5 Best Hikes in Zion + 5 Tips to Know Before You Go

Last Updated: June 2020

Nestled in the southwestern section of Utah, Zion National Park is one of the crown jewels of the US National Park System. Carved out by the Virgin River over millions of years, the geologic wonder that is Zion is the perfect place to enjoy some truly stunning desert landscapes.

The park is home to a great collection of hikes that cater to a wide range of different experience levels. Here are some of our favorite hikes in Zion National Park. Also check out our 5 Tips for Hiking in Zion National Park.




















1. Watchman Trail

Zion national park watchman trail
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 3.3 miles (5.3km)
  • Time Needed: 2 hours
  • Crowdedness: Medium
  • Type Of Trail: Out and back
  • Camping: At Watchman or South Campground
  • Dogs/Pets Allowed: No
  • Starting Location: View on Google Maps
  • Zion Shuttle Stop: #1 Visitor’s Center

The Watchman Trail is a popular hiking destination for anyone staying at the nearby Watchman or South Campgrounds. This hike starts just a short distance from the campground and the Visitor’s center. It offers excellent views of the southernmost part of Zion Canyon.

We particularly like this trail because it’s often overlooked by visitors who tend to opt for hikes further into the canyon. However, it offers a nice mix of scenic vistas of the surrounding area, including Springdale, and the canyon’s unique geologic formations.

Zion national park watchman trail

After leaving the trailhead, the Watchman walks along the Virgin River before heading uphill. It then gets progressively steeper, with a few moderate drop-offs on the side of the trail.

Eventually, the trail reaches an excellent viewpoint where you can see much of the main canyon of the park. There’s also a spur loop trail that continues on a bit further for better views to the south if you’re interested in a slightly longer walk.

2. East Rim Trail to Observation Point

Zion national park east rim trail
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Distance: 10.2 miles (16.4km)
  • Time Needed: 4 hours
  • Crowdedness: Low
  • Type Of Trail: Out and back
  • Camping: Yes, permit required
  • Dogs/Pets Allowed: No
  • Starting Location: View on Google Maps
  • Zion Shuttle Stop: None 

The East Rim Trail made our list because it offers an excellent off-the-beaten-path option for hikers visiting the park. Unlike the trails within Zion Canyon itself, the trails on the East Rim see relatively few hikers. 

This is partially because there are few amenities in this section of the park and because the Zion Shuttle does not bring visitors to this area. Therefore, you will need to drive your car up to the East Rim Trailhead. However, the road to the East Rim from the main canyon is spectacular. It gives you the chance to drive through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, which is an adventure in itself.

Zion national park east rim trail

Taking the East Rim Trail to Observation Point isn’t a “standard” Zion hiking route. You can reach Observation Point from Weeping Rock in Zion Canyon. This is a good alternative if you don’t want to make the drive or if you’re looking for a slightly shorter hike.

Alternatively, if you have two cars, you can turn this into a thru-hike from the East Entrance Trail to the Weeping Rock Trailhead inside the canyon. You can also arrange for a drop off at the East Entrance Trailhead with a local company and then take the Zion Canyon Shuttle back to your car at the end of your hike.

From the East Entrance Trailhead, you start your hike on a sandy path, which is a nice family-friendly section if you just want a short stroll through the desert. Eventually, you’ll walk past Jolley Gulch’s 200 foot (60m) drop and then climb up higher towards the rim of Zion Canyon.

The trail will eventually transition from sand to slickrock as it leaves behind the quietness of the East Rim. As the trail gets closer to Observation Point, it tends to get more crowded with hikers journeying in from other parts of the park. Eventually, the trail arrives at Observation Point, providing excellent views of the majority of Zion Canyon.

