Matthew and I did a VERY impromptu trip to Zion National Park at the beginning of January of this year. When I say impromptu, I mean that we booked our tickets as we were walking out the door to leave for the airport (long story, but suffice it to say, it made it exciting). We spent 3 full days in Zion National Park, and did seven of the best hikes in Zion.
Of course, we didn’t get to experience anywhere close to everything the park has to offer, but here are our seven best hikes in Zion National Park, in order from most to least favorite.
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1. The Narrows – Our Best Hike in Zion
I mean, the Narrows is a super popular hike for a reason, right? It’s a true slot canyon, and to make that even cooler, the farther in you hike the narrower it gets – making it one of the best trails in Zion.
The walls themselves are wonderfully varied from stark and sheer to smooth and carved by the rushing water. You’ll find rocks colored desert tan but also stark black and stunning red – the way they glow in the rare spots the sunlight shines produces such that you’ll have to stop and stare for a moment.
On the canyon floor there are boulders, river-smoothed stones, and sand bars. And of course, there’s the crystal clear water that you hike through. Be on the lookout for various waterfalls and a branch off into an even tighter slot canyon that’s worth a quick detour. It is an absolutely stunning and incredibly unique hike, which is why it nabs our #1 spot for best hike in Zion.
We hiked the Narrows in January (read more here about how to do a successful winter Narrows hike) and so we rented dry suits from Zion Outfitter that came with a sturdy hiking stick. Even if you are hiking in summer and thus don’t need the dry suit, I would HIGHLY recommend a walking stick and not just using hiking poles (or not using anything). Hiking poles aren’t sturdy enough for the rocks and the current and we were so grateful for the extra balance we got from the sticks.
The water was usually mid-calf to knee deep, but occasionally did get just above our waist. Also, while walking in the water is fun, to make better time and to warm yourself up a bit, you’ll want to use the shore as much as possible.
It took us 6 hours round trip to get about halfway through the Wall Street section. We did stop to take lots of pictures on the way up, so you could probably do it in less time, but the guys at Zion Outfitter said to plan on about an hour per mile. Before you start, be sure to check out what the current level is at and if there are any flash flood warnings.
2. Angel’s Landing
I’ve heard about Angel’s Landing for a long time and heard a lot of people describe it as a really narrow, precipitous hike up to the final summit. The picture I had in mind was of a trail maybe a foot wide, with spots where you have to jump over a cliff and the final summit is a rounded ledge maybe 20 feet across.
Weeellll, of course, my imagination was way more active than reality, although the final ascent up was definitely a bucket list experience.
Like The Narrows, what makes Angel’s Landing so popular is the unique experience it offers – in this case, the final ½ mile or so of trail.
It starts like pretty much any other hike with switchbacks up a mountain (shockingly, paved for a long time) and then heads into a canyon. Even though it’s still the beginning section of the trail, the views are fantastic. The trail then veers off the canyon and onto the neighboring mountain, where you hit Walter’s Wiggles, a section of 21 very short and tightly packed switchbacks.
After Walter’s Wiggles, you reach a saddle with some space to spread out and relax, and even a bathroom. This is where the crowds picked up on our hike.
At this point the trail becomes a narrow ledge on the side of a cliff and there are chains embedded into the cliff that help a lot! You don’t usually “need” them to actually progress, though there were a few sections where you kind of did, but they give you the sense of security you need and provide an important safety in case you do stumble or slip, which also will likely happen a couple times.
The Final Ascent
After a stretch of these you reach the “faux summit”, a lookout point where we *thought* we were done and hey that wasn’t even so bad! Then, a ranger pointed out that that very narrow, very steep section ahead leading to what does not look like it should be climbable – a skinny spit of a rock rising in the distance – is actually where you need to go. And so we did! And it was AWESOME.
At times the path is less than 3 feet wide with sheer drop-offs on either side and at times you are scaling cliffs using the chains to assist. I was amazed at the trees that somehow found purchase on those cliffs and ledges. At times it was tough to tell if they were clinging harder or if I was…
The hike through the section with the chains is exhilarating and the 360 degree views at the top are truly spectacular. I didn’t feel like the ascent up with the chains was too difficult and as long as you keep a hand on the chain it felt perfectly safe. This chain section is so cool and unique – it definitely deserves to be at the top of the list of best hikes in Zion.
One more note for the chain part of the hike is that it is mostly only wide enough for one-way traffic. In winter it wasn’t too bad, but you did have to pause at different points and step aside to let others pass going in the other direction.
