Zion National Park has to be one of my favorite places to hike. Located in southern Utah, I’m thrilled that it’s about a two hour drive from Las Vegas.
With its red cliffs, green foliage and chilly waters of the Virgin River, it has trails to accommodate everyone: bringing Fido, check; biking, check; young kids, check; beginner, check; novice, check; there’s even a trail that’s wheelchair accessible that loops around a serene waterfall.
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT ZION
Just approaching Zion gets me excited. Zion’s red rock landscape is so picturesque it looks surreal. The Virgin River runs through this canyon, carving and shaping the rocks for YEARS that looking up at these sky-high vertical walls can make you dizzy, and looking down at them can make you woozy.
Not only can you hike in this exciting playground, you can camp and rock climb too. I personally stick to hiking as “glamping” is the closest I get to camping. And well, after watching Free Solo, my palms sweat every time I think of scaling the side of a mountain. Whatever you chose as your activity here, you will not be disappointed.
First rule of Zion, or any National park, is to always follow the park ranger’s instructions. There’s a hike that takes you into the Virgin River, and at times, there’s a high risk of flash flooding, so they suggest you don’t take that trail that day. There’s a hike that’s pretty narrow and dangerous, and at times, high winds may lead to this hike becoming fatal, so they suggest you don’t take that trail that day. You can also check the condition before you go right here.
So now grab your electrolytes and let’s take 8 of the best hikes in Zion National Park!
To begin, in order to herd the millions of visitors that mecca here each year, Zion runs free shuttles all the way from the quaint nearby town of Springdale to the entrance, which is most likely where you’ll stay or have to park (at least parking is FREE). If you come early enough, you might snag on site parking for $20 per car. From the entrance, after passing all the gift shops, of course, you’ll find other shuttles that drop at trail starting points. The queues here can be long in the summer, but move fairly quickly.
If you park in Springdale, you will most likely park on the road side. Look for the shuttle stop, like a bus stop sign and wait there. The shuttle WILL NOT stop at your vehicle to pick you up… No matter how much you try and flag them down. Check here for the shuttle service: Shuttle System. Also the shuttle drivers are pretty knowledgeable about Zion and the surrounding areas, feel free to pick their brain about hikes, food, weather, ect.
Distance: 9.4 mi
Time: 8 hours round trip
Elevation: 334 ft
Zion Shuttle Stop: 9
This is my favorite hike as you get to trek (sometimes swim!) in the Virgin River. If you can only get to one hike, this is the one I strongly suggest. It does get pretty crowded in the summer unless you go REALLY early or during off peak when the water is freezing, but still worth it. You’ll just have loads of people in your shot, like I did.
Although Zion lists the hike as strenuous, it is challenging, but don’t let that deter you. The reward is breathtaking beauty every wet step of the way… and you’ll see loads of trail candy 😉
The Narrows is accessible via the easy Riverwalk trail. You can follow this trail IN the Virgin River as far as you like and turn around when you feel necessary, but the farther you go, the trail gets, well narrower, and more breathtaking.
You will not want to miss this memorable experience. Note that even in the summer, the River is cold as it’s always in the massive canyon walls’ shadows, thus, neoprene socks will be your best friend. The Narrows is usually closed in the spring when the snow is melting, causing the river waters to rise.
Distance: 2.2 miles round trip
Elevation: 57 ft
Length of Time: 1.5 hours
Zion Shuttle Stop: 9
An easy scenic trail on the way to The Narrows. Once you reach the River, you can either continue in The Narrow or turn back. Easy for kids, beginners and wheelchair accessible, or if you’re just looking for a leisurely scenic stroll. The path is paved without many twists and turns…Save your energy for The Narrows!
