Zion National Park is among our nation’s most breathtaking national parks. While a trip to Zion can be life-changing for anyone, some of the park’s most challenging hikes are intimidating for first-time visitors and casual hikers. But you don’t have to brave trails such as Angel’s Landing to fully immerse yourself in the experience of Zion. Here are some of our suggestions for great hikes for first-time visitors at Zion:
Zion Canyon Overlook Trail
Start your day with a sunrise hike at the gorgeous Zion Canyon Overlook trail. This 1-mile out-and-back hike has a modest elevation gain of 150 feet and is a great way to get your blood pumping before breakfast. The payoff is huge for a small amount of effort: hikers who reach the overlook area are rewarded with spectacular views of Zion Canyon.
This hike is closest to Zion Ponderosa on the east side of Zion National Park. The parking lot for the trailhead is just past the exit of the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel on the right side of the road. Parking can be tricky, which is why we recommend getting there early. If you can’t find a spot at the trailhead lot, there is an overflow lot just down the road and a short walk to the trailhead.
The trail is immersed in Zion’s gorgeous red rock landscape and includes views of the Pine Creek slot canyon along the way. Once at the overlook, take in the spectacular views of Zion Canyon. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of bighorn sheep frolicking and foraging near the cliff faces.
Emerald Pools Trail
The Emerald Pools Trail is a family-friendly classic in Zion and includes views of incredible sandstone cliffs throughout the valley, misty waterfalls, and three tiers of natural ponds (known as the Lower, Middle, and Upper Emerald Pools).
To access the trail, head to the Emerald Pools Trailhead sign across from the Zion Lodge (stop #5 on the Zion Shuttle).
Portions of this hike are shaded but there is some good elevation gain so bring water and a good hat on warmer summer days.
While many people turn around after reaching the Lower Emerald Pools, head to the Upper Pools for a slightly more strenuous hike that’s 3 miles roundtrip with 400 feet of elevation gain.
The Narrows and Riverside Walk
Surrounded by 2,000-foot canyon walls, the Zion Narrows are a goal hike for many Zion National Park visitors—and truly, it’s one of the most spectacular, awe-inspiring hikes many will ever experience. Luckily, the 16-mile trek is customizable for many skill levels, allowing hikers to go only as far as they feel comfortable taking on. For those who want a peek at the The Narrows but not the hike commitment, Riverside Walk leads to the mouth of the Narrows (although you just may not be able to resist dipping your feet in those cool, beckoning waters on a hot summer day in Zion.)
To access the Riverside Walk trail, take the Zion Shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava (the final stop on the shuttle). This trail is a great way for weary hikers to finish a long day at Zion, as the path is paved and there is little elevation gain.
Even though this trail is easy, that doesn’t mean it is any less spectacular. You’ll be treated to beautiful views of weeping rocks, lush vegetation, and the rushing sound of the Virgin River.
The trail parallels the river until you reach a point where you must walk upriver in order to go further. Bring whatever shoes you are comfortable with getting wet, and a walking stick can be helpful. Check out Zion Ponderosa’s Ultimate Guide to Hiking the Narrows here.