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9 Top-Rated Hiking Trails in Zion National Park

Jul 24, 2017

Zion is one of the most visited parks in the United States, and many people come here specifically for the outstanding hiking. But you don't need to be an experienced hiker to enjoy the trails in this park. Hikes range from less than a half mile to multi-day treks, with trails for all ability levels.

If you have time for only a few short hikes or walks, the best options are Lower Emerald Pools, Weeping Rock, and Riverside Walk. However, if you want to experience some of Zion's classic, signature hikes, The Narrows or Angels Landing are probably what you are looking for in a day hike. For something in between, there are all kinds of options. Zion is a spectacular park, with incredible views at every turn, so whether you choose a hike that runs along the valley floor, with sheer cliff walls rising above you, or a trail that runs along one of the high ridges, you won't be disappointed.

From spring until fall, the park closes the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive to private vehicles and offers a free shuttle service for visitors. The shuttle bus stops at all the major trailheads along this section of the park and is very convenient for some hikes, which you can begin at one stop and end at another.

1 The Narrows

The Narrows
The Narrows
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Zion's signature feature, the Narrows is the slot canyon of all slot canyons, and hikers who don't mind getting a little wet can hike through this spectacular rock cut, following the Virgin River. This is the most popular hiking trail in Zion National Park, but it is done in the summer, after the river recedes from the spring runoff and is safe enough for passage.

Although there is more than one way to tackle this hike, most people begin the trail where the Riverside Walk ends. In places where the canyon walls close in around the river to the point there is no shore, you need to wade through the river as you move upstream, navigating through the rocks on the river bed as you go. You can make this hike as short or as long as you like by turning around at any point, but you can't go beyond Big Springs. Most hikers do a round-trip hike of six to eight miles. Alternatively, if you get a permit, you can do this hike from the top down for a strenuous 16-mile trip.

2 Angels Landing

Angels Landing
Angels Landing
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Angels Landing is one of the park's most famous hikes, climbing to an outstanding viewpoint looking out over the canyon. This dramatic hike takes you up the side of a mountain on a series of switchbacks and then follows a narrow ridge, terminating at a 1,500-foot drop, where you can look out over the valley below. While this is a famous hike, it's not for everyone. It's a strenuous 5.4-mile round trip trail with serious elevation gain and narrow ridges with huge drop-offs. It's not for hikers with a fear of heights and not appropriate for young children. Some of the trail has chains for handholds.

This hike begins at the Grotto and takes between three and six hours to complete. The trail is open year-round but can be extremely hot in the summer or covered in snow in the winter.

3 Riverside Walk

Riverside Walk
Riverside Walk
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As the name suggests, this trail follows the Virgin River for fabulous views of the surrounding cliff walls that veer up on both sides of the river. This paved trail, accessible to wheelchairs and strollers, hugs a cliff wall for most of the path and offers close-up views of weeping walls, hanging gardens, and the Virgin River. You can sometimes see birds and other wildlife along here. Primitive trails in some sections allow you to walk right down to the river. The trail ends at the start of The Narrows hike. The Riverside Walk is a 2.2-mile round-trip hike, easily doable for the average visitor, and is the last stop on the shuttle bus.

4 Emerald Pools

Emerald Pools
Emerald Pools
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The Emerald Pools hike, beginning at the Zion Lodge shuttle stop, has three sets of pools at different points along the hike: lower emerald pools, middle emerald pools, and upper emerald pools. You can hike to all three or just to the first set, depending on your energy level or how much time you want to spend here.

Even if you simply hike to the Lower Emerald Pools, a .6-mile round-trip along a paved path, this hike is well worth doing and perfect if you have children. The pools, which may look more like mud puddles at times, are at the base of a weeping wall or full on waterfall, depending on the time of year. Along the path, up to this point, there are nice views down the valley and out over the Virgin River. At one point, you can see a large section of rock wall that has fallen off the cliff and led to the closure of the trail for much of the winter in 2017.

If you choose to go on, the trail continues beyond the dripping wall and climbs up above the waterfall area, to the Middle Emerald Pools. In addition to the pools, you'll find excellent views of the surrounding mountains. From here, you can loop back to the parking lot if you choose. Alternatively, you can catch the Kayenta Trail and hike down, ending your hike at the Grotto, where you can catch the park shuttle bus. Or, if you are up for a bit more adventure, you can hike from the Middle Pools to the Upper Emerald Pools. This last portion of the trail has some exposed ledges and may not be suitable for children or those with a serious fear of heights.