3. Pa’rus Trail

Zion national park parus trail
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 3.5 mi (5.6km)
  • Time Needed: 2 hours
  • Crowdedness: High
  • Type Of Trail: Out and back
  • Camping: At Watchman or South Campground
  • Dogs/Pets Allowed: Yes
  • Starting Location: View on Google Maps
  • Zion Shuttle Stop: #1 Visitor’s Center or #3 Canyon Junction

The Pa’rus Trail is a family-friendly walking option on the floor of Zion Canyon. It starts from the Visitor’s Center and takes you as far as the Canyon Junction Shuttle Stop, offering excellent views of the southern part of the park.

Zion national park parus trail

This trail is wheelchair-accessible with some assistance, making it an excellent choice for any hiker that wants a casual stroll through the canyon. It walks along the Virgin River for some short sections and is the only pet-friendly trail in the park.

Due to the Pa’rus Trail’s lack of shade, we recommend doing it in the morning or late afternoon, particularly in the summer. It’s an excellent post-dinner sunset hike to do with the family, particularly if you’re staying at the Watchman or South Campgrounds near the Visitor’s Center.

4. Riverside Walk to The Narrows

Zion national park riverside walk
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 2.2 miles (3.5km)
  • Time Needed: 1.5 hours
  • Crowdedness: High
  • Type Of Trail: Out and back
  • Camping: None
  • Dogs/Pets Allowed: No
  • Starting Location: View on Google Maps
  • Zion Shuttle Stop: #9 Temple of Sinawava

The Riverside Walk starts from the final stop on the Zion Canyon Shuttle - Temple of Sinawava. It offers the best access to the bottom-up Narrows Route for avid canyoneers but is a nice hike in its own right. 

The trail is mostly wheelchair-accessible in the beginning, especially after long periods without rain. It is an excellent place to go if you’re looking to escape the midday heat as the high canyon walls tend to block out significant amounts of sunlight. There is little elevation change throughout the Riverside Walk, so it is a nice casual stroll along the Virgin River for hikers of all ability levels. 

Zion national park riverside walk

If you’re looking for a bit more of an adventure, day hiking the Narrows from the Riverside Walk does not require a permit if you plan to stop at Big Spring. However, the majority of the hike is spent wading or swimming in the water, which can be very cold. 

There is also a significant risk of flash floods in the canyon. So anyone looking to hike past the Riverside Walk into the Narrows needs to be confident in their ability to assess rapidly changing conditions. When in doubt, there are plenty of great companies in Springdale that offer guided hikes of the Narrows, which also include all the gear you need for the adventure.

5. Hidden Canyon Trail

hidden canyon zion national park
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Distance: 2.4 mi (3.9km)
  • Time Needed: 2 miles
  • Crowdedness: High
  • Type Of Trail: Out and back
  • Camping: None
  • Dogs/Pets Allowed: No
  • Starting Location: View on Google Maps
  • Zion Shuttle Stop: #7 Weeping Rock

The Hidden Canyon Trail is an excellent option for hikers that want great views of Zion Canyon and a slight adrenaline rush without the exposure of Angel’s Landing. This trail starts from a trailhead across from the Weeping Rock Trail and starts climbing immediately upwards.

It ascends some pretty steep switchbacks, some of which have steel chains to help protect you as you walk along exposed cliff edges. Due to this exposure, we don’t recommend this hike for young children or anyone that’s not confident on their feet.

Eventually, the Hidden Canyon Trail ends at a collection of pools and potholes in the slickrock within a steep-walled canyon. There’s a small freestanding arch near the entrance to the canyon. However, if you want, you can continue past the end of the official trail and do some bouldering to venture further into the canyon itself.

This is a reasonably good option for a morning hike. Since the beginning of the Hidden Canyon Trail can be quite exposed to the sun later in the day, it’s best to start waking earlier in the day. Then, you’ll only have to hike the sunny part of the trail on your way downhill, lowering your risk of any heat-related injuries.

hidden canyon zion national park

5 Tips for Hiking in Zion National Park

Hiking in Zion is an excellent way to see all that this magnificent park has to offer. But, the desert landscape can be unforgiving, so you must know what to expect before you hit the trail. Here are some key things to keep in mind as you plan your adventure:

1. Take The Zion Shuttle

Okay, this is less of a suggestion and more of a statement. During the busiest seasons at Zion, the park runs a free shuttle service throughout the main canyon. When the shuttle is running, you’re not allowed to drive your car into the canyon unless you’re stopping at Zion Lodge.

