Spending one short day in Zion National Park was an absolute tease; I’m already keen to return. I dream of spending a whole week camped out in the canyon, waking each day to wade the Virgin River, scramble precarious ridges and catch golden sunsets. Here are four trails I’m raring to hike and one I’ve already completed.
Happy trails x
1. The Narrows – Bottom Up
Length: As far as you want to go; up to 8 km (5 miles) one-way. This is an out-and-back trail.
How hard is it? Easy – as long as you don’t roll an ankle and don’t mind cold water.
Elevation gained/lost: Negligible, mostly flat.
How long will it take? Up to 4.5 hours one way. Again, it depends how far you go.
Where is the Bottom Up trailhead? Stop 9 – Temple of Sinawava. Follow the paved Riverside Walk one mile to the end. If you are taking the Zion Canyon Shuttle, you should budget 30-60 minutes from park entrance to the trailhead.
Equipment: Wear footwear you’re okay fully submerging underwater that has a sturdy sole. (Sport sandals, runners or water socks.) A walking stick is helpful for navigating the river. It can get chilly in the shade of the canyon, so bring warm layers.
Details: Have you ever hiked up a river ? Bottom Up follows the Virgin River through a canyon whose towering walls can measure 1500 feet tall! The canyon narrows the further one goes, measuring just 7 metres wide at its narrowest. Orange sandstone reflects the golden sunlight and the water is milky opaque blue. Interesting features are found along the way: Mystery Canyon Waterfall, House Rock, Floating Rock, Orderville Canyon, Hiccup Spring, the Boulders, and Big Spring. This hike is an out-and-back which in which hikers retrace their steps.
Is Bottom Up trail accessible year-round? No. Accessibility depends on water levels. Check ahead and be aware of the risk of flash floods. Do not hike on rainy days or during spring run-off.
2. The Narrows -Top Down
Length: 27 km (17 miles), one-way trail.
How hard is it? Moderate if doing it as an overnight hike (you will will have to bring camping equipment and food) and taxing if done as a day hike.
Elevation gained/lost: 487 metres (1600 ft)
How long will it take? It can be done in one long day (7-12 hours) or as an overnighter.
Where is the Bottom Up trailhead? Chamberlain’s Ranch. You will need to arrange transportation. The last few miles are a rough, unpaved road.
Equipment: Same as above (except wear hiking boots, not water shoes) + camping gear if doing it as an overnighter.
Details: Rather than hike in and out as the Bottom Up trail does, get the satisfaction of travelling the entire length of The Narrows. One of the highlights of this adventure is spending a night camping in the canyon. There are 12 numbered campsites and you’re only allowed to stay one night. This hike will take you through some ranchland and by a 12-ft waterfall. Note: hikers will require a permit for this trip, and due to the popularity of this hike, permits needs to be arranged months in advance.
Is Top Down trail accessible year-round? No. Again, it is dependent on water levels. Permits will not be issued if the flow of the Virgin River is 120 cubic feet per second or greater.
Warning: Flash floods are a risk. Do not hike in rainy weather. Also, it does not have to be raining overhead for a flash flood to occur. Check conditions before entering any canyon.
3. Angels Landing
Length: 8 km (5 miles), round-trip.
How hard is it? Moderate to strenuous.
Elevation gained/lost: 450 metres (1500 feet)
How long will it take? 2-4 hours total.
Where is Angels Landing trailhead? Zion Shuttle stop #6: The Grotto
Equipment: Sturdy hiking shoes; crampons in winter conditions.
Details: Do you want to test your nerves for – literally – breathtaking views of Zion? If you can stand dizzying heights and hiking along a ridgeline trail with thousand-foot drops on either side, then Angels Landing rewards in spades. (My palms are sweating just typing this up!)
From the trailhead, follow the Virgin River until the path begins to ascend Walter’s Wiggles, a set of 21 switchbacks. Walter’s Wiggles are steep but the trail is well maintained/paved. (Hardly a rustic ascent.) At the end of the switchbacks hikers will be deposited at Scout’s Lookout.
