Zion National Park is one of the ten “National Parks of the Grand Circle” – and one my favourite national parks in the US, offering a wide range of hikes and some awe-inspiring vistas. It is Utah’s first National Park, with a portion of land first set aside as Mukuntuweap National Monument in 1909 before being enlarged and renamed Zion National Monument in 1918, and established as a national park in 1919. Zion Canyon is the park’s main feature, which was named by the Mormons who discovered it in 1858 and settled there in the early 1860s.
Zion National Park drives
All of the roads through Zion National Park make for some great drives, even before you reach the trailhead…
Mt. Carmel Highway Scenic Drive – 12.4mi / 20km
If you’re entering Zion National Park from the east, you’ll travel along the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, an incredibly scenic drive with many overlooks and places where you can stop to take in the views. After traversing two tunnels dug through the stone (including the 1.1 mile Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel), the road descends via number of switchbacks into the Zion Canyon. It’s 12.4 miles from the Zion National Park East Entrance to Springfield, or 25 miles from the Mt Carmel Junction (the start of the highway off Route 89). The road is open year-round, and only closed for short periods due to rockfalls or heavy snow.
Kolob Terrace – 25.2mi / 40.6km
Stretching from the town of Virgin up to Kolob Reservoir, the Kolob Terrace Road passes Lava Point, a vantage point offering sweeping views over Zion National Park and the starting point for a number of hikes. This less-travelled road road alternates between farmland, forest and classic Zion canyon scenery. The road is sealed the entire way, but not plowed in winter beyond Maloney Hill (which is one mile north of the Hop Valley Trailhead),
Kolob Canyons – 5mi / 8km
This short drive offers some of the most spectacular vistas over a short distance, providing some impressive views of the “great narrow parallel box canyons cut into the western edge of the Colorado Plateau, forming majestic peaks and 2,000 foot cliff walls”. There are a few hikes along the trail, as well as multiple overlooks with interpretative signage. Kolob Canyons Road may be closed during the winter months due to snow or ice.
Hiking in Zion National Park
Although a handful of iconic Zion hikes attract the most number of people, there is a huge choice of trails across four areas of the park – and some of the best viewpoints are outside the busy Zion Canyon.
The most popular and well-known trails (including Angels Landing and The Narrows) are in Zion Canyon. Almost of the trailheads must be accessed by the free shuttle bus in the most popular months, with no private vehicles permitted along Zion Canyon Road past the south entrance (unless you’re staying at Zion Lodge).
|Archeology Trail||0.4mi / 0.6km||Easy||Short but steep limbs to top of a small hill, with trailside exhibits||Map|
|Weeping Rock Trail||0.4mi / 0.6km||Easy||Short, steep paved trail to rock alcove with dripping springs||Map|
|Grotto Trail||1mi / 1.6km||Easy||Zion Lodge to the Grotto; good to view wildlife|
|Upper Emerald Pool||1mi / 1.6km||Easy||Sandy & rocky trail to uppermost pool|
|Lower Emerald Pool Trail||1.2mi / 1.9km||Easy||Paved trail pool & waterfall – connects to longer trails||Map|
|Kayenta Trail||2.0mi / 3.2km||Easy||Unpaved climb to the Emerald Pools (moderate drop-offs)||Map|
|Riverside Walk||2.2mi / 3.5km||Easy||Paved trail along Virgin River to start of The Narrows||Map|
|Middle Emerald Pools||2.2mi / 3.5km||Easy||Unpaved climb to a sandstone ledge and pool|
|Hidden Canyon Trail||2.5mi / 4km||Easy/Moderate||Steep climb up to narrow canyon.||Map|
|Watchman Trail||3.3mi / 5.3km||Easy||Trail up to viewpoint can get muddy after rain||Map|
|Pa’rus Trail||3.5mi / 5.6km||Easy||Multi-use paved trail along Virgin River (pets allowed)||Map|
|Angels Landing||5.4mi / 8.7km||Moderate/Hard||Steep climb to spectacular viewpoint. Permit required.||Map|
|Sandbench Trail||7.6mi / 12.2km||Easy||Scenic trail but avoid Mar-Oct when used by horses||Map|
|Observation Point||8.0mi / 12.9km||Moderate||Long climb up East Rim trail to viewpoint. Arguably the best views.||Map|
|The Narrows (bottom-up)||9.4mi / 15.1km||Moderate/Hard||Out-and-back hike wading up Virgin River through canyon||Map|
|The Narrows (top-down)||15.4mi / 24.9km||Hard||Long one-way day-hike or overnight trip down river||Map|
Kolob Canyons trails
There are several hiking trails in Kolob Canyons, which is in the northwest corner of Zion National Park. There are some great trails here, which avoid the crowds of the the main Zion Canyon hikes.