The park created the shuttle system in 2000 in an attempt to almost eliminate any traffic in Zion Canyon and to restore the region’s natural tranquility. Thanks to these efforts, visitors can easily access any of the park’s main trailheads without having to find parking for your vehicle.

The shuttle’s operation dates change each year, so check in with the Visitor’s Center for more information on the current timetable. There are nine different stops throughout Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, but the shuttle does not take you to the Kolob Arch region or the East Rim. There is also a Springdale Shuttle that offers free transport from town to the park’s pedestrian entrance.

2. Visit In The Spring Or Fall

Summer is easily the busiest time of year at Zion National Park because of the school holidays. However, it is also the hottest season, which poses the challenges that we’ll discuss in a bit.

If you’re able to travel at any time of year, we’d highly recommend visiting Zion during the spring or fall. Sure, it might be easier to visit the park during your kids’ school break. But, going to Zion during the “off-season” means fewer lines and less crowded trails for a better wilderness experience.

Additionally, off-season travel means milder weather, which is particularly beneficial if you’re not used to the scorching heat of the Utah desert. The fall is also a particularly good time to visit if you’re interested in seeing some beautiful autumn colors. Just don’t forget to pack a puffy jacket for those chilly nights!

3. Fly Into Vegas

If you need to fly to get to Zion, we highly recommend Las Vegas as your arrival airport. It’s just a three-hour drive from Sin City to Zion Canyon, and you can often get some pretty cheap airfare into Vegas’ airport.

While Salt Lake City might seem like a good place to start your trip to Zion, it’s an hour and a half further than Vegas and is more likely to have traffic en route. Plus, the drive from Vegas is stunning (particularly the section where you drive through the Virgin River Canyon), and it offers better access to the more remote Kolob Arch section of Zion or Bryce Canyon National Park.

4. Be Wary Of The Midday Heat

Summers in Zion are hot, s​​​​o you’ll need to take a few precautions to protect yourself during your stay. First and foremost, if you’re venturing to the park during the summer, try to avoid hiking in particularly exposed areas in the middle of the day. 

Stick to shaded hikes whenever possible. Or, if you do want to hike in a sunny area, try to do so in the morning or later in the afternoon. 

Additionally, don’t forget your water. Drinking water is available at most of the trailheads in Zion Canyon. Still, you’ll want to pack at least a liter for every couple hours that you plan to be outside - perhaps even more. Also, be sure to pack a sun hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and even a sun shirt if you don’t want to get burnt as you hike.

5. Get Permits For Backpacking And Canyoneering

All overnight stays in Zion outside of established campgrounds require a wilderness permit. The best way to get your permit is to make a reservation ahead of time through the online portal

Permits are available three months in advance and can be made anytime after the 5th of each month. So, if you’re looking to go on a trip in March, you can book permits as early as January 5th. You can also get a permit in-person at the park’s visitor center on a first-come, first-served basis the day of or the day before your trip.

Canyoneering in any of the park’s technical slot canyons, including the Subway and top-down or overnight use of the Narrows, also requires a permit, which can be booked using the wilderness permit portal. Just like backpacking permits, canyoneering permits are available three months ahead of time, starting on the fifth of each month. There are also last-minute lottery drawings for permits 7-2 days before your trip. On rare occasions, there may be walk-up permits available.

Final Thoughts

The Zion National Park is one of the crown jewels of the US National Park System. The Park boast some truly stunning desert landscapes. And hiking is an excellent way to see all that this magnificent park has to offer. But, the desert landscape can be unforgiving, so you must know what to expect before you hit the trail. 

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