The Best Hikes in Zion National Park, Utah
December 1, 2021
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Zion National Park is simply one of the most beautiful places in the world. And this is not an exaggeration. This guide will cover all of the best hikes in Zion, plus everything else that you need to know about planning a trip to this epic US National Park in Utah. Hiking Zion National Park is one of my favorite trips to plan. I visited for the first time in 2016, and recently returned to hike some of my favorite trails again.
What I love about the hikes in Zion is that there are incredible hikes with equally incredible views available for any fitness level. While hikes like Angel’s Landing and the Narrows are more challenging, you can get jaw-dropping views on the Canyon Overlook Trail that is just 1 mile round trip. Read on to find out everything you need to know about hiking Zion National Park, including where to stay and what to pack for an awesome adventure.
Looking for other hiking adventures? Make sure to bookmark these articles:
- Best Hikes in Sedona, Arizona
- Best Hikes in Upstate New York
- Grand Teton Hiking Trails
- Best Hikes in Banff National Park
About Zion National Park
Zion is Utah’s first National Park. A wonder of massive sandstone cliffs in pinks, reds, and cream tones. I promise you, it’s is a place that you don’t want to miss.
Zion is open year-round, with unique experience throughout the year.
How to get to Zion National Park
First things first, getting to Zion National Park. Zion is located in Southern Utah. The closest city to Zion is Springdale, which is where you will find the bulk of the nearby hotels. There are also tons of restaurants and bars to check out here.
Getting to Zion National Park By Flight
The closest airport major airports to Zion National Park are located in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. You can reach Zion National Park from Las Vegas in 2.5 hours, and from Salt Lake City in 4.5. From here you will need a car to reach the park.
Getting to Zion National Park by Car
As you can see from the airports above, you’re almost definitely going to want a car to visit Zion In fact, exploring the whole area by car is the best way to do it. We stopped at Zion as part of a larger road trip that we took in our Cabana Van. I’ve put together a full guide on how to plan a campervan road trip. If you have the time, I recommend combining your trip to Zion with some time spent in some of the other nearby parks, such as Bryce and Arches.
Best Hikes in Zion
Angel’s Landing (one of the best hikes in Zion National Park)
Distance: 4.4 miles roundtrip
Shuttle Stop: The Grotto
Angel’s Landing is easily the most famous hike in, and probably the best hike in Zion.
This is not just one of my favorite hikes in Zion, but one of my favorite hikes in all of the US. It is quite challenging, a bit terrifying, and 100% worth it for these jaw-dropping views.
This hike is considered to be one of the most strenuous and technical in the park, so it is very important that you are careful!
The trail starts on a nice paved path, but cherish the moment because you’ll quickly arrive at the never-ending switchbacks that will definitely test your endurance. Many people consider this to be the most difficult part of the hike. Once you complete all of your switchbacks you’ll start the climb. This is is a narrow, single-file climb with a metal chain to hold onto for support. While this part of the hike is less challenging, it requires focus as it can be quite dangerous.
People typically complete the hike in about 5 hours. We were a bit crazy and really booked it up the switchbacks to beat the crowds, and ended up completing the entire hike in only 3 hours. It was probably all of the extra energy from my famous breakfast burrito at the top!
My biggest piece of advice for completing this hike is to do it as early as possible. During the high season in Zion, you will be required to take a shuttle to the trailhead at the Grotto shuttle stop. Make sure to be on it for shuttle bookings, and snag that earliest shuttle at 7am. If you’re visiting during the low season and able to drive to the trailhead, I would recommend starting while it is still dark. That said, I personally do not recommend finishing the top, steep part of the climb until it is light out. Check back in the coming weeks for a full guide to hiking angel’s landing. And of course, drop any comments below in the meantime!
The Narrows Day Hike
Shuttle Stop: The Temple of Sinawava
The Zion Narrows is another classic park hike that should not be missed. It is easily one of the best hikes in Zion. What is great about this hike is that you can determine the length, as it is more about the journey than the destination. We opted to hike about 5.5 miles roundtrip through this knee deep water.
If you’re hiking in the summer you should be fine without the gear, however the temperature of air and water was quite chilly when we hiked in May so the waterproof gear was very much needed for a good hiking experience. We grabbed ours for $55 from Zion Outfitters, located right within the park for convenience. However, I’m sure you could snag a better deal at one of the shops in Springdale.
Canyon Overlook Trail (best easy hike in Zion)
Distance: 1 mile round trip
Canyon Overlook Trail is one of my favorite Zion trails, and it technically isn’t even located inside of the park! If you’re driving from Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park, stopping for this quick, easy hike is a must. The trail is located near Springdale, Utah, just outside of the entrance to Zion. The free Zion shuttle system doesn’t stop at this trailhead, so you will need your own car to drive and park at the hike. Therefore, it makes the most sense to stop here on your way from Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park, as you won’t be driving around once you are within the park.
The hike is only 1 mile round trip with an elevation gain of 187 ft. The hike is an easy one, but you can expect a ton of other hikers on the trail. It is steep though, so I recommend always wearing proper hiking boots. The epic views at the end are quite the reward for your short climb. We completed the round trip hike, with photos at the top in approximately 45 mins, but I’d give yourself at least an hour.
Once you complete the hike, you will continue through the entrance of the park. You can expecting a winding 25 min drive through some of the most beautiful roads to reach the main visitor center and campgrounds. LIterally entering Zion on a beautiful day is serious main character energy. I turned up the music and felt like I was driving through a movie.
