Best Hikes in Zion National Park

By Alexandra Caspero on May 5, 2023

The 5 Best Hikes in Zion National Park. Ranked from easiest to most challenging, these are the best hikes to try in Zion.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Nestled within the awe-inspiring red rock canyons of southwestern Utah, Zion National Park is a testament to the raw beauty of the American Southwest. With its towering sandstone cliffs, vibrant emerald canyons, and scenic trails, Zion invites hikers worldwide to explore its dramatic landscapes and embark on unforgettable adventures.

Zion National Park boasts an extensive trail system catering to hikers of all skill levels, from paved strolls along the river to steep switchbacks. It’s advisable to plan your visit ahead of time, as popular trails can become crowded during peak seasons. And, if you’re planning on hiking Angel’s Landing, then you’ll need a permit. You cannot get same-day permits, so you must grab one ahead of time. Zion’s shuttle system efficiently transports visitors within the park, ensuring accessibility while reducing traffic and environmental impact. This is nice as you don’t have to stress over getting to lots early to find parking.

Here are the top 5 hikes in Zion National Park, starting from least to most strenuous.

Canyon Overlook Trail

We loved this quick trail, and would highly recommend getting up to do it at sunrise or sunset. The Canyon Overlook Trail gives you breathtaking panoramic views of the park’s iconic red rock canyons. This moderately easy trail is a popular choice for those seeking a shorter hike that still offers awe-inspiring vistas and a sense of adventure.

The trailhead is located on the east side of the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. From the parking area, a well-marked trail leads you on a short but scenic journey to the overlook.

The path gradually ascends, with occasional steps and rocky sections, providing an enjoyable hike suitable for hikers of most fitness levels.

The Watchman Trail

The Watchman Trail in Zion National Park offers a captivating hiking experience that showcases the park’s stunning landscapes and provides panoramic views of the surrounding canyons and peaks. This moderately strenuous trail is a popular choice for hikers looking to immerse themselves in Zion and enjoy a rewarding vantage point.

The trailhead is located near the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, and the hike begins with a gradual ascent through a diverse landscape of desert flora and sandstone formations. This is also a great one to do for a sunrise or sunset!

As you hike into it, the trail offers picturesque views of the Virgin River and the towering cliffs. The Watchman itself is a prominent rock formation that stands sentinel over the valley.

The trail meanders along switchbacks and occasionally becomes steeper as it approaches the viewpoint. This is a moderate hike and great for most fitness levels.

angels landing zion national park

Emerald Pools

The Emerald Pools hike in Zion National Park offers a serene and enchanting journey through a series of lush, verdant oases nestled amidst the park’s dramatic red rock landscapes. It’s essentially three trails depending on how much you want to hike; the lower hike is an easy trail, and the higher pool is more challenging but not difficult.

The trailhead can be accessed from the Zion Lodge, and the hike is divided into three sections: the Lower Emerald Pool, the Middle Emerald Pool, and the Upper Emerald Pool.

The Lower Emerald Pool is the hike’s starting point and provides a gentle introduction to the series of pools. If you want to continue on, keep moving along the trail, until you reach the Middle Emerald Pool. You can keep going if you’d like, to the Upper Emerald Pool. This section requires a steeper ascent and offers hikers a rewarding view of the park from a higher vantage point.

Angel’s Landing/Scout’s Lookout

This was my husband’s favorite hike on our recent Utah trip. You don’t need a permit to hike to Scout’s Lookout, but if you want to continue the last 1/2 mile up to Angel’s Landing using the cables, then you’ll need a permit. You cannot get one on the same day as you plan to hike, so make sure to plan ahead.

The hike is demanding and involves traversing narrow sections along sheer cliffs, and I’d rank this one for experienced hikers only. It’s short, but very steep, especially along the switchback section. If you are hiking this trail in Winter or if it’s icy, then I highly recommend spikes.

The trail begins at the Grotto Trailhead, near the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. From there, it steadily ascends through a series of switchbacks known as Walter’s Wiggles, named after Walter Ruesch, Zion’s first superintendent. These 21 tight and well-engineered switchbacks zigzag their way up a steep slope, and while they are challenging, they also quickly allow you to reach the top.

After conquering Walter’s Wiggles, you’ll come to Scouts Lookout, a resting point with bathrooms. Here, you can catch your breath and savor impressive panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. Even if you don’t plan on continuing on to Angels Landing, this hike is worth it for the beautiful views! You can also head left to continue up the trail, away from Angels Landing.

From Scouts Lookout, the final half-mile to Angels Landing is where things really intensify. The trail narrows dramatically, hugging the edge of the steep rock face. There are chains to assist you, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable with kids doing this hike. As you carefully traverse this exhilarating ridge, prepare to be rewarded with awe-inspiring views of Zion Canyon stretching out in all directions (if you can look up from your feet!)

You did it! The top is a breathtaking 360-degree panorama of the canyon below.

narrows in zion

The Narrows

Finally, the Narrows. There is no hike like the narrows, and it’s novelty makes it one of the most popular hikes in Zion National Park for a reason. With its towering walls and winding paths carved by the Virgin River, the Narrows offers an immersive and unforgettable experience for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.

You do not need a permit to hike the narrows but do be aware of current weather conditions. There are warning signs as you approach the entrance of flash floods in the river, which can be dangerous in a narrow canyon.

The Narrows hike begins at the Temple of Sinawava, the park’s last shuttle route stop. You’ll first walk a quick paved mile to the entrance, then hop into the river. Soon the canyon walls begin to close in around you. The unique aspect of this hike is that the river is the trail, and you’ll be wading through water for the majority of the hike.

The hike offers varying levels of difficulty, depending on how far you choose to venture into the Narrows. It will also depend on the depth of the river. Obviously, hiking when the river is chest-height and quick is a much harder experience than when the river is ankle-deep. The most popular section of the Narrows is the Bottom-Up hike, which extends for approximately 5 miles round trip. This route allows hikers to experience the stunning beauty of the narrowest sections of the canyon, where the walls rise hundreds of feet above you and the river meanders at your feet.

You will need both waders and a big stick for this hike. Your stick allows you to not only test the depth of the water as you move through but also to help navigate through the slippery rocks. You can rent all of these items in the many outfitters across town.

As mentioned in our Utah recap, this was an intense yet breathtaking hike. The interplay of light and shadow on the canyon walls creates a magical ambiance. It really is a one-of-a-kind experience and highly recommend doing this one.

narrows zion

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Meet Alex Caspero

Alex Caspero is a Registered Dietitian, New York Times Bestselling Plant-Based Chef and mom of two. She aims to cut through the nutrition noise by providing real-life, nourishing tips for body and mind. Learn more about Alex.

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