Easy hikes in Zion National Park: Seven amazing trails

Some of the best hiking in Zion National Park is on easy trails.

Zion National Park in Utah is one of the most scenic places in the United States. It’s hard not to fall in love with the red-rock canyons, desert waterfalls, wildlife and wildflowers. And luckily, there are plenty of easy hikes in Zion to take beginner hikers to the best views.

The best part of visiting Zion is its diversity. You can spend the morning in harsh desert and the afternoon alongside a rushing river. These trails will allow you to see a little bit of everything. Pick two or three of them to fill a whole day.

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What do I mean by “easy hikes in Zion National Park”?

If you read this blog regularly, you’ve probably noticed that I do some crazy hikes. But I promise, the hikes in this post truly are easy.

First thing’s first — there are two trails in the park that are flat, paved, and accessible for people with mobility issues. They are the Riverside Walk and Pa’rus. All the other trails in this post require walking on uneven terrain where it’s only wide enough for one person to walk in each direction.

Most easy trails in Zion National Park are in Zion Canyon — the main area of the park where the shuttles run. But that means the trails cut along canyon walls. Even on the easiest hikes, expect loose dirt underfoot and some mild drop-offs. (Nothing like Angels Landing, don’t worry!) Wear shoes with good traction and you’ll be fine.

The hardest trail on this list involved 600 feet of elevation gain, and all these trails are less than 3 miles long. These hikes would be doable as part of a Zion itinerary with kids age 7 and up.

The three most essential things to bring on any hike in Zion are food, water and sunscreen. If you forget them, your hike will feel much harder. Bring at least 2 liters of water per person — that’s 3 typical plastic water bottles — in moderate temperatures, and 3 liters in summer.

Ok, now that we’re on the same page about what’s “easy,” let’s talk trails!

1. Lower Emerald Pools Trail

Emerald Pools in Zion provides views of a beautiful waterfall.
The Lower Emerald Pools trail is one of the top family-friendly Zion hikes.

If you have to choose one of the Zion National Park short hikes, make it Lower Emerald Pools.

This 1.2-mile hike takes you to a vibrantly green oasis that sustains itself from the tiniest trickle of water. It’s quite an unexpected destination after you walk along the harsh canyon walls to reach it.

The hike begins across the road from the lodge, where you can use the restroom and fill up your water bottles. Take a right from the trailhead and follow signs for Lower Emerald Pools.

As you get closer to the waterfall, the scenery gets greener and greener. You’ll walk under genuine tree cover — one of the only places in Zion Canyon with shade.

Finally, you come to a cave with a tiny waterfall trickling from above. The cascade forms a small pool at the base. All kinds of vegetation grows out of the pool. But better yet, you can walk behind the falls and catch some of the spray. There’s nothing better on a hot desert afternoon!

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The easiest hiking option is to return the way you came. You can also climb to Middle and Upper Emerald Pools for a more challenging hike, but the pools aren’t as pretty as the lower one. Alternatively, take the Kayenta Trail and the Grotto trail for a longer loop.

Hike details:

  • Length: 1.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: Less than 100 feet
  • Time to hike: 1-2 hours
  • Shuttle Stop: Zion Lodge

2. Riverside Walk

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Riverside Walk is probably the easiest hike in Zion — but that doesn’t mean it’s boring! It’s was one of the prettiest stretches of trail in the park. And it’s the BEST place to stop for lunch in the shade of a big tree while lounging by the river.

The Riverside Walk begins at the Temple of Sinawava. This area is a bit of a zoo, so it’s best to start your hike as early or late in the day as possible.

The first half of the trail is wheelchair-accessible along a paved path with an ever-so-slight incline. The trail runs alongside the Virgin River as it spills out of the Narrows. As you follow the river, the canyon walls around you narrow.

Along the way, you can hop off and stroll down to the riverbank. I saw people chilling here with snacks and drinks, playing Frisbee, and wading in the river to cool off. (Just note there’s a toxic cyanobacteria warning right now — children should not swim or wade.)

The second half of the trail gets a bit steeper and is not wheelchair-accessible, but it remains paved. It takes you through sensitive plant habitat as you hug the canyon walls. Finally, the hike ends at the beginning of the Narrows, where you can turn around and return the way you came.

Hike details:

  • Length: 2.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: Less than 100 feet
  • Time to hike: 1-2 hours
  • Shuttle Stop: Temple of Sinawava.

3. Watchman Overlook

One of the best Zion day hikes to start at sunrise is Watchman Trail.
Watchman Trail is one of the best easy hikes in Zion for sunrise.

