Exploring Zion

Exploring Zion National Park | afternoonstroll.com

Zion National Park was by far one of my favorites of the parks we visited this summer. With the refreshing waters of The Narrows, the views of Observation Point and the adventure of Angel’s Landing, there is something for everyone around every corner.

Zion National Park is located in the southwest corner of Utah and is one of the most visited national parks in the US. From Zion’s narrow slot canyon and towering red and pink sandstone cliffs, this park is one you don’t want to miss!

-Getting Around-

There is one road – Hwy 9 – that connects the east and west entrance of Zion. The traffic gets extremely congested at the entrances, definitely plan to arrive early to avoid a long wait to enter the park. The Canyon has a free shuttle based system. Getting around is easy with shuttles coming to nine stops every 7 or so minutes. From the west entrance, If you’re lucky enough to secure a parking spot, head to the visitor center where you can catch the first shuttle to your first destination. If you’re staying overnight is Springdale, the town right outside the park, it’s recommended that you leave your car at your hotel and catch a free shuttle into the park. There are signs like this posted at every shuttle stop to help you navigate your way through the park.

-Our Favorite Trails-

I would say that you could get through all the trails in Zion Canyon in a few days. We were there for two, so I’m just going to highlight our favorites.

-Pa’rus Trail-

Exploring Zion | afternoonstroll.com

The Pa’rus Trail is a great trail to hop on if there are way too many people waiting in line to catch the shuttle from the Visitor’s Center. This trail will lead you to Canyon Junction, the third stop of the shuttle line, where you can catch the shuttle and continue on through the canyon. You can find the trail at the South Campground, just north of the Visitor Center. It’s a wide paved trail that travels along the gorgeous Virgin River.

The Pa’rus Trail is dog and bicycle friendly and wheelchair accessible.

Difficulty: Easy – Dog and bicycle friendly, wheelchair accessible
Length: 3.5 miles round-trip
Time: 1-2 hours
Elevation Change: 50 feet

-Emerald Pools Trail-

Exploring Zion | afternoonstroll.com

There are three Emerald Pools trails including the Lower, Middle and Upper. The trail’s name comes from the green tint the algae gives the three pools. The Lower trail is less than a half mile, easy and quite crowded because it’s great for families with small kids. The trail leads you through a paradise of lush greens alongside a cliff under two waterfalls with pools below. I’m assuming the waterfalls are more impressive during a heavy rain or in the spring with the winter runoff because all we saw was a trickle if anything.

The Middle trail takes you to the top of the cliffs where the waterfalls form. Slightly more difficult than the Lower trail.

The Upper trail is a steep, sandy quarter mile that leads you to the final larger pool. During heavy water flows, you can see a waterfall coming into it from a towering cliff above.

Difficulty: Lower: Easy – Great for families, Middle: Moderate, Upper: Strenuous
Length: Round-trip – Lower: 1.2 miles, Middle: 2 miles, Upper: 3 miles 
Time: 1-2 hours
Elevation Change: Lower: 70 feet, Middle: 150 feet, Upper: 350 feet  

In all honesty, these trails were not my favorite. It was crowded and the water flow was non existent. It really just looked like a few pools of water and I’m sure at certain times of the year it is much more beautiful. It is a very popular trail, so I figured I should highlight it.

-Kayenta Trail-

Exploring Zion | afternoonstroll.com

The Kayenta Trail was a nice change of pace from the Emerald Pools Trail for there were far less people. You can access it from the Middle Emerald Pools Trail or The Grotto Picnic Area just over the bridge. It leads you beside the west wall of Zion Canyon has beautiful views of the Virgin River, Zion Canyon, and the Emerald Pools Trails. You can actually hike the Emerald Pools Trails, the Kayenta Trail and the Grotto Trail all in one big loop.

Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 2 miles round-trip 
Time: 1-2 hours
Elevation Change: 150 feet  

img_4632View from Kayenta Trail looking towards Grotto Picnic Area

-Angel’s Landing via West Rim Trail-

Exploring Zion | afternoonstroll.comWest Rim TrailExploring Zion | afternoonstroll.comAngel’s Landing – View from Observation Point

Ok, I admit we didn’t actually climb the terrifying and probably best part of Angel’s Landing. We did hike the West Rim Trail through Refrigerator Canyon to a set of 21 switchbacks called Walter’s Wiggles and then on to Scout Lookout where the chains and the dangerous part of the hike begins. I’ve said it a million times that Bo is afraid of heights, so we sat this one out, although I am determined to go back and hike it. He’s getting a little better and building a little more courage so fingers crossed, one day! The hike is on a very nice paved trail as you can see. We did see a rattle snake on this trail, so be careful! I actually saw three different snakes the whole time we were there. This is why you should never go off trail!  Once you reach Scout Lookout the chains begin and your heart drops. Exploring Zion | afternoonstroll.com

I think you can consider Angel’s Landing extreme hiking. The final half mile is a narrow ridge, just a few feet wide with thousand foot drop offs on both sides accompanied by these chain railings for a tiny little bit of safety.

