Last updated on June 1st, 2022
It’s easy to understand why millions of visitors flock to Utah’s southwest corner to witness how nature’s forces have carved over the years one of the most striking canyons in America. With hundreds of miles of hiking trails, breathtaking scenic lookouts, and opportunities to explore the scenic backcountry, there are plenty of ways to fill your day with excitement. In this guide, we’ll explore the top things to do in Zion National Park, covering Zion Canyon and beyond.
Check out the Zion travel guide collection for additional information, including essential planning tips, the best hikes, and sample itineraries.
The Riverside Walk follows the contours of the North Fork Virgin River upstream to a narrow section inside Zion Canyon. It’s one of the most accessible hikes in the national park and a perfect way to start your sightseeing day, as the views and the vibe are splendid even if the sun’s rays have yet to pierce the canyon walls. You might even spot wild deer on the riverbank in the early morning hours. Try and get a closer look by ditching the trail and walking along the sandy shore. The Riverside Walk ends at the starting point for the Narrows hike. Before turning back, check out the mighty Mountain of Mystery.
If Zion Canyon’s crowds are too much to handle, hit the road and drive on Kolob Terrace Road to Lava Point. As you gain elevation, the temperature sharply drops but so does the amount of people you’ll need to share these views with. At Lava Point, you’re sitting at the edge of the Colorado Plateau, and the upper rim of Zion Canyon can be seen far in the distance. If you have an extra day or heading north towards Cedar City, check out Zion’s lesser-known “annex” at Kolob Canyons.
Connecting Zion Canyon with the outside world to its east, the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway is not only a gateway to the national park but also a scenic drive that reaches a climax in the tunnel bearing the same name. This one-lane engineering marvel was blasted through the sandstone in the 1920s to create additional access to the park. It features “windows” that bring light and fresh air to an otherwise dark artery. On the drive, check out the Great Arch and Checkerboard Mesa.
From the finest viewpoint on the canyon floor, say hello to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These sandstone pinnacles rise to nearly 7,000 feet above Zion Canyon. This scenic lookout is easily reached from the shuttle stop. For the best views, head here just as the sun’s rays illuminated the Old Testament heroes.
Within a short distance, the Watchman Trail travels from the relatively lush world of the riverbank to the undersized vegetation of true desert. Watch for the change in plant species, from wildflowers and willows to cactus and pinyon pines. After a series of switchbacks, the trail ends at a magnificent small mesa from where views of the Watchman, lower Zion Canyon, and the town of Springdale are the reward
If claustrophobia or ice-cold water don’t deter you, hiking the Narrows might be a worthy challenge to overcome. This is one of Zion’s most popular hikes, a walk in the Virgin River through the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. At times, thousand-foot walls are separated by just twenty feet, leaving hikers feeling like ants as they make slow progress in the water. Special gear is required to hike the Narrows, which hikers can rent before entering the park. The most popular way to hike the Narrows is from the end of the Riverside Walk (bottom-up).
Zion’s trails can be pretty congested with hikers during the busy months of the year. Serious hikers can find privacy by going off the beaten track on the longer and more challenging rim hikes. On the West Rim Trail, go beyond Angel’s Landing and hike into Zion’s backcountry on the high plateau. On the East Rim Trail, explore Weeping Rock and Echo Canyon. If you have the time and the will, head to the Hidden Canyon and summit Cable Mountain (7,000 feet).
This moderate hike leads to three different pools, rewarding hikers on the way with close-up views of the reddish sandstone canyon walls. The Lower Emerald Pool is a true oasis, a picturesque waterfall cascading from the canyon wall to a small pool. A cavity in the cliff takes hikers directly behind the cascade en route to the middle pool, but it’s the Upper Emerald Pool that takes your breath away. This secluded pool reflects its surroundings like a perfectly polished mirror.
It’s incredible how many thrills the Canyon Overlook Trail packs into just a half-mile of hiking. Starting from the eastern entrance to the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, the trail weaves its way above a creek rich in pine and juniper trees. The eroded sandstone created many interesting highlights to keep your eyes busy, such as arches, caves, and jagged pinnacles. The trail ends 1,000 feet above the Zion Canyon floor at Canyon Overlook, with views of the scenic highway and some of Zion’s iconic peaks, such as the West Temple and the Sentinel.
Hikers must overcome many physical and mental challenges on the Angel’s Landing Trail, but the impossibly scenic lookout directly above the bending Virgin River is well worth the effort. From 5,790 feet (1,765 m), hikers in Angel’s Landing are literally standing atop Zion Canyon and can stare passing condors straight in the eye. Getting up to this scenic ledge requires much effort, including a long stretch of punishing switchbacks and a delicate balancing act on the final stretch for your meeting the angels.
Now that you know the top things to do in Zion National Park, it’s time to begin planning your adventure. First, check out the Zion National Park travel guide collection for more information, including sample itineraries and the best hikes. If you’re visiting additional parks in Utah, more resources are available.
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