Zion National Park Adventure Guide

06.13.13


Get Your Zion

Home to 12 national parks and monuments, 41 state parks, and an abundance of movie backdrop views, Utah is an outdoor adventurer’s wonderland. And Zion National Park might just be its matinee idol. With soaring red and white cliffs, hanging canyon gardens, secret water holes, and miles of hiking trails, the park invites more than just a day’s visit. Here's a game plan for exploring one of the Southwest's most dramatic wonders.


Zion Narrows

Narrow Escape

If you think getting wet and wild only happens river rafting, you haven’t hiked one of Zion National Park's most famous routes—the Narrows. You’re going to want waterproof boots or neoprene footwear to do this right (see preparation details below). The Narrows is a walk, and a wade—and sometimes an unexpected swim!—in the  Virgin River. Canyon walls, sometimes only 20 to 30 feet apart and rising higher than 1,000 feet, flank you the entire way. Day hiking the Narrows requires approaching it from the bottom (aka, the Bottom-up Day Hike), starting from the Temple of Sinawava. Start on the Riverside Walk, a 1-mile paved trail to the ultimate adventure point, the Gateway to the Narrows. Ready to see more? You’re gonna have to get wet! Put your hiking sticks in front of you and work your way up the river. At 1.5 miles you’ll reach Mystery Canyon Falls—a 110-foot cascade. The marquee attraction is Wall Street, reached at about 3 miles (on average, it takes people 2 hours to get there). A wander on Wall Street makes for a dramatic photo op: the walls skyrocket to 1,500 feet. Ambitious (or amphibian!) types can continue on to Boulder Pair, where things get deeper and potentially trickier. Über-adventurers with time on their side can push their way through typically more robust currents to reach the 5-mile mark, the official end for the day-hike option. Bottom’s Up for these bragging rights!

BONUS: About 2.5 miles into the Narrows you’ll encounter a detour to Orderville Canyon (this fork in the river also marks the beginning of Wall Street). We recommend exploring this less-traveled oasis on the return leg of your journey. It passes through a tranquil canyon that’s more lush than the Narrows and leads to Veiled Falls.

Some people hike in their own hiking boots, but that might limit your comfort level and cut plans short. For maximum comfort, we recommend getting outfitted and educated on the river conditions at Zion Adventure Company, 36 Lion Blvd. at the corner of Zion Park Blvd.; phone: (435) 772-1001. They’ve got info on river flow, and flash flood potential, plus essentials like hiking sticks and neoprene footwear, durable boots, waterproof pants, and dry bags. Reserve your gear in advance. No dogs in the Narrows.

Angels Landing Zion

Angels Afoot

You can’t mention hiking in Zion without bringing up Angels Landing. It’s one of the most popular— and hair-raising—hikes in the park. Hang out at any café or restaurant and you’re bound to overhear a conversation about how far someone got on Angels Landing. Why? Well, the final stretch has 1,000-foot drop-offs where the “trail” consists of chains bolted to the rock. Sound fun? Then get an early start, bring plenty of water, and don’t forget your camera. Start at the Grotto trailhead, cross a bridge over the Virgin River, then get a head-on view of Angels Landing. It’s quite a spectacular setting in the middle of Zion Canyon under the shadow of The Great White Throne—a 6,744-foot-tall sandstone mountain that’s often the symbol of Zion. A gradual ascent turns more strenuous as it switchbacks up the canyon wall to Refrigerator Canyon. Catch your breath here before starting the 21 short and steep zigzagging switchbacks known as Walter’s Wiggles (named after the park’s first superintendent). After you squiggle the wiggles, it’s only a half-mile to the top. But what a half-mile it is! You’ll be hiking (with the assist of cables) on a narrow rock fin with steep drop-offs. The reward: superb 360-degree views of nearly all of Zion Canyon. And better restaurant banter.

Get off the Zion shuttle at the Grotto stop, cross the road, and follow the West Rim Trail up to Angels Landing. Get an early start to avoid crowds as there can be traffic jams on the narrowest chain and cable sections. Make sure you wear proper footwear. Not recommended for people who don’t have a head for heights. No dogs.