From here, there’s just a half mile left to summit Angels Landing. It’s also where things get hairy. The trail narrows, steps are carved into the ridge (some no more than two feet wide!) and some scrambling is required. Parts of the trail offer hikers anchored chains for assistance. If you can steady your nerves, summiting Angels Landing is less technical than it is mentally strenuous.
Who shouldn’t hike Angels Landing? People with a fear of heights, people who suffer vertigo, and small children.
Is Angels Landing dangerous? If hikers treat the last half mile with respect, they should be okay. Zion National Park reports 5 accidental deaths from falling off Angels Landing. By comparison, 7 people have died at the Emerald Pools and that hike is described as beginner-friendly.
Is Angel’s Landing accessible year-round? Sometimes; it depends on the weather. Winter can be dry and clear, or the last half mile can be snowed/iced over. Plan to be off the trail by nightfall and do not attempt it in poor weather.
4. West Rim
Length: 22 km (14 miles), one-way trail.
How hard is it? Moderate
Elevation gained/lost: 152 m (500 ft) gain + 1112 m (3650 ft) loss
How long will it take? 4 to 10 hours total.
Where is the West Rim trailhead? Arrange transportation to Lava Point (near the campground of the same name) and then walk 0.5 miles southeast to reach the trailhead.
Equipment: Day pack and hiking boots + camping gear if done as an overnighter.
Details: Hiking this top-down trail offers a succession of incredible viewpoints. It’s rated moderate due to length; most of the hike is level or downhill.
First, traverse over the high elevation of the upper plateau before dropping into Potato Hollow. After some uphill hiking you’ll be treated to sweeping views of Great West Canyon, Phantom Valley and Littler Siberia. The last stretch of the trail deposits hikers at Scouts Landing. Tack on Angels Landing (if you dare) before wrapping up at shuttle stop #6: The Grotto. West Rim can be done bottom-up as a more strenuous uphill hike. You’d also need to schedule a pick-up at Lava Point.
Is West Rim trail accessible year-round? March through November are acknowledged as the best seasons to hike West Rim. High elevations and lack of road plowing mean winter is the least viable season for this trail.
5. Observation Point
Length: 13 km (8 miles), in-and-out.
How hard is it? Moderate to strenuous.
Elevation gained/lost: 655 m (2148 ft) gain
Where is Observation Point trailhead? Weeping Rock (shuttle stop #7)
How long will it take? 4-6 hours total.
Equipment? Hiking boots; crampons in winter.
Details: Observation Point is a workout – but still falls 700 ft short of Vancouver’s Grouse Grind in terms of ascent. This trail rewards hikers with an iconic view overlooking Zion Canyon. Can you spot Angels Landing far below? This zigzagging trail is (mostly) paved to save it from erosion. Take it easy on the way down, your knees will thank you.
Is Observation Point accessible year-round? Yes
Getting to Zion National Park from Canada
For west coast Canadians, flying into Las Vegas is going to be the most direct and affordable transit. Rent a car in Vegas and drive 2.5 hours to Zion.
Travelling Within Zion National Park
Spring through fall, private vehicles are not allowed to enter Zion Canyon Scenic Drive beyond Canyon Junction. Park visitors must use the Zion Canyon shuttle at no extra cost. However, through-traffic (Utah State Route 9) and vehicle access to the campground is still permitted.
Budget Your Trip to Zion National Park
- Admission – private vehicles: $30 for a 7-day pass; non-commercial vehicle, maximum 15 persons.
- Admission – per person (no car): $15 for a 7-day pass.
- Watchman Campground fee: $20/night tent-only; $30/night electricity sites.
- South Campground fee: tent-only, first-come basis; $20/campsite or $50/group site.
- Lava Point Campground fee: free (6 primitive sites, first-come basis)
- Zion National Park Lodge: $149 USD+ per night
- Equipment rentals: Canyoneering shoes, dry pants/waders & walking sticks: $24-$45/day (Zion Outfitters)
Nearby Springdale has plenty of inns, chain hotels, restaurants, boutiques and a small grocery store.
Have you hiked any – or all – of these Zion trails? I want to hear from you! Comment below and weigh in on what’s over-hyped or underrated.