5 Weeping Rock

Weeping Rock
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An easy half-mile round-trip trails leads to Weeping Rock, a large alcove carved into a cliff wall, with a steady supply of water dripping or streaming off the face. In the spring, and especially on rainy days, Weeping Rock can be transformed into a waterfall. Along the wall, you can see hanging gardens and look out over the valley to the surrounding mountains. Expect to get at least a little wet on this hike, if you choose to walk below the overhang. This short hike has a couple of moderately steep sections and some stairs. It is not wheelchair accessible.

6 Observation Point

Observation Point
Observation Point
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For spectacular scenery and an outstanding view over Zion Canyon, this eight-mile round-trip hike is one of the best trails. This is a strenuous hike up to, and through, Echo Canyon, over Zion's picturesque Navajo sandstone and past dramatic drop-offs to a flat viewpoint with sweeping views over the canyon. From here, you can look down on the cliff walls and the valley, cut by the Virgin River, far below. If you aren't up for the drama and crowds of Angels Landing, Observation Point is a nice alternative. Although it's longer and higher, it's also less crowded and takes you through some amazing canyon scenery along the way. The trailhead for this hike is at the Weeping Rock parking area. In the winter, the trail may be snow covered or icy.

7 Hidden Canyon

Hidden Canyon
Hidden Canyon
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Hidden Canyon can be done on its own or as a spur off the Observation Point trail. On its own, it's a much less strenuous and shorter hike, with a return distance of 2.2 miles. It's a perfect option if you only want to spend a few hours hiking and aren't afraid of heights. The trail leads up from the Weeping Rock trail, winding up a series of switchbacks and ends at a hanging canyon. Be warned, this trail has some serious drop-offs along narrow sections of the trail, some of which have chains bolted into the cliff side to hang on to, some of which do not. It's not appropriate for children and won't be enjoyable for anyone with a fear of heights.

8 Canyon Overlook Trail

Canyon Overlook Trail
Canyon Overlook Trail | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
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This is a spectacular one-mile hike off the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, leading to a high lookout point with views over the valley. The trail itself is part of the attraction as it curves around the side of a mountain, hugging the cliff wall, veering out onto a wooden walkway suspended over a drop-off, and looking out over outstanding scenery around every corner. Long drops are mostly guarded with railings, but some are not. At points, you will need to negotiate narrow ledges with no barriers, making this trail inappropriate for young children.

The trailhead is located on the east side of the tunnel, immediately after you exit the tunnel. You must pull into the parking area as soon as you exit the tunnel, or you'll miss the stop.

9 Kayenta

Kayenta
Kayenta
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The Kayenta Trail connects with the Emerald Pools trail and is frequently done in combination with the Emerald Pools hike, beginning at The Grotto and ending at the Zion Lodge shuttle bus stops. If you just want to do the Kayenta Trail, it is a two-mile out-and-back hike to the Upper Emerald Pools. The trail hugs the canyon wall for much of the way and then climbs up to the pools. Beautiful views over the Virgin River and the canyon stretch all along this trail, which also has numerous exposed sections with long drop-offs.

Where to Stay near Zion National Park

The closest town to the park and the most convenient place to base yourself is in Springdale, right outside the South Gate. From spring until fall, shuttles run from Springdale to the park visitor center, where you can then take the park shuttle all along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Hotel options in Springdale are plentiful and range from top end to mid-range, but there are few budget options. For better value, you can also stay in nearby St. George, about an hour away, where there are all kinds of chain hotels and some budget accommodation.

  • Luxury Hotels: One of the most beautiful, luxury resorts in Springdale is the Cliffrose Lodge & Gardens, just outside the park gate. This property, set along the Virgin River, offers standard rooms and beautiful villas. The resort has several pools and hot tubs, as well as a riverside beach. Cable Mountain Lodge is another luxury property, with studios and suites, a lovely outdoor pool area, and fabulous views.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: At the upper end of mid-range, Flanigan's Inn offers a full range of rooms and suites, some with balconies or patios, and on-site dining and spa facilities. Also worth considering are the Holiday Inn Express Springdale and the Majestic View Lodge. Both of these are elegant two-story properties, with seasonal pools, beautiful views, and inviting common areas with huge windows.
  • Budget Hotels: The Howard Johnson Inn & Suites in St. George is one of the most economical options, offering basic but comfortable rooms, some of which have refrigerators. Complimentary breakfast is provided. Also popular is the Chalet Motel, in a quiet area of St. George. The rooms have been recently remodeled, and some come with kitchenettes.

More Great Destinations for Hiking in the Southwest

Utah is an outstanding state for hiking. Just west of Zion, you can find some incredible, off-the-beaten-path parks and hiking trails near St. George, and a little over an hour up the road to the northeast of Zion, the unique scenery and wonderful hiking trails in Bryce Canyon National Park. Further east, near Moab, check out the hikes in Arches National Park.

If you are heading south from Zion, into Nevada, it's worth taking some time to hit the trails in Valley of Fire State Park and Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

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