Hiking in Zion National Park
- Travel Tips
- Fodor's Choice
The best way to experience Zion Canyon is to walk beneath, between and, if you can bear it (and have good balance!), along its towering cliffs. Trails vary, from paved and flat river strolls to precarious cliff-side scrambles. Whether you're heading out for a day of rock-hopping or an hour of meandering, plan on packing and consuming plenty of drinking water throughout your hike to counteract the effects of a high-altitude workout in the arid climate.
It can't be said enough: bring water and wear a hat. Keeping the sun at bay is a real challenge at Zion National Park; put on sunscreen before you set out, and re-apply at regular intervals. Because the park's hikes usually include uneven surfaces and elevation changes, wear sturdy shoes or hiking boots. A lot of veteran hikers carry good walking sticks, too, as they're invaluable along trails that ford or follow the Virgin River or its tributaries.
It can be hard to envision just how alone you'll be on some of the less-traveled trails. The park service discourages solo treks, because getting lost or injured can quickly become life threatening in this environment. If that's not motivation enough, consider that on the rare occasions when mountain lions and humans cross paths, attacks are much less likely if there's more than one person. Above all, plan ahead and be honest with yourself about your capabilities. If you want to do a backcountry hike, make a reservation.
Park rangers warn hikers to remain on alert for flash floods; these walls of water can appear out of nowhere, even when the sky above you is clear.
Emerald Pools Trail. Multiple waterfalls cascade (or drip, in dry weather) into algae-filled pools along this trail. The path leading to the lower pool is paved and appropriate for strollers and wheelchairs. If you've got any eneergy left, keep going past the lower pool. The quarter-mile from there to the middle pool gets rocky and steep but offers increasingly scenic views. A less crowded and exceptionally enjoyable return route follows the Kayenta Trail connecting on to the Grotto Trail. Allow 50 minutes round-trip to the lower pool and 2½ hours round-trip to the middle and upper pools. Easy. Trailhead at Zion Canyon Scenic Dr., about 3 mi north of Canyon Junction, Zion National Park, UT, 84767.
Grotto Trail. This flat trail takes you from Zion Lodge to the Grotto picnic area, traveling for the most part along the park road. Allow 20 minutes or less for the walk. If you are up for a longer hike, and have two to three hours, connect with the Kayenta Trail after you cross the footbridge, and head for the Emerald Pools. You will begin gaining elevation, and it's a steady, steep climb to the pools. Easy. Trailhead at Zion Canyon Scenic Dr., about 3 mi north of Canyon Junction, Zion National Park, UT, 84767.
Pa'rus Trail. This 2-mi relatively flat walking and biking path parallels and occasionally crosses the Virgin River, starting at South Campground and proceeding north along the river to the beginning of Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. It's paved and gives you great views of the Watchman, the Sentinel, the East and West Temples, and Towers of the Virgin. Dogs are allowed on this trail as long as they are leashed. Easy. Trailhead at Canyon Junction, ½ mi north of south entrance, Zion National Park, UT, 84767.
Riverside Walk. Beginning at the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop at the end of Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, this easy 1-mi round-trip shadows the Virgin River. The river gurgles by on one side of the trail; on the other, wildflowers bloom out of the canyon wall in fascinating hanging gardens. This is the park's most trekked trail; it is paved and suitable for strollers and for wheelchairs. A round-trip walk takes between one and two hours. The end of the trail marks the beginning of the Narrows Trail. Easy. Trailhead at Zion Canyon Scenic Dr., 5 mi north of Canyon Junction, Zion National Park, UT, 84767.
Canyon Overlook Trail. The parking area just east of Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel leads to this popular 1 mi trail; allow an hour to hike it. The overlook at the trail's end gives you views of the West and East Temples, Towers of the Virgin, the Streaked Wall, and other Zion Canyon cliffs and peaks. The elevation change is 160 feet. Moderate. Trailhead at Rte. 9, east of Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, Zion National Park, UT, 84767.
Hidden Canyon Trail. This steep, 2-mi round-trip hike takes you up 850 feet in elevation. Not too crowded, the trail is paved all the way to Hidden Canyon. Allow about three hours for the round-trip hike. Moderate. Trailhead at Zion Canyon Scenic Dr., 3¼ mi north of Canyon Junction, Zion National Park, UT, 84767.
Taylor Creek Trail. In the Kolob Canyons area of the park, this trail immediately descends parallel to Taylor Creek, sometimes crossing it, sometimes shortcutting benches beside it. The historic Larsen Cabin precedes the entrance to the canyon of the Middle Fork, where the trail becomes rougher. After the old Fife Cabin, the canyon bends to the right and delivers you into Double Arch Alcove, a large, colorful grotto with a high arch towering above. The distance one way to Double Arch is 2¾ mi. Allow about four hours round-trip for this hike. The elevation change on this trail is 440 feet. Moderate. Trailhead at Kolob Canyons Rd., about 1½ mi east of Kolob Canyons Visitor Center, Zion National Park, UT, 84767.
Watchman Trail. For a view of the town of Springdale and a look at lower Zion Creek Canyon and the Towers of the Virgin, take this popular, but strenuous, hike that begins on a service road east of Watchman Campground. Some springs seep out of the sandstone to nourish hanging gardens and attract wildlife here. There are a few sheer cliff edges on this route, so children should be supervised carefully. Plan on two hours for this 3-mi hike with a 380-foot elevation change. Moderate. Trailhead east of Rte. 9 (main park road), on access road inside south entrance, Zion National Park, UT, 84767.
Angels Landing Trail. As much a trial as it is a trail, this hike beneath the Great White Throne is one of the most challenging in the park. Leave your acrophobia at home as you work your way through Walter's Wiggles, a series of 21 switchbacks built out of sandstone blocks. From here you traverse sheer cliffs with chains bolted into the rock face to serve as handrails in some places. In spite of its hair-raising nature, this trail attracts many people. Allow 2½ hours round-trip if you stop at Scout's Lookout, and four hours if you keep going to where the angels (and birds of prey) play. The trail is not appropriate for children; you'll get the heebie-jeebies every time there's a handrail-free drop-off. Difficult. Trailhead at Zion Canyon Scenic Dr., about 4½ mi north of Canyon Junction, Zion National Park, UT, 84767.
Narrows Trail. After leaving the paved ease of the Gateway to the Narrows trail behind, the real fun begins. This route does not follow a trail or path; rather, you are walking on the riverbed itself. In places you'll find a pebbly shingle or dry sandbar footpath, but eventually the walls of the canyon close in on you and you'll be forced into the chilly waters of the Virgin River itself, walking against the current (tack back and forth, don't fight it head-on). The hike is a stunning and unique nature experience, but it's no picnic. Be prepared to swim, as chest-deep holes may occur even when water levels are low. Like any narrow desert canyon, this one is famous for sudden flash flooding, even when skies are clear. Before attempting to hike into the Narrows, check with park rangers about the likelihood of flash floods. A day trip up the lower section of the Narrows is 6 mi one way to the turnaround point. Allow at least five hours round-trip. Difficult. Trailhead at the end of Riverside Walk, Zion National Park, UT, 84767.
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