Distance: 1.5 to 3 miles
Elevation: 6 to 200 feet
Length of time: 2 to 4 hours
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Zion Shuttle Stop: Zion Lodge, stop 5 or The Grotto, stop 6
The Emerald Pools are a refreshing stop for a summer hike. The Lower Pool is much more accessible (wheelchair friendly) and a very short distances from Zion Lodge at Stop 5. It’s easily walkable with very little bumps and there’s loads of greenery along the sandy path. The path is very sunny though so bring plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat. In my opinion, the hike was nicer than reaching the underwhelming Lower Pool.
TRAVEL TIP: It’s no secret hiking can make you famished. Up in the canyon, Zion Lodge has a two dining areas, a restaurant and a café. It’s always packed. I assume only because of the beautiful scenery while you dine. My recommendation is to pack snacks and eat elsewhere than to be disappointed by the mediocre food.
You can continue your hike to the Upper Emerald Pool. You’ll quickly find out why it’s called the Upper pool as the trail begins to rapidly ascend. Soon you’ll reach a bigger pool with better scenery.
Distance: 1.5 miles
Elevation: 150 feet
Length of time: 2 hours
Zion Shuttle Stop: 6
A beautiful trail that links the Grotto shuttle stop to the Pools. Another easy hike that follows (but not in!) the Virgin River for a time and is pretty level for the most part. It’s another pretty sunny path, but very photogenic.
THE WATCHMAN TRAIL
Distance: 3.3 miles
Elevation: 368 feet
Length of Time: 2 hours
Accessible from the Visitor Center
A short, fun, trail that takes you to a spot with an awesome viewpoint overlooking the Visitor Center and Watchman mounting. This is a low-key hike that is perfect for all ages and ability levels and is usually not crowded. Great if this is your first time in Zion or first time hiking. It’s a pretty sunny trail, so best to do it early, which leaves time to do another trail later.
Distance: 3.5 miles
Elevation: 50 feet
Length of time: 3 hours
Accessible from the Visitor Center
The only DOG FRIENDLY trail. All dogs must be leashed (and this isn’t just a suggestion). Accessible from Canyon Junction or the visitor’s center. The trail is almost completely flat, paved and easy enough for wheelchairs and strollers. But be careful because the trail is paved, hiking it during peak summer hours can burn Fido’s feet.
Distance: 5.4 miles
Elevation: 1488 feet
Length of time: 4 hours
Zion Shuttle Stop: 6
This 2.2-mile hike includes many switchbacks over sand and slickrock, long drop-offs and exposed edges. Not surprising, it has been deemed as one of the most dangerous hikes in the world. Reserved for the hiking enthusiast with summit fever, your legs will burn, you will get fatigued, but the trail doesn’t get any easier the father you hike.
By the way, with it’s 1000 foot drops, if you have any fear of heights issues, this is not the time to face your fear. It’s too much of a white knuckle experience for me that I’ve never hiked it myself. However, I have been told it’s one of the most spectacular views and worth the risk. IDK, you can decide.
TRAVEL TIP: If Angel’s Landing is a definite no-go for you, then the Canyon Overlook trail is a short car ride off Highway 9 into Zion and is a short and moderate trail. It holds stunning views that parallel Angel’s Landing. You will also be standing on Zion’s Great Arch.
If you’re looking for a strenuous hike with the same jaw-dropping views as Angel’s Landing, then you want Observation Point. A strenuous roughly 6 hour hike with less white knuckle experiences, but the reward pays as your view is over Angel’s Landing and the rest of Zion. I would recommend this trail!
WHERE I STAYED
There are plenty of places to stay in Springdale, the quaint town right at the base of Zion. I stayed at the Hyatt Place in St. George, Utah which is about 45 minutes outside of Zion on the way from Vegas. I park in Springdale and hop on the FREE shuttle to Zion. I prefer St. George because it’s not too far and I feel that it’s quieter with better accommodations and better food.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON ZION
You can definitely do more than one hike in a day, especially the easy to moderate ones and the ones that lead to another trail. Have you been to Zion? What’s your favorite hike? Comment below!
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