Because sometimes a leisurely stroll through ancient seabeds, eroding plateaus, and sedimentation is just what your overworked, overstimulated soul needs. Or maybe you’ve got the littles in tow, and they’re not too keen on those 17-milers (yet). Lucky for you, Zion is generous with its selection of short hikes with accompanying jaw-dropping views--in other words, big rewards with little effort.
The Watchman | Zion National Park
Life regret: Wishing you would have gone to university and studied something sciency like geology, but instead you went all accounting or lawyering like a sucker. Well, here’s your chance to see all the geological wonders your inner child will thank you for--along with your actual children.
This 3-foot wide trail winds through the foothills with views of Bridge Mountain, The Watchman, the Virgin River and the Towers of the Virgin. Switchbacks reveal views of stratified rock layers and overhanging cliffs.
Park at the Watchman Campground visitor center and simply walk to the trailhead from there.
Water -- There is NOT a water source for drinking purposes along this trail.
Hat & Sunscreen -- The vegetation immediately surrounding the trail doesn’t offer too much shade. Avoid going in the middle of the day if possible.
Snacks -- To reward yourself for completing such a short and easy hike.
Re-fuel at Oscar's Cafe because Whoop Burger (jalapeños ignite), Grilled Portobello & Avocado (natural powerhouse), Chili Verde Tamales (homemade sauce heaven), and Mucho Nachos (because kids will eat anything smothered in cheese).
West Bank of the Virgin River | Zion National Park
Since you’re the hippiest (not hippest) parent in the land, you’re going to make your children get out of that earth-hating, polluting car and walk Zion Canyon--the park’s aorta. But they’ll thank you because the trail is well-used and level and straight-up gorgeous. Start at the Court of the Patriarchs up Zion Canyon Road, and end at the Grotto trailhead. This trail also accesses the trailhead for the Emerald Pools trail. What to expect on this trail: birds, mule deer, views of Mount Majestic, Cathedral Mountain, the Spearhead, and the Great White Throne.
At the Court of the Patriarchs viewpoint up Zion Canyon (take the shuttle between April and October).
Water -- the Virgin River is always flowing, but you’ll want a filter if you plan on drinking river water.
Hat & Sunscreen -- plenty of shade, but plenty of sun too--you’ll be in and out of both.
Sketch pad & watercolors -- to fulfill your other childhood dream that you didn’t pursue of becoming an artist.
Drop those kiddos off to guarantee their successful future as naturalists history will revere: space camp, geology camp, paleontology camp, desert birds camp, desert animal camp, desert plants camp + zip line, climbing wall, trampoline bungee, rafting, and all the fun things. Thank you, Zion Ponderosa Ranch.
Lower Emerald Pool | Zion National Park
Easiest of easy. This little hike is paved and wide. You’ll have no problems navigating or getting to your final destination. Zion is probably the most generous of national parks--alway handing out life-changing views to every single visitor.
The Lower Pool trail is stroller/wheelchair-friendly, and you could even tote a wagon with a picnic lunch. But, please resist the urge to splash about in the water--the surrounding landscape is very fragile and many laboring hours and dollars have contributed to restoration efforts.
If you’ve got more time, energy, and steady feet, you might want to trek on to the Middle and Upper Pools. The Middle Pool trail is 1.9 miles roundtrip; the Upper Pool trail is 2.5 miles round-trip. Keep in mind the trail is no longer paved and follows a rocky path.
On the opposite side of the road from Zion Lodge.
Water -- don’t drink the water from the Emerald Pools, please.
That water is pretty magical, right? Lucky for you and the littles, you can set up a tent next to the Virgin River, up close and personal, if you stay at Zion River Resort. If a tent ain’t your thing, they’ve got cabins for your I-need-a-darn-good-mattress needs.
Water Canyon trail leads to a slot canyon (with option to go above and beyond to Canaan Mountain, but that requires more skill and desert navigating know-how). The canyon is a mini Subway experience with tunneled walls, and just a trickle of water. Be careful of slickrock covered in wet, mossy algae. This is a great trail for families with older children who will enjoy a bit of a technical challenge.
Take UT 59 east from Hurricane to the town of Hildale. Then turn east on Utah Avenue and follows Short Canyon. Turn right onto Water Canyon Road until you get to a pond. The trail starts at the upper side of the pond.
Water -- or bring a filter as Water Canyon always has water--go figure.
Shoes that can get wet/damp--old tennis/running shoes work great and they dry out pretty good
Now that you’ve had a taste of slot canyon wonder, you might want to try out some of Zion’s most legendary canyons (the Narrows or the Subway). Take a guide, and you’ll be well on your way to bucket list completion.
This is an easy and scenic trail for sure, but it’s in a remote location of the park (Kolob Canyon)--which is a bonus in our misanthropic book of get-us-away-from-all-the-crowds preferences. You’ll trek through Navajo sandstone, sage meadows, and pretty pines. And there’s more: lava outcrops and knock-your-socks-off views of Northgate Peaks as well as the North Guardian Angel.
Wildcat Canyon trailhead, located at mile 16 up Kolob Reservoir Road
Water -- water sources are intermittent.
Snacks -- the trip might be ruined if someone were to get hangry.
Congratulations. You were wise enough to choose a home base with a pool and hot tub at the Desert Pearl Inn. After the longest of short hikes in the desert, you’re going to love sitting in an authentic oasis of the prettiest magnitude.