A Brief Overview the Best Hikes in Utah’s National Parks
With five separate national parks within its borders, Utah is home to some of the world’s most breathtaking hikes and activities for both the amateur and avid outdoorsman. While the choices at Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef are practically endless, below is a breakdown of some of each park’s most popular hiking destinations.
ZION NATIONAL PARK
Perhaps one of the most famed hikes in the world, Angels Landing is one of Zion’s most popular attractions. A short yet steep adventure hike, Angels Landing offers unrivaled views of the breathtaking canyon from its summit. Before you reach the top, start at the Grotto Trailhead and hike through Refrigerator Canyon (it’s always shady!), Walter’s Wiggles’ series of 21 switchbacks up to Scout Lookout. From there, you’ll cross the Saddle and climb up the notoriously steep and narrow Hogsback using chains bolted into the stone cliffs. Trust us, though, the view from the top is worth it!
Emerald Pools is Zion’s perfect “choose your own adventure” hike, with the lower, middle and upper pools offering varying levels of difficulty. The lower pool is one of the easiest hikes in the park, just 1.2 miles roundtrip over paved gravel. (The lower pool is also wheelchair- and stroller-friendly!) For more of a challenge, try hiking to the middle and upper pools, which offer steeper, rockier trails and even more gorgeous, gem-hued water.
BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Mossy Cave Trail
Unlike the majority of hikes in Bryce Canyon National Park, the Mossy Cave Trail is located four miles past the park entrance on the way to the town of Tropic. A quarter-mile from the trailhead, the trail forks in two directions. The right fork heads north, following the artificial stream created by early pioneers to a dead-end featuring a small waterfall. The left fork heads southwest and leads hikers to the titular Mossy Cave. (Fun fact: the cave isn’t, in fact, a cave at all! It’s technically a grotto — constantly wet and dripping, it even forms ice in the winter months.)
ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
Delicate Arch is the world’s most famous natural arch, and the hike to see the stone wonder up close is just three miles roundtrip. While the journey climbs nearly 500 feet, passing the Wolfe Ranch cabin and a wall of Ute Indian petroglyphs over the course of the hike will help make the steep climb more bearable. Be sure to check weather conditions before venturing to Delicate Arch — snow and ice during the winter and summer heat can both make the trail dangerous.
CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK
Canyonlands National Park’s vast series of trails are divided into three subsets: Island in the Sky, The Needles and The Maze. The former two are filled with short walks and day hikes while The Maze — where Horseshoe Canyon is located — is so remote that its hikes are ideal for backpacking and overnight trips.
Horseshoe Canyon begins with a steep descent of nearly 800 feet and the hike will require a minimum of five hours or more. The canyon is home to some of the most significant rock art in all of North America, culminating in The Great Gallery — a giant panel of well-preserved, life-sized figures and intricate designs. The hike also features fields of spring wildflowers, a walk through sheer sandstone walls and mature cottonwood groves.
CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
Chimney Rock Loop
Located in south-central Utah, Capitol Reef National Park is in the heart of Color Country and has been referred to as a “hiker’s dream.” One popular day hike in the park is Chimney Rock Loop - a nearly four-mile roundtrip journey with panoramic views of Waterpocket Fold cliffs. The hike is particularly ideal for sunset, with its stunning vistas and western-facing dusky views.