Popular Hikes at Zion National Park

There are tons of hikes you can do at Zion National Park. A few of them are pretty well known. One of them is actually considered the most dangerous hike in America! Just remember when taking that Instagram selfie, to plant your feet firmly before taking your phone out and posing. You do NOT want to be that person who photographed themselves falling off the cliff. 

We hiked Zion National Park in September and it wasn’t overly crowded.

Here are three popular hikes in Zion National Park

The Narrows

The Narrows is a slot canyon cut out by the Virgin river, which runs through it. This river is not overly wide and is pretty shallow for most of the way. We loved this hike so much we made a whole post dedicated just for it. Throughout the hike, majestic walls of sandstone cliffs rise on either side of you. You do need to walk through the Virgin river for large portions of it, so prepare to get wet. But don’t plan on getting too wet: the river looks beautiful but can harbor toxic cyanobacteria. Don’t drink from the river or submerge your head.

You’ll get wet hiking the Narrows, but that’s half the fun.

The main reason I love this hike is the beauty that bombards you on all sides – and you can afford to gaze up without fear of falling off a cliff! One of the other reasons I love this hike is that it can be as short or long as you’d like. If you aren’t a big hiker, or find that it’s too cold and wet, you can turn around at any time. You don’t need to hike all the way in to get to the “view.” The “view” is there, right from the very beginning.

Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park.
Even when the weather is hot, it will feel cool in the Narrows slot canyon.

Tips for Hiking the Narrows

It’s good to start this hike early in the day. The danger of flash flooding is lower in the morning because thunderstorms that could create the floods are more prone to gather in the afternoon. It’s also nice to start this hike early because it begins at Temple Sinawava, the last shuttle stop in the park; so if you do other hikes afterward, you will be making your way back to the entrance.

It’s worth it to plan for this hike so that you’re adequately prepared. You can read my post on the Narrows for more about how to prepare and what to expect.

Angel’s Landing

This is an “Instagram” hike (or Tik-Tok these days, I guess) – one that people take in order to get that special shot right at the very top. In order to get to the money shot, you need to cross a section called the “hog’s back” that has chains to hold on to and just a few feet on either side that are a sheer drop into the canyon. Only a few people die on it each year, so it’s…relatively safe?? Actually, this is considered the most dangerous hike in the United States!

Hiking the hog's back to Angel's Landing at Zion National Park
Angel’s landing photo of the hog’s back courtesy of Timothy Moore.

A lot of people do it anyway (not us) – so many so that you actually need a permit for it. Narrow switchbacks with drop offs aren’t really something you want to navigate in a crowd. You can apply for a permit for a specific day in advance or apply the day before and hope you win the lottery. That’s not a figure of speech: day-before permits are granted by a lottery system.

There are plenty of hikes for all levels – no need to defy death to enjoy your time in Zion.

If you don’t get the permit, or don’t want to dance with death along the hog’s back, you can hike the West Rim trail to Scout Lookout. This trail goes almost up to Angel’s landing but doesn’t require a permit or hanging on to chains for dear life. It is however, also pretty strenuous. We didn’t complete this hike because Brian ran out of water and it was a hot, sunny afternoon. We turned back rather than risking dehydration, passing out, and falling off the cliff.

You can still get beautiful views from the Scout Lookout trail.

Emerald Pools – Lower, Middle, Upper

The Emerald Pools hike is also pretty challenging, especially if you’re not an avid hiker or like me, wearing tennis shoes. Like the Angel’s Landing hike, you start this one from The Grotto, shuttle stop #6. But instead of turning right at the West Rim trail to go to Scout Lookout/Angel’s Landing, you veer left to the Kayenta trail. There is plenty of signage to guide you while you’re there.

Brian and I are slow hikers and it took us about 45 minutes to get to the Middle Pool. We went in the dry season and it was basically a big puddle – kind of unimpressive. The Upper and Lower Pools are much more destination worthy. The Middle Pool is where you arrive before splitting right to the Upper Pool or left to the Lower Pool. It’s worth it to see both.

Just a few small obstacles on the hike to the Emerald pools.

Upper Emerald Pool

The hike to the Upper Pool is more strenuous. We scrabbled over big rocks, through sand, up some steep inclines, and back down them. We never felt especially in danger of falling off the cliff though, which was nice. 🙂 There is more shade along this part of the trail too. When we got to the upper pool, there were rapellers coming down the side of the cliff. All the hikers stood around to oooh and aaah, including us. There is no swimming allowed in the Upper Pool.

Can you spot the rapellers coming down toward the Upper Emerald Pool?

Lower Emerald Pool

The Lower Pool is somewhat easier to get to. When you arrive you are rewarded with a beautiful waterfall that you can easily walk behind. The park also allows swimming in this pool. This is a good trail to do after the Upper Pool because you can continue walking down and end up at the next shuttle stop. There is a bridge to cross in this section but sadly, it was closed for renovations at the time of our visit. Luckily, you can always get back the way you came!

Beautiful views in Zion National Park
Beautiful views abound in Zion.

We had plenty of company on the Kayenta trail. At times we had to wait for people to pass who were coming the opposite direction. However, it never felt overly crowded. Overall, we really enjoyed this hike. It took about three hours to see all three of the pools and return back to The Grotto shuttle stop.

But Wait, There’s More to Zion National Park…A Lot More

Zion National Park has a ton of trails and Brian and I barely scratched the surface. We were there for two full days and could easily have stayed two more and still not have done every hike we wanted to! The National Park Service website has a wonderful and complete guide to all the hikes you can do. You can check it out here!

Can I stay here forever?

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