What’s the best way to see Zion National Park? Why, hiking, of course! The painted canyon walls, chocolate-colored river, and sprawling cottonwood groves are best gazed upon close up. Whether you’re planning a visit with the kids or the grandparents, try our picks for the Top 5 Family Hikes in Zion National Park.
1. Temple of Sinawava Riverside Walk
This hike begins at the far end of Zion Canyon, at the last shuttle stop. It’s a fairly easy, 2 mile round trip walk on a paved pathway that follows the Virgin River along the bottom of the canyon. It’s wheelchair accessible, and the kids will like the beachy, rocky area near the end that’s right by the water’s edge.
2. Pa’rus Trail
This trail meanders over and beside the Virgin River from the South Campground near the Visitor Center to Canyon Junction. It’s your best bet for bikes, strollers, wheelchairs, jogging, or dog-walking. The entire trail is 3.5 miles round trip, but you can do as much or as little as you want.
3. Canyon Overlook Trail
A moderately difficult trail near the East Side Tunnel, Canyon Overlook is only 1 mile round trip and a fantastic place to see the sunrise at the viewpoint over Pine Creek Canyon and lower Zion Canyon. We were there between 7 and 8 a.m. in March and were mostly alone. (The parking lot is small, so early or late in the day are probably the best times to go.) The trail is unpaved, hard-packed dirt with lots of rocks to scramble up and over. The long drop-offs are mostly fenced, and the view at the end is breathtaking.
4. Kayenta Trail to the Upper Emerald Pools
The Kayenta Trail is the only way to get to the lovely Upper Emerald Pools. The entire hike is about 3 miles round trip on an unpaved, dirt trail that’s accessed near the Grotto shuttle bus stop. (Bathrooms, picnic tables, and water stations are located here. Fill up your water bottle and maybe an extra… if you hike all the way to the waterfall, you’ll need it.)
Start this hike by crossing the bridge over the river and following the Kayenta Trail to the junction with the Lower Emerald Pools trail (which, sadly for us, was closed when we visited in March 2017 due to a rock slide). From here, you can see the waterfall of the Upper Emerald Pools, which is where you’re headed. Continue on until the trail peters out at a shallow green pond. There’s a trickling stream here and lots of toppled trees to climb; many people only go this far. For the more resolute hikers, a small sign points the way onward to the Upper Emerald Pools. This 1/4 mile path is much steeper, sunnier, and rockier, and admittedly, we contemplated turning back at least once before passing both a pregnant woman and a girl with a prosthetic foot. Ummmm….. yeah, we kept going.
In the end, this hike was SO worth it. The Upper Emerald Pools sit in a grotto at the base of a waterfall where the air temperature is easily 10 degrees cooler. (Heavenly on a warm day!) Pull up a boulder to rest your weary legs while you meditate on the stunning scenery. If you’re visiting in the warmer months, we recommend doing this trail in the morning when it’s not so hot.
5. Weeping Rock Trail
This trail can’t really be called a hike, but it is a fairly steep climb up to the misty rock wall where water seeps horizontally out of the stone. In places, the water just trickles; in others, it’s like standing behind a waterfall, which is delightful. The back wall of the grotto is covered in plants like ferns, columbine, and mosses, and interpretive signs along the trail point out trees and other natural features.The pathway is paved, and it’s only .4 miles round trip.
We only spent two days in Zion, and while we saw plenty, there are a number of other hikes we didn’t take. These five hikes were our top family picks for the amount of time we had. Click on the map below to see all the hiking opportunities in the park.
Consider these for your own hikes in Zion…
We saw a number of people with telescoping hiking sticks like these. They looked really handy for navigating the uneven terrain and all the rocks sticking up out of the pathways. We wished we had brought ours.
We also experienced great temperature variances from morning to midday to evening. We can’t live without our lightweight down jackets like these. To read about all of the clothes, shoes, hats, and jackets we like to take on our trips, click here for Women’s Travel Clothes and here for Men’s Travel Clothes.
If you’re looking for a great guide to all the hiking options in Zion, whether you’re visiting with a toddler or planning to tackle the famously strenuous Angels Landing Trail or the Zion Narrows, this one gets great reviews.