Our favorite hikes

The best hikes in Zion involve substantial gains in elevation. So it’s best to start early in the morning, wear good hiking shoes, and carry plenty of water. I’ll list them in rough order of difficulty, with easiest first.  The underlined headings have links to slide shows about the walk.

Easy strolling
A lovely walk, on a level, paved path along the river, to the start of the of the Virgin River Narrows. Verdant walls, covered with wildflowers. Very easy, but heavily traveled, so go early or late.

Paved walkway and bikeway up the valley from South Campground. Wonderful for a hike in the evening.

 Stroll up the dry wash from the Transit Headquarters
Easy hike, as far as you want Close to the Watchman Campground. Good for wildlife viewing.

Weeping Rock
Very short hike, with too many people—but it’s an interesting place.

Light to moderate walk

Court of the Patriarchs
Start from the Stables area or as a spur from the Sandy Bench Trail. Sandy path up the side valley, through open savannah landscape. Trail gradually becomes steeper. Go as far as you like, then back the same way.

Canyon Overlook Trail
Begins from the east entrance of the Zion-Mt.Carmel Tunnel. Moderate altitude gain, with exotic views. While you’re up this way, try some other short hikes in the area. There are a number of parking lots further up the highway, and you can stroll along the try wash, or side washes. Or, just clamber over the slickrock.

A loop with moderate elevation gain, past a waterfall, then continuing past a small lake. This is where our characters John and Dharma enjoy a romantic interlude.

Starts from Watchman Campground. Leads to a nearby low mesa, and loops around it. Good views of the Springdale area. In our novel, the hermit Frank Jenkins has his home in a cave near this trail.

Strenuous but not heroic

The Virgin Narrows
Hiking up from the narrows trail, as far as you like, makes a nice all-day hike. At the minimum, you need water shoes (old hiking boots might do), a staff for balance, and some way to keep warm, even on hot days. The water’s very cold, and its shady down there. Orderville Canyon makes a nice destination. Renting gear from an outfitter in Springdale is optional, but you’ll be more comfortable.

 Hiking down the Narrows, on the other hand, is a strenuous, several-day trip that requires permits and a shuttle to the trail head.

The Subway (Left Fork)
This popular hike is very strenuous, due to a poor trail and numerous steam crossings. The trailhead is the third trailhead/parking lot, about seven miles up the Kolob Terrace Road from Virgin.   A permit is required for this hike.  When I did the hike in early April, it was too cold and there was too much water in the creek.  Soon after starting the trail, you descend about 8000-1000 feet into the canyon, then hike up the canyon to the "subway"--a beautiful slot cayon etched by flowing water.

This hike starts from the road in the Kolob Canyons area, so it’s a long drive from the Springdale area.
It’s a moderately strenuous hike up and down along a creek, ending at a magnificent alcove. Views from the road in the Kolob Canyons area are wonderful—even better than Zion Valley. But there aren’t many views from this particular trail.

This is the iconic hike of Zion. If you’re afraid of heights, this hike isn’t for you. But you can go as far as the rest stop (with rest rooms), see a lot, and still hang onto your life. If you don’t look down, even 4-year olds have done this hike (under close supervision, of course).

Highly recommended, especially if you’re looking for bodies. One of the best destinations in Zion. Moderately strenuous, and once you enter the canyon, be prepared for some scrambling. Some distance up the canyon, there’s a small arch on your right. It’s easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled.

This hike to the East Rim, up Echo Canyon, is very strenuous. But it’s worth the effort. Views from the top are fabulous. But you don’t have to go all the way, since Echo Canyon itself is a wonderful place. Same trailhead as Hidden Canyon trail, at the Weeping Wall.