Zion Observation Point

Stunning Observation

In contention with Angels Landing as the best view in Zion (and much less daunting for those with vertigo) is the 8-mile (round-trip) trek to 6,508-foot Observation Point. It’ll take you all the way to the top of Zion’s east rim for an exceptionally rewarding view. But first, get ready for 2,150 feet of climbing—nearly 4 miles of up, and up, and up. Make it an early start (the trail is exposed in parts and afternoon heat can make it unpleasant). A nice bonus is you’ll find far fewer people on this trail than other popular ones (ahem, Angels Landing), plus there’s a slot canyon to explore. You’ll be in the refreshing shade for the first part of the hike, zigzagging for a mile up the canyon via long switchbacks. Then you’ll enter massive Echo Canyon, a stunning side canyon that rises 1,000 feet. Enjoy the cooler clime here, as the shade becomes sparse on the latter part of the trail. It’s a steady ascent through the white and orange cliffs to the mesa top.  The trail is mostly flat for the final half-mile, weaving through a piñon and juniper forest to Observation Point. Whoa—what a vista! From up here, you’ll not only be looking down on Angels Landing, you’ll also be gaining a wide-open perspective of Zion, sprawled out in front of you like an undiscovered kingdom of untamed—and utterly breathtaking—wilderness.

STAY & EAT: Zion Lodge is the only in-park accommodation. It’s pure rustic flirtation, with a café and restaurant (al fresco dining on the patio here is beautiful), historic cabins, and regular rooms with private porches, several of which offer gorgeous views of red-rock cliffs. Camping is also available. Watchman Campground books up fast in summer: reservations (877) 444-6777. South Campground is first-come, first served. Call Visitor Information for more details: (435) 772-3256. Immediately outside the park is charming Springdale, offering a wealth of options for hotels, motels, B&Bs, and meals. Book ahead!

The trailhead for Observation Point is at the Weeping Rock shuttle stop. Follow the 4-mile trail up and return the way you came. No dogs. 

Swift at Sea!

What does a yellowfin tuna have in common with ORACLE TEAM USA’s catamaran? They’re both built for speed! Before the world-famous America’s Cup sails into the San Francisco Bay this summer, get the early inside scoop on the world’s most extreme racing machines—fish and high-tech racing boats! Discover what the world’s fastest fish and boats have in common at the California Academy of Sciences’ new Built for Speed exhibit. Check out the life-size displays of a sailfish and shortfin mako shark—the fastest known shark species. Operate a yellowfin tuna tail to discover how they have evolved amazing adaptations to reach burst speeds of over 40 mph. You can even build your own fast fish at an activity station. And don’t miss the rare opportunity to walk beneath an AC45 ORACLE TEAM USA catamaran, where you’ll get an up-close look at the high-tech design that makes it one of the fastest on water (and the America’s Cup defending champ!)

FAST BONUS: Be sure to optimize your own speed by purchasing your tickets on calacademy.org and zipping past the lines. Swift indeed!

Learn more and purchase tickets at calacademy.org. Explore the rest of the museum and aquarium, too! See Claude, the albino alligator, and 15 African penguins; visit some of the planet’s most exotic habitats, including birds and butterflies in a four-story rainforest, and take a virtual safari through Africa.

Other Activities You Might Enjoy


  • 10.16.14

    Kirby Cove
    Kirby Appeal
    Still haven't cycled over the Golden Gate Bridge yet? We have a twist on this ...
    Read Story
  • 10.16.14

    Ride the Ducks
    Duck, Duck, Drive!
    San Francisco's famed waterscape wouldn't be complete without at least one quacky landmark. Cue ...
    Read Story
  • 10.23.14

    Assiniboine Lodge
    Legendary Lodge
    Ready to be whisked to the ultimate backcountry lodge? Reachable only by helicopter (or a 17-mile ...
    Read Story
  • 10.23.14

    Sedona Red Rocks
    Red Rock Refuge
    Sedona's famed red rocks have been luring hikers and spiritual seekers for many years. And ...
    Read Story

Close