Hiking in Zion National Park

June 2, 2016/Jonathan Rundle/1 Comment

Today we’re hiking in Zion National Park! We’ve made it a crown jewel of the National Park system. In this post we’re going to hike Emerald Pools, The Grotto, Weeping Rock, Riverwalk and the challenging Hidden Canyon Trail.

About Zion National Park

Established in 1919, Zion is Utah’s first national park (now one of five in the state) the 16th to be added to the national park system and the 7th most visited.

Located at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert, Zion features colorful sandstone canyons, mountainous mesas, and countless rock towers. Natural arches and exposed plateau formations compose a large wilderness roughly divided into four ecosystems: desert, riparian, woodland, and coniferous forest.

It’s almost a crime that we only spent one full day in Zion, but even so we intend to make the most of it. It’s been a long journey, but there’s no stopping us now.

Let’s go!

Even though we spent a little too long eating our yummy breakfast sandwiches at Cafe Soleil, we still managed to make it into the park before the heat became completely oppressive.

Below, Michael displays some serious enthusiasm (especially for someone wearing motorcycle pants, boots, and a long sleeve shirt on what will be a 100+ degree day)

Zion National Park Visitor Center

The Zion shuttle service is the only way in and out of the park this time of year. In the off-season, you are able to take private vehicles into the park. June ain’t the off season. The line for the shuttles is long, but moved swiftly.

Waiting for the tram in ZionOn the tram in Zion National ParkRiding the Zion bus

The shuttle has nice large windows to see out at the spectacular walls of Zion Canyon. Pretty soon, we’ll be climbing our way up there. Keep your eyes peeled for rock climbers on the cliff faces.

The shuttle is just a means to get to the hiking spot of your choice and to keep traffic to a minimum during these peak periods. I found it to be excellent—timely, informative, and it beats the hell out of driving around looking for a place to park or dealing with other traffic.

Cliffs of Zion Canyon

Emerald Pools Trail

Our first hike of the day, Emerald Pools, is one of the most popular in the park. There are three pools: upper, middle, and lower. We visited all three.

Now, I want to caution you  to be careful wherever you are in the park. Angel’s Landing gets all the fame for being a scary hike, but more people have died on the Emerald Pools trails than on any other in the park.

Being the heat of summer, the waterfalls were pretty weak, but any occurrence of cool water is a welcome respite from the heat. I held out my bandana to catch some water to keep cool while the temperatures rose.

Hiking in Zion National Park is no joke during the summer – you’ve got to stay cool and hydrate as much as possible.

Lower Emerald Pools waterfall in ZionLower Emerald Pools in ZionDrinking my Camelbak on a hot day in Zion

Upper Pools is a bit more strenuous, which is why you’ll encounter less people on the trail (but it will still be popular—especially at bottlenecks).

Emerald Pools Trail Foot traffic

The Middle and Upper Emerald pools are shaded and lush, which make it a nice reward to sit in the shade at the end of your hike.

Emerald PoolsFlowers in Zion National Park Upper Emerald Pools Zion

To the Grotto

Coming down from Emerald Pools, we make our way toward the Grotto / Zion Lodge. Here you are treated to more great views of Zion Canyon and since it’s all downhill from the Emerald Pools, it’s pretty leisurely.

Hiking Emerald Pools to the GrottoHiking Emerald Pools to the Grotto

Weeping Rock

Weeping rock is an easy hike. An alcove has been carved out by the slowly weeping water between rock layers. This little destination almost resembles a front porch to look back at Zion Canyon. From here, the trail will double back and we can embark to Hidden Canyon.

Michael shows the sprit we all felt while hiking in Zion National Park.

The view from Weeping Rock

Hidden Canyon Trail

This strenuous 3+ hour hike gains over 1,000ft in the first two miles. This hike is not as popular as the Angel’s Landing hike, but it shares the scary vertical drops and the chain link handrails. This hike is one to do if you’re after something a little different, away from the crowds but still rewarding.

Hidden Canyon Trail branches off of Weeping Rock’s trail. After endless switchbacks in direct sunlight, you’ll start asking yourself “is this something I really want to do?”

Once you’re done switchbacking, your adventure is walking a fine line along a cliff face.

Hiking Hidden Canyon TrailChains on Hidden Canyon TrailHiking Hidden Canyon Trail

Closer to the canyon things level out and you actually end up doing a little scrambling to get to where you want to be.

Hiking Hidden Canyon in ZionHidden Canyon Zion Rock WallHidden Canyon Trail Zion

After we explored for a little bit, it was time to head back the way we came. That means back to the cliff and the chains!

Hiking Hidden Canyon in ZionHiking Hidden Canyon in ZionHiking Hidden Canyon in Zion

Riverside Walk to The Narrows

The Narrows is the one that springs to mind when you think “hiking in Zion National Park.”

When I return, it’ll be first on my list. Even though we aren’t going into the canyons here, I wanted to see the entrance. You get there via the entirely paved Riverside Walk. This hour-long “hike” is ADA accessible (paved) and incredibly popular.

We did this as the last part of our busy and exhausting day at Zion. It was nice to push through the hot day and take a breather in the shadows of the canyons with our feet in the Virgin River.

Start of the Narrows in Zion

Watercolor Zion National Park

Did I mention hiking in Zion National Park was exhausting?

Aaron catches some Z's

The latest on Hiking in Zion National Park

Utah’s first national park has a website. Be sure to visit it to make sure your trails are all open and to keep abreast of any other up-to-the-minute information you need.

Next up

The last part of our Utah trip will be the long journey home with an overnight in Wendover, Utah – home of the Bonneville Salt Flats!

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