Zion National Park is a hiker’s dream. Utah’s oldest state park, founded November 19th, 1919, is world famous for its steep red canyons and scenic forest trails. This beautifully unique scenery makes the park a mecca for hikers, climbers, and nature lovers. Zion offers multiple hiking trails, each varying in difficulty, from easy to extremely difficult. Are you planning an upcoming hiking trip to this wonderful place? If so, here are the six best day hikes in Zion National Park, ranging from easiest to most extreme.
Lower Emerald Pools Trail
- Difficulty: Easy
- Distance: 2.3 miles
- Elevation Gain: 662 ft
- Duration: 2-4 hours
Emerald Pools is one of the most famous hikes in Zion National Park. It’s a classic representation of everything the Park has to offer, packed into a short collection of trails that make for an easy-going and leisurely family-friendly hike. It’s also the perfect option on this list for the beginner hiker looking for a good starter trail.
The starting point for this hike will be the Zion Lodge, located in the heart of the Zion Canyon. Depending on how fast or slow of a walker you are, this hike could take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours. You’ll begin by crossing over the footbridge and following the trail that leads north along the Virgin River. This will lead you to the Lower Emerald Pools. This is the easiest part of this entire trail, perfect for small children and the elderly. Despite its low difficulty level, however, it’s still an incredibly beautiful and scenic trail that anyone can enjoy, even for experienced hikers. With lush vegetation along the rocky red cliffs and an alcove of two gorgeous red rock waterfalls, this is definitely a hike the whole family can enjoy.
Beyond the first alcove of waterfalls, the trail’s difficulty will increase, and will lead you up to bring you onto the cliff above. From here you’ll be able to see the Middle Emerald Pools. These are the streams that run off the cliff to form the waterfalls below. The Upper Emerald Pool is a quarter of a mile further, through hot and sandy terrain, but it’s surely worth the effort when you reach the gorgeous final pool located at the base of a 300 ft cliff.
This desert oasis is a perfect place to find some shade and have a picnic. If you’re new to hiking, or new to Zion National Park, you should try the Emerald Pools hike. It may be a bit crowded in the summer months, but it’s the perfect hike that everyone can enjoy.
- Difficulty: Medium
- Distance: 7.2 miles
- Elevation Gain: 2148 ft
- Duration: 4-6 hours
Observation Point is a classic Zion hiking trail that offers an iconic view of the park at the end. The hike to Observation Point begins at Weeping Rock Trailhead, which is the 7th stop on the Zion Canyon Shuttle. Follow the trail, which is mostly paved, as it zigzags up the eastern wall of the Zion Canyon. Before you know it, you’ll have a fantastic view of Weeping Rock down below and of Angel’s Landing from across the valley. When you reach the halfway point of the initial ascent from Weeping Rock you’ll see a spur trail leading to Hidden Canyon, which we’ll explore later in this article. You should only hike to the Hidden Canyon if you have another 1-3 hour to spare on your hike.
Continuing past the Hidden Canyon, the trail ascends into Echo Canyon. This is a large canyon side that rises roughly 1000 ft over the canyon floor. At this point, you’ll be surrounded by great canyon walls on both sides and the cool wind blowing through the cliffs. You’ll cross a dry stream bed and then climb up the other side of the canyon.
When you reach about a mile into Echo Canyon you’ll see the junction with the East Rim Trail, a more difficult trail that circles around Echo Canyon and heads to Cable Mountain, Deertrap Mountain, and the East Entrance Trailhead. These are more hikes that deserve their own separate day. After passing by the East Rim Trail Junction, the trail to Observation Point zigzags up the white cliff formations. After reaching the top, you’ll be standing on a sandy white plateau with a brilliant view of Zion National Park.
- Difficulty: Medium
- Distance: 3.2 miles
- Elevation Gain: 915 ft
- Duration: 3-5 hours
Starting from the Weeping Rock Trailhead, which is the 7th stop on the Zion Canyon Shuttle and the same starting point as Observation Point, hike up the trail as it zigzags up the east canyon side. Eventually you’ll find the junction leading to the Hidden Canyon trail. Taking this trail will lead you to a difficult and sandy uphill zigzagging path to the top of a minor saddle. The trail then descends into a small shaded valley, after which you’ll see a set of stone steps, that will lead you to a short, exposed ledge. There are chains to hold onto on the ledge path for those with a fear of heights. This path will eventually lead to the mouth of the Hidden Canyon.
The large potholes in the stream bed of the Hidden Canyon are usually filled with water, so watch your step. This is where the official trail ends. However, if you’re willing to climb the small rock face and hike a bit further, another mile or so, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning view of a seemingly untouched hanging canyon. There are sections of dark overgrowth, open and sandy sections, tall walls covered in lush moss, and a cool small free-standing arch.
If you’ve got some climbing experience, you’ll be able to go a bit further on this off-road path. Eventually, however, you’ll encounter some insurmountable obstacle that will force you to turn back the way you came. And turning back the way you came is the only way out. Some technical climbers are able to climb out of the Hidden Canyon, but it’s definitely not recommended for the casual hiker to attempt to climb the canyon wall.
