Zion National Park is a geologic wonder and a hikers’ paradise just 43 miles from St George, Utah, and a 3-hour drive from Las Vegas. The park covers 229 square miles; to really explore it requires multiple visits. The good news: Even if you only have a few days, you can take on some of the park’s best hikes.
The best way to access these hikes is to let the National Park Service (NPS) take you there. Because cars are not allowed past a certain point in Zion Canyon, the NPS provides a complimentary shuttle that stops at a number of spots in the majestic canyon. We love this aspect of the park experience; not only is the park free of traffic, but you also get to sit back and marvel at the burnt umber sandstone cliffs as someone else chauffeurs you to your hike. And the shuttle is super-easy to boot; you can pick it up near the South Campground or by your hotel in Springdale.
Here is a rundown on three of our favorite hikes in the park.
West Rim Trail to Angels Landing
Angels Landing sits at nearly 1,500 feet above the canyon floor. To get there, you’ll make your way up a series of winding switchbacks carved into the cliff side. The exposed switchbacks can be quite hot, but relief comes when the trail cuts back into the aptly named Refrigerator Canyon. On your way to the top, take time to honor the engineers who created Walter’s Wiggles, a hard-to-believe-someone-could-build-this set of switchbacks. You may want to stop once you hit the infamous chains; if you’re daring (and not afraid of heights), you can hand-over-hand it up another 1,000 feet for stellar views of the canyon.
Nearing the end of Angels Rest
Observation Point via East Rim Trail
While the strenuous 8-mile round trip hike may not be for everyone, it’s a great one to do if you can muster the strength. Your legs will protest, but the feeling of accomplishment you get from making it to 6,521-foot high Observation Point is matched only by the unobstructed views of Zion Canyon. From this vantage point you can actually look down on Angels Landing!
On your way up, you’ll travel through the cathedral-like Echo Canyon, a hanging slot canyon with soaring, multicolored walls. I remember being awed by how small we felt against the backdrop of those walls. We both appreciated the sense of perspective that reminded us to not sweat the small stuff, even though we literally were sweating quite a bit.
Viewfinder Tip: Use the free water bottle refill stations in the park. Your wallet and Mother Nature will thank you.
This popular 16-mile hike heads deep into a slot canyon that is only 40-feet wide at points. For a large portion of the hike, you’ll be trudging through the Virgin River. Even if the river is low and flowing slowly, it should not be underestimated; after all, the waterway carved through 2,000 feet of sandstone. Bring a dry sack for your electronics (if you can’t bear to leave them behind) and be prepared to do some swimming. Remember, you will get wet—not Splash Mountain wet, but “you’re hiking up a river and you’ll probably have to swim” wet.
It is impossible to really grasp the magnificence of a place like Zion National Park in just three hikes, but these tromps certainly will enable you to gain an appreciation for the park. We are pretty certain that, after just one of these hikes, you’ll be planning a trip back. See you on the trails.
What is your favorite National Park hike?