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Best Hikes and Trails at Zion National Park

Zion National Park rocks

Red, orange, yellow, gray striated layers of windswept sandstone spike and drop dramatically through Utah’s Zion National Park. Less famous than its near neighbour the Grand Canyon, but no less spectacular in its raw desert beauty, Zion National Park is a mere 2 ½ hour’s drive from the center of Las Vegas, Nevada.

This national park features hikes and walks for all ability levels and holds two of the most spectacular (potentially dangerous) hikes in all of the National Park system.

Zion National Park

How to get Zion National Park

Located in the south of Utah, Zion is within driving distance of the majority of the Southwest. Only 7 hour’s drive from Los Angeles and 2 ½ hours from Las Vegas. The drive to the park features several tourist stops, including roadside natural history museums, the Valley of Fire state park, dinosaur tracks and the Native American Moapa Reservation.

Classic to the iconic American Road trip, these unexpected detours present limitless opportunities for exploration. Getting around the Park itself depends on the time of year of your visit. In the busy summer months, the park runs two free shuttle services.

One runs from the bottom of the town of Springdale to the park entrance with several stops at local hotels, campgrounds and restaurants, allowing visitors to park and ride to the main gate of Zion.

The second shuttle service runs through the center of the park with stops at the most popular trailheads. In the summer, vehicles are no longer allowed inside of this part of the park, so the shuttle is the best option of transport to the trailheads.

The shuttle operators offer guided tours on the ride up the valley, providing the passengers the history of the park as well as information on hikes, trail conditions and locations of restaurants, restrooms and water fill stations.

Zion National Park Brew Pub

Accommodations and Dining at Zion National Park

As with most National Parks, there are a variety of options when it comes to accommodations. Hotels, motels and cabins abound in the neighbouring towns with Zion Lodge being the only hotel located inside of the park.

Zion has two campgrounds of its own, which offer car-style camping but no showers. Backcountry camping is also allowed, but permits must be obtained from the park rangers at the information station.

For those who wish to bring their pets, be warned that Zion National Park only allows dogs on one of its trails, and they are forbidden from the rest of the park. Because of this, many accommodations also do not allow pets. Make sure to check the current policies before you pack up your furry friend.

Located directly outside of the gate of Zion is an RV and tent camping site which offers free showers and is central to an in-town shuttle stop.

I highly recommend this location. My husband and I tent camped, and our site was private, near the river, came equipped with a picnic table, grill and fire pit and was conveniently located across the street from several fabulous restaurants (most notably the Spotted Dog) for the nights we decided to skip dinner over the fire.

For the nights we did decide to cook, the general store located at the entrance of the park contained easy grill food, a surprisingly abundant choice of gourmet cheeses and even replacement camping gear as our camp stove failed to make it into the car and our tent was missing a pole. We appreciated its convenient location and reasonable prices.

The most popular hikes at Zion National Park

While there are many great hikes off the beaten track at Zion, my husband and I focused on the most popular hikes of the park for our first visit. The following four hikes can be accessed via trailheads which are all stops along the free in-park shuttle.

Zion National Park Angel’s Landing

Angel’s Landing

Consisting of a 5 mile round trip up 21 switchbacks, through a narrow canyon and topped with a .5 mile hand-over-hand boulder and chain crawl along a ridge which is at times 3 feet wide and 1,200 feet to the canyon floor, Angel’s Landing is Zion’s most popular hike as well as its most thrilling.

Not for the faint of heart or for those with a fear of heights, but for all others in search of a challenge and iconic view down the canyon, make it part of your must do list. It is listed as strenuous, and in the heat of summer, temperatures can reach to over 100 degrees, so remember to bring water. Rangers advise at least 2 liters per person per hike to combat the desert heat.

The Narrows

Zion National Park - The NarrowsDebated as one of the best trails in all of the National Park System, the Narrows offers an unusual hike for nature enthusiasts. The term trail is misleading, as it is actually a walk up and down a canyon, in the river.

Depending on the time of year, hikers will spend 60-70% of the hike ankle, knee, waist or shoulder deep in water.

The canyon soars hundreds of feet above you and is at times 30 feet from wall to wall. There is a danger of flash floods and sections of the trail with no high ground, so it is best to be prepared and check with the rangers regarding weather conditions for the day.

There are two ways to hike the Narrows, either as an up and back day hike or a through hike. Up and back hikers can travel 6 miles up and back without obtaining a backcountry permit.

For those wishing to hike the entire 16 miles of the trail, obtain a permit from the information center, and consider making it a two day camping adventure.

