Zion Travel Guide

Oh Zion, sweet Zion (us locals know it’s Zi-uhn, not Zi-ahn), I’ll be danged if you’re not Utah’s crowning jewel. The oldest national park in the state is also its most popular, hence the mandatory (but fairly convenient) shuttles in the high season.

Zion is nestled at the nexus of three distinct geographical regions — the Colorado Plateau, the Great Basin and the Mojave Desert — which makes for an explosion of red rock, lush vegetation, dramatic cliffs and canyons, and breathtaking (no literally — bring an inhaler and a paper bag) views. I’ve uttered the phrases, “I feel like I’m in Jurassic Park,” and, “I feel like I’m on Mars,” on the same Zion trail. (With the title and the film locations locked down, my Space Dinos!™ script should write itself…)

Asides aside, let’s get down to what matters: the hikes.

Here are a few “mild” hikes to help get you acquainted:

Lower Emerald Pools Trail: Note: You are not experiencing a mirage. 1.2 miles roundtrip.

Pa’rus Trail: from the Paiute word meaning “bubbly, tumbling water”, the trails is a fun, paved trail that follows the Virgin River through Zion Canyon. 3.5 miles rountrip.

Grotto Trail: nice and easy, and you don’t have to work too hard for the spectacular canyon views. 1.0 miles roundtrip.

You’ve convinced yourself you like camping, you’ll do what it takes to get a selfie, your kids are grown and susceptible to bribes.

Ready for more? It’s time to get in to the more moderate hikes of Zion:

Weeping Rock Trail: A 100-foot shower in the desert. A Ferngully fantasyland. 0.4 miles roundtrip.

Watchman Trail: A hike for early birds or sunset goers (it’s a scorcher). 2.7 miles roundtrip.

Canyon Overlook: Short but sweet, with a view. 1.0 miles roundtrip.

Middle Emerald Pools Trail: Sparkling pools. Fun for the whole family. 2.0 miles roundtrip.

Your hiking boots cost more than your rent, Michelangelo could have modeled David’s calves after yours, you have outdoor gear we’ve never heard of.

Hang on, things are gettin’ spicy. These are strenuous trails, but totally worth every ounce of sweat.

Angels Landing via West Rim Trail: Hike along a Jurassic-sandstone knife edge. 5.4 miles roundtrip.

Observation Point via East Rim Trail: Longer hike that makes you earn the postcard views. 8.0 miles roundtrip.

The Narrows: Dark, cool, nearly sacred slot canyons. 9.4 miles roundtrip.

Check out more Zion hiking trails here.

How much time do you have?

If you have HALF A DAY…

Only have half a day to spend in Zion? we’d put money down that you end up extending your stay, but if you’re serious about your time constraints, here are some incredible drives, viewpoints and quick hikes to choose from.

Drive Zion–Mount Carmel Highway. It’s only 27 minutes from the South Entrance to Checkerboard Mesa near the East Entrance but you’ll want to stop along the way.

Pick three hikes in Zion Canyon. Shuttles run every 10 minutes and drop you right at the trailheads for Pa’rus Trail, Court of the Patriarchs viewpoint, Emerald Pools, Riverside Walk, Weeping Rock, Mouth of Narrows, Canyon Overlook Trail. The lodge (shuttle stop #5) is a nice spot for lunch and a souvenir.

If you have A FULL DAY…

Planned a full day in Zion? Or you planned a half-day and couldn’t bring yourself to leave? Good. You’re going to need it.

Pick five hikes in Zion Canyon. Go ahead. Look at the list above and get greedy. You’re going to need to hustle to pack five hikes into a single day, but it’s possible. And if you only do four, all the more reason to come back later!

Or, if you want to swap quantity for high-adventure quality, skip the others and tackle Angels Landing. A hike for the unfaint of heart, this will be a view you will keep in your mind the rest of your life. Steep switchbacks, dramatic drop-offs, chain-assisted ascents, melt-your-face-off views from the top. It’s only five miles but with this kind of hiking it can take 4–5 hours.

If you have THREE DAYS…

Yes! Now we’re talking. For three well spent days in Zion, do all of the above, plus…

Get wet. Zion has a pair of famous watery slot canyon hikes. The Narrows is a classic. Spend a day going in and out or do the whole thing top to bottom overnight. The Subway is a more intense slot canyon experience. Swim, hike, climb, camp, marvel.

Kolob Canyons. Beautiful finger canyons northeast of the main part of the park accessed by Exit 40 on I-15. A bunch of lesser-known hipster hikes just waiting to be explored by travelers in the know.

Watchman Trail. A nice, quick warm-up or cool-down hike for sunrise or sunset.

Hidden Gem: Many Pools Trail

If you want an unearthly experience without the hassle of space travel, then might I introduce you to a hike with more nicknames than that cool kid at your high school: Many Pools Trail, aka The Route Canals, aka The Twins, aka Puddle Jumper (I just made that one up).

It’s on the east side of the park along UT–9 —not on the shuttle route — and it’s made up of a pair of drainages with fascinating pothole formations running alongside.

It’s rated “moderately strenuous,” meaning bring your Patagonia-wearing, Chaco-tan-lined children along with you.

Catch this one in the spring during runoff or after a rainstorm and you’ll see some pretty incredible stuff.

Want more?

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