The state of Utah offers multiple options for the adventurous and nature-thirsty. Utah has over 40 state parks, five national parks, and numerous historic sites and national monuments. I had to choose since I couldn’t visit all the parks and attractions offered in this region on this trip. Two national parks particularly caught my attention. My partner agreed with me on this adventure, and we made plans to explore the hiking trails in Zion National Park.
About Zion National Park
Zion National Park is one of the most popular parks in the United States partly because of two famous hikes. Angels Landing and The Narrows alone attract thousands of tourists every year. So, they are naturally a staple in Zion.
Zion National Park is in the state of Utah in the Southwestern United States. It is south enough to have mild winters but sees enough snow to have changing landscapes through the seasons.
Where to stay when visiting Zion National Park?
The park offers three campgrounds. The Watchmen is open year-round and requires reservations. The South Campground is open from March to October, and reservations are possible 14 days in advance. Lava Point Campground also opens in the spring with six sites available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The charming town Springdale at the park’s entrance is perfect for accommodations while visiting the park. There are numerous hotels, motels and B&Bs, but I highly recommend the Bumbleberry Inn.
Its location is ideal as it is close to the park with the park shuttle stop just across the street and within walking distance of a grocery store and a few restaurants. And most of the rooms come with a view! The mountains of Zion surround the town, and the landscape is beautiful everywhere you look.
I was saddened to learn that the Porter’s Smokehouse and Grill had burned down in 2020, as it would have made my shortlist for the top restaurants I ate at while in Springdale. However, I am happy to report that they are rebuilding, and by the time you read this post, they should be open again for business.
Exploring Zion National Park
A shuttle bus runs along the route to transport tourists from one point to another. From March to October, this is the only way to get around in the park; no cars are allowed. The shuttle service is included and unlimited with the park entrance fee.
Plan a day to explore the park from stop to stop. Every stop is worthwhile, but my favourites are Emerald Pool, Weeping Rock and Grotto. Each with an easy short trail.
The Riverside Walk is also great for enjoying the park’s beautiful sights.
Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel
The park is also home to the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, which runs over one mile long. The construction of the tunnel was completed in 1930. It is the only available route from Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon parks.
If you wish to ride through the tunnel, be advised that there are restrictions for larger vehicles. RVs over 11 feet in height and 7 feet wide will need a permit and a vehicle escort to travel through the tunnel.
Hiking trails in Zion National Park
The Narrows (bottom-up)
- distance up to 15 km
- estimated time up to 8 hours
- located in the Zion Canyon, shuttle stop 9 Temple of Sinawava
As soon as we arrived, we inquired, and it was with regret that we learned that The Narrows would be closed to hikers for a few weeks. Since this hike is inside a narrow canyon (hence its name), the risk of flash floods is exceptionally high in the spring.
The park will close the trail for the safety of hikers when the risk of floods is high. Inquire at the park’s Visitor Center upon your arrival for more information. The Narrows will generally be closed from mid-March to the end of May. However, closers could last longer if it was a particularly snowy winter.
You will be wading water all through The Narrows. The water level can be shallow or deep enough to swim, depending on the time of year. The water can be refreshing on a hot summer day.
If you are planning on hiking The Narrows in the winter or early spring, it is recommended to wear neoprene clothes. Zion Outfitter rents various gear for this hike, such as neoprene socks and boots, dry pants and drybags.
The Narrows can also be done top-down as a multi-day 26 km (16 miles) hike. You will require a wilderness permit for this route. See Backpacking in Zion National Park for more information.
- distance 9 km
- elevation gain 480 m
- altitude 1765 m
- estimated time 4 hours
- permit required (through a lottery)
- located in Zion Canyon, shuttle stop 6 (the Grotto), across the street beyond the footbridge
The next day, we attacked the primary reason for our visit to Zion: Angels Landing. This path leads to a point so high that only angels can land there. This hike is the most popular hike in the park and the busiest one as well. Because of its popularity, it is now required to apply for a trail permit. The permits are awarded through a lottery; cross your fingers and hope to be picked!
The trail is considered difficult and dangerous since it is exposed and sometimes very narrow, with cliff drop-offs on either side. Therefore, be vigilant and patient on the busy trail.
Hiking to Scout Lookout
We are at the trailhead early in the morning to avoid the crowds. The start of the trail is very well laid out, and it feels more like walking on a sidewalk than climbing a mountain. Then comes the famous Walter’s Wiggles, a series of endless switchbacks where a few breaks are necessary to catch our breath.
We arrive at Scout Lookout somewhat before the three-kilometre mark. The views are already impressive. This section represents the decision point; here, hikers decide to continue for the narrow and exposed part of the trail or to turn back. The summit is less than a kilometre away, almost 150 meters higher.
Hiking to Angels Landing
On the other hand, it is here that the real adventure begins: the chains and dizzying views from the top of the cliffs. Although I became highly nervous and hesitant to continue following Scout Lookout during the first chains section, there is no way I came this far to turn back. I take a deep breath and forge ahead.
Without realizing it, the fear subsides and disappears completely before the return trip. But I must admit that the chains remained my best friends for the duration of the climb!
Once at the top, the 360-degree view of the surrounding canyons and cliffs is impressive.
By the time we decided to head back down, the crowds had arrived, and the waits were long to either get through the narrow parts of the trail or navigate the chains between hikers. However, I am pleased with our early start, which allowed us to avoid these long waits on the way up.
The Subway (Left Fork of North Creek Trail – bottom-up route)
- distance 15 km
- elevation gain/loss 398 m
- estimated time 6 hours
- wilderness permit required
- located in Kolob Canyon
About the trail
The second hike in the park takes us to the bottom of Kolob Canyon, The Subway via the Left Fork of North Creek Trail. The trail runs along the Left Fork stream at the bottom of the canyon, crossing waterfalls and cascades flanked by rock walls that rise 365 meters above our heads.
