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A lot of you know that we’re huge fans of the national parks. I honestly find hiking and exploring the national parks to not only be a refreshing experience, but also a humbling one. Zion National Park is one of our favorite places to explore! You’ll find some of the best hikes in Zion, (including The Narrow and Angels Landing), making it a wonderful park to visit and experience the outdoors.
Where is Zion National Park?
Zion National Park is in southwest Utah, about a 3-hour drive from Las Vegas International Airport. The park is about 22 square miles and is next to a city called Springdale. It was originally inhabited by Native American tribes and later settled by Mormon settlers in the mid-nineteenth century.
We’ve been to Zion National Park twice. The first time was in February 2017 before we launched the site and channel, and the second time was in August 2018. Both times were a different experience, especially since certain activities are seasonal or were unavailable due to recent storms.
Favorite Hikes at Zion National Park
1. The Narrows
Hiking the Narrows is the most iconic activity at Zion National Park. It’s a hike through the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. It’s an aquatic hike, so you’ll be walking upstream through the river.
There are two versions of the hike. The most common is the bottom-up hike, which doesn’t require a special permit. You’ll start at the Temple of Sinawava, follow a paved trail about 1 mile until it ends at the riverbank. You’ll then hike upstream toward an area called Wall Street, which is absolutely gorgeous. This area has canyon walls that are 1,500 feet tall. To see Wall Street, it’s 6 miles round-trip (about 4 miles in the water).
The water level and current depends on the day and weather conditions. When we did it in August 2018, the water was mostly knee to waist deep. Though when we reached the end of Wall Street, the water level was chest high at certain spots.
What do I need to bring?
The hike took about 3-4 hours to complete. You’ll want to pack your valuables and electronics in dry bags, wear close-toed shoes, and rent a hiking stick. The stick is critical as it gives you an additional point of contact in the river. This is extremely helpful in areas where the current is strong.
You can also rent special boots for the hike, but we opted to use old pairs of athletic shoes that we were at the end of their life. Though DON’T wear sandals or flip flops! We saw a few people attempt it and they were bleeding from scraping their feet on the rocks.
Also, if you’re doing the hike when the weather is cold, you’ll want to rent or pack a wetsuit to keep you warm. There are several hiking stores in the area where you can rent gear and get additional information.
2. Observation Point:
This hike starts at the Weeping Rock trailhead and ends at one of the most scenic spots in Zion National Park. It is an 8-mile round trip hike that is mostly uphill. The trail goes through the Echo Canyons and along the White Cliffs. If you make it to the end, you’ll have gained 2,100 ft in elevation.
This is a strenuous day hike that takes about 4-6 hours to complete. You’ll also be in direct sunlight during most of the hike, so be prepared with both hats and water. I actually felt dizzy and
3. Angels Landing:
This is another iconic hike in the park. It also has a reputation for being one of the most dangerous, as there have been hikers that have fallen and died over the years. The hike takes about 3-6 hours and is about 5 miles roundtrip. The elevation change is 1,500 feet and it’s generally classified as a strenuous hike.
The trail consists of steep switchbacks. You’ll be hiking along narrow ridges and holding onto chains as you make your final ascent to Angels Landing. We noticed several people who were panicking along this final stretch. Since hikers have died on this trail, it can be nerve-racking. However, if you stay focused on the trail and make sure you maintain points of contact at all times, you should be fine. Of course, if you’re uncomfortable or anxious around heights, I don’t recommend the final stretch as you’ll find yourself having to backtrack along the same narrow path.
Since this is a technical hike, I don’t recommend it for younger hikers or those you may not be conditioned to handle the stress. The trail does get crowded, which means you’ll have to pass one another on some of the narrow ridges. Take it slow, and make sure you’re aware of the conditions. For example, when we did the hike in early 2017, we were told that there was some ice on the trail. We packed our STABILicers, which gave us extra traction when stepping through snow and ice on the trail.
4. The Subway:
This is probably the most spectacular and difficult hike that I have ever done. It’s a permit-only hike, so you’ll need to apply in order to do it. The hike can be completed two different ways. One is “bottom-up”, which is what we did. The other is “top-down”, which require rappelling and swimming through pools of water.
The hike is extremely technical, so I wouldn’t suggest it unless you’re an avid hiker and feel confident about doing a long hike. We carried enough food and water in case we got stuck on the trail. Since it is not an easily accessible trail, you’ll need to be prepared in case you have to wait for emergency services to arrive in the event that you get lost or injured.
Also, the hike was recently in the news since a pair of hikers were caught in quicksand. Again, this is not a hike that I would even attempt in adverse weather.
5. Emerald Pools
Another beautiful and popular hike in Zion is the Emerald Pools. It’s an easy three-mile roundtrip hike to the lower pool. This is a good trail if you have young children, baby strollers, or wheelchairs. The trail features some very scenic views, waterfalls, and pools.
The trails to the middle and upper pools are a bit more challenging, though worth the effort. These trails are popular, especially when the weather is warm. The moisture from the waterfalls and pools, as well as the general vegetation, keeps the area cool and comfortable.
6. Hidden Canyon:
This was a less popular hike when we visited, but was also one of our favorites. It’s about 3 miles total and a 1,000-ft elevation gain to get to the Hidden Canyon. The hike is fairly tough and adventurous, including some sections with chains. Once you get to the canyon, you’ll do some scrambling to continue onward on the trail.
This was one of our favorite trails in Zion. We’ve only done it when there was snow, but we would love to do it again in the warmer weather.