|Timber Creek Overlook||1mi / 1.6km||Easy||Short trail along ridge to viewpoint||Map|
|Taylor Creek (South Fork)||2.7mi / 4.3km||Easy/Moderate||Unofficial, mostly shaded trail along river, below canyon wall||Map|
|Taylor Creek (Middle Fork)||5mi / 8km||Easy||Scenic hike via narrow box canyon to Double Arch Alcove||Map|
|Kolob Arch||14.0mi / 22.5km||Moderate||Long hike from Lees Pass to Kolob Arch overlook||Map|
|La Verkin Creek Trail||19mi / 30km||Moderate/Hard||Same trail as Kolob arch, but continues to Willis Creek||Map|
Kolob Terrace trails
This wilderness section of the park has generally longer trails suitable for day hikes and overnight trips, which start at high elevations (so they may not be accessible in winter).
|Northgate Peaks Trail||4.2mi / 6.8km||Easy/Moderate||Marked trail to viewpoint; unofficial trails to top of peaks||Map|
|Connector Trail||5.1mi / 8.2km||Easy||Hop Valley Trail to Wildcat & Northgate Peaks Trails (one-way)||Map|
|Wildcat Canyon Trail||5.8mi / 9.3km||Easy||Trail mostly through pine forest (one-way).||Map|
|Hop Valley Trail||13mi / 21km||Easy||Sandy trail down into Hop Valley; connects to Kolob Arch||Map|
|West Rim Trail via Lava Point||14mi / 23km||Moderate||Descends from Lava Point to Zion Canyon (one-way)||Map|
East Rim trails
Located east of Zion Canyon and at a much higher elevation, these hikes are generally much less busy than other areas. All of the viewpoints can be reached from the East Entrance parking lot via the East Rim Trail, which is off the Zion-Mt Carmel Highway. Some of the other trailheads (East Mesa and Stave Spring) require a high-clearance 4WD, or you can get a shuttle from the Zion Ponderosa Ranch.
|Canyon Overlook Trail||1mi / 1.6km||Easy||Rocky and uneven trail to viewpoint with great views||Map|
|Observation Point from East Mesa||7mi / 11.3km||Easy||Spectacular views. 4WD only to trailhead (or take shuttle)||Map|
|Cable Mountain from Stave Spring||7.7mi / 12.4km||Easy/Moderate||Great views at the end. Trail can get muddy.||Map|
|East Rim Trail||9.9mi / 15.9km||East/Moderate||East entrance to Zion Canyon (one-way)||Map|
|Deertrap Mountain from Stave Spring||10.6mi / 17.1km||Easy/Moderate||Great views at the end. Can combine with Cable Mountain.||Map|
|Observation Point from East Entrance||21mi / 33km||Hard||Challenging day or overnight hike. Great views.||Map|
Some of the best (and often iconic) hikes in Zion National Park are…
Canyon Overlook (East Rim)
I think this is one of the best short hikes in Zion, offering spectacular views for (relatively) little effort – the hardest part of this hike can be finding a parking spot. The trail starts just to the east of the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, and ascends (mostly in the shade) up to an overlook high above the lower Zion Canyon.
Distance: 1.0mi / 1.6km
Timber Creek Overlook (Kolob Canyons)
A pleasant and easy hike at the end of the Kolob Canyons Road, which has very minimal elevation gain as it heads up the ridgeline. The view from the end is nice, but not particularly spectacular, with sunset being the best time to go.
Distance: 1.0mi / 1.6km
Emerald Pools (Zion Canyon)
Combine the Kayenta Trail with the Lower and Upper Emerald Pool Trails to visit the three natural pools. One of the classic Zion hikes, the trail is generally fairly busy. The top pool is arguable the most picturesque, being surrounded by sheer cliffs. (I did this walk at the end of the West Rim Trail.)
Distance: 2.2mi / 3.5km
Hidden Canyon (Zion Canyon)
A short, but steep ascent from Weeping Rocks up via s set of switchbacks up to a slot canyon an and impressive natural arch. Part of the trail have steep drop-offs and chains, but it’s much a easier hike than Angels Landing. Some great views from the trail and the arch at the end – and one of the least busy Zion Canyon hikes.