The trail to Watchman Overlook is quickly becoming one of the most popular hikes in Zion. Why, you ask? Because you can completely avoid the shitshow that is the shuttle system and still get a beautiful view!

The hike begins from the Visitors Center in Springdale. Follow signs to the Watchman Trail, which picks up across the street from the Watchman Campground.

Watchman is one of the harder hikes on this list. It steadily switchbacks up the canyon walls to an overlook above the La Verkin valley. But it’s never overly narrow or steep.

All the effort is worth it for the panoramic views at the top. You can do a quick loop around the canyon rim — it only takes about 10 minutes — and get different angles on the valleys and canyons all around. When you finish, return the way you came.

Watchman Trail makes a fantastic sunrise or sunset hike. The colors of the rocks are brilliant in the soft light. Plus, it’s nice to avoid climbing the switchbacks in the heat of the day. I started out just after sunrise — around 5:30 am — and I only passed one other hiker on the way up.

Hike details:

  • Length: 3.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: The park has it at 350 feet, but I recorded 600, so…?
  • Time to hike: 1-2 hours
  • Shuttle Stop: Visitors Center

4. The Narrows

The Narrows is one of the best hikes at Zion.
The Narrows isn’t typically considered one of the Zion National Park easy hikes, but the first couple miles aren’t too difficult.

I know, The Narrows isn’t usually considered an easy hike. But hear me out — some of the best views on Zion’s most famous hike are early on. So you don’t have to slog too long through the river to make this a rewarding trail. It’s one of the Zion short hikes that is manageable for most visitors.

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The Narrows is the trail where you hike IN the river through the narrowest part of Zion Canyon. The park allows hikers to tackle this route several different ways — as a very long one-way day hike or backpacking trip with a permit, or as a low-key walk that’s as short as you want. The latter — known as the “Bottom Up” route — is the easy option.

The hike starts in the river at the end of the Riverside Walk. You’ll pass a 100-foot waterfall almost immediately. It’s at the exit of Mystery Canyon — where you can watch canyoneers rappel out in the afternoons. The water gets waist-deep here for a short stretch.

The trail remains easy until the turnoff to Orderville Canyon, just over half a mile in. This canyon marks the beginning of Wall Street — where the walls are their steepest — and makes for a fun side trip.

If you want to stick with easy hikes, you’ll want to turn around once you hit Wall Street. If you continue, you’ll have to swim and rock scramble.

Between September and May, you’ll need special cold-water gear to hike The Narrows. You can rent it from Zion Outfitter in Springdale.

Hike details:

  • Length: 3.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 200 feet-ish
  • Time to hike: 2-4 hours. Walking in the river is not fast.
  • Shuttle Stop: Temple of Sinawava

5. Pa’rus Trail

The Pa'rus trail is one of the best easy hikes in Zion.
Views from the beginning of the Pa’rus Trail, which offers the best hiking in Zion National Park for wheelchair users.

The Pa’rus trail is one of the best hikes in Zion that you can do without waiting for a shuttle. It starts from the same spot as the Watchman Trail — at the Visitors Center.

The Pa’rus Trail is paved as it runs along the river. It’s wheelchair-accessible and cyclists are also allowed to use it. It’s also the only one of these Zion easy hikes that allows dogs.

The hike is pretty, if not spectacular. You’ll get nice views of the Virgin River the whole time, and in the mornings and evenings, the red rock walls all around soak up the sunlight and look like they’re on fire.

If you’re lucky enough to snag a spot at the Watchman Campground, this trail runs just outside the campsites. It would make a lovely after-dinner stroll.

Hike details:

  • Length: 3.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 50 feet
  • Time to hike: 1-2 hours
  • Shuttle Stop: Visitors Center

6. Kayenta Trail

The Kayenta Trail is a short hike that is often used as a connector to other hikes.
The Kayenta Trail connects Emerald Pools with Angels Landing and The Grotto for easy access to some of the best hikes in Zion.

The Kayenta Trail serves as a connector between the Grotto and Zion Lodge. It’s not super remarkable on its own, but it is a scenic way to combine Angels Landing and Emerald Pools . Alternatively, use it to create a 5-mile loop with the Emerald Pools and Grotto Trails.

The Kayenta Trail provides a fabulous view of the entire Emerald Pools area. You’ll also get a nice glimpse of Angels Landing from below. The views are best going in the direction of The Grotto – Emerald Pools.

As far as easy hikes go, the Kayenta Trail is on the tougher end — mainly because it isn’t as perfectly manicured. You’ll find some steeper drop-offs and looser gravel than on other easy Zion hikes. It’s still family-friendly and on the easy side, but definitely not safe to hike in flip-flops.

