In the past 2 years, Zion National Park exploded onto the national park scene as a top spot for hiking and climbing. Zion jumped 2 places up to 3rd on the list of Most Visited National Parks in 2017, passing Rocky Mountain and Yosemite National Parks. For many of the 4.5 million visitors though, hiking in Zion National Park can be a bit intimidating.
I haven’t done much hiking recently. Are all the hikes in Zion too challenging for a beginner?
Where can I hike with kids?
What if I only have a day in the park?
What if I don’t want to do difficult hikes like the Narrows or Angel’s Landing?
These are all questions we’ve heard (and in some cases asked ourselves!) about hiking in Zion National Park. Planning a trip that everyone in your group will enjoy is important. Having to end a day of hiking early or worse, risking an injury is a sure-fire way to ruin any #parkchasing trip.
Today we’re posting our recommendations of the treks we did in Zion National Park that will be great for every hiker in your group.
What to Know about Hiking in Zion National Park
During our April 2018 visit to Zion, we hiked every day of our trip and logged miles on 8 different trails. Everyone in our group enjoyed the trip and we saw some of the best views in the park (without doing the strenuous Narrows and Angel’s Landing hikes).
There are a few things we think you should know about the park that will dramatically improve your trip:
- Prepare for the crowds. Zion is busy. We mean really busy. Wait times at the bus stops in Zion Canyon can be over an hour. Wait times at the park entrance can be even longer. We recommend arriving as early as possible in the day or hiking in the evening when the crowds have left for the day.
- Prepare for the weather. Zion’s weather changes rapidly and forecasting can be unreliable at best. In a recent flooding incident, flash flooding potential was marked at the “possible” level in the park only for the canyon to see over 3 inches of rain. Heat can also be a factor while hiking in Zion. Pack plenty of water as you may find yourself drinking more while waiting at the bus stop (see above) than you planned to need for your day hikes.
Related Post: Our 8 Day Grand Canyon and Zion Road Trip
Hike #1: Riverside Walk
Distance: 2.2 miles out and back
Bus Stop: Temple of Sinawava
If you’d like to see what all the fuss is about when visitor’s talk about doing “The Narrows” without actually having to wade in the Virgin River, then the Riverside Trail is a good option for your family. Departing from the last bus stop in the trip, the trail winds along the Virgin River at the bottom of Zion Canyon. Visitors can see hanging gardens, experience the rapids, and see the departure point for the Narrows hiking trail. We recommend this trail in the morning as the canyon is shaded and offers cooler temperatures.
Hike #2: Watchman Trail
Distance: 3.3 Miles
Bus Stop: Zion Canyon Visitor’s Center
While the National Park Service lists Watchman Trail as “moderate” with steep drop-offs, we still recommend this trek for hikers visiting Zion. The trail begins from the parking lot of the Visitor’s Center and travels up through a side canyon off just to the north of one of the larger peaks in Zion, The Watchman.
The trail is quite wide initially, with some switchbacks and about 350 feet of elevation gain. It’s not flat, but by going slow and taking frequent breaks we think it’s a good fit for well-equipped hikers.
The trail levels off through the middle section before a slight rise onto a spectacular viewpoint of the entire Lower Zion Canyon area. The Virgin River and campgrounds are visible below along with the Watchman and Towers of the Virgin. Some of our favorite photos of the trip are from this viewpoint.
Hike #3: Pa’rus Trail
Distance: 1-3.5 miles
Bus Stops: Zion Canyon Visitors Center to Canyon Junction
While the Pa’rus Trail is technically marked only from the South Campground to Canyon Junction stops, we found that make-shift trails exist the entire length of Zion Canyon along the Virgin River. This can be extremely helpful to trek from one bus stop to the next, especially during busy wait times.
The Pa’rus Trail is roughly paved through some sections and gravel/dirt through the rest. Off-spurs down to the river make for good stopping points for lunch or a photo opportunity. We used the trail from where we stayed at South Campground to navigate to other bus stops (and avoid the busy stop at Zion Canyon Visitor Center.)
Hiking the entire length of the trail takes about 2 hours.
Other Options for Hiking in Zion National Park
Need some other options? Check out these bonus trails as well:
- Lower Emerald Pools Trail
- Kayenta Trail
- Upper Emerald Pools
- Weeping Rock Trail
- Archeology Trail
- Kolob Canyons Viewpoint
Note: Flash flooding in July 2018 changed many of the hiking options in Zion Canyon. We were fortunate to check out some of these trails which are now closed. At the time this was posted, the NPS has not released when the trails will be reopened. We hope they will soon be accessible for your future visit!