Best Trails in Zion National Park
Updated: Apr 12
In 2018, I lived in Las Vegas for six months—what an experience that was! Being the outdoorsy, adventurous type, I looked beyond the famous strip and to the mountains. Although I visited Red Rock Canyon National Park several times, there were other gorgeous (nearby) parks to explore.
When I discovered that Zion National Park was only a two-and-a-half-hour drive away, in Utah (one state over), I couldn’t contain my excitement. Bottom line: we visited the park a handful of times to hike. I have also returned several times since for more. ;)
Here are our absolute favorite trails in Zion—the ones we dragged friends along on and would go back for: Hidden Canyon, Angel's Landing, and the Narrows.
Hidden Canyon trail: our first visit to Zion
Saturday was awoken by birdsong and those irresistible rays of warmth that filter through the blinds, coaxing sleepy eyes into motion. After a frantic time check, a healthy dose of bribery and a side desperation for breakfast, we were up, dressed and the packs were dragging us out the door.
2.5h out of Las Vegas, the world changes color. The lens is rosy, tinted orange-red. Trees are sprouting green, there are hoards of people caked in suncream, and not a parking space in sight – spring has indeed sprung in Zion National Park.
It was late (in the day, but early in April). Mid-afternoon hiking options were dissolving before our eyes. We opted out of the over-zealous trails exceeding a few hours and settled on Hidden Canyon Trail, a 2.5h (2,2 mile) climb into a canyon and back. It is labeled as strenuous but is really only limiting if you have a deathly fear of heights.
In peak season, a shuttle takes you to each stop free of charge once you’ve entered the park gate (hello military discount). Our stop, Weeping Rock (number seven), was near the end and the bus gradually emptied of chattering children and camera-happy tourists.
The trail began as a series of ascending switchbacks. Humidity-embracing, sea-level residing Kate heaved her out-of-breath body up countless sandy steps into a clearing. That view.
There are chains bolted to the canyon walls for a reason—it is steep and the smooth, weathered rocks are dusted with sand. I skidded around the curves and hung on to the chains for dear life. Wear shoes with grip (trail shoes, not running shoes) so you aren't hanging on someone else's backpack trying not to glide over the edge (I did that).
Passing people along the cliff edge is merely amusing (like playing chicken; rock-paper-scissors loser takes the outer path).
The hike is not a destination hike that reaches a panoramic view of the National Park. It has views, interesting terrain and challenges to keep you entertained and motivated but at some point you’ll reach the sign that tells you to turn around.
You can wander further, as we did, but there isn’t anything you’re missing out on if you don’t. Canyons stretch far and there are many different trails for a reason.
We ambled down and made it to the bottom, scampered to a nearby river and unpacked our sack lunch, diving deep into conversations about life, the future and all those special things that the clutter of every day keep you from divulging in. What beauty.
We took our time walking back along the river to another shuttle stop as the sun slipped behind the rock face. Many mule deers crossed our path and we spotted wild turkey. What a sight!
The surrounds are quaint, featuring cozy local pubs, restaurants, and gear stores—be warned, the restaurants close early and fill up quickly. We ended up eating some tasty pizza at ZION PIZZA & NOODLE CO. washed down with ciders and crisp night air. Bliss.
Nature is my drug, my cure for the insane, the soul revitalizer. This hike did the trick!
Angel's Landing trail: high elevation
Earth Day (22 April 2018) propelled us back to Zion with a crew in tow. It also propelled all the residents of Utah and nearby Nevada, apparently. It was the busiest day for a hike because entrance was free. The lines for the shuttle were lengthly and the trails crowded but nonetheless, the beauty of this park did not pale.
This time, we tackled the trail Angel's Landing. The five-mile round trip (map says 4-5h) with a 1,488ft elevation change is recorded as strenuous and not for those with a fear of heights (it required walking along a ridge with steep cliffs and no chance of making a comeback if you slip). Okay, hold the drama, don't let that deter you, it was marvelous. Hiking in a group is buckets of fun and we had a day of entertainment people-watching (I know you do it, too).