Angel’s Landing took us 6 hours round trip to do, including hiking up, time at the top, and hiking back. For a winter hike, layering was key as you start cold, warm up quickly, then chill again as you rest at the top. Expect wind at the top and a lack of shade. For summer, you will want lots of water and expect the final section to have lots of waiting.
3. Canyon Overlook
We wanted an easy hike to do after a day in the Narrows and a place to watch the sunset and thus landed on Canyon Overlook Trail.
This hike vastly exceeded our expectations – the hike up was so fun! There were lots of parts where the path narrowed and there was just a railing between you and a steep dropoff into Pine Creek canyon – and sometimes no railing. Most of the trail was along the ridge of the back side of the mountain, and when you finally get to the top and come up and over the final ridge, you are rewarded with a stunning view of the main Zion Canyon.
Unfortunately for us, in January the angle of sunset is such that it is blocked by other mountains but it was still a top favorite destination and an easy choice for #3 of the best hikes in Zion. I honestly feel like this is a bit of a hidden gem in Zion – you get the spectacular views over the canyon with a much shorter and less crowded trail. The summit was a fairly big area, with a lot of different places to climb around and explore.
There is this beautiful, red sandstone built in these layered formations. The stone is extremely grippy and good for scrambling – but still be aware you’re on the top of a huge cliff. But it is definitely worth climbing on some of the formations, and you can find little holes to explore when you aren’t just soaking in the view.
Tip: While short, this trail does have some somewhat dangerous spots where if you are running around or not paying attention, you could fall down into the ravine, so caution is warranted.
The hike took us 20-30 minutes each way, and we spent about an hour at the summit.
4. Taylor’s Creek (in Kolob Canyon)
The last day we were there, we drove over to Kolob Canyon, about 45 minutes away from the Springdale entrance. The drive in and of itself was really pretty, with plateaus and mountains in the distance.
Taylor’s Creek was a super picturesque hike that crosses over – you guessed it – Taylor’s Creek more than 12 times. Towards the beginning of the hike the approach to the creek is rather flat, but it gets hillier the farther you go in.
The hike also starts out of the canyon, but around halfway through you are in the canyon itself and have red rock walls on either side of you. They glow beautifully in the sunlight.
At the end of the hike you are rewarded with a double arch in the canyon wall. We unfortunately did not make it to the end for the following reasons:
This hike by far had the most snow of any hike we did (remember, we were there in January), and the farther in we went, the more the snow had become packed down and icy. It actually became very treacherous (yet fun) because we were sliding down the hills approaching a river crossing.
Eventually we did decide to turn back because the hills were getting steeper and it was near impossible to get down them because of the extreme amount of ice. If we had had walking poles, I think we could have continued to finish the hike, but as it was we ended up turning back before the end.
The river crossings were mostly frozen when we were there, so we walked across on the ice. When there is not ice though, there are stones in the river you could walk on. I found the multiple river crossings to be very cute and interesting and was what really made it one of the best hikes in Zion!
I would love to come back here in spring when the ice isn’t a factor and get to the double arch! Even in winter, though, this is one of the top hikes in Zion and is definitely worth doing – just wear good shoes and bring walking poles.
5. Zion/Mount Carmel Tunnel Drive to Canyon Overlook and Checkerboard Mesa + lookout points
Technically I probably can’t put this on a list of best hikes in Zion because it wasn’t really a hike, but I actually really loved this scenic drive!
There are multiple scenic lookout points at the switchbacks heading up to the tunnel and we stopped at one to admire the view towards the Canyon Overlook summit.
As you continue up the road, you enter the tunnel, which has a very old-timey feel. There are no electric lights at all, and the only light comes from your car’s lights and the “windows” that are carved out of the canyon wall.
Apparently when the tunnel was being built, they actually drilled into the mountain through where the windows are now to do excavation. Those excavation points have stayed as windows and you can actually see them from the Canyon Overlook summit.
After the tunnel, the drive gets into an area where there craggly ravines to either side providing a varied landscape. You then pass through a second, much shorter, tunnel at which point the scenery shifts to these beautifully layered mesas. The many, slanted, swirling layers of the sandstone are gorgeous.
Finally you reach Checkerboard Mesa, which is just before you reach the east entrance of the park. Unlike the previous mesas you’ve passed, this one has grooves running vertically and horizontally across the face, giving a, well, checkerboard appearance. This is a very curvy road, so be prepared for that.
