miles
The Narrows is the name given to a spectacular high-walled gorge in the canyon and hiking the Narrows means hiking through the Virgin River.
Yes, you read that right. This hike involves splashing your way through shallow water, and for the more technically inclined can even require some rappelling into waist-deep pools. Don’t let that put you off though – folks of many ages and abilities can have the experience of wading through cold water in the desert. The bottom up approach entails mostly ankle deep sloshing. Most people go for three or four miles until the Big Springs section then turn back. On this unforgettable hike, you’ll be treated to hanging gardens and sandstone caves. Naturally you’ll need footwear with proper soles as the bottom is slick and you’ll want to plan on getting wet feet, but river wading can be a nice reprieve from the desert heat.
Distance: 1 mile
This short hike delivers sweeping views on the canyon and can easily be paired with another hike on the same day.
Park at the trailhead just after the tunnel on Route 9 and pick up the trailhead across the road. The trail begins with stone steps then takes you through the trees and a sandstone grotto to reach the overlook. The overlook itself is flat but has some steep drop offs so take care and enjoy the breathtaking views of The West Temple, Towers of the Virgins, Streaked Wall, and Beehives.
East Rim Trail
Distance: 10 miles
The East Rim trail starts with a 1,000ft climb delivering you to the canyon rim where you can enjoy sweeping views of the rich landscape below.
Begin at the East Entrance Trailhead and enjoy the views of Jolley Gulch on the initial ascent. The trail takes you through ponderosa pine forest before traversing the rim for views of Echo Canyon. After Echo Canyon there is a long, steep descent to Weeping Rock, a bowl-shaped cliff face where water seeps between two different sandstone strata. Here you can connect to the Observation Point trail.
Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Adventure.com. She is an author, mountain enthusiast and yoga teacher who loves heading uphill on foot, ski, bike and belay. She recently returned to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland after 20 years living in the USA, 11 of which were spent in the rocky mountains of Vail, Colorado where she owned a boutique yoga studio and explored the west's famous peaks and rivers. She is a champion for enjoying the outdoors sustainably as well as maintaining balance through rest and meditation, which she explores in her book Restorative Yoga for Beginners, a beginner's path to healing with deep relaxation. She enjoys writing about the outdoors, yoga, wellness and travel. In her previous lives, she has also been a radio presenter, music promoter, university teacher and winemaker.
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