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Our 10 Best Picks for Hiking Zion National Park

Revel in Zion’s steep, pink-to-red sandstone cliffs and canyons up close

Zion National Park in Utah ranks as one of the Top 3 visited National Parks in America. Known for it’s majestically tall steep cliff faces, the pink-to-red sandstone features ever change in the transit of the sun. Some are best viewed midday, some best seen at sunset.

Zion's hiking views ~ from the Watchman Trail (click any photo to enlarge)A very busy park in high season, Zion attracts some guests who want to simply enjoy the epic vistas and explore the canyon with it’s ever-revealing twists and canyon reveals from the shuttle stops or along the Scenic Drive. Others want to explore the mountain’s greatness up close – standing at the foot (or atop) of these colorful cliffs, exploring hard-to-reach slot canyons and waterfalls, or accomplishing the rare epic hiking opportunity to experience places few get the chance – Angel’s Landing and The Narrows, two of Zion’s notables!

We offer you 9 tips for exploring Zion National Park to set you up for success in achieving the best experience while enjoying this century-old, picturesque national treasure.

We had 3 hiking days allocated to see the park and we spent a good amount of time researching the myriad of amazing hiking opportunities.

Let’s hike on to our top pick of hiking adventures … some hiking tips first:

  • an old Rangers cabin nestled in the canyonThe hikes are broken into 3 categories: inside the Zion Scenic Canyon, east of the historic 1920 tunnel and west to the Kolob Canyons
  • These are moderate to sometimes easy hikes (generally kid or family friendly) while still achieving spectacular viewpoints.
  • Details on distance, skill and time to complete are included with links to Alltrails maps – our preferred hiking resource.
  • For timing, we recommend visiting in shoulder season and starting early in the day for the biggest hikes - to avoid the peak of the crowds.
  • Hike responsible to the season taking abundant water and nourishment, a hat, proper hiking shoes and a walking stick if you prefer. Safety first!
  • Washrooms are generally available at each of the shuttle stops and at the trailhead of the formal trails.

Hiking Zion Canyon Scenic Interior ~ Day 1

Zion’s busiest area is undoubtedly within the main canyon and the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Tips 1-4 in our Exploring Zion National Park post help you navigate how to access this popular area. Knowledge of the shuttles will help you get to your hiking trailhead quickly and efficiently … and we recommend you start early in the day for the most popular hikes to avoid the crowds, allowing you to enjoy the natural beauty with the best conditions available. The first 4 hikes of the list were completed as we enjoyed one full day inside the main canyon.

The Watchman Trail

3.1 mi (5km) there and back trail with 636 ft (194 m) elevation gain – Moderate, 90 minutes

Zion National Park ~ from the Watchman Trail[GG Recommendation: A first hike to begin your adventure!] With the trailhead beginning right at the Zion National Park Visitor Center, this moderate elevation hike delivers a fantastic mesa-top perspective of the canyons as they narrow together in the distance. Our favorite vista of all our hikes! Make sure you take the short loop trail right to the front edge of the mesa for a clearer panorama. The moderate, sloping climb is well worth the zone minutes!

Court of the Patriarchs Trail

1000 ft (300m) there and back trail with 30 ft (9 m) elevation gain – Easy, 10 minutes

the grand Court of the PatriarchsNot to be missed! A quick stop at Shuttle Stop 4 (Court of the Patriarchs) and a paved, sloping climb (pretty steep but short) to the viewpoint showcases the Patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – three stunning peaks (nearing 2500 ft [750 m] high) honoring the religious patriarchs as named by a methodist minister and two local boys over a century ago enthralled by the power of their presence. To the right also is The Sentinel peak towering 3000 ft [1000 m] over the Scenic Drive below.