The Zion Adventure Company offers rental equipment for this hike, including canyoneering shoes, neoprene socks, walking sticks, dry bags and dry suits for cooler weather. They also offer maps and tips for the hike.

Emerald Pools

Located near the middle of the park, the Emerald Pools is actually made up of three trails, the lower pool, middle pool and upper pool, with the lower pool being the easiest and the upper pool being the most challenging.

All three trails are connected and it is easy to incorporate them all into one long hike if you wish, the entirety which should only take a couple of hours. Those hikers interested in only the challenging trails should not skip the lower pools however, as they offer a walk behind a 100 foot waterfall.

Zion National Park - Emerald Pools

Watchman’s Trail

Not advertised on the shuttle service (as its trailhead is located behind the visitor’s center) this little jewel was recommended to me by a regular Zion hiker. Barely used, this trail is a contrast to the highly popular Angel’s Landing, Narrows and Emerald Pools, and walkers get to feel that they are discovering Zion as its first visitors.

This hike is moderately difficult in its climb (450 foot gain), and can be hot, so remember to bring water. Because of its light usage, we encountered much more wildlife on this trail, and were often tripping victims of scurrying lizards.

The top of the trail opens up on a plateau with a circular hike allowing views of different parts of the valley with every turn a photographic opportunity.

Other Activities

Hiking is not for everyone, and Zion National Park offers trails which are wheelchair accessible and lookout points which are only a hundred feet from the shuttle stops. The park also offers trail rides from their stables located at the trailhead for the Emerald Pools, and an air conditioned IMAX theater.

The Zion Adventure Company rents tubes and coordinates rides for the adventurer who would rather float than climb.

Happy traveling!

How to visit Montana on a budget

Visit Montana US

The US state of Montana is well known for its beautiful landscape and especially for it’s Yellowstone Park that covers 3,500 square miles full of canyons, alpine rivers and provides a home for many wild animals like bears, wolves, bison, elks and antelopes.

When to visit Montana

You can visit Montana all year round but do check the weather forecast for the region before you set off as the weather tends to be very unpredictable from very hot to snow storms and blizzards.

Visit Montana’s cities and towns (ranked by population)

Billings Yellowstone 106,954
Missoula Missoula 66,789
Great Falls Cascade 58,505
Bozeman Gallatin 37,280
Butte Silver Bow 34,525
Helena Lewis and Clark 28,190
Kalispell Flathead 19,927
Havre Hill 9,310
Anaconda Deer Lodge 9,298
Miles City Custer 8,123
Belgrade Gallatin 7,389

Horse riding in Montana

Famous for the numerous horse ranches in the region, Montana could be called the horse rider paradise. To experience Montana without taking the time to explore any one of the horse riding ranches open to the public could almost be considered a crime.

As well as tackling a horseback mountain trek is a must when in horse riding country such as Montana.

visit Montana on a budget

The outdoor terrains offers a lot to the travellers who choose to experience what can only be described as getting back to nature. With the mountains at your feet and the vast landscape before you, camping out under the stars would not be out of the ordinary in Montana.

It is actually a very popular weekend activity among the local youth in Montana.

Hotels in Montana

Where to stay in Montana

With a diverse choice of camp sites, to luxury and affordable hotels on offer you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing what accommodation suits your needs best.

When travelling to Montana on a budget keep in mind that there some bargains to be found like the Wingate by Wyndham in Helena Montana, the facilities are more than adequate and the rates are affordable.

This hotel is located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains and positioned in Montana’s Capitol City.

Sunset in Montana US

If camping out under the stars is what you had in mind then the Bear Dance and Cabin can provide valuable information on camp sites that could be simply perfect for your holiday outdoors adventure. Providing all modern and convenient amenities, your stay will be more than you have bargained for.

Where to dine in Montana

Bogart’s restaurant in Montana Dining out in Montana does not need to break the bank, with restaurants like Bogarts serving up state loved favourites. The Bogarts restaurant is located on 11 South Broadway, Red Lodge, MT 59068

You will also find at Bogart’s Bogie’s photos and memorabilia which are on display upon the walls. Notably the best place to go for a great meal in Montana.

The restaurant serves up the best in Mexican food, margaritas, burgers, and speciality pizzas with a hearty taste and generous portions.

The nightlife in Montana varies depending on the city location or town so check local listings for specific events and dates when planning your trip to Montana in advance.

Some events may require advance booking so it is always better to get in touch with the venues before you set off for your trip.

Olivia Cree the author of the “How to visit Montana on a budget” works as a freelance tour guide in Montana, she is also a part time mountain rescue volunteer.