This route follows the trail up Echo Canyon. After you pass through the slot of Echo Canyon, there’s a fork. The left fork goes to Observation Point. A fainter pathway drops down a bit, then continues on (sometimes only with rock cairns), eventually rising to the mesa top. Later, at the highest levels, there’s another fork. The left ones leads to Deer Trap Mountain, and the right to Cable Mountain. Cable Mountain has a fabulous view into Zion Canyon, and you can see the ruins of the giant winch that lowered timber into the valley. These trails are longer than the one to Observation Point, but recommended if you want to explore more of the high country.

This is a strenuous, all-day hike, with a 4,000 elevation gain. Bring plenty of water and a flash light, for part of the trail goes through a slot, where it would be pitch-dark after sunset. Start early at the same trailhead as Angel’s Landing. But when you reach the saddle (with the restrooms), turn left. When you reach the mesa top, Cabin Spring is near the campground. I don’t know if you can always depend on it. Once on top, there’s a loop of 3-4 miles that I highly recommend, with wonderful view to the west, and stretches through burned-out forests with ghostly trees. My favorite trail. There are several campsites along the trail.

Other Hikes we haven’t done
One can also be dropped off at Lava Point, then hike the West Mesa Trail down towards Zion valley, till you link up with the loop described above. This would be a long hike for one day, but it would be mostly down. There are other great hikes in the Kolob Canyons portion of the park.

Equipment for the Adventurous Hiker
Max’s recommendations for those who like to hike far and alone:
  • Take plenty of water in a platypus--at least 1 liter for a short hike, at least 2 liters for a long hike. Remember, if you get hurt, and it takes a day for rescue, you’ll need that extra water. Max can carry a little less, because like a camel, he drinks a lot at the trailhead.
  • Take plenty of food. You can’t take too many sandwiches! Same idea as the water. Nuts make a great energy snack that don’t melt or squish.
  • Flashlight (you never know when you’ll be out after dark). Some trails follow cairns over slickrock, and could be hard to find in the dark.
  • Good hiking boots or shoes.
  • Something warm, like a light jacket of fleece (in case it rains, or you have to bivouac)
  • A map
  • Sun block, chap stick, hat, and long-sleeve shirt. These are optional for those who don’t mind skin cancer.
  • You won’t need hiking poles (except in the narrows) or hydration packs. Just extra weight. A fad. Bah! ( If your knees are weak or sore, try exercise and stretching your leg muscles.)
Here's a good description of trails and wildlife in the back country.

Automobile Trips near Zion

Click on the headings for a slide show.  To see the show full screen, move your cursor off-screen.

Don't miss the best drives: the Kolob Canyons Rd, the Kolob Terrace Rd., and the Zion-Mt.Carmel Highway.

Trips of Several Hours

Grafton, the ghost town.  Drive to Rockville, then cross the Virgin River and head west about three miles parallel to the river. 

The town of Virgin. Go off the highway to explore the old town. Interesting old buildings, and quirky lifestyles. Be sure to stop at the Virgin Bookstore.

Hy 17 through Toquerville. The old route to Salt Lake City, along a lush creek. Interesting old houses and ranches. You can take this route towards the Kolob Canyons area.

Zion-Mt.Carmel Highway (Rt.9 east through the tunnel).  Drive to the east entrance of the park.  This is the easy way to see the fabulous back country.  Park you car at one of the roadside turnoffs, and hike along the dry creek bed.  Or take the short Canyon Overlook Trail just beyond the tunnel. 

Smithsonian Butte Rd. leaves from Rockville.  Cross the river, head west, then south.  This good dirt road connects with Rt. 59 and saves a lot of miles on a trip to Colorado City.

Half-day Trips

Kolob Terrace Road.  Drive from Virgin, as far as Lava Point. Takes you into the high country, where the scenery is very different. The road is paved most of the way to Lava Point.  It can be cool up at Lava Point, but the view of the entire Zion area is fabulous. You can drive all the way to I-15 or Rt. 14, but I haven’t tried it. Closed in winter.

The polygamous towns of Colorado City and Hilldale. Take a long loop on Hy 59 SE from Hurricane. Stop at the Twin Towns, then continue on to Fredonia and Kanab, returning via Carmel Jct. and Rt. 9. On this loop, there are lots of other things to see in the Kanab area.

