Utah’s 5 National Parks, a road trip for the history books and photo albums. Don’t just sit back and enjoy the view from those scenic overlooks, beautiful as they are. Get your hiking shoes on and tackle some trails for better, bigger views!
Here’s a full list of the best day hikes in the Utah’s National Parks!
Zion National Park
Zion’s most well-known hike, and one of the most famous hikes in the Southwest, The Narrows is a 9 mile roundtrip hike through the narrowest part of Zion Canyon and the Virgin River. Yes, through the Virgin River. This hike is almost entirely in the water, which can be anywhere from ankle to waist deep.
Many park visitors venture into the Narrows, but few make the entire distance. It’s worth it to go at least half way, after the crowds thin and you’re able to get some really fantastic scenery beyond the start of the trail.
The trail begins at the Temple of Sinawava, where you’ll take the paved Riverside Walk trail up to the start of The Narrows. From there it’s a slow, 4.5 mile walk through the flowing waters and the narrow canyon to Big Spring. Hiking past Big Spring without a permit is not allowed, so after reaching it you’ll need to turn around. Don’t worry, the walk back is with the current and much easier!
What You Need
- Bring a light waterproof jacket to stay warm if you’re cold natured. Zion is known for its high temperatures, especially in the peak summer months. The Narrows however, see little direct sunlight, and the water temperature holds steady around 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
- We recommend close-toed shoes. There is an adventure company that rents waterproof hiking boots popular with tourists. Personally we feel this is quite a waste of money, as running shoes are perectly fine. Yes, they will get wet, but they’ll dry out.
- A walking stick or hiking poles to steady yourself.
Zion’s second most famous hike is much shorter at about 5 miles round trip. However, it’s a strenuous hike that involves a lot of climbing- not for the feint of heart! Still, Angel’s Landing is a fun, unique trail with really beautiful views both of the trail itself and Zion Canyon below.
The trail begins at The Grotto. After a short walk and some steep switchbacks called Walter’s Wiggles, the real climbing begins as the trail devolves into a length of chain stretched over a narrow stretch of rock perched high above the canyon.
Do not do this hike if you are afraid of heights. Or crowds- as popular as Angel’s Landing is and as narrow as the trail is, you’re forced to wait on and squeeze past clusters of hikers at some of the trail’s more confined points.
What You Need:
- Hiking shoes with a reliable tread. This is not the place to be slipping on rocks.
- A well-secured camera. Make sure your camera is strapped to you somehow and is hands free. You’ll need both hands for the last part of the hike.
- An alarm clock. Get up early to avoid the heat and the crowds. The first bus out of the Visitor Center during peak season leaves at 6:00 AM. So… wakey, wakey.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon is all about the sunrise and sunset and that is precisely why there are two aptly named trailheads: Sunrise Point and Sunset Point. There’s no denying that sunrise over Bryce Canyon is fantastic, and to experience the park at its most magnificent you’re better off getting to Sunrise Point before sunrise to see the sun come up over the canyon and to get your photos during magic hour.
Aside from the dramatic lighting and views, Bryce Canyon is a paradise for the casual hiker! There are many trails in a variety of lengths and difficulty levels, all offering great views and fantastically unique geological features.
Named for the rock formation that looks like Queen Victoria (it’s a stretch to say it looks like a lady in a dress, but you know, erosion), this trail winds through some of the best features in the canyon, all while staying close enough to the edge to provide overlooking views of Bryce Canyon.
We did all of the trails at Sunrise Point and can say that the Queen’s Garden trail is the best trail for magic hour. You’ll be able to see the sunrise from many points along the trail , as well as see more than enough views of the hoodoos both up close and far away.
Navajo Loop is a short, steep trail that winds through towering, bright orange canyon walls. The features are unlike any other in any of the Mighty 5, making it an extremely picturesque hike and a must-see part of the park.
Because the Loop is so shaded, it’s more suited to doing in the late morning or afternoon when the sun is hotter, especially if you have other hikes at Sunrise Point you’d like to hike also.
Get some exercise while seeing all of Bryce Canyon’s best trails, Queen’s Garden, Peekaboo Loop, and the Navajo Loop. The entire trail is a figure 8 loop over about 7 miles.
Peekaboo Loop is very strenuous because of frequent elevation change. Keep in mind that Bryce Canyon is already at almost 9,000 feet above sea level. This makes the steep uphills on Peekaboo Loop much more strenuous- and there are plenty of them. Still, it’s a fun hike and significantly less crowded than any other at Sunrise Point.
What You Need:
- Sunscreen. Byrce Canyon National Park is at the highest elevation out of all the parks in the Mighty 5. This means you’re much more exposed to UV rays and can get burned easier and faster- even in the morning. Cover up!
- A camera. It’s hard to take a bad photo at Bryce Canyon, where there are stunning landscapes and abstract shots waiting to be taken almost anywhere you look.
- A water bottle. Especially if you plan on hiking Peekaboo Loop, plenty of drinking water is essential!
