Zion National Park is Utah’s oldest and most popular national park, due to its desert waterfalls, emerald pools, incredible hiking trails and awesome red cliff formations. It is somehow equally beautiful and improbable. Perhaps that it why it draws more than three million visitors a year, who come here to hike Angel’s Landing- a knife-edge tiptoe along a serrated mountain ridge, or who come here to explore the canyon floor or the Emerald Pools. Whether you have one day here or a week, we suggest checking out these 7 best things to do in Zion National Park.
7. Take a Horseback Tour
There is nothing like exploring Zion National Park and all that it has to offer by horseback. Choose from a one-hour ride that will follow the Virgin River for about a mile to the Court of the Patriarchs or for a more adventurous day, book the ½ day tour. The ½ day tour will take you around the Sandbench Trail, gradually ascending 500 feet and giving you a spectacular view of the southern end of Zion National Park.
Families can enjoy this gentle horseback ride providing children are over the age of 7 for the 1-hour ride and over the age of 10 for the ½ day ride. No experience is necessary on these rides, making it a unique way for anyone to explore the canyon.
6. Kolob Canyon Trails
It is easy to drive by the Kolob Canyon exit but it is well worth pulling off and not just to use the washrooms at the visitor’s center, but also to go half a mile up the road and explore. It is recommended you visit here during sunset, as the colors are absolutely stunning. There are a few trails here to choose from, ranging from a one-mile round trip hike to one that’s almost 6 miles.
The Taylor Creek Trail is one of the favorite hikes as it is a solid 5 miles that have little ups and downs, making it relatively easy. Hikers will reach the Double Arch Alcove, pass two cabins that are great for photo ops and cross the crystal clear creek several times. If you only have an hour or so here take the Timber Creek trail that is a 100-foot ascent following a ridge to a small peak that looks out onto Timber Creek and the Pine Valley Mountains.
5. Hike the Zion Narrows
It is the most famous backcountry route, a 16-mile journey into skinny canyons along the Virgin River’s north fork, only accessible from June to October. At least half of your hike will be in the river and depending on water levels, the water could be waist height. In saying that, this is no easy catwalk. The total trip takes about 12 hours and is best done over two days, staying in one of the 12 designated campsites deep in the canyon.
Expect lush hanging gardens that spring from the walls, turquoise colored water, dark corners and towering canyon walls. It is important to have the proper equipment when hiking this trail and many outfitters near the park rent it at a fair price. This once in a lifetime trails awaits you at Zion National Park.
4. Visit the Zion Human History Museum
Located just one mile north of the park south entrance, this museum is open to visitors daily from March to November. Here visitors will find permanent exhibits that display the rich human history of Zion National Park. Focusing on American Indian Culture and the historic pioneer settlement, the museum also illustrates the enormous effects of water in Zion.
After all, water is why people have traveled through and settled in Zion and is the creator and destroyer of the scenery that makes Zion so famous. There is a free 22-minute movie that is shown every half hour that provides an excellent overview of the park and a ranger is there to answer any questions. A small bookstore is a perfect place to pick up souvenirs such as maps, posters or books. Make sure to head to the back patio area of the museum for an incredible view of Towers of the Virgin.
3. Hike Emerald Pools
It is one of Zion’s sweetest signature trails, generously loaded with breathtaking scenery. It is one of the most family-friendly hikes in the park that leads to waterfalls, pools and a dazzling display of monoliths. There are a total of four pools, the lower, middle and upper pools, all which take different trails to reach. The Lower Emerald Pool trail is paved and the easiest of them all, ranging just half a mile long until you reach the lush alcove of the lower pool, where ferns and moss sprout from the mountainside.
The trail actually ducks behind twin waterfalls that spill from the middle pool. There are actually two middle pools, which boast impressive views of Red Arch Mountain, Cathedral Mountain, and Mount Majestic. The trail leading up to the Upper Emerald Pool is more rugged and steep, but worth every step as you get to the secluded oasis of the pool, which is framed by colossal cliffs on three sides.
2. Hike Angels Landing
This strenuous 5-mile round-trip hike provides some of the Zion’s best overall views but you best be in good shape if you want to attempt it. The trail climbs 2.5 miles with sheer 1,500 ft. drops surrounding the very narrow trail; it is actually considered one of the most dangerous hikes in the USA. It is important to note that the hike is often extremely crowded and in some parts, it is so narrow that only one-way traffic is allowed through.
You will want to start this hike early in the morning and give yourself about 3-4 hours to complete it. Expect awe-inspiring views of the park from the top, that is if you are brave enough to complete the last half-mile where the trail becomes even more dangerous and steep. We think it’s worth it, and you will too as you stand on top of the world and revel in its beauty.
1. Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
If there is one thing to do in Zion National Park it is the scenic drive. This drive offers the best overview of the park and can be completed even if you just have one day here. We recommend beginning the drive in the east, making your way through the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel and descending into the Zion Canyon.
It is here where you will be met with a stunning landscape of majestic monoliths, mesas, and other fascinating formations. There are a total of six switchbacks, two tunnels and many pull-offs where you can stop and take pictures. At the Canyon overlook you can get out of your car and walk the one mile round trip trail to view the West Temple and the Towers of the Virgin.