Top 10 Things to Do in Zion National Park

by Jon D. B.
top-10-things-to-do-in-zion-national-park

From Hidden Canyon and The Narrows to Kolob Canyon and Angels Landing, Zion National Park is a wonderland unlike any other.

One of the most visited national parks in the world, Zion National Park offers unrivaled views, unparalleled hikes, and untold adventures. There’s enough trails, vistas, and drives to spend a month in the park and continue to see new sights. But which are the must-sees?

Below, we’re breaking down the Top 10 places you must visit in Zion and how to access them. Each offers unique opportunities and requires different levels of experience, however, so be sure to plan accordingly.

10. Zion National Park’s Hidden Canyon

Utah, Zion National Park, Zion Canyon Viewed From Hidden Canyon Trail. (Photo by Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Want to hit a less crowded area of one of America’s most visited national parks? Hidden Canyon is indeed a hidden gem.

This narrow side ravine eventually joins Zion Canyon. But before it does, the park offers plenty of scenic hiking trails within that are far less traveled. Located of Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, Hidden Canyon rests behind Big Bend and is accessible off the Echo Canyon Passage.

And if you keep traveling past the maintained trail, you’ll find the true hidden nature of Hidden Canyon. Come prepared for scrambling and moderate climbing to take this incredible ravine for all its worth, and you won’t regret it.

9. The Temple of Sinawava’s Magnificent Beauty

A waterfall runs through the rock in the Riverside Walk section of Zion Canyon in Zion National Park, Utah, on February 9, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / RHONA WISE (Photo credit should read RHONA WISE/AFP via Getty Images)

One of Zion’s most iconic landscapes, the geological formations of Sinawava are unlike anywhere else. To best view this area, take to The Temple of Sinawava Trail. It’s a paved walkway that runs along the Virgin River that carved these canyons.

Shuttles from the Zion National Park Visitors Center will take you straight to the trailhead. From there, you’ll immerse yourself in the surrounding Virgin River Canyon. This wonderland has fascinated visitors for generations, and its not hard to see why (as this historic photo shows):

Union Pacific Photographer, Temple of Sinawava, Zion National Park, Utah, 6/9/1938, gelatin silver print. (Photo by: Sepia Times/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Take the trail all the way through, and you’ll arrive at The Narrows, but more on that later. Sinawava is an easy hike suitable for all ages and skill levels, and comes with views of the incredible waterfalls and geological formations for which its named.

8. Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway & Historic Tunnel

There’s no manmade feature as iconic in Zion National Park as the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. Work began on this immense 1.1-mile-long tunnel almost a century ago in 1927. It took 2 years and 10 months to finish the masterwork, which was finally completed in June of 1930. Once completed, this underground marvel became Zion’s Mt. Carmel Tunnel.

At the time, it was the most expensive piece of roadway ever built, costing $1.9 million. That’s $33.1 million today. But the mile-long journey through the mountain is what’s truly impressive. Add this to the journey of the Mount Carmel Canyon Scenic Drive, and you’ve got a must-see adventure through Zion.

7. Zion National Park Wonder: Checkerboard Mesa

North America, USA, Utah, Zion National Park. Zion Mount Caramel Canyon Scenic Drive, Checkerboard Mesa. (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Zion offers endless unique formations, but few are as striking as the Checkerboard Mesa. Take Route 9 through the Upper East Canyon and you’ll arrive at the Checkerboard Mesa parking lot. Here, a magnificent viewing area near the East Entrance ranger station.

Named for the unusual patterns in the sandstone, Checkerboard Mesa resembles, well, a checkerboard:

Here, you can also access trailheads for some of the Zion backcountry, so it can turn into a day’s journey. But beware during summer, as this popular area tends to swell with visitors.

If you’re lucky, you’ll see the park’s iconic bighorn sheep traversing this landscape.

6. Watchman Trail & Watchman Peak

Watchman Peak a 6555 foot elevation mountain sunlit in the late afternoon in Zion National Park Utah. (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Head to the Zion National Park Visitor Center and there he stands: The Watchman. Watchman Peak is the park’s premiere formation, and for good reason.

To experience this terrain up close, however, you’ll want to head to Watchman Trail. The trailhead is right next to the Visitor Center and running Virgin River.

As a hike, Watchman Trail travels a one mile up the foothills of Bridge Mountain, then one mile down. At the top, the views are spectacular. NPS rates this as a moderate hike, but coming down proves much less strenuous.

