Zion NP

Unforgettable Zion hiking adventures

Zion National Park is a bucket list destination for adventurous trail seekers around the world. From easily accessible day hikes to multi-day backpacking trips, this national park really has a lot to offer. While Angel’s Landing and The Narrows may be the park’s most renowned hikes, the circumstances can sometimes hinder you from experiencing those iconic trails firsthand. Luckily, Zion has many other unforgettable hiking adventures to offer! Lace up your hiking boots and discover some breathtaking alternatives you don’t want to miss.

When we were planning our visit to Zion, we definitely wanted to do one of Zion’s most popular hikes, namely Angel’s Landing or the Narrows. Since you need a permit for Angel’s Landing (and maybe we got a little scared of heights from all those reels on Instagram 😳), we decided to go for the Narrows. Unfortunately, Zion thought otherwise. Once we arrived in Zion, we couldn’t hike the Narrows due to high runoff. When we visited, the current was about 9 m³/s (300 CFS). This is double the amount of 4 m³/s (150 CFS) that forces The Narrows to close to all travel. Talk about bad luck! Find out what trails we did as a replacement:

Emerald Pools Trail

Unforgettable Zion hiking adventures: Emerald Pools Trail

We started our day with the Emerald Pools Trail. Spanning an approximately 5 km round trip, this trail promises an incredible adventure with its varying levels of difficulty and enchanting rewards awaiting at each pool. Although this doesn’t seem like a long trail, the elevation difference still makes it take you 2 to 4 hours.

Upper Emerald Pool

Upper Emerald Pool

We started by hiking all the way to the end to the Upper Emerald Pool. This was the best idea we’ve had! The hike is steep and sandy, making it quite challenging. Nevertheless, we really had so much fun, this is one of the coolest hikes we’ve done. Climbing the sandstone cliffs and rocks brings a sense of adventure and playfulness to the journey. Not to mention the magical views we encountered all along the way! Thysia stopped every 5 minutes to take pictures, and we urge you to do the same. 😉

Once you reach the Upper Emerald Pool, you’ll be greeted by a mesmerizing scene. A majestic waterfall located in a small oasis of serenity, straight out of a fairytale. We stood here for more than half an hour admiring the waterfall, since it is quite high our neck even began to hurt towards the end. Still worth it though!

If you start early like we did, chances are you’ll have this place to yourself (at least for half an hour). Just you and 100 squirrels, isn’t that amazing?

Lower Emerald Pool

Lower Emerald Pool

After admiring the Upper Emerald Pool, it was time for the next stop. On the way we passed Middle Emerald Pool, we must admit that this was a little bit disappointing. Maybe it’s because we just came from Upper Emerald Pool, but this is really nothing more than a really small puddle. It might be more beautiful during another season, but for us it was nothing special. After 5 minutes we had seen it and moved on to Lower Emerald Pool. The Lower Emerald Pool, on the other hand, pleasantly surprised us! Here you can literally walk behind the sparkling waterfall and feel the drops of water falling down on you. Talk about a unique experience! Don’t forget to take a moment to pause and soak in the serenity of this incredible gem.

Distance: 4,8 km round trip to Upper Emerald Pool (3 miles)

Canyon Overlook Trail

Unforgettable Zion hiking adventures: Canyon Overlook Trail

The Canyon Overlook Trail in Zion takes you on a 1,6 km round trip journey to some of the most breathtaking views the park has to offer. The hike is short, fun, and rewarding, making it a must do when visiting Zion.

Although it is a rocky and uneven dirt trail, we found this to be a really fun hike. Along the way there is plenty of shade, ensuring a more comfortable hiking experience. We really loved the cave we encountered along the way. We stopped here for at least 15 minutes to admire the picturesque scene (and take lots of pictures of course 😉).

Unforgettable Zion hiking adventures:  Canyon Overlook Trail

As you approach the end of the trail, be prepared to be stunned by the grand finale. The panoramic views that greet you are simply breathtaking. We really couldn’t believe that after half an hour of hiking we would be treated to such a view! Make sure to spot the “windows” of the tunnel at your left-hand side as well, it is incredible to see this from the other side.

With its compact distance and unforgettable views, the Canyon Overlook Trail is one of the best hikes with the most reward. Even if you only have a few hours to explore Zion, Canyon Overlook Trail is a must do!

Where to park

If you’re coming out of the Zion Tunnel, the Canyon Overlook Trail is on your left hand side. On your right hand side, however, there is a (small) parking space for “compact” cars that you can use. If you don’t know about this, you’ll miss it! There is no way to get back to it, apart from turning around, going into and coming back out of the Zion Tunnel again. Another alternative is to park near the restrooms 500 meters away.

