“What is the BEST hike in Zion?” Many visitors ask this question when planning a visit to the Zion area. There are many rewarding hikes, but many share one popular theme: the meeting of clear, cool water with the famous red Navajo sandstone. Don’t miss witnessing the story of this amazing journey of water and how it shapes the rocks over time during your visit.
The amazing Zion watershed begins far north, at 10,000 feet in Cedar Breaks National Monument. Snow and rain begin their journey down mountain creeks and streams to eventually meet the Virgin River, which carves Zion Canyon. To see various windows into this river’s journey, you can choose from a variety of hikes appropriate for for various ability levels, time allowances, and degrees of preparation. Zion showcases an amazing visual story of the meeting of water and rock, and many of the hikes and activities in the Park showcase the Virgin River and its tributaries throughout the area.
I wrote this short hiking guide to showcase the best views of the river and help visitors choose a river hike that suits their goals and hopes for their day. Have fun out there!
PA’ RUS TRAIL
Time Commitment: 1-3 hours
Trail Description: In the Paiute language, Pa’Rus means “by the river”. This wide, paved trail follows the Virgin River between the Visitor Center and Canyon Junction. It is largely flat and mellow, sauntering 1.3 miles one-way or 2.6 round-trip, along the river’s edge. Highlights are wildflowers in the spring, beautiful bridges at river crossings, and fall colors and photography opportunities in autumn. This is also the only trail on which you may bike or walk your dog in the entire Park; you’ll find folks doing both here.
Preparation: Bring a Park pass, comfortable clothing and footwear, water, and sunscreen. If you prefer to roll, bike rentals starting at 2 hours are available from Zion Cycles.
Time Commitment: 1/2 hour – all day
Trail Description: As you ride up Zion Canyon in the shuttle, notice how the walls get thinner and thinner, until the last shuttle stop at the Temple of Sinawava. At this shuttle stop, the Riverside Walk, a paved, largely flat trail, follows the river deeper up-canyon, showcasing hanging gardens, swimming holes, and bright green riparian areas. The sidewalk eventually ends when the canyon walls thin so much that the river spans the canyon walls. This is a great area on a hot summer afternoon to take a family with small children, as the hiking is easy and there are great shallow swimming areas along the shoreline. Please take care to use only marked trails, and avoid areas where hiking is not allowed due to Park revegetation efforts.
Preparation: Park pass, food, water, comfortable clothing and hiking shoes, sunscreen
THE NARROWS, BOTTOM-UP
Time Commitment: 3-9 hours
Trail Description: This is THE famous slot canyon hike of Southwest Utah. Available year-round, only your feet can take you to the magnificent views of water and rock in the Virgin Narrows. The hike starts from the end of the Riverside Walk, continues into the river, and heads up-canyon where the walls grow closer together. “How much further?” is a common question, and there is no definitive answer or destination. The whole hike features turn after turn, resulting in a maze of great views. Be ready to get wet up to your stomach. Closed-toed shoes, such as 5.10 Canyoneers, are great for the rocky riverbed. This hike is suitable for a wide-range of abilities; experienced hikers may hike up to 5 miles upriver, while many less experienced hikers can opt for the easier distance, 2.5 miles upriver to the Orderville Junction. This is a GREAT family hike for kids with some hiking experience.
Preparation: Park pass, seasonal clothing or rental equipment, lunch, backpack and waterproof drybag, water, food
ORDERVILLE CANYON TECHNICAL ROUTE
Time Needed: 8-10 hours
Trail Description: Orderville Canyon is a great introduction to technical canyons in the Zion area. This hike includes some down-climbing, a few short rappels, and hiking through dry and wet sections of Orderville canyon, finishing with a 2-mile section of the Virgin River Narrows. Orderville is also a great alternative to the longer Top-Down Narrows hike, with far fewer people and much narrower narrows sections. For those we have the desire but lack the technical abilities, Zion Adventure Company offers courses to those unfamiliar with rappelling and other rope skills. Take a full-day or half-day class with us the day before, and then be ready to head out on your own into this fantastic slot canyon. Orderville hikers can also take advantage of shuttle service dropoff at the Orderville Canyon trailhead; call for information.
Preparation: Backcountry permit, clothing and sturdy river footwear, wetsuits (in spring and fall), rope, harness, helmet, rappel device, food and water
THE NARROWS, TOP-DOWN
Time Needed: 9-15 hours (over one or two days)
Trail Description: Is the full Narrows hike for you? This 16-mile hike follows the North Fork of the Virgin River from the backcountry at Chamberlain’s Ranch and finishes at the Temple of Sinawava inside the heart of Zion Canyon. The hike is strenuous and can be slow-going, due to the rocky river bottom and multiple river crossings. The amazing hike showcases the power of water to cut through hundreds of feet of sandstone. Completing the hike in one day requires a daybreak or earlier start, quick pace, and possible finish in the early evening. Many hikers opt to reserve one of 12 campsites located in the canyon, splitting the hike into two days and therefore being able to take more time to explore, photograph and enjoy the length of the canyon. Hikers usually take advantage of Zion Adventure shuttle service from Springdale to Chamberlain’s Ranch, saving 3.5 hours of driving on rough roads after a long day.
Preparation: Backcountry permit, clothing and sturdy river footwear, drysuits or drypants (spring or fall), water, food, overnight gear if camping
All of these hikes deliver sounds of running water, cool refreshment on hot days, amazing rock formations, and a sense of the power of water. Of course, more information is available for each of these hikes, and we’re happy to help answer questions, rent gear, or provide shuttle service or canyoneering courses to help you experience one of them during your next visit!
Sarah Stratton is one of the fine guides and outfitters you will meet at Zion Adventure Company. When Sarah isn’t helping people have adventures in Zion, you can find her cooking scrumptious food or playing in the Park.