Watchmen at Canyon Junction
Distance: 3.5 miles roundtrip
Shuttle Stop: Visitor Center
The Watchmen hike is another classic and popular hike in Zion. The hike is just 3 miles roundtrip, with the trailhead conveniently located between the Visitor Center and the South Campground. The location is perfect if you are staying at the campground, as you won’t need to take the shuttle anywhere.
This hike is particularly popular as it is not too difficult and only takes 1-2 hours, but offers some of the most spectacular views, especially at sunset.
Emerald Pools Trail
Shuttle Stop: The Grotto
I am going to caveat this by saying that although the Emerald Pools Trail is extremely popular, it wasn’t my favorite. However, this may have been because we did it smack in the middle of the day after completing the Angel’s Landing hike, and we only visited the lower emerald pool. The trail was absolutely packed with people, which made it difficult to navigate. However, we simply didn’t have the energy to make it to the upper pools after our strenuous morning. If you plan on doing this hike, I recommend going early to avoid this situation.
This easy hike starts at the Zion Lodge shuttle stop (same shuttle stop as the Angel’s Landing hike. The trail leads to three pools: the lower emerald pool, middle emerald pool, and the upper emerald pool. The pools get increasingly more difficult. Here are the round trip distances:
- Lower pools: 1.2 miles
- Middle pools: 2 miles
- Upper pools: 3 miles
All three of these trails are accessible year round.
How to get around Zion
Zion operates a shuttle system for hikers and visitors to get around the park From March to November, you are required to get around by shuttle. In fact, cars aren’t allowed at all. While this may seems like a pain, there are actually some great perks to the shuttle system. These include the reduction of pollution and traffic within the park during the busiest time of the year.
There are two different Zion Shuttle routes. One route loops through the nearby town of Springdale and ends at the Zion Visitor Center. The second route, however, starts at the Visitor Center and loops through the park.
For the shuttle within the park, the first shuttle leaves the Zion Visitor’s Center at 7 am. I always recommend taking the first shuttle when possible, as the park and trails can get extremely busy. Make sure to keep track of time, as the and the last shuttle leaves from the Temple of Sinawava at 6:15 pm. However, I don’t recommend ever planning to take the last shuttle because that one is almost certain to be packed. And trust me, you don’t want to miss it!
On the flip side, the shuttle actually doesn’t run at all in December and January so a car is required. This is a great opportunity for traveling by campervan. However, you’ll want to make sure that you head to the trail head parking lots early.
Where to Eat in and near Zion National Park
After a long day of hiking, head to Zion Canyon Brew Pub for beers and food.
If you’re looking for a treat, grab a vegan soft serve from FeelLove Coffee Zion. This coffee shop is not only absolutely adorable, but has the most delicious treats.
Tips for Visiting Zion (the basics)
- There is a $35 fee to enter the park. The pass is valid for one week. However, if you plan on visiting multiple ur then I highly recommend purchasing the America the Beautiful Parks Pass. At $80 for the year, this is by far the best deal for exploring US National Parks all year round.
- As mentioned above, between the crowds and the shuttle system, you’ll want to make you you plan out your hikes ahead of time.
- Make sure to check Zion’s Trail Conditions page each day before heading out on a hike to stay informed of any closures or changes to the trails. This is particularly important if you’re visiting the the colder months.
- Plan to hike in the morning to avoid heat during the middle of the day. This will also help you to avoid the other 3 million people who visit Zion National Park each year. This means that whenever possible, aim to be on the first shuttle of the day.
- Pack snacks for your hikes! I personally can’t manage a difficult hike without knowing that I’ve got a homemade burrito waiting for me at the summit. Although Oscars in Springdale is a good alternative if you don’t have a kitchen. Make sure to respect the park and pack out everything that you pack in.
Where to stay to experience the best hikes in Zion
By far the best place to stay near Zion National Park is Springdale. Located just outside of the park, Springdale is your best bet for a whole bunch of reasons. The town is super close to the park, and there are accomodation options for any budget.
However, if you want to stay within the park I recommend camping. There are three different campgrounds in Zion National Park. South Campground, Watchman Campground, and Lava Point. We stayed at the South Campground and it was perfect for our few days exploring the park. It was conveniently located near the Visitor Center and shuttle, plus the views were fantastic. In order to snag a spot you will want to book exactly 2 weeks in advance of your visit when bookings open up.
There are also additional lodging options within Zion including the Zion Lodge.
What to Pack for Zion National Park
- Hiking boots – I recommend packing a proper pair of hiking boots, like my fave pair from Columbia.
- Water Bottle – A lot of the best hikes in Zion are quite strenuous so it is super important to stay hydrated. I always use my reusable Vapur water bottle.
- Electrolytes – In addition to packing at least 1 liter of water on any hike, I always bring along electrolytes from DripDrop.
- Layers – the temperatures in the mountains can vary greatly. Make layers to prepare for these changes in temperature.
- Activewear – If you’ve made it this far on this guide then you’re probably planning on checking out some of the best hikes in Zion. Lately I’ve been obsessed with these sport bra tops from Amazon. They are under $25 and I own them in multiple styles and at least 5 colors!
- America the Beautiful Annual Pass – you’ve probably noticed that I’ve mentioned the America the Beautiful pass multiple times throughout this post. If there is one thing that you take away from this article it is that this pass is 100% worth it and will save you money!
Planning a US road trip? Here are some other articles to check out:
- Getting from Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park
- Yellowstone Itinerary: Best Things to do in Yellowstone
- Tips for Planning a Campervan Road Trip
- Ultimate Grand Teton Itinerary
- Schwabacher Landing: What you Need to Know
- Best Things to do in Moab