Zion National Park Must-Sees: Hikes, Views, and Landmarks, from Angels Landing to the Subway Trail

by Amy Myers
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From gorgeous red rock structures to glassy green pools, there isn’t a bad view of Zion National Park. Of course, among the 112 trails, there are a couple of must-sees before your visit to Utah ends. These trails take you to views and attractions that you can’t find anywhere else – flourishing desert flora, sparkling waterfalls, peculiar geological creations – Zion has it all. Without a little guidance, it can be easy to miss a must-see on your itinerary.

The park revolves around two major attractions – Zion Canyon and the Kolob Canyons. Most first-time visitors flock toward the southern portion of the park where Zion Canyon lies. Here, you can find some of the more popular trails and attractions, as well as the nearby town of Springdale, where folks often end their days at one of the many popular restaurants.

Of course, with more attractions come larger crowds. That’s why those who prefer a bit more tranquility tend to prefer setting up camp or finding a room near the Kolob Canyons. Here, you can see just as many breathtaking views but without so many people sharing the same trails, as long as you don’t mind skipping out on some of Zion National Park’s must-sees.

Your other option is to split your time between the two locations, but be prepared to spend a bit more time in the car. The Kolob Canyons are about an hour away from the park’s south entrance, where visitors can access Zion Canyon. No matter where you end up, though, sunscreen and water are an absolute necessity.

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

Outsider’s Choice of Trails, Easiest to Hardest

  • Timber Creek Overlook (easy)
  • Petroglyph Pools to Slot Canyon (easy)
  • Zion Narrows Riverside Walk (easy)
  • Pa’rus Trail (easy)
  • Separation Canyon Trail (moderate)
  • Emerald Pools Trail (moderate)
  • The Watchman Trail (moderate)
  • The Subway Trail (strenuous)
  • Angels Landing Trail (strenuous)

Must-See Overlooks at Zion National Park

Timber Creek Overlook

  • Length: 1.1-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation: 255 feet
  • Duration: 30 minutes

The Timber Creek Overlook Trail is the perfect introduction to Zion National Park, especially for those staying near the Kolob Canyons. Not only is this trail suitable for all hiking experience levels, but it also gives you a taste of what the park has to offer. Despite the fact that this must-see Zion trail is relatively flat, you still get all the spectacular views of a vigorous, switchback-filled hike. At the overlook roughly a half-mile into the hike, you can see the 8,000-foot Pine Valley Mountains ridgeline. You might even be able to catch a glimpse of Mt. Turnbull 100 miles away on a clear day. There are even a few picnic tables at the trailhead and along the way for those looking for the ideal lunch spot.

The Watchman Trail

  • Length: 3.1-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation: 636 feet
  • Duration: 1 hour and 30 minutes

While the elevation on The Watchman Trail isn’t too extreme, there is a steady incline that starts at the trailhead. Like the Timber Overlook Trail, there are some great photo opportunities at the very top. Once you reach the look out, you get a top-notch view of the famed Watchman Tower, as well as Bridge Mountain. Watchman Tower is a distinguishable rock structure that appears to be its very own mountain. Certainly, if there was such thing as a Zion kingdom, this would be where the royal guard would keep watch.

For those that prefer to take their time along a hiking trail, there are plenty of shady spots to take a water break. There are also lots of flat rocks where you can take a memorable group photo.

Angels Landing Trail

  • Length: 4.4-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Elevation: 1,604 feet
  • Duration: 2 hours and 30 minutes

If you’re an experienced hiker that isn’t afraid of a challenge, Angels Landing Trail needs to be at the top of your must-see list. Considered one of the most difficult hikes in the country, Angels Landing truly makes you work for the view at the top. But once you get to the top of the 1,600-foot climb, you’ll reach the observation point that will make you feel on top of the entire world. You’ll experience the Zion Canyon from a bird’s-eye view. It’s here that you can fully appreciate the change in the rocks’ colors, from a rusty red to a pale wheat.

This isn’t your typical path through desert dust and shrubbery, though. You’ll need a sturdy pair of boots with ankle support to carry you through the steep drops and narrow sections. At some points, you’ll need to use the metal rail for support as you traverse up a fourth-class scramble. The danger of this trail cannot be underestimated. According to signage in the park, since 2004, 13 people have died from falling off the cliffs on the route. To avoid further tragedy, the park highly recommends that hikers avoid Angels Falling during high winds, storms or snow.

