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5 Epic Hikes in Zion That Aren’t Angel’s Landing | USA

Jake overlooking Zion Canyon from Observation Point

Zion National Park is known for some pretty iconic hiking. Hikes like the Narrows where you’ll wade knee-deep through a slot canyon. Angel’s Landing where you’ll have to climb past a narrow saddle to get to the flat part of a 1,764m rock formation. But in a park as popular (see: as CROWDED) as Zion, getting away from the more popular spots is the only way to really enjoy all the park has to offer. And there’s no better way than going hiking or backpacking in Zion to really get a sense of what makes the park so great.

Hiking in Zion ranges from easy day hikes to serious backpacking trips. You can hop over to the NPS website if you want info on popular day hikes like Watchman, Pa’rus and Lower Emerald Pool Trails. But if you want to undertake something a bit harder and further off the grid, there are tons of alternative day hikes and backpacking trips in Zion National Park. Ones where you won’t have to throw elbows just to get your view. A few will even get you to Angel’s Landing in the end! Here are a few of my favorites.

Best Day Hikes in Zion

Observation Point

Starting Point: Weeping Rock Shuttle Stop // Duration: 1 day // Distance: 12km

Angel’s Landing may be the best-known viewpoint in Zion, but Observation Point offers an even higher vantage point of the canyon at 1983m. From Mt. Baldy, you’ll get a birdseye view of Angel’s Landing. It’s typically a strenuous 12km hike, but if you just want the views, there’s also a cheater’s hike to Observation Point from the East Mesa trail.

View from the top of the hike to Observation Point
Views from Observation Point

The harder of the two routes starts from the Weeping Rock Shuttle stop. For the first 2km, you’ll be hiking on steep paved switchbacks. Once you reach Echo Canyon, you’ll have Cable Mountain leering above with wildflowers growing from the earth beneath you. Keep climbing until you hit a junction with the East Rim Trail, and you’ll have more switchbacks to help you gain elevation. With a mountain wall on one side and a steep drop off on the other, climb until you reach the mesa top where the trail flattens a bit. Keep left on the East Mesa Trail. Once you get into the juniper forest, it’s a short walk to the view you’ve been waiting for – Observation Point.

The Chinle Trail

Starting Point: Off of Hwy 9 from Anasazi Plateau// Duration: 1 day // Distance: 24km

The Southwestern Desert is a section of Zion that most travelers miss. It is (perhaps obviously) on the southwestern side of Zion, but rather than cutting through the park, you’ll need to drive south from Springdale and west on Hwy 9. It’s because of this geographic isolation that the Southwestern Desert stays so quiet.

Trail Running in the Southwestern Desert of Zion National Park

The Chinle Trail is the only real hike here. It’s about 24km on relatively flat terrain through desert landscape. There are some washes and a few nice views the further you make it onto the trail. But the real highlights here are petrified wood samples and spring wildflowers! And of course the sense of quiet. We went on a trail run here and only saw two other hikers the whole day.

A GUIDE TO ZION NATIONAL PARK

More Zion: How to Plan a Utah Parks Road TripA Get Outside Guide to the Zion Traverse

Best Backpacking in Zion

The Narrows Top-Down

Starting Point: Chamberlain’s Ranch // Duration: 2 Days // Distance: 25km

The Narrows can be hiked top-down (25km) or bottom-up (16km). While the bottom-up route from Temple of Sinawa to Big Springs (and back again) doesn’t require a permit, it also means you’ll be joining the hoards of daytrippers. The top-down route, on the other hand, is the Zion backcountry hike from Chamberlains Ranch finishing at the Temple of Sinawa.

The NPS issues just 40 permits a day, and only six of the twelve sites are bookable online. They’re released on the 5th of the month three months in advance, and they book up almost immediately. That said, if you’re one of the lucky ones to snag one, you’re in for an adventure (apply for a permit).

Muddy Boots in Zion

Day-by-Day Itinerary for The Narrows (Top-Down)

Day 1: The hike starts at Chamberlain’s Ranch and you’ll travel 5km on land before getting to the river. Once you reach the water, expect to wade for about 3km before coming to the First Narrows. The scenery gets increasingly more beautiful and the canyon walls continue to narrow until you reach Deep Creek around 6km later. Here, the rivers come to a confluence and the water deepens and picks up. Another 5km downstream are the Narrows campsites located on sandy banks of Kolob Creek.

Day 2: It’s about 4km from Kolob Creek to Big Springs –  a cluster of small waterfalls and hanging gardens. From there, more obstacles appear in the river and you’ll have to navigate past large boulders. It’s another 3km or so to Wall Street, the deepest part of the Narrows. This is also where the backcountry route starts to bump into day hikers doing the Narrows bottom-up.  From Orderville Canyon, the trail starts to open up and it’s only another 2km until you exit the river. Once you come to crowded Riverside Walk, it’s just a short hike out to the Temple of Sinawa where you can catch the shuttle back to the Visitor Center.

The West Rim Trail

Starting Point: Lava Point or West Rim Trailhead // Duration: 2 Days // Distance: 26km

Like the Narrows, the West Rim Trail can be hiked either top-down or bottom-up. The more classic route is the 24km bottom-up day hike, but I’d highly recommend the 26km top-down overnight trip between Lava Point and the Grotto. The West Rim Trail is less of a commitment than the full Zion Traverse (more info below) since you can knock it out on two days, but in my opinion, you’ll still get to see all the best parts of the trail.