Emerald Pools Trail – Lower and Middle pools

1.8 mi (3km) there and back trail with 280 ft (85 m) elevation gain – Moderate, 55 minutes

Emerald Pools within the closed canyonBeginning at Shuttle Stop 6 (The Grotto - the bridge is currently closed at Shuttle Stop 5), a moderate initial climb reveals the Virgin River as it meanders out of the canyon area. Entering into the canyon, a short hike brings you to the lower of the Emerald Pools cascading from the Middle pools on the ledge above. A short climb to the Middle Pools delivers a revealing perspective of the valley around. If you want to add a higher degree of scrambling and a harder portion to your hike, continue to the Upper Pools and complete the trifecta of the Emerald Pools. A busy trail even in the shoulder season, pack your patience with your other supplies as traffic pauses to allow a directional stream of hikers to pass.

Zion Narrows Riverside Trail

2.5 mi (4.1 km) there and back trail with 260 ft (80 m) elevation gain – Easy to Moderate, 55 min

wander riverside along the Virgin RiverAt the last shuttle stop (Stop 9 – Temple of Sinawava) begins the Riverside Trail to The Narrows. A gentle, paved, generally accessible (with a few inclines) trail, your walk follows the Virgin River as the canyon continues to narrow towards “The Narrows”. A great spot to picnic and just gaze in awe at the towering cliffs around you. At the end of the Riverside Trail begins “The Narrows Trail” - a trail coveted as a rare add to a hiker’s accomplishments (see more below).

The Narrows Trail

8.8 mi (14.3 km) there and back trail with 490 ft (150 m) elevation gain – Hard, 6 hrs to the end and back

Zion's fabled Narrows hike (in low water)While we were not able to complete this epic water hike, The Narrows is a coveted add to a hiker’s resume. While not elevation challenging or unduly strenuous, this world-famous trail takes you through water most of the way. Named “The Narrows” being the point in the canyon where the towering cliffs narrow together – at some points only 20 ft (7 m) apart and towering well over 1000 ft (330 m) alongside with water spanning wall to wall in many places. The season will dictate the water depth, temperature and flow rate adding a layer of complexity. We visited in mid-March and with the spring run-off increasing, the water was reported about 5 ft (1.5 m) deep in places, temperatures were in the low 40’F (4‘C), and the flow rate was high with flash flood warnings in effect with local rain. The Narrows is generally closed to hiking access April thru June seasonally as the mountains warm and release their snow caps. Follow the USGS for the Virgin River water flow conditions. Outfitters locally are well suited to help with wetsuits, waders and walking poles to bridge the colder temperatures and higher water. Next time we’ll get the chance!

Angels Landing Trail

4.4 mi (7 km) there and back trail with an 1825 ft (557 m) elevation climb – Hard, 2 hrs

Special Note: A permit is required to access Angels Landing, along with a will of steel and a complete lack of fear of heights!

Angels Landing from the Zion Canyon Scenic DriveThis trail takes a special person to successfully acquire the summit of Angels Landing - a precipice outcrop 1800+ ft above the canyon floor (with spectacular views though). Gained by climbing switchbacks and a traversing a knife-edge thin ridge with precipitous drop-offs on both sides, completing the Angels Landing hike is a huge feather in a hiker’s hat!

For the rest of us, Angel’s Landing is visible along the shuttle route (between stops 6 and 9). We can gaze in awe at those who are brave-hearted enough to attempt this summit.  

Honorable Mention to other interior hiking contenders:

Weeping Rock Trail – Closed indefinitely but this ½ mile trail lead through the canyon to a wonderful weeping waterfall. Closed due to rockfall in 2019, check out the Youtube video filmed by a hiker atop Angel’s landing lucky enough to capture this landslide event.

Scout Lookout along the West Rim Trail – another trail 3.75 mi (6 km), climbing 1100 ft (340 m) there and backtrail not for the acrophobic, that branches to Angels Landing or further along to the multiday West Rim Trail deeper into Zion National Park.

While hiking the Zion Canyon Scenic Interior is a true authentic must-see area to explore, follow along with our hiking recommendations for additional layers of what Zion National Park has to offer:

Continue along east or west of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive for more of our hike suggestions.

 

 

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