7. Canyon Lookout:
For those of you that prefer a shorter or less strenuous hike, you’ll want to check out the Canyon Lookout. This is a one-mile round trip hike that is easy and perfect for families. You’ll basically drive on Route 9 through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel to get to the trailhead. It’s a great location to get some beautiful views of the Zion Canyon.
While it is an easy hike that’s perfect for families, you’ll still want to exercise caution on the trail. This is especially the case if you’re traveling with little ones. There are some exposed sections and ice can build up on the trail.
Where to stay when visiting Zion National Park
In terms of lodging, there are many options in the area. There are camping sites and a lodge in the park. We opted for a boutique hotel just outside the park gate called Flanigan’s Inn. We’ve stayed there on both visits and loved the inn’s restaurant as well. You can even book the hotel on Chase’s Travel Portal if you want to use points to pay for your lodging.
Tips for visiting Zion National Park
If you’re planning a trip to Zion National Park, here are a few things to keep in mind.
What we love about Zion National Park is that it’s easy to get around and explore. Some national parks, like Yosemite or Sequoia, are massive and require a lot of time to fully experience the area. Zion is more manageable in size. Most of the attraction are within a 30-minute drive or shuttle ride from the entrance. This makes it easier to explore, especially if you have impatient kids.
2. Pack snacks and lots of water:
This is a consistent tip whenever we talk about visiting national parks, and it is especially important at Zion. We noticed that only some of the trailheads had water stations and fountains, so fill up your bottles before you take the shuttle to your trail.
We actually ran out of
Also, don’t assume that you need less water if you’re doing an aquatic hike. You’ll be exerting a lot of energy while hiking, so you’ll want to carry enough water for the entire hike.
3. Wear appropriate footwear and clothing:
A common thing that you’ll see in Zion when hiking the Narrows are people attempting to hike it in flip flops. This is a very bad idea! Your feet will get scraped along the rocks. You’ll see a lot of people realizing their mistake and painfully turning back during the hike.
Also, I recommend wearing layers as the temperature can drastically change, especially when you’re climbing in elevation or hiking in narrow canyons. I wore a Woolly Clothing merino wool t-shirt and hoodie, and both were kept me comfortable, warm, and dry.
4. Check the parking and shuttle schedule:
If you’re traveling to Zion during the peak season, you’ll likely be using the park’s shuttle to get to the different trailheads. The schedule changes every year, so you’ll want to check the National Park Service website for more information.
The first time we visited Zion National Park was in February 2017. During that visit, the shuttles were not running, so we were able to drive to all the hikes. When we visited in August 2018, cars were not allowed onto the main roads in the park, so we only used the shuttles.
5. Be flexible and have back-up options:
Make sure you check the National Park website for any closures to the trails. Trail closures are common due to storm damage and rock fall. Many of the hikes that are in or along a river will be affected by water levels and currents. You’ll want to follow any warnings or instructions from the rangers. Getting stuck in a flash flood is probably the biggest danger on some of these trails, so play it safe. There are plenty of hikes in the area that won’t be affected by the water level.
6. Stop at the Visitor’s Center:
The visitor center is a great place to get additional information about hikes and weather conditions. There are rangers in the visitor center who can provide advice and additional information on hikes and park conditions. It’s also where you’ll pick-up any permits (e.g., for the Subway hike).
7. Get equipped with the right gear:
While you can complete most of the hikes with basic sneakers and a backpack, I do recommend investing in rugged and comfortable footwear and backpacks that are padded. On the Subway and Narrows hike, I was carrying around 40 lbs of weight. This mostly consisted of water, food, and camera gear. Having a comfortable pack, durable hiking shoes with grip, and the right clothing materials like merino wool and stretch fabrics helped make the experience more enjoyable. Also, I highly recommend packing some insulated water bottles. You’ll appreciate having cold water, especially when you’re hiking in warmer temperatures.
8. Don’t take unnecessary risks:
You’ll see a lot of people taking selfies along the edges of cliffs. While I’m not opposed to taking pictures, I don’t recommend dangling your feet along the edges or letting yourself get distracted. The wind at higher elevations is unpredictable, and it’s easy to get distracted or startled when on the edge of a trail.
9. Get a National Park annual pass:
The cost to enter the park depends on whether you drive in or walk in to use the shuttle. As of March 2019, the cost per person is $20. If you’re driving into the park, then you’ll pay $35 for your vehicle. Both of these passes are valid for seven days.
Though if you plan to visit more national parks, you may want to consider an annual pass for $80. It lasts for an entire year and can be shared with another person. The pass also allows you to admit three additional adults when entering a park.
10. Pack sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen:
Many of the popular hikes, like Angel’s Landing and Observation Point do not have a lot of vegetation. This means that you’ll be exposed to a lot of sunlight, with little opportunity find any shade. Make sure to pack sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen. Also, I recommend starting your hikes early in the day. You’ll take advantage of the sun’s position and experience fewer crowds on the trails.
11. Pack hand sanitizer and hand wipes:
This is another tip that we often share when traveling, especially to
12. Leave no trace:
During the government shutdown earlier this year, the national parks experienced a lot of damage, some of which is irreversible. You want to make sure you that protect yourself and the park when exploring. This means not damaging or altering the environment, following safety precautions, not feeding any wildlife, and always disposing of any trash or waste.
Also, a pet peeve of mine is encountering people on the trail who are playing loud music. It’s not only inconsiderate to other hikers, but the sounds can often echo through canyons affecting the wildlife.
Have you been to Zion National Park? If so, what is your favorite hike? Let us know in the comment section below.