“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence”
—Henry David Thoreau
There are thousands of miles of great hiking trails throughout Utah. Some trails are most well-suited to rugged, multi-day backpacking, but there are innumerable “out and back” and “loop” hikes ranging from quick trots to stunning formations, and moderate paths than can be done in a few hours to full-day explorations.
Head to southern Utah where there are five national parks in a relatively small area. Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Zion National Park are all located here.
Before setting out on any hike, check with local rangers or guidebooks about a hike’s difficulty ratings, descriptions, and cautionary advice.
Always carry plenty of water in both the deserts and mountains. Each person should carry one liter of water for every two hours of hiking time. For a full-day hike, that adds up to one full gallon per person. It’s important to keep hydrated, even if you don’t feel thirsty.
Bring plenty of high-energy snacks that will help keep your energy up back to your car.
Practice Leave No Trace principles along the trail and respect nature’s desired and needed permanence.
Arches National Park Hiking Trails
A day of hiking in Arches National Park pairs world-famous landmark views with a humbling sense of respect for the desolate stretches of sandstone formations. The park is one of Southern Utah’s most famous hiking destinations with an easily accessible network of trails that often culminate right at the base of an impressive sandstone arch.
1. The Primitive Loop
Found within the park’s Devil’s Garden, Primitive Loop is a fantastic longer hike. The eight-mile trail will help stretch your legs while showcasing a brilliant section of Arches National Park.
The entire garden is a labyrinth of trails that burst off in a variety of directions. But the main trail takes you along thin ledges and some tricky but thrilling rock scrambling with rock cairns guiding the way. Some of the many arches you’ll see along the hike include the gorgeous Double O Arch and Private Arch. Double O is the second biggest in Devil’s Garden with one being 71 feet wide and the other 21.
2. Delicate Arch
Starting at Wolfe Ranch Parking Lot, this 3-mile moderate trail takes you to the most beloved parts of Arches National Park. In a park full of natural arches, this one stands alone, free-standing, and utterly breathtaking.
Owing to its length and popularity, the trail can get crowded. It’s one worth getting up at the crack of dawn for sunrise or waiting patiently for sunset. This will help you avoid the crowds while also seeing the arch at the best times of the day. As anyone who’s been around a desert sky would know, the clear horizon, open sky, and arid colors combine to create a kaleidoscopic world of lights and shadows that will fuel you for the rest of your trip.
3. Park Avenue Trail
The natural arches may bring in travelers from around the world but the park’s wide range of intricate rock formations will linger long in your memory. An easy way to see some of the strangest and sometimes confusing formations, hike the Park Avenue Trail.
The 4-mile out and back hike is easy and has minimal elevation gain. Start with the brief trek to Park Avenue with the beguiling rocks reminding hikers of a city’s downtown. Then walk down into the vast canyon, passing endless rows of mesmerizing conglomerates on your way to the memorable Courthouse Towers.
Along the way, enjoy long-range views of the La Sal Mountains as you walk by iconic formations such as the Organ, Sheep Rock, and Three Gossips.
Also consider the following family-friendly hikes:
- Windows Primitive Loop (1 mile): A relatively short hike where you’ll find three separate arch formations
- Double Arch (.8 mile): One of the most popular hikes in the park, this short trail ends beneath a spectacular arch
- Broken Arch (2 miles): Another popular loop trail that leads hikers through a sandstone arch
- Landscape Arch (1.6 miles): Consider this trail a must-do hike to see the largest arch in Arches National Park; plus, two more arches are easily reached with a short side trip
Canyonlands National Park Hiking Trails
Canyonlands National Park is an enormous region; in fact, it’s the largest national park in Utah. As a result, the park is divided into three regions: The Needles, Island in the Sky, and The Maze. The Needles District is the park’s hub for well-developed trails and the most popular place to hike. Island in the Sky offers similarly groomed trails, but now they’re nestled high atop a mesa that’s wedged between the Colorado and Green rivers. Last but not least, The Maze is a desolate and disconnected region (there are no services within 50 miles in any direction), and a classic destination for experienced backpackers.
No matter which region of the park you visit first, consider adding these great hiking trails to your next trip itinerary.
1. Druid Arch Trail
In the Needles District, the 10.8-mile moderate trail takes you off the beaten path. The entire district is great for overnight hiking and this is its crown jewel.
The primitive trail begins at the Elephant Hill Trailhead. Follow the cairns which guide you through a slot canyon before turning right towards Chesler Park. The remoteness of the trail means every blind turn offers a surprise and a magnificent view. You’ll feel like you’re exploring and not merely hiking.
2. The Mesa Arch Trail
The iconic hike is only 0.5 miles long and will see some crowds compared to other longer treks. However, it’s worth braving and if you want, come at sunrise for an even more memorable hike.
Mesa Arch could be a rival to Delicate Arch for the most beautiful arch in Utah. At sunrise, the sun peeks through the gap shining sections of the desert in light, the rest becoming a gorgeous silhouette. For an even better vista, head to the left of