Distance: 2.5mi / 4.0km
Angels Landing (Zion Canyon)
Angels Landing is considered one of the most dangerous hikes in the US – and the most popular in Zion (until a permit system was introduced in 2022). The trail climbs up steeply along “Walter’s Wiggles” – a series of 21 switchbacks – before the final section along a thin ridge of rock, with only a metal chain on one side to hold onto… Definitely a hike worth doing for the adventure and the views!
Distance: 5.4mi / 8.7km
The Narrows (Zion Canyon)
Another “must do”, iconic Zion hike: you can do the The Narrows from the bottom up as a day-trip, or hike down from the top (using a shuttle) for a long day or overnight hike. Either way, you’ll be wading along the Virgin River, mostly in a narrow gorge with the sheer canyon walls towering above you.
Distance: 9.4mi / 15.1km (return) from the bottom or 15.4mi / 24.9km (one-way) from the top
West Rim Trail (Kolob Terrace)
One of the longest trails in Zion, this trail is generally done as a one-way hike down from Lava Point using a shuttle. There not much shade along the trail, so it’s best done outside the hottest months. There are some great view as the trail descends past a number of Zion Canyons, before reaching Scouts Lookout for the steep descent down Walters Wiggles into Zion Canyon.
Distance: 14mi / 23km (return)
Overnight Zion Hiking
There no trails in Zion that require an overnight hike – but many that you can do over one or more days for a backcountry experience. All overnight hikes require a permit, which can be booked on-line about a month in advance – but need to be picked up in person the day before or on the day of the trip from the Wildernes Desk during regular Hours of Operation. About half the campsites require a reservation while the other half are on a First-Come, First-Serve, Walk-In Basis.
- Zion Narrows (top down) – 12 campsites.
- West Rim – 9 campsites, mostly near the middle of the trail.
- La Verkin Creek Trail – 13 campsites spread along the trail
- Kolob Canyons to Zion Canyon – combine the La Verkin Creek Trail, Hop Valley Trail, Connector Trail and Wildcat Trail for a 3-4 day traverse of Zion National Park.
Camping in Zion National Park
There are a number of campgrounds within Zion National Park, all of which need to be booked in advance:
- Watchman Campground (Zion Canyon) – open year-round
- South Campground (Zion Canyon) – closed in winter
- Lava Point Campground (Kolob Terrace) – closed in winter
- Kolob Canyons – camping is permitted in designated campsites, but not in pullouts or parking lots.
Accommodation near Zion National Park
The Zion National Park Lodge is the only accommodation inside the national park, and is the most convenient place to stay if you’re planning on doing any of the Zion Canyon hikes – you’ll need to book well in advance for most months of the year. If you’re doing any of the hikes in other sections of the park (like the West Rim Trail or the top-down Narrows hike), the shuttle will leave from the town of Springdale which is just outside the park. So for many of the more challenging or overnight Zion hikes, staying in Springdale is much more convenient.
Springdale has a range of options from camping to upmarket hotels, and a free Springdale Shuttle stops at nine locations in town and picks up and drops off visitors at the park’s pedestrian/bike entrance.
Getting around Zion National Park
During the busiest periods (every day from March to November and from late December to the end of January, and weekends in February and March) the only access to Zion Canyon is via a free shuttle bus. You can only enter the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive with a private car if staying at Zion Lodge.
There are also a number of shuttle services (reservations and pre-payment required for most) that drop-off and/or pick-up from the Kolob Terrace, East Rim and Chamberlain Ranch (The Narrows “top-down”) trailheads. These allow many of the longer trails to be undertaken as one-way hikes.
- East Zion Adventures – Observation Point and East Mesa (from Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort). Drop-off/pick-up every half an hour.
- Red Rock Shuttle – shuttle service from Zion Visitors Center to Less Pass, West Rim and Chamberlain Ranch
- Wild Utah Tours – drop off services to all major Zion National Park trailheads
- Zion Guru – private shuttle service operating on a per-request basis throughout Zion National Park and the surrounding area
- Red Rock Shuttle (Zion Backcountry Shuttle) – The Narrows Top-Down (Chamberlains Ranch) drop-off. 435-635-9104
- National Park Service (NPS) – Zion National Park
- National Park Service (NPS) – Campgrounds in Zion National Park
- National Park Service (NPS) – Backpacking Reservations
- National Park Service (NPS) – Zion Wilderness Map [PDF] and Zion Wilderness Guide [PDF]