The Left Fork trailhead is on Kolob Terrace Road in the Kolob Canyon area.
You will be required to buy a wilderness permit for this hike. Applications for permits with the online advance lottery can be made two months before the day of the trek, from April through October. You can also make a calendar reservation one month before your hike or from November through March. Lastly, you also have the option to use the last-minute drawing the week before (up to 2 days prior) for your hike.
We purchased our permit on the day of the trek at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center Wilderness Desk. Note that they limit the number of permits allocated each day, so you may want to plan or be at the counter as soon as it opens, hoping there will be permits available.
Since the hike consists of several stream crossings and, at times, the trail is the creek bed, we made the wise decision to rent neoprene socks and boots at Zion Outfitter. Spring also brings higher water levels, and we didn’t regret our choice. Although this equipment is not mandatory or by any means necessary, it is undoubtedly helpful against the water’s cold and safer since the bottom of the stream can be very slippery.
Left Fork Trail
The first minutes on the trail are through a wooded area, then comes the descent to the bottom of the canyon. The slope is steep but well-indicated. Once at the bottom, the trail turns left and follows Left Fork Creek for the next four kilometres. You have to follow the creek or walk in the water going up cascades.
We arrive at the famous Subway at the end of these four kilometres. The rock walls get closer, forming a kind of tunnel. We walk to the end of the Subway as the rock walls get closer to encompass us.
The return is by the same route, following or walking right in Fork Left Creek back to the trail going up and out of the canyon.
Hikers can also do this hike top-down from the Wildcat Canyon trailhead. It is a 15 km (9.5 miles) hike ending at the Left Fork trailhead. This route includes canyoneering and requires gear such as ropes and harnesses. A wilderness permit is also mandatory.
Canyon Overlook Trail
- distance 1.6 km
- elevation gain 50 m
- estimated time 1 hour
- located in Zion Canyon east of the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel
A final hike in Zion Park brings us further across the famous Mount Carmel Tunnel. The Canyon Overlook Trail is a short hike that leads to a lookout over Zion Canyon. The views are naturally splendid and worth it. It is a busy trail that families with younger children can enjoy.
More Hiking Trails in Zion National Park
- Pa’rus Trail – 5 km on a paved path along the Virgin River at the Visitor Centre
- Lower Emerald Pool – 2 km at stop #5
- Grotto Trail – 2 km at stop #5 or #6 (the trail follows the road between the two shuttle stops)
- Riverside Walk – 3.5 km paved path at stop #9 follows the Virgin River
- Timber Creek Overlook Trail – 2 km from the Kolob Canyon Viewpoint on the ridge of Kolob Canyon
- Kayenta Trail and the Emerald Pools – 5 km trail to the upper Emerald Pools via the Kayenta Trail, stop #6
- Watchman Trail – 5 km at the Visitor Center
- Northgate Peaks Trail – 7 km from the Wildcat Canyon trailhead on Kolob Terrace Rd to the viewpoint of the peaks and surrounding mountains
- Taylor Creek Trail – 8 km in a narrow canyon along the Taylor Creek to the Double Arch Alcove
- Wildcat Canyon Trail – 10 km from the Kolob Terrace Rd to the Wildcat Canyon
- Hop Valley Trail – 14 miles/22 km from the Kolob Terrace Rd to Hop Valley
La Verkin Creek Trail – 14 miles/22.5 km from Lee Pass trailhead on Kolob Canyon Rd towards the Kolob Arch
Backpacking in Zion National Park
Backpacking in Zion is an experience like no other. Walking among the majestic rock formations is well worth the effort. I urge you to plan since half of the backcountry campsites need reservations. They do keep the other half as a first-come-first-serve option. You can make reservations online on the 5th of the month before your stay. You will need to create an account here to make your reservations.
For the first-come-first-serve campsites, a wilderness permit is required. You can purchase your access the day before or the day of departure at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center Wilderness Desk.
Multi-day trails in Zion National Park:
- La Verkin Creek Trail to Kolob Arch (14 miles/22.5 km) or Hop Valley junction (13 miles/21 km) from the Lee Pass trailhead
- Hop Valley Trail to Lee Pass (13 miles/21 km) or Kolob Arch (15 miles/24 km) from the Hop Valley trailhead
- Wildcat Canyon and Connector Trails from Hop Valley trailhead to West Rim trailhead (9 miles/15 km)
- West Rim trailhead to Grotto via Rim Trail or Telephone Canyon trail (14 miles/22.5 km)
- Virgin River Narrows from Chamberlains Ranch Trailhead to the Temple of Sinawava (16 miles/26 km) *wilderness permit required
- Chinle Trailhead to Coalpits Wash Trailhead via Scoggins Wash (10 miles/16 km) or to campsite 5 (16 miles/26 km)
- East Rim Trail from East Entrance trailhead to Stave Spring (12 miles/20 km) **Some indefinite closers are in effect. Inquire at the park Visitor Center
Zion’s Wilderness Guide will help with planning your backpacking adventure. In addition, you will find helpful information about backpacking in Zion National Park, including a map and a list of the campsites specifying the walk-in ones and those for which you will need a reservation.
Check out this complete guide on backpacking before your trip for essential gear and helpful tips on planning your adventure and staying safe in the backcountry.
Our stay in Utah was very memorable. I’m already thinking about my next visit, and all the adventures are still on my list. I managed to check off a few this time, but Utah, I will see you again!
We eventually went north to the stunning Adirondacks for more hiking adventures. The endless hiking opportunities in this vast forested mountain range are among my favourite destinations in the United States!