Zion stands among the titans of National Parks, holding its own alongside giants like Yosemite, Arches, and Yellowstone. It is no surprise that Utah’s first national park is able to capture the fandom that it has – with over 4 million visitors each year.
Zion contains beautiful contrasts: red canyon walls painted with iron, to a brilliant sky dotted with clouds, to the free flowing Virgin River whose shores are painted with bright green plant-life. Each unique aspect combines to generate a fascination among those that visit the park.
You just can’t top the delectably dramatic nature of it all. And you won’t be able to keep your eyes off of the beauty (unless you are scaling the side of a cliff on a hike like Angels Landing, for instance). Now, for the moment you’ve all been waiting for…
The 6 best hikes in Zion National Park you absolutely must do:
1. Angels Landing
Of course I am going to start with Angel’s Landing! How could I not? This 4.1 mile, 1,617 feet of elevation gain showstopper is worth the hype. If you are looking for an exhilarating challenge with a cherry-on-top view, then you can’t pass this one up.
Be warned: those who are afraid of heights should not attempt.
You see, Angel’s Landing consists of a trail that follows along a narrow ridge, containing 1,000 foot drop offs on either side. What’s more, the last 500 feet to the top is essentially a narrow staircase that is wide enough for one person.
Also read: Has Anyone Died Hiking Angels Landing?
Yes, there are handrails, but the vertical drop can still be very daunting to those who are uncomfortable with exposure. If you want to hike everything but the last part, take a break at Scout’s lookout, where there is space to rest and decide what your next move is– turn back or keep going to the top.
As you can imagine, this hike is not ideal when crowded. Trying to pass other people on such thin walking-grounds can be dangerous. Therefore, try to get the first shuttle out in the morning in order to beat the crowds.
More info: utah.com
2. Watchman Trail
In comparison to Angel’s Landing, Watchman trail is like a D list celebrity: no one knows about it. Right next to the park entrance, this easily accessible 3 mile trail is perfect for an early morning or late afternoon hike.
If you are looking for an easier hike for the family, then check this one out. You will get amazing sunrise and sunset views as the light reflects off of the canyon walls around you.
More info: utah.com
3. Hidden Canyon
If you are looking for a hike that has some of the “steep factor” of Angel’s Landing, but without the same massive crowd influx, then check out 3.2 mile Hidden Canyon, beginning at Weeping Rocks trailhead. Similarly to Angel’s Landing, the ascent is upwards of 1,000 feet, and meanders along a thin rock ledge with significant exposure, with a chain handrail to help you along the journey.
Once you get to a seemingly impassible rock wall at the end of the established trail, you can turn around or scramble your way up the wall to encounter a secret hanging canyon and a small arch further up.
More info: alltrails.com
4. Taylor Creek Trail
Kolob Canyon is included as a part of Zion National Park, but due to its separate location the Canyon has a different visitor center from the rest of the park. It’s actually located on Exit 40 of Interstate 15, which is a whole 40 miles north of actual Zion Canyon.
But the drive is totally worth it, specifically for the smaller amount of visitors that frequent Kolob.
One such trail that warrants a visit is Taylor Creek. Located in a box canyon, this 5 mile round-trip jaunt is another family friendly hike, as it lacks the exposure of many other Zion routes.
Plus, you can give the kiddos a history lesson (even a made up one, just tell them a story, for god’s sake) as you pass by some old cabins from the 1930’s.
More info: visitutah.com
5. Observation Point
Ah yes, we have made it to another classic: Observation Point, famous for its spectacular views of the valley floor and surrounding red canyon walls. Though not as popular as Angel’s landing (but still pretty heavily trafficked), this 7.2 mile, 2,148 feet elevation gain trek is worth the hike.
In fact, many would say that in the end, the overall view is way better than that of Angel’s Landing. You decide.
More info: nps.gov
6. The Narrows
If Observation Point and Angel’s Landing are known for their exposure and stunner views from atop a high point, then the Narrows is known for quite the opposite: there are no drastic drop offs: you stay in a canyon the entire time. And yet, the hike is extremely unique.
Why? Well, have you ever hiked a trail made of water?
That’s essentially what the Narrows is. For most of the hike, you walk in the Virgin River. But don’t worry– the water is shallow, as long as you are hiking in season, aka June, July, August, September, or October. (Pro-tip: Don’t try to hike on a rainy day or in the winter. The water is freezing and there are spots with little sun exposure.)
Although the canyon is long (16 miles round-trip), the canyon gets increasingly gorgeous as you get further into it, with narrowing passages and hanging gardens around secret corners.
More info: nps.gov
What To Bring And What To Expect On Your Zion Hike
If you are ready to set sail into Zion, then know that you are in for a treat. However, as human nature suggests, pleasure doesn’t come without some pain. Zion is an intense place, with drastic temperature swings, varied weather, dramatic drop-offs, and long, potentially dangerous treks.
So please, dear friend, heed my advice, and Zion can become a magical experience for you, your family, and your friends (or frenemies… I don’t judge the people that you decide to vacation with.)
How to be your best hiker-self… If you are going to hike in Zion, do it right. Be sure to meet each day with an attitude of preparedness.
- Look up the weather before you embark, so you know what to expect. If rain is in the forecast, play it safe and don’t go into the canyons. Flash floods, rising river levels, slippery rocks, and colder temps can all be dangerous factors that could lead to injury or death. If the weather looks a-OK, then it’s all systems-go!
- Don’t forget to properly pack your backpack with the essentials you need. Nothing can kill good hiker vibes like a lack of key items in your backpack. Speaking of weather, it’s best to be prepared for anything. Be sure to stuff a rain jacket in your pack, alongside a fleece – try something like Patagiona’s Better Sweater – for extra warmth (it can get really cold in those canyons, where the sun never touches the walls and the water covers the ground).
- If you are doing a hike that requires you to get in the water, like the Narrows, for instance, you may want to wear water-proof layers, like booties and rain pants. If you really want to go all out, throw in a warm hat and glove liners.
- On the other hand, Zion is a part of the Mojave desert, so it can also be very hot. You’re going to want to bring some sunscreen to protect yourself from those dangerous rays, and a baseball cap and sunglasses to shield that precious face of yours- we don’t want any wrinkles now, do we?
- Although there is water in the canyons, you obviously can’t drink it. You’ll need at least two liters of water in order to stay hydrated out on the trail. Especially in the summer, Zion can get hot-hot-hot (think: high eighties). So, fill up those Nalgene bottles – you may even want to put an electrolyte mixture in one, to help keep you drinking and cramp-free.
- Besides liquid, you’re going to want some snacks to keep your feet moving and your mood on the up and up. I like Honey Stinger products, like their waffles or energy chews, because they aren’t bulky, but they pack a real energy punch. It’s also never a bad idea to keep some chocolate (or even chocolate covered coffee beans) in your backpack to give you a much needed caffeine boost.
- OK, you’ve got the basic, common-sense essentials. However, there are more items that make someone go from semi-prepared to fully prepared and ready to kick some butt out there on the trail. Make sure to bring a headlamp, just in case you are doing a sunrise or sunset hike, you don’t want to be caught in the dark without a light to guide you.
- Throw in anything else you may need to guide you on your journey, such as a compass and a map. You can find maps of the park at the visitor center or by visiting this website. I also like to travel with a knife, pepper spray, and chapstick – you know, just in case.
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Kaiti Kinshella is a Spanish teacher and freelance writer who lives, works, and plays in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. She loves to spend her free time backcountry skiing, mountain biking, climbing, and watching Game of Thrones. Her guilty pleasure is food writing, because for her there is nothing more enjoyable than a delectable meal.