Since 2004, seven people have fallen to their deaths.

I’m sure the views at the top are amazing, but then again, so are the views from Observation Point which actually looks down on Angel’s Landing. If you are afraid of heights, you should definitely still hike the trail to Scout Lookout. It was amazing and one of the most famous hikes that you definitely don’t want to miss out on. The trailhead begins across the bridge from the Grotto Picnic Area or you can continue on from the Kayenta Trail. The trail gets hot, so morning is the best time to hike if you’re hiking in the summer. Don’t attempt this hike in the winter with ice on the trail. DUH!

Difficulty: Strenuous and Steep
Length: 5 miles round-trip 
Time: 4-5 hours
Elevation Change: 1,488 feet  

-Weeping Rock-

Exploring Zion | afternoonstroll.com

The Weeping Rock trail is the shortest trail in the park, half a mile round trip. It treats you to beautiful hanging green gardens, a paved trail with a viewing area. The trail is kind of like a crescent shape with the sandstone curling above you and the water weeps down off the canyon walls from above. You can reach Weeping Rock trailhead on the seventh shuttle stop.

Difficulty: Easy 
Length: .4 miles round-trip 
Time: 30 minutes
Elevation Change: 98 feet  

-Observation Point-

Exploring Zion | afternoonstroll.com

At the Weeping Rock Trailhead continue on to Observation Point, one of the most classic and strenuous hikes in the park but the views are totally worth it! This trail is 8 miles round trip of switchback after switchback.

Exploring Zion | afternoonstroll.comLook at those switchbacks!

The trail is mostly paved, but definitely uneven. Along the trail, you’ll also enter through Echo Canyon, which was a pretty incredible sight.

Exploring Zion | afternoonstroll.comEcho Canyon

The trail is hot. This was our first hike in the morning. Once you get closer to Observation Point it does get nice and cool but the back half the switchbacks get really hot!

The last mile of the trail is fairly level with beautiful flowers sweeping the edges.

Be prepared, your knees and lungs will feel this hike!

Exploring Zion | afternoonstroll.com

Difficulty: Strenuous
Length: 8 miles round-trip 
Time: 4-6 Hours
Elevation Change: 2,100 feet  

-Riverside Walk-

Exploring Zion | afternoonstroll.com

At the final shuttle stop of the canyon you will find the Riverside Walk Trail, the trail that leads you to the Zion Narrows. It’s an easy stroll on a  beautifully nicely paved trail mostly alongside the Virgin River. Here you’ll find quite a bit of wildlife including squirrels, a possible snake (we did), mule deer, some wild turkeys perhaps and you’ll be surround by shades of greens from the ferns, moss and trees. Because it’s an easy walking trail, it does get crowded.

Difficulty: Easy – wheelchair accessible
Length: 2 miles round-trip
Time: 1-2 hours
Elevation Change: 57 feet

-Zion Narrows-

Exploring Zion | afternoonstroll.com

My most favorite hike of the park and arguably one of the best hikes in any American National Park!

The Narrows is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. The water is refreshing, the current is strong. This is a great hike in the middle of a hot summer day! Because this is a river hike, you must make sure there is no potential flash flood warnings. There is a sign at the start of the Riverside walk that tells you the conditions for the day.

Exploring Zion | afternoonstroll.com

Do not ignore this sign. Flash flooding is real and dangerous in these canyons.

The Narrows is actually a 16 mile hike and if you’re hiking it from the “Top Down” you must secure a wilderness permit, but for the “Buttom Up” hike you can hike down as far as you’d like and back without one. We hiked until there was a fork in the river. We hung a right and entered Orderville Canyon. Here we encountered numerous small waterfalls and had to navigate quite a bit to get up and around them. Eventually we came to one that was too steep to climb. Apparently 20 minutes before we got there, there was a rope to help you climb up it. Unfortunately someone either took it down or it broke or something happened to it. So, we turned back around and headed back.

Exploring Zion | afternoonstroll.com

Water shoes are a must and a hiking pole is recommended.

We did not have hiking poles, but we kind of just hung onto each other to balance through the strong currents. There is an outfitter right outside of Zion where you can rent shoes and a hiking pole from if you did not come prepared with them.

Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Length: Around 5 miles round-trip
Time: 6 hours
Elevation Change: No major elevation changes
Flood Warning: Do not attempt if there is a potential for rain


Permits are required for all overnight trips, including climbing bivouacs, all through-hikes of The Narrows and its tributaries, all canyons requiring the use of descending gear or ropes, and all trips into The Subway and Left Fork. The Subway is super high on the list for our next visit to Zion!

-Eats and Sleeps-

There are numerous restaurants and hotels right outside of Zion in the town of Springdale. The Zion Lodge also has a restaurant and a café. For cheaper lodging options, Zion has two campgrounds in the canyon – South and Watchman campgrounds and several other private ones nearby. You can also stay at hotels in the towns of Hurricane or St George nearby.

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