Zion’s Geological Beauties

Petroglyph Pools to Slot Canyon

  • Length: 1.1-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation: 180 feet
  • Duration: 30 minutes

The Petroglyph Pools to Slot Canyon may be a short trip, but it’s definitely worth the visit. It takes just 30 minutes to reach a different era when the most concrete form of communication was carving symbols onto a rock wall. The must-see hike takes you past incredible Zion petroglyphs, like drawings of a spiral, a couple of stick figures and perhaps an eagle.

Zion National Park has taken special care of its hidden piece of history. Petroglyphs are incredibly susceptible to any interference, so even just a gentle touch can further the deterioration of the important reminder of the people that first knew Zion’s vast beauty. Because of this, the park has strict guidelines for visiting this must-see. Mistreating or intentionally damaging the petroglyphs can lead to serious fines and jail time.

As long as you keep a respectable distance and take only pictures, Zion welcomes all visitors looking to see this wondrous artifact firsthand.

Separation Canyon Trail

  • Length: 2.8-mile loop
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation: 718 feet
  • Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes

The Separation Canyon Trail is a part of the Parunuweap area of Zion National Park located in the eastern portion of the park. With massive sandstone slabs and unique formations, this trail will make you feel as though you escaped to another planet. Still, between all of the red rocks, you’ll find some especially persistent shrubs with vibrant, blooming flowers.

Like Angels Landing, though, these views come with a price. Along the way, you’ll find another fourth-class scramble to Separation Point, and climbing up sandstone is no easy task. Without a good grip, you can easily lose your footing. That’s why this trail isn’t suitable for families, even if your little ones have a knack for climbing.

The Subway Trail

  • Length: 9.1-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Elevation: 1,305 feet
  • Duration: 4 hours

Despite its name, The Subway Trail does not provide any public transportation. Rather, the trail gets its name from the pipe-like gorge that formed within the canyon’s walls. This must-see trail is actual semi-technical and is a part of the Zion canyoneering tour. Because of this, the route requires the proper gear for rappelling and swimming. If you decide to put this must-see on your schedule, be sure you consult a local guide and an NPS ranger.

Besides the main attraction, you can also find dino tracks and keyhole waterfalls. You’ll also find pools of water where you can dip your toes in between taking photos. But with all the water comes frequent flooding and slippery canyon floors, so it’s important to make sure you have good footing while using this trail.

Waterfront Attractions at Zion

Zion Narrows Riverside Walk

  • Length: 1.9-mile
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation: 193 feet
  • Duration: 30 minutes

Unlike some of the harder climbs in the national park, Zion Narrows Riverside Walk is an incredibly friendly hike, especially for those traveling with little ones. Surrounded by towering canyon walls, the route takes you alongside the Virgin River. The pathway is even paved for most of the way, making it accessible for strollers, too. However, because the trail is close to the water, there is an increased chance of flooding. So, if you plan on walking the entire route, be prepared to get your feet wet.

The Virgin River is also a popular spot for wildlife, too. Keep a sharp eye out for any passing deer splashing through the water or padding across the sandy banks. Of course, just be sure to keep your distance from all wildlife at Zion.

Pa’rus Trail

  • Length: 3.4-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation: 157 feet
  • Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes

Chances are you can hear the Pa’rus Trail before you can even see it. The Paiute tribe actually named the trail, roughly translating to “bubbling, tumbling water.” Similar the Zion Narrows trail, you have a front-row seat to the Virgin River on this must-see route. Near this portion, though, you’ll get to hear the power of the lower gorge as it breaks away from the diversion dam that provides a freshwater source for the town of Springdale.

Pa’rus Trail, too, has paved pathways and even a few benches along the way. Because of this, it tends to be a popular route for bikers, families and those traveling with dogs. To avoid the crowds, consider using this trail for a sunrise walk.

Emerald Pools Trail

  • Length: 3-mile loop
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation: 620 feet
  • Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes

While Zion National Park gets most of its well-deserved fame from its red rocks, not to be forgotten are the appropriately-named Emerald Pools. Compared to the surrounding sandstone formations, the waters in this part of the park shimmer like a polished gemstone. This final must-see begins at Zion Lodge and takes you across the bridge and past waterfalls. In less than a mile, you’ll reach the Lower Emerald Pool where you can lay out in the sun like a lazy lizard. Or, you can take the rocky trail to scurry up to the Upper Emerald Pool before continuing the loop.

If you do decide to take this extra adventure, though, be sure to take your time climbing up. According to the park, most injuries at Zion occur on this part of the Emerald Pools Trail.

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