If you're going to do this, catch the shuttle and get off at the Grotto. The trail starts across the road from the Grotto Picnic area by the bridge and follows the West Rim trail (well-labeled).
You will be climbing up to Refrigerator Canyon and then the 21, tight Walter's Wiggles switch-backs begin (brace yourself and rest when you need to breathe). You will soon reach Scout's Lookout and VIEWS. You're not done there.
There is another half mile where you will be climbing the ridge and swinging from the chains holding you onto it (jokes, but they are helpful and it's not terrible, I swear). I didn't take photos here though, I was holding on and looking around.
Once you get over the ridge and to the end point, snap your selfie on the tallest rock on top like I did (and 30 others waiting to do the same). Just relish the moment, eat some snacks, and don't think about the climb down ;)
We all bounced back down to the restaurant ZION PIZZA & NOODLE CO. (menu linked) and our friends washed down their pizzas with beers and ciders (as we did on our first visit) before heading home with full bellies, sun-kissed and babbling about the day's adventure. Success!
The Narrows: canyon wading, bottom up
My third hike in Zion was the cherry on top of my hiking there. I would do the Narrows twenty times over—it was that much fun!
In September of 2018, Chris and I tried to recruit a group of eager hikers to join us in Zion. When we woke early one Saturday, only two of our friends showed up for the trip to the National Park. Lucky them ;) They had no idea what was in store that day.
What is the Narrows?
The just of it is that you are exploring the narrowest section of Zion National Park: a gorge with walls a thousand feet tall, filled with water from the Virgin River. Yes, you are wading in a murky river over rocks with sticks for balance and hired canyoning shoes to protect your feet and keep you from slipping.
There is no trail so you will get wet walking through. I don’t care how strong your core is, if you don’t fall while walking, some precious soul in your crew will make sure to take you down with them. ;) If not, you need a new crew.
Some sections are ankle deep (and you can turn back if this is all you want to take on), while others can be thigh deep or even up to your waist in the deepest sections. I saw a diverse group of people doing the hike that day, including children.
Some people opt to hike the narrows in spring/summer—warmer water. Be warned, though, as flash floods can occur. We went in the fall and it was a little chilly, but as you can see from the pictures, no one was cold, but the water was deeper than in earlier months.
We hiked from the bottom up. To do so, you don’t need an extra permit and you can get in and out the same day. If you want to make this an overnight trip, you can do the hike top down (that’s how deep it goes; literal option to hike for days).
So, when you arrive, head to the visitor’s center and get a map. There is also a spot there to hire shoes, walking sticks, and even wetsuits should you feel the need. We got a waterproof bag, sticks, and shoes.
After that, make your way to the shuttle and take it all the way to stop 9, Temple of Sinawava. Once you get off the shuttle, it will take you a mile (along a road, the Riverside Walk) to get to the river. You can honestly walk as far as you want and return. It’s an out-and-back trail with no real end point.
When we enquired at the visitor’s center, we were told to aim for Orderville Canyon—two hours from the start of the river. It is about a five mile round trip.
Pro tip: Use the Temple of Sinawava restroom before you begin the hike. There aren’t any others and the hike is well trafficked. Also, have fun, get wet, lay on the rocks with cascading streams, and get some group pictures.
To date, this is one of my all-time favorite hikes. If you do it, tag me in your pics @k_severino and I'll silently applaud on IG and comment emojis of happiness.
As you can see from the image above, there are a few sections where you can walk around the river on the rocks. This isn't always the case. You'll want to wade though, it's the best part.
Pro tip: take towels and a change of clothes in the car. You won't want to dine or drive back to your accommodation wet.
Oh, and we stopped at our favorite post-hike dining spot: ZION PIZZA & NOODLE CO. You'll love it too, promise.
Zion National Park info.
This map was taken from the website I linked but if you have too many tabs open at once, like I do, here's a visual:
Have a blast and hit me up if you need a hiking buddy (I'm so in)!