Just a few minute’s drive from Checkerboard Mesa is the trailhead for the East Rim Trail. I would love to come back and do that hike some day as we only had time to just barely start it. It is a multi-mile hike that loops along the east edge of the park and then cuts back in toward Zion Canyon.
6. Overlook Point Kolob
This is also located in Kolob Canyon and is a short, easy hike up to a beautiful overlook point. There is a vista over the valley in one direction, and in the other are the three peaks in Kolob. We enjoyed this short hike before doing Taylor’s Creek, but this is also one of the best trails at Zion National Park if you have small children. For us, it was a bit muddy because of snow melt.
7. Emerald Pools
A short, well groomed (partially paved) walk to the pools. There are three pools and on the lowest one you are under a curved rock edge with a small waterfall that flows down over it. The middle pools are at the top of the waterfall and the upper is even farther up.
The waterfall is definitely more of a trickle in the winter but it gets a little heavier in spring. This was a fun hike to add after Angel’s Landing and one of the best hikes in Zion National Park for smaller children, but for us was not a must-do compared to other hikes on the list.
Honorable Mention: Valley of Fire
We stopped at Valley of Fire State Park on our way back to Las Vegas for our flights out. Valley of Fire was absolutely jaw-dropping! We had time for one hike, so we hiked to the Fire Wave, but instead of taking the Fire Wave trail, we took another trail, Pastel Canyon, to reach the Wave. Pastel Canyon is lesser known, lesser trafficked, and beautiful. Read more about it hiking Pastel Canyon here.
The top of our list for next time:
- Observation Point
- East Rim hike
- Hidden Canyon
Observation Point and Hidden Canyon both looked like gorgeous hikes that you can access from Zion Canyon. They were both closed due to rock falls when we were there, but are on the top of the list for next time! Sometime I would like to do the East Rim hike – it’s a 10 miler (one way) and spans the east edge and actually connects to Observation Point from the back side.
Other Practical Information about Visiting Zion National Park
Where to Stay
We stayed at this hotel conveniently located very close to the park entrance in Springdale. The rates were very reasonable, the breakfast selection was hot and expansive, and the rooms were large. We especially enjoyed soaking in the outdoor hot tub after a long day of hiking. I wouldn’t hesitate to stay here again!
What Airport To Use
We flew into Las Vegas and drove up from there. It takes 2 hrs 45 minutes to reach Springdale from Vegas. Alternatively, you could also fly into Salt Lake City and drive down – it’s about a 4.5 hour drive from the airport. Obviously, Vegas is closer and thus preferable, but if flying into Salt Lake is significantly cheaper, it may be worth arriving at that airport!
We rented our car from Fox. Now, in Vegas, everyone has to take a shuttle from the airport to the Rental Car Terminal. However, to get to Fox Rentals, you have to take a second shuttle from the Rental Car Terminal to their own location. It does add another 15 minutes, but every time me or a family member has rented a car from Vegas, we’ve found that Fox’s prices are quite a bit cheaper and worth the extra time to double shuttle.
While we’re talking about airports, I’ll share a little bit about how we decided to come to Zion National Park in the first place!
After spending Christmas with my parents in 2020, my mom said, “Hey school and work is still virtual, why don’t you stay longer, leave the kids, and go somewhere together right after the new year?”
I think she might have been thinking just somewhere local for a day or two, but that quickly escalated to using the Explore feature on Google flights to see where in the US had cheap flights available, and was a place we could visit (e.g. Boston had cheap flights, but everything historical was still closed in January 2020).
Vegas came up as having flights for $100, and so we grabbed those flights and away we went! (Thanks mom ILYSM!)
This is one of my favorite strategies for finding cheap flights – leave the destination open when doing a search on Google Flights, and explore the world map to see your cheapest options! I share a lot more of my flight hacks and strategies, as well as my favorite credit cards for travel rewards here!
Why Winter is the Best Time to Visit Zion National Park
Winter can be a fantastic time to visit Zion because the crowds are very low. In late spring, summer, and even early fall, Zion can be crazy busy. A bunch of my family members hiked Angel’s Landing in August one year, and they said there was a two hour queue just to start hiking! That’s crazy!
Plus, the heat in summer can be oppressive. I wouldn’t want to hike in Zion right after a snowstorm, but if can avoid snow, you’ll still have sunny days, chilly (but not crazy cold) weather, and very, very light crowds.
Final Thoughts on the Best Hikes in Zion
And that concludes our top best hikes in Zion! Honestly, though, the park is so gorgeous and the hikes so varied that no matter what hike you choose to do, you’re going to have beautiful views and a great time.