Kolob Canyons Road. Take Rt. 9 west to La Verkinm, then Rt. 17 throughToquerville, then I-15 north.  Takes at least an hour one way from Springdale.  From the road, the views are even better than in Zion Valley. Watch the sun set here.

Best Friends Animal Society—a large and well-known animal rescue center near Kanab.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes—on the way to Kanab. Mainly a place for people with dune buggies, but there is a campground.  A long drive in, after you leave Rt. 9.

St. George--A big and booming town, mixing the oldest and the latest, the sublime and the ugly, the pious and the profane. Takes and hour one way.  Antique and art stores, old houses, the Mormon Temple, shopping, quirky Utah architecture, and an airfield for radio-control planes.

Kanab.  The town has a modern-day frontier feel, with lots of services, tourism, and junk strewn about in the outskirts.  Not a great deal to see or do here, but there are some interesting old houses.  You can do sight-seeing rides in an airplane from the Kanab Airport, a mile south of town.

All-day Trips

North Fork Road to Navaho Lake, then returning through Orderville on highways 14, 89 & 9. Reserve all day for this trip. Involves a long stretch of dirt road. It’s navigable with an ordinary 2-wheel drive car when dry, but you’ll need 4-wheel drive if it rains. Closed in winter. A great way to see the back country. Be sure to stop in Orderville, once a polygamous commune.

Highway 89 east to Page. A 2.25 hr drive one way, but has some very wild and scenic views.  For variety you can return via Rt. 89a, crossing the Colorado River.

Bryce Canyon National Park—You can go and return to Zion in one day, but Bryce deserves a separate visit.

Escalante UT--a charming, quirky, and well-preserved old town, with many old brick houses showing the old Mormon style of architecture.  If you're into Utah pioneer culture, you've got to see this town.

Las Vegas--About three hours each way.  Hang on for the drive on I-15 through the canyon of the Virgin River, just west of St. George.  It's like driving through the Grand Canyon.  Too bad it wasn't saved for a national park.  There are some pull-outs.

Wildlife in Zion

Yellowstone it’s not. You won’t see long lines of cars stopped to see a black bear looking for handouts, or a bison taking a snooze on the highway. Most of the wildlife in Zion is small, and active only at night. You’ll have to content yourself with watching army worms march across the floor of your restroom stall, or black beetles crossing the Paa’ Rus trail.

Turkeys—common along the Scenic Drive. The frequent the lawn of Zion Lodge, roost for the night in trees along the Scenic Drive, and love to do their courting strut in front of busses. Evidently, busses look like turkey hens (to turkeys). If you stay on your bicycle, a tom turkey may mistake you for a hen, and give you a strut. Turkeys are not known for their IQs.

Pumas—They’re present, but unlikely to be seen.

Foxes—can be seen around the campground in the evening, crossing a road or trail

Insects and spiders—lots of interesting ones, if you look.  Hoverflies, striped to mimic wasps, are harmless.  They can be seen hovering over flowers, where they feed on nectar and pollen.  Large black bombardier beetles can be seen crossing trails or feeding on delicate pieces of vegetation, such as flowers.  Crab spiders are colored like the flowers they inhabit, where they wait to pounce on insects like hoverflies, that come to feed on the nectar.  Army worms and other caterpillars infest trees around the campgrounds.

Lizards—lots. Watch them doing pushups, a display for other lizards.

California Condors—they are being reintroduced in the Grand Canyon area, and have been seen in the Zion area.. Don’t worry, they won’t eat your liver, unless you leave it unattended. (The smaller turkey vultures are much more common.)

Canyon wrens—beautiful song. Can be heard on hikes to Angel’s Landing, Hidden Canyon, or Echo Canyon.

Ravens. Common. May raid your pack.

Canyon toads. Can be heard chirping at dusk.

Deer—common in the valley.

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