Distance: 1,6 km round trip (1 mile)

Pa’rus Trail

Unforgettable Zion hiking adventures:  Pa'rus Trail

The Pa’rus Trail offers an accessible hiking experience with beautiful views along the way. This easy and flat trail follows the Virgin River, including several bridges that cross above the river. It is the perfect way to end your day in Zion, you can admire all the beauty Zion has to offer one last time without having to put in too much effort.

Although this hike is not challenging at all, we found it a really enjoyable hike. You can descend to the riverbanks in several places, this is also very fun! There are a lot of lizards crawling in the bushes, which can be a very amusing sight. Whether you choose to walk the trail one way (like we did) or complete the loop, the Pa’rus Trail is a perfect option for all skill levels and provides a wonderful opportunity to immerse yourself in the natural beauty that Zion has to offer.

Good to know: it is the only trail in Zion that is open to bicycles and pets! We saw a lot of people walking their dogs and riding bikes, so much fun!

Distance: 5,6 km round trip (3,5 miles)

Pro tip
The entrance fee per vehicle for Zion is a little more than € 30. If you plan on visiting multiple national parks, we recommend purchasing the America The Beautiful pass! For € 70, you have access to a lot of national parks, including Zion, Bryce Canyon, Joshua Tree, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and so many more!

How to get around

Zion has its own free shuttle service from March through November. When the shuttle is in operation, there’s no private vehicle access to the park. So this means parking your car somewhere and taking the shuttle bus to get around.

Although Zion is one of our favorite national parks, they do have one thing that we dislike about it: lack of parking space. It can be really challenging finding parking at Zion. There is only one “big” parking lot near the Visitor Center, and this one fills up fast. On our first day, we passed through Zion around 11 AM hoping to already cross maybe one hike of our list. The parking lot had other ideas! We tried for over half an hour to park our car, but failed miserably. A little frustrated, we gave up and continued to our Airbnb.

On our way to the Airbnb in Hurricane, we drove through Springdale. There are countless parking lots available here, but they are all paid ones. Prices range from € 18 to € 32, but there are ways to “avoid” paying. In Springdale there are countless shops, convenience stores and rental places. Some places, like convenience stores, offer “free parking” if you buy for more than € 20 of goods. There are also places that rent hiking gear that let you park for free for the day if you’re a customer. If you’re planning on doing any of those things (renting gear/buying food), it might be worth it to park in Springdale and take the free shuttle into Zion. This way you avoid the struggle of finding a parking space in Zion.

If you’re like us and don’t want to pay for parking, get ready to wake up early! We read “horror stories” online where people say that the parking lot in Zion is full by 7 AM, but this was not the case for us. We arrived around 7 AM to start our Emerald Pools Trail, and at least 80 % of the parking lot was still available. Our suggestion is to arrive before 8 AM, and you should be good to go. Of course, if you’re planning a visit during the weekend and during high season, 7 AM would probably a better bet. Another thing we saw frequently were illegally parked cars. Don’t do this as they will give you a ticket! We saw a lot of cars with a ticket on their windshield, so this is not a good idea.

Where to stay near Zion

Where to stay near Zion

As mentioned in our US road trip Budget Breakdown and money-saving hacks posts, we sometimes went for guestrooms in order to save money. This was also the case for our accommodation near Zion. We went for a guestroom in Hurricane (30 minutes drive from Zion) that we booked through Airbnb. What started as a “budget option”, turned out to be one of our best stays of the whole road trip! We arrived a little early (check-in at 3PM), so we started exploring the neighborhood to kill some time. Located in a beautiful community, called “Zion Vista”, we immediately fell in love. Beautiful houses, calm streets, and amazing views – heaven! We said to each other “This is where we want to live”, and that feeling only grew when we actually entered the room.

We met Ned (the host) on our way in as he was putting some welcome-candy on our pillows. A lovely gesture! On to the room, then. Quite simply put, the room was incredible. A spacious room with a large bed, a small kitchen, (fast WiFi!) and an amazing bathroom. On top of that, we finally had a washing machine and dryer at our disposal! A very welcome surprise after being on the road for some time. And if that wasn’t enough, the views we woke up to were absolutely stunning. It is really difficult to describe how magical it is to wake up such a beautiful sight and have breakfast on the patio with those mountains staring back at you.

We’d come back in a heartbeat, even if it were only to experience those views again. We were quite sad when we had to leave this place, just because everything was perfect!

Guesthouses aren’t your thing? No worries! Here are our hotel recommendations in and around Zion National Park – suited for every budget.

More helpful United States posts:

Top 5 best things to do in Death Valley 
The ultimate Bryce Canyon guide
Our favorite things to do in Yosemite
The best Grand Canyon views at the South Rim
6 best things to do in Joshua Tree

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