But in exchange for the slightly more challenging terrain, you’ll get this trail more or less to yourself. I passed 3 other groups when I hiked it mid-afternoon in May. (Compared to Emerald Pools, where I must’ve passed 3 other groups a minute, that felt desolate!)

Hike details:

  • Length: 2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 150 feet
  • Time to hike: 1-2 hours
  • Shuttle Stop: The Grotto

7. The Grotto Trail

The Grotto is one of the best short trails for wildflowers.
Cactus flower along the Grotto Trail — one of the best easy hikes in Zion National Park for wildflowers.

If you want to spot turkeys and deer galore, the Grotto Trail is the hike for you.

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This easy hike starts from either Zion Lodge or The Grotto and connects the two shuttle stops. It runs along the side of the road/near the river, so it stays flat the whole time.

Mule deer — Zion’s most charismatic large mammal — love to graze on the sandy, grassy riverbanks. You’re almost guaranteed to see one if you hike this trail in the morning or evening.

This is a one-way hike. You can either return the way you came or take the shuttle back to your starting point/to another point in the park, since it starts and ends at shuttle stops.

You can also use The Grotto to form longer loops — such as Emerald Pools – Kayenta – The Grotto, or Angels Landing – Kayenta – Emerald Pools – The Grotto.

Hike details:

  • Length: 1 mile
  • Elevation Gain: 50 feet
  • Time to hike: 30 minutes
  • Shuttle Stop: The Grotto or Zion Lodge

Other easy and short hikes in Zion

These seven trails aren’t the only easy hikes at Zion National Park. There are a few others that I didn’t get the chance to do:

  • Weeping Rock Trail: An extremely popular hike that has been closed for several years due to a major landslide
  • Canyon Overlook Trail: On the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, this one-mile trail takes you to a different perspective on Zion Canyon.
  • Timber Creek Overlook: A 1.1-mile trail in the less-visited Kolob Canyon area. A good alternative to dealing with shuttle lines.

How to access the best easy hikes in Zion National Park

If you're planning to do any of these short hikes in Zion National Park, prepare for long shuttle lines.
The shuttle lines can turn these Zion easy hikes into a much longer outing.

Most of the hikes on this list are in Zion Canyon — the main frontcountry area of the park.

Because the canyon is so small, and parking is so limited, visitors must use the park’s shuttle system to reach the trailheads. The only alternatives are walking or cycling (it’s 8 miles one-way from the Visitors Center to the Temple of Sinawava).

Unfortunately, using the Zion shuttle is a bit of a nightmare. The park is keeping reduced capacity on the buses due to COVID-19 — so everyone on the bus must have a seat. This has led to lines upwards of 4 hours long at peak times on weekends.

Yep, you read that right — four hours long.

Your best bet when attempting these Zion National Park easy hikes is to get on the earliest shuttle possible. Like, 6 am early if you can do it. If you miss your chance to get into the park at the crack of dawn, it’s worth seriously considering renting a bicycle.

Additionally, when you come back from Zion Canyon, do not try to get on the last shuttle in the evenings. It will be full, and you will be stuck walking 8 miles back to Springdale in the dark. Aim to finish all your short Zion hikes in time for a shuttle at least 30 minutes before the last one. Check the schedule here.

The shuttle is much more low-key on weekdays and outside of peak season, although wait times of an hour are not unusual even then.

Ready to go hiking in Zion National Park?

These short hikes in Zion National Park are a big reason why it’s my favorite of the Utah Mighty 5. From the deep backcountry on The Subway to the sunrise from Watchman Overlook, every trail has something unique to offer.

Bring lots of water, sunscreen, and your camera — be safe and have fun out there!

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Looking for the best easy hikes in Zion National Park in Utah, USA? These hiking trails will take you to canyons, rivers, waterfalls and beyond. See the best of the desert Southwest on a Mighty 5 road trip and stretch your legs on Emerald Pools, the Watchman Overlook Trail, and more. #utah #travel #hiking

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Shelby Lamb
9 months ago

Everyone is going to Zion Natoinal Park these days and doing the narrows hike. Love that you included other hikes! The riverwalk hike looks amazing.

Chelsea Messina
9 months ago

I visited Zion years ago and have been dying to go back ever since. When we hiked the narrows the water was so high it went up to our chest! The grotto, emerald pools and angels landing were all beautiful too.

Rachel - Rays of Adventure

Wow, Zion National Park looks so beautiful! I’d love to visit all the national parks in this part of the USA, I can’t wait to be able to travel there.

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