Capitol Reef National Park
Though the “hike” is really more of a walk it’s so easy, this is one of the most gorgeous hikes in the entire Mighty 5. The gentle, sloping walls of the canyon combined with the uniformly pastel color palette are so beautiful and unique, you’re silly if you visit Capitol Gorge and don’t hike this short trail.
Hit the trailhead before sunrise to have it all to yourself and to get the best views and expressions of color.
This scenic hike is a bit of a scenic drive as well. While the Capitol Gorge hike ends in a tour of the water pockets folded into the sides of the canyon, the walk is not as spectacular as the drive to the trailhead. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth it, however!
The water pockets are a key feature of Capitol Reef, and the subtle features and colors in Capitol Gorge are just as impressive as in other areas of the park, so this hike is not to be missed. It’s also completely flat until you reach the end, where there’s a brief climb to the water pockets.
Cassidy Arch and the Frying Pan
If you’re up for a more challenging hike with a better variety in scenery, we can’t recommend the Cassidy Arch and Frying Pan trails enough. These two trails form an 8 mile stretch that climbs up and on top of the canyon walls, providing a spectacular tour of the canyon rim.
Because these two trails are so exposed, they can get very hot during the day. In fact, this is exactly why the trail is called the “Frying Pan.” The Cassidy Arch trailhead begins at the end of Grand Wash, so to really experience these trails, we recommend starting Grand Wash before sunrise so you can hike Cassidy Arch and the Frying Pan before the worst of the heat.
What You Need:
- Sunscreen. Capitol Reef is at a high elevation, so you can get sunburned much quicker and easier than if you were at a lower elevation. Especially if you’re planning on hiking the Frying Pan, sunscreen is a must.
- A water bottle. Bring plenty of extra drinking water, as the gorges in the park are wide and not sheltered from the sun.
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is just next door to the more famous Arches National Park, however it’s a much larger park with more to do and less people. Canyonlands has three distinct areas- Island in the Sky, Needles, and the Maze- all of which have to be accessed independently because of the enormous canyon that divides the park. The Maze is extremely remote and only accessible to high clearance, 4 wheel drive vehicles, so we won’t be sharing hikes for that section.
Island in the Sky
Island in the Sky is best seen from a vehicle, with its many pull outs and overlooks, but there are a handful of short hikes that provide access to a few interesting features.
A short hike ending in one of the most interesting features in the Might 5. Upheaval Dome is so unique, scientists can’t quite agree on how it was created. You can hike a quarter of a mile to the first lookout point, or continue up the trail for another view.
A moderate hike and a great summary of the geological features of Island in the Sky. Murphy Point offers fantastic views of White Rim. Go the whole 3.6 mile loop or just venture as far as you’re comfortable with.
Named for the needle-like rock formations within it, Needles is the area of the park most common for hiking and backpacking. With many small canyons easily accessible on foot, it’s a hiking and adventuring paradise.
Big Spring Canyon to Squaw Canyon Loop
This is a very fun hike and great overview of the canyon habitat and Needles geology. Because the canyons aren’t massive with unscalable walls, it’s possible to walk from one to another by walking up and over the rocky walls.
Start in Big Spring Canyon and follow the trail to Squaw Canyon. The trail is marked by cairns, pyramidal piles of small rocks, placed along the trail. Be sure to look out for these, as in many parts of the trail that are along canyon walls, there is no defined trail other than a line of cairns to follow.
This hike is just under 8 miles. Overall, the grade is easy, with the terrain in the canyon being flat, but there are sections where you will need to climb and scramble over large rocks. Go early in the morning to catch the best light and to avoid the heat.
What You Need for Canyonlands Hikes:
- A water bottle. Don’t hike anywhere without enough drinking water!
- Sunglasses and/or a hat.
- Sunscreen. Make sure you slather on some sunscreen on any pieces of exposed skin. The sun’s rays are very strong in Canyonlands and it’s easy to get burned quickly.
- Hiking shoes with a good tread- essential for the Big Spring to Squaw Canyon Loop hike!
Double O Arch
Arches’ furthermost maintained trail ends in the Double O Arch, with plenty of slot canyons and great views of the park territory on the way. This one of the longest trails in the park, at around 7 miles roundtrip if you’re just going to Double O Arch.
Though there are no arches on this trail, there are plenty of other interesting geological features mixed with the occasional peek of the vast landscape that surrounds the park. The hike itself is a gentle downhill for about a mile, and hikers can either get picked up at the end or double back to the beginning.
Because the hike is so easy, it’s a popular one, so you’ll want to go early before it gets too crowded.
This varied trail leads straight to the Eiffel Tower of Arches, the Delicate Arch. It’s about 3 miles round trip to the arch and back and offers a mix of steep, rocky terrain and paved walkways.
As Delicate Arch is the most famous feature in one of the most famous parks in the country, the trail is a tourist magnet, especially in peak season. Go as early as possible to avoid the worst of the crowds.
What You Need for Arches Hikes:
- A water bottle. There are notices everywhere in the park about drinking enough water- heed them!
- Sunglasses and/or a hat.
Have you tried these hikes? Are there any day hikes in Utah’s National Parks that we’re missing? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section!