Regardless, be sure to watch your step, as the overlook at the top is not closed off.

5. Path Less Traveled: Kolob Canyon

The Kolob Canyons. (Photo: NPS, ZION, R Seely)

Watchman Peak is impossible to miss. But want to hit the path less traveled? Head to the northwest section of Zion National Park to Kolob Canyon. These gorgeous canyonways contain colorful geology, natural stone arches, and towering waterfalls; all without the typical crowds the rest of the park sees.

Zion has recently paved the roads for Kolob Canyon, and a drive through offers many breathtaking views. Plenty of restrooms and parking lots are nestled into the canyon, too, making for a family-friendly trip.

If you’re looking to hike the area, take to Timber Creek Overlook Trail for a spectacular journey.

4. Ultimate Zion Adventure: Angel’s Landing

*If you want to hike Angels Landing any time from September 1 to November 30, you need to apply for a permit through the Seasonal Lottery at the beginning of summer.

Much has been written about Angels Landing. One of the most famous hikes on the planet, it’s also one of the most dangerous. But don’t let the landing’s reputation stop you if you’re up for the challenge and confident in your skills.

If you are, the reward is unmatched. The journey begins on West Rim Trail, where you’ll traverse the Virgin River’s path through Zion Canyon. Once you begin ascending up to Angels Landing, however, the trail becomes steep – and fast. If you don’t know what a switchback is, then Angels Landing may come as a shock-of-a-hike.

This is at least a half-day trip, too, so be sure to plan accordingly. To make it all the way to the top, you’ll be engaging in rock climbing using steel chain cables. It’s a one-way route with possible waits, too, as people make their way out.

Above all, please be sure to wear hiking boots and do plenty of NPS safety research before attempting Angels Landing. One false step could mean death, as it has for dozens of hikers in the past.

3. For the Views: Canyon Overlook Trail

Canyon landscape, Zion National Park, Utah, United States. (Photo by: Gazeau J/Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Often left off “best of” Zion lists, Outsider can’t stress enough how worth it Canyon Overlook is. If you’re goal is spectacular views and photographs that’ll impress forever, this is your destination.

The one-mile hiking trail begins outside the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel east entrance, where parking is available. From there, you’ll head up to a truly breathtaking observation point with multiple views of this unmatched landscape.

But be aware, there are a few cliffside spots with only railing and/or chain between you and thousand-foot drops. Once you’ve ascended the trail, however, you’ll be rewarded with views of Streaked Wall, Zion’s Beehives, Towers of the Virgins, and more. Canyon Overlook truly is a must-see.

2. Zion Canyon’s Scenic Drive Hits the National Park’s Highlights

A wiew of the Weeping Rock in Zion National Park. (Photo: MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP via Getty Images)

No matter your skill level or capabilities, Zion National Park’s most scenic drive is accessible – and it’s a must. Available to be driven with your own car or taken via shuttle tours, Zion Canyon’s Scenic Drive hits some of the park’s most spectacular monuments and views – all from the comfort of a vehicle.

Canyon Junction, Weeping Rocks , Big Bend, and Temple of Sinawava – it’s all here. There’s plenty of opportunities to pull over and hike and/or soak in views, too. In fact, the Scenic Drive makes it possible to hit the majority of the Zion experience in just a few hours.

If you’re looking for a true adventure, however, then it’ll be time to leave the vehicle behind and head for The Narrows.

1. The Narrows are Peak Zion National Park

If there’s one thing you can’t miss in Zion, it’s The Narrows. Once you see this upper stretch of the Zion/North Fork Virgin River Canyon, how it got its name is immediately apparent.

To get to this incredible narrow canyon, travel through Temple of Sinawava Trail to the paved Riverside Walk. From there, it’s another mile to The Narrows. And once you arrive, it’s all wading up river, so be sure to come prepared (plenty of local stores offer equipment rental). If you do, it makes for the Zion National Park excursion of a lifetime.

If you’re feeling truly adventurous, travel on to Big Springs, which is as far as you can go without a permit. No matter how far you choose to go, be sure to show up as early as possible for your hike. The Narrows are a sight to see, so hundreds of others will be looking to do the same. So as with all Zion hikes, remember: the earlier the better.

If you’re heading to Zion National Park in the spring, however, be sure to check park closures. The Narrows close for a few weeks each spring due to snow melt/resulting waters.

Looking for more Zion knowledge ahead of your excursion? Check out our Top 10 Things to Know About Zion National Park next.

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