Zion National Park is one of America’s most popular and beautiful parks. Part of Utah’s Mighty Five, it was the second most visited National Park in 2021 with 5 million visitors! It’s no wonder the park has drastically increased in popularity over the last few years, thanks in part to its visitors, who flooded their social media platforms with pictures of the majestic, other-worldly landscape. Of course, how could anyone not want to visit after gazing upon the images of towering sandstone cliffs in shades of orange, pink and red, the array of canyons, and long rivers. Not to mention that the park is easily accessible, located three hours from Las Vegas.
Beyond its remarkable scenery, Zion is best known for its thrilling hikes and climbs. The National Park is a hiker’s paradise and the best way to experience these stunning lands is with one of the many trails nestled within the park. There are trails for every level of activity with easy, moderate, or difficult hikes to choose from.
Below you’ll find my picks for the best Zion hiking trails. They range in length and difficulty, but each is amazing in its own right!
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Need to know before hiking in Zion:
- Zion requires an entrance fee and is open to the public year-round. A shuttle bus runs through the most popular areas of the park throughout the majority of the year except for January to late winter, resuming service in early spring.
- Summer is peak season, meaning high crowds and extreme temperatures. Plan to arrive early or after 3 pm to avoid the worst of both. This also applies to holidays and often on weekends off-season. The best time to visit Zion National Park is in spring and fall.
- Bring lots of water. Whatever you think you need, double that. Even in the winter and cooler months, dehydration is possible.
- Pack appropriate supplies and clothing. Prepare yourself with sunscreen and snacks for the trails. Bring hiking-specific items including shoes, poles, and socks.
- Leave no trace. Seriously, don’t be that person who leaves their trash in the parks. Respect these lands so that we can continue to enjoy them for years to come.
- Hike responsibly. Know your body’s limits. Just because someone on social media completed the Narrows and Angels Landing in one day doesn’t mean you have to. Make sure you eat and drink plenty of water. If your body is telling you to stop, listen to it!
- Check the national park’s website for weather updates and road closures. This is especially important during the winter months when storms can affect your hikes.
The Best Hikes in Zion National Park
Zion Canyon Overlook Trail
This moderate-rated hike might be the shortest on the list, at a mere mile out and back total. I consider it the best bang for your buck hike in the park and a great option for sunrise or sunset. After trekking half a mile uphill, you’re rewarded with breathtaking views from its overlook and at sunset, the canyon fills with a golden glow.
Zion Canyon Overlook Trail
Distance: 1 mile out and back
Elevation Gain: 187 ft
If you’ve seen photos of Zion before, then you’ve most likely heard of its most popular trail, the infamous Angels Landing. The strenuous hike consists of a steep climb up narrow sections and 21 switchbacks to Scout Lookout. From there, the last half mile of the hike is a chained ridge off the cliff to reach a higher observation point.
Please note that Angels Landing requires a permit in advance and is deemed as one of the most dangerous hikes in America with over 15 reported deaths, 5 of which occurred in the past five years. If setting out on this hike, prepare for it with a proper permit and hiking gear to stay safe.
Angels Landing (Permit required)
Distance: 4.4 miles out and back
Elevation Gain: 1,604 ft
Zion’s second most popular trail, The Narrows, is an exhilarating hike through the virgin river into the narrow slot canyon. As you’re wading through the river, this trail is best suited during the summer and fall months and requires appropriate gear such as water shoes and a hiking stick.
The first few miles are on a paved footing or shallow water and hikers at any level could enjoy it, but the full length of The Narrows is nearly 16 miles long which increases in difficulty. The hike is done by hiking bottom-up or top-down, but the latter requires a permit. Whichever way you choose, The Narrows is not to be missed.
The Narrows (Bottom-up)
Distance: 8.9 miles out and back
Elevation Gain: 695 ft
The Watchman trail is an underrated and often overlooked hike, next to Zion’s more famous trails. But that’s exactly what makes it one of the park’s best hikes. You’ll encounter fewer crowds while still enjoying breathtaking sights. It's an easy-to-moderate trail with a steady incline and several switchbacks to the top where you’ll encounter panoramic views of the plateau. There’s no shade found along the path, so carry a hat and sunscreen for protection from the sun and carry plenty of water.
Distance: 3.1 miles out and back
Elevation Gain: 636 ft
The only trail rated as easy on the list, but in no way does that make it any less spectacular. Here you’ll find the classic Zion picture of the Virgin River with mountains towering in the background. Stroll along the river on an even paved path while you cross several footbridges. This is a gentle walk to take after a day of more intense hiking. Relax and soak up the gorgeous vistas of Zion.
Distance: 3.4 miles out and back
Elevation Gain: 157 ft
The Emerald Pools in Zion consist of three separate pools you can hike to, the lower, middle, and upper pools. The trek to the lower pool is on a paved path and is considered an easy hike. Up to the middle pool remains on a well-maintained trail and provides a lovely view of the valley. Continuing to the upper pool is the most challenging part of the hike, with rocky terrain, a more strenuous incline, and sheer cliffs at the top. However, the vantage point from the upper pool of the canyons is worthwhile, as long as hikers maintain their safety.
There are a few ways to reach the pools. The most popular is the loop for all 3. But the Kayenta trail offers a direct path to the pools as well.
Distance: 3 miles loop
Elevation Gain: 620 ft
Observation Point via East Mesa Trail
The hike to Observation Point is one of the less traveled trails of the National Park. Partly due to the difficulty to reach the trailhead as a 4WD car is needed or a paid shuttle through East Zion Adventures. Nevertheless, with a view at the peak that rivals or surpasses Angels Landing, it is well worth the effort. Reaching Observation Point is a steep and long hike, but if you’re up for the challenge, the overlook of Zion canyon stretching out below you is out of this world.
Observation Point via East Mesa Trail
Distance: 7 miles out and back
Elevation Gain: 702 ft
For more Zion NP content - check out my Utah National Parks Road Trip itinerary here!
Zion is a beautiful and unique National Park. Whichever hikes you choose are sure to leave you in awe. Let me know in the comments which of these hikes you’d love to tackle in Zion NP!