AWE-INSPIRING ACTIVITES IN ZION NATIONAL PARK
Hiking & More + Bryce National Park Options
From mild to wild, there are lots of activities options in Zion National Park-as well as in nearby Bryce Canyon. Thanks to an array of trails for all levels of two-footed travel, hiking is by far the most popular activity in this neck of the woods. However, other outdoors options abound as well.
Take a Hike
Quite simply, hiking in Zion National Park is awe-inspiring from the first few steps. Whether it's a short and level walk down a paved path or a long hike up a steep and narrow trail, there's a hike for anyone in Zion National Park (and Bryce Canyon too!).
The hiking possibilities start right at Zion Canyon Visitor Center. Here, the paved and generally level Pa'rus Trail runs along the Virgin River past the South Campground and about 1 ¾ miles one-way to the Canyon Junction shuttle stop and the start of Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Great views abound in practically every direction and there are also several trailside exhibits and easy access to Zion Nature Center and Zion Human History Museum along the way.
The Archeology Trail leaves out of the Visitor Center area as well and features a steep half-hour round-trip hike that leads to the outlines of prehistoric buildings and several trailside exhibits. Watchman Trail is a classic Zion hike, with some drop-offs and about 375 feet of elevation change during a hike that leads to a stunning viewpoint featuring lower Zion Canyon, Towers of the Virgin, and the town of Springdale.
Up at the Court of the Patriarchs Shuttle stop, hikers will see they can join the Sand Bench Trail, which also leaves from Zion Lodge. This hike is not really recommended, in that there's some deep sand on parts of the trail and guided horseback riding trips also use it.
Zion Lodge is next and there are many varied hiking opportunities from here. There are several "Emerald Pools" trails that lead to pools and waterfalls (depending on water levels). The Lower Emerald Pool Trail takes just an hour round-trip and is easy. It connects to the two-mile round-trip Middle Emerald Pools Trail, which has some steep drop-offs. This can also be connected with the Upper Emerald Pools Trail, which leads to another pool at the base of towering cliff (one-mile round-trip), as well as the Kayenta Trail (see below) out to The Grotto shuttle stop.
The Grotto Trail also leaves from Zion Lodge. This easy and level half-mile hike one-way heads to The Grotto shuttle stop, as well as the Kayenta Trail-a pretty one-mile trail (with some steep drop-offs) back to Middle Emerald Pools Trail and Zion Lodge. Combining the three trails into one hike makes for a nice 2 ½-mile moderate loop out of Zion Lodge.
Back at The Grotto, Angels Landing Trail (via West Rim Trail) is five-plus miles round-trip and has some seriously steep and long drop-offs that aren't for the faint of heart. The rewards are some classic Zion views, but park rangers warn anyone uncertain of heights should stop as soon as they feel uncomfortable.
The Weeping Rock shuttle stop features several possibilities as well, including the short and steep Weeping Rock Trail that has trailside exhibits and leads to a rock alcove with dripping springs. There's also three-hour Hidden Canyon Trail and five-hour Observation Point (via East Rim Trail). Both of these trails also feature long drop-offs.
Like the rest of the shuttle stops, Temple of Sinawava at the end of Zion Canyon Scenic Drive feature varied hiking opportunities. The 2.2-mile round-trip Riverside Walk is paved and has several trailside exhibits.
The Riverside Walks leads to The Narrows, which is a famed Zion hike that can be as long as 10-16 miles (up to Big Spring and back for 10 or 16 miles if done from top to bottom on a permitted hike only). Here, in the upper reaches of Zion Canyon, the Virgin River carved a 2,000-foot-deep section that's only 20 to 30 feet wide in spots. Rangers say at least 60 percent of the hike is spent wading, walking, and sometimes swimming the river (which is often swift, deep, and cold). With very specific and lengthy advice provided in the helpful Zion National Park Map and Guide, this trail may also be closed due to high river levels.
As mentioned in the main feature story about Zion National Park, there are also several guided walks and hikes. Led by park rangers and running about 1 ¼ to four hours, the possibilities include: Emerald Escape; Hiking the Kayenta; Riverside Ramble; Rock and Stroll; The Narrows; and Discover Kolob Canyons (in the northern section of the park). There's also more hiking up at Kolob Canyons, as well as out Kolob Terrace Road (which is another pretty Zion National Park drive for those not pulling trailers).
Nearby Bryce Canyon National Park also provides varied hiking options. The park's Hoodoo Map, Shuttle & Hiking Guide outlines the possibilities, which range from less than a mile up to 23 miles.
The dramatic 11-mile Rim Trail (round-trip) is the first one most visitors encounter. Most people enjoy short out-and-back walks along the paved Rim Trail, which heads to all of the major Bryce Amphitheater overlooks.
Often called the "World's Best Three-Mile Hike" (it says so in The Hoodoo), the Queens/Navajo Combination Loop runs between Sunset Point and Sunrise Point. It heads through the hoodoo-filled Queens Garden and has about 600 feet in elevation change to make for a moderately steep down-and-back hike.
Along with strolls along the Rim Trail, more moderate hiking options include: Mossy Cave (a one-hour round-tripper to a mossy overhang and small waterfall); Bristlecone Loop (a mile round-trip through forests to a cliff with bristlecone pines and great views); and out-and-back Queens Garden, which-at 1.8 miles round-trip-is the least difficult way into the heart of Bryce Canyon.
Other Mild to Wild Activity Options
Back in Zion National Park, there's more than two-footed fun. An array of additional activities can be found at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, Zion Lodge, and elsewhere.
Along with the varied ranger-led activities mentioned in the feature story, two other popular Zion exploration possibilities include biking and horseback riding. From two wheels to four hooves, Zion isn't just for hikers.
Bikes are allowed on the Pa'rus Trail, which makes for a nice out-and-back 3 ½-mile ride from the Visitor Center. They're also allowed on the park's roads, which means the pretty 6.2-mile Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is a popular ride both ways. The shuttle buses are equipped to carry bikes, which means cyclists can have their bikes hauled to the top of the Canyon before riding back down.
Rules of the road apply to cyclists. Shuttles won't pass moving bikes, so cyclists should pull over and allow them to pass (nor should cyclists pass a moving bus). Park officials ask cyclists to wear helmets and they're highly-recommended-but they're not required.
The park's horse corral is located across the road from Zion Lodge. No experience is necessary, though there's a seven-year-old age minimum for the one-hour "Virgin River Ride" and a ten-year-old minimum for the half-day "Sand Bench Trail" ride. Canyon Trail Rides (www.canyonrides.com) is owned and operated by the Mangum family and they also have operations in Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon (see below).
The more adventurous have even more options in Zion. The possibilities include: climbing (permits not required for day climbs, with information available at the Zion Canyon Backcountry Desk); canyoneering (most canyons require ropes, hardware, and advanced technical skills); river watercraft adventures (depending on water levels, permit required); and overnights in the backcountry (permit required).
Up in Bryce Canyon National Park, similar possibilities abound in addition to hiking. Beautiful Bryce opportunities include: ranger-led hikes and programs; biking (the entire 18-mile one-way scenic drive is popular); horseback riding with Canyon Trail Rides (two hours to the floor of the canyon or a more extensive half-day ride, with similar age restrictions); and overnights in the backcountry (permit required).
Whether it's a short stroll, a long hike, or some other adventure, these two Utah national parks don't disappoint when it comes to getting outside and active!