You won’t need a permit if you’re hiking it in one day, but you’ll need to apply for a permit to camp at one of the West Rim sites (apply for a permit). There are nine sites in total, but only four of them are bookable online. The rest are first-come-first-served.

Views from the West Rim Trail on the Zion Traverse

Day-by-Day Itinerary for West Rim Trail

Day 1: Arrange transport to Lava Point. You’ll start by hiking along the upper plateau of Wildcat Canyon for 2km until you reach the West Rim Trailhead. The scenery is mostly forest, with an occasional canyon view. Over the next 8km, the views get gradually more impressive until the trail dips into a grassy meadow called Potato Hollow. You’ll pass campsites 7 and 8 as you cross the meadow, and eventually will have a climb out of the hollow.

The trail will hit a junction where you can choose Telephone Canyon Trail to your left or The West Rim Trail to your right. Stick with the West Rim. This is where things really start to open up for awesome views. If you were able to snag any of West Rim Sites 1-6, you’ll walk along the rim of the canyon until you reach your site.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you’re traveling with one car, you’ll want to park your car at the Zion Visitor’s Center and book a transfer to the trailhead.

Setting up camp at West Rim Campsites

Day 2: Wake up before sunrise to get to Angel’s Landing before everyone else does. The terrain and views are some of the most interesting, and you’ll be hiking both on slick rock and concrete. About 4km into the trail, you’ll come upon Scout’s Lookout where the backcountry trail meets the daytripper trail to Angel’s Landing. Get your ascent in, and do your best to get down before the shuttle’s start coming.

It’s then just a steep hike out, first down Walter’s Wiggles and then along a paved path overlooking The Grotto.

The Zion Traverse or the Trans-Zion

Starting Point: Lee Pass Trailhead // Duration: 4 Days // Distance: 77 km

The Zion Traverse is the pinnacle of backpacking in Zion. It’s a 77 km backpacking trip from the Lee Pass Trailhead on the northwest side to the southeast entrance of the park. It’s trans-Zion, get it? On the Zion Traverse, you’ll get to experience the best parts of Zion – the quiet of the Kolob Canyon area, the strange grassy planes of La Verkin, the slickrock on your way to Wildcat Canyon, the views from the West Rim – all on one easy backpacking trip. 

Backcountry permits are pretty tough to get, so plan any backcountry trips early. But all hope is not lost if you’re planning late. Stop by the Wilderness Desk when you get to Zion, and they often have select backcountry campsites available. 

Backpacks loaded up for the Zion Traverse

Day-by-Day Itinerary for Zion Traverse

Day 1: Arrange transport to the Lee Pass trailhead. It’s a relatively flat hike in along Timber Creek, passing forested areas, wildflowers, and Nagunt Mesa, Timber Top Mountain, and Shavanti Butte. After about 5 km, you’ll come to the junction with La Verkin Creek. Continue to walk along La Verkin Creek for 4-6 km until you get to your reserved site.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you’re traveling with one car, you’ll want to park your car at the Zion Visitor’s Center and book a transfer to the trailhead.

Day 1 of Zion Traverse in Kolob Canyon
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Day 2: Day 2 starts off crossing La Verkin Creek. It’s a slow, rocky incline which eventually dips down again to the wide-open, sometimes-sandy-very-grassy Hop Valley Trail. After 11.5km of hiking, you’ll come to the Hop Valley Trailhead. Turn left on the Connector Trail and walk along the road until you come to the meadow. The Connector Trail is mostly through a forested area and you’ll stay on it for about 6km until you hit the Wildcat Canyon Trail. You’ll need a permit, but there are no designated sites in Wildcat Canyon.

Day 2 of the Zion Traverse

Day 3: Finish whatever you have left of the Wildcat Canyon Trail. This area is usually stunning with green meadows and rushing streams. Climb out of the meadow, then dip down to the junction with Lava Point.

From there, turn right onto the West Rim Trail. The trail starts out without any views, but eventually, the right side opens up. Continue along the ridge, then descend into Potato Hollow – the eerily green tree graveyard. Climb out of the Hollow and you get to the part where the trail finally opens up to the Zion views you’ve been waiting for.

Day 3 of the Zion Traverse with Views from the West Rim Trail

It’s all beautiful from there, and you can wander along the rim of Zion enjoying sheer drops and flat terrain. The trail dips down again and makes a final steep climb to where the campsites are located.

Day 4 // Same as West Rim Trail: Wake up before sunrise to get to Angel’s Landing before everyone else does. The terrain and views are some of the most interesting, and you’ll be hiking both on slick rock and concrete.  About 4km into the trail, you’ll come upon Scout’s Lookout where the backcountry trail meets the daytripper trail to Angel’s Landing. Get your ascent in, and do your best to get down before the shuttle’s start coming.

Angel's Landing from the West Rim Trail

It’s then just a steep hike out, first down Walter’s Wiggles and then along a paved path overlooking The Grotto.

Read More: A Get Outside Guide: Backpacking the Zion Traverse

What are your favorite spots for hiking and backpacking in Zion? Any tips for the hikes mentioned above? Ask away.

Pinnable image for best hikes and backpacking trips in Zion National Park

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