If mind-blowing vistas, surreal rock formations and expansive wilderness are your style, you’ll want to spend some time in Zion National Park. Located at the edge of the geological region known as the Colorado Plateau in southwest Utah, Zion National Park is where layers upon layers of ancient rock have lifted, shifted and eroded to form soaring cliffs; and where desert life blooms from the flowing waters of the Virgin River. As with most spectacular landscapes, you’ll have to experience it to believe it — and one of the best ways to do it is on foot. No matter the trail, hike prepared: proper hiking shoes and lots of water are key. Here are the seven best hikes in Zion National Park — from easy to strenuous — that you won’t want to miss! Our recommendation: Extend your stay to experience them all! Head to Visit Utah for more detailed information on each of the hikes
1. Canyon Overlook Trail
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Distance: 1.6 kilometres
The Canyon Overlook Trail is a short 1.6-kilometre out-and-back hike that takes you up stone steps, through high desert flora and to the edge of a spectacular cliff that overlooks Zion Canyon from 305 metres above. You’ll see colourful cliffs towering over a deep canyon dotted with pinyon pine, prickly pear and juniper bushes. From your vantage point, some of the park’s most iconic formations are visible, including Bridge Mountain, The West Temple, Altar of Sacrifice, The Streaked Wall and The Sentinel. Keep an eye out for desert bighorn sheep, which are common to see foraging around the cliffs.
Venture Far Insight: The Canyon Overlook Trail is one of the most popular photography spots in the park. Head out on the trail at sunrise or sunset for picture-perfect lighting.
2. Emerald Pools Trail
Difficulty: Easy (lowest pool) to moderate (highest pool)
Distance: 1.9 kilometres (lowest pool) to 4.8 kilometres (highest pool)
The Emerald Pools trail, which takes you to three natural pools, is split into an upper and lower trail. The lower trail is one of the most popular in the park; it’s also one of the most accessible for children and older individuals who need easy terrain. On the lower trail, you’ll hike under weeping rocks — cliffs with water seeping through them — as well as a waterfall until you reach the lower emerald pool. For a tougher hike, head up the upper trail to the middle and upper emerald pools where you’ll be rewarded with fewer crowds and spectacular views of Lady Mountain and the Virgin River. Don’t be surprised if mule deer, rabbits and other desert creatures dart across your trail as the emerald pools create a microhabitat for a variety of desert life.
Venture Far Insight: The best time to hike the Emerald Pools Trail is during spring runoff or after heavy rains when the waterfalls and pools are at their most dramatic.
3. Riverside Walk Trail
Distance: 3.2 kilometres
Also known as the “Gateway to the Narrows,” the Riverside Walk Trail is an easy 3-kilometre stroll that takes you along the Virgin River to the mouth of the Narrows (number six below). You’ll see waterfalls, weeping walls, and towering cliff faces covered in hanging gardens as you take in the sounds of the river and wildlife. The trail is paved and easy to navigate, which makes it an excellent introductory hike and one of the most family-friendly in Zion National Park.
Venture Far Insight: The Riverside Walk Trail is lined with cottonwood trees that provide shade during the hottest parts of the day. But to miss the peak heat (and crowds), head out on the trail early in the morning.
4. Watchman Trail
Distance: 4.8 kilometres
For scenic vistas without the crowds, the often overlooked Watchman Trail is well worth the effort. The out-and-back trail has less than 400 metres of elevation gain and takes you through classic high desert terrain with prickly pears, evergreens and sagebrush shrubs lining the path. At the end of the trail, you’ll be rewarded with a sprawling overlook of the Springdale area and the visitor centre below. This trail is also one of the closest hikes to the South entrance of the park, which makes it an excellent hike when you’re short on time.
Venture Far Insight: There’s very little shade on the Watchman Trail, so avoid hiking at mid-day when temperatures are at their highest. You’ll also want to make sure to bring plenty of water on the hike.
5. Hidden Canyon Trail
Distance: 5.1 kilometres
The Hidden Canyon Trail is a moderately strenuous 5.1-kilometre hike with steep switchbacks and exposed paths that cling to the side of a cliff (don’t worry there are chains to help you balance!) through a spectacular canyon. You’ll hike along slickrock slab, steep drop-offs, weeping rocks and stone grottos as you make your way up and up the narrow canyon between the Great White Throne and Cable Mountain. Sections of this trail are exposed and can get your adrenaline pumping, so it’s not the best option for children or those with a fear of heights.
Venture Far Insight: The Hidden Canyon Trail is similar to Angels Landing Trail (number seven below), but is less strenuous, less crowded and doesn’t climb as high. So if you’re on the fence about climbing Angels Landing, the Hidden Canyon Trail is a great moderate trail to try before hitting the more strenuous hike.
6. The Narrows (Bottom-Up)
Difficulty: Easy to strenuous
Distance: 4.8 to 12.8 kilometres
Perhaps the most iconic hike in Zion National Park and one that belongs on every hiker’s bucket list, The Narrows takes you on an otherworldly trip up the Virgin River through a narrow slot canyon. The Narrows isn’t so much a trail as it is walking in the actual river, which means you will get wet, and depending on the level of the river, have to swim through the narrowest sections. But your efforts are paid off with awe-inspiring scenery through one the world’s most pristine slot canyons.
On a bottom-up trip, which starts at the Temple of Sinawava where the Riverwalk Trail ends, you can travel as far upstream as Big Spring (a 16-kilometre round trip). But most people head up a few kilometres and turn back when they’re ready.
Venture Far Insight: The Virgin River is cold, even in warmer months, so it’s a good idea to rent waders or other insulating gear to keep you warm on your hike. A walking stick is another good gear investment to help you keep your footing over rocks and in the current. The Narrows closes during periods of spring runoff or flash flood warnings.
7. Angels Landing Trail
Distance: 7 kilometres
Another iconic trail for the bucket list, Angel’s Landing is a strenuous 7-kilometre out-and-back hike that takes you along steep switchbacks, sheer drop-offs and narrow cliff-hugging trails up to one of the most spectacular views in all of Zion National Park — 450 metres above Zion Canyon. Chain supports are bolted into rocks for safety on exposed paths, but the trail can be dizzying for those who are afraid of heights. If you’re an experienced and adventurous hiker – who came on an uncrowded day – with time for one hike in Zion National Park, make it Angels Landing.
Venture Far Insight: To beat the crowds and avoid high temperatures, start your ascent of Angels Landing early in the morning. The hike takes from three to six hours to complete, so pack plenty of food and water to stay hydrated and keep your energy levels up.