- Difficulty: Hard
- Distance: 15 miles max
- Elevation Gain: 1017 ft
- Duration: 6 hours or more
The Zion Narrows bottom-up day hike is a must-see trail for anyone who is visiting the park. You’ll begin this hike at the Temple of Sinawava. You’ll find it after getting off at the last stop of the Zion Canyon Shuttle. From the Temple, you’ll start hiking along the Riverside Walk Trail. The trail will continue North for about a mile until it ends at the Virgin River. At this point, we really hope you’ve packed your water shoes, because you’ll be hiking through the river for the rest of the trip.
For much of the day, you’ll be trekking through water that alternates from knee- to- waist- deep. The wet terrain will in turn alternate from sandy river bottom to slippery rock bed. Your best bet here would be to have handy a walking stick or hiking poles for some extra support on this slick terrain. Most of the time, the water level tends to remain below the waist. There are a few points, however, depending on the recent rainfall, where you may find yourself having to go chest deep, or even having to swim for a bit. So prepare to get wet.
The length of this hike is up to you. You can make this hike as long or as short as you want, depending on when you choose to turn around and go back out the way you came, which is the only way out of this day hike. The Zion Narrows does offer top-down hikes, but these require a special permit to hike. This hike tends to get pretty crowded in the summer months, so if you really want to witness the canyon in all its glory, it’s best to come in the cooler times of the year.
- Difficulty: Hard
- Distance: 7 miles
- Elevation Gain: 1305 ft
- Duration: 5-9 hours
To hike the Subway Trail, you’ll need a permit from the National Park Service. And you’ll need to apply very well in advance of your planned trip. This is a very challenging hike, and the National Park Service must keep track of everyone who chooses to take on the trail. You’ll begin at the Left Fork Trailhead, which is a little over 8 miles up the Kolob Terrrace Road from the Town of Virgin. From the parking lot, you’ll follow the trail Northeast for half a mile. Before you know it, you’ll reach the cliffs overlooking the Left Fork of North Creek. You’ll descend a zigzagging trail 400 feet down until you reach the stream bed of the Left Fork.
The National Park has designated hiking trails along the river banks and signs of where not to hike on this route. These trails are useful for the early part of the hike, but eventually you will find yourself having to get your feet wet. You’ll be hiking in the stream on this one. During this hike, you’ll pass by 2 15-foot tall waterfalls. Be careful of the rocks in this area. They can be incredibly slippery.
Eventually the canyon will make a right turn to the South and you’ll get a view of the Lower Subway. The walls of this short canyon come together very closely, and the flowing water stream has cut out a large oval structure. This is the spot where most people will turn around and head back out the way they came. If you’re not opposed to getting wet, however, you can continue through the pools and into the Waterfall Room, where a log-jammed 20-foot tall waterfall can be seen.
- Difficulty: Extreme
- Distance: 4.1 miles
- Elevation Gain: 1617 ft
- Duration: 3-6 hours
Don’t attempt the Angels Landing hike if you’re afraid of heights. If you’re out of shape or don’t have a good sense of balance, this hike is not for you. Don’t attempt this hike if you have children or elderly hiking partners. If you’re willing to risk it, this trail has some of the best views in Zion National Park.
You’ll begin this hike on the Grotto Trailhead, which is stop number 6 on the Zion Canyon Shuttle. You’ll cross the bridge over the Virgin River and follow the paved trail up the West side of the canyon. A steep climb uphill will eventually lead you to Refrigerator Canyon. This is a deep hanging canyon where the temperature always stays cool. After climbing up to the top of the ridge above the canyon, you’ll arrive at Scout’s Lookout. From this viewpoint, you’ll have a good view of Angels Landing above and the canyon below you.
The final stretch of this hike will see you walking a narrow spine on the side of the mountain almost 500 feet up. There are rest areas and chain guards to aid those attempting the climb. If you’re not used to hiking, you shouldn’t attempt this strenuous hike. It never gets any easier. However, if you can push through the climb, reaching the final view on top of Angels Landing is a unique experience like no other. Once you’ve had your fill of the view, turn around and climb back down the way you came. At least this time, climbing down the spine of the mountain will be less difficult than climbing up.
Angels Landing is one of the best day hikes in Zion National Park, and can be extremely crowded in the summer months. This hike is the highest rated in the United States. Take extra caution when traveling with crowds on the narrow pathways of the mountain side. These trails can be fatal if you’re not mindful and aware at all times.
The Best Day Hikes in Zion National Park
There you have it, the 6 best day hikes available in Zion National Park. Go out there and have a blast by exploring the best outdoor experience that Utah has to offer. If you’re an active nature lover, don’t miss your chance to experience these one-of-a-kind trails. They offer unique views and experiences that you won’t find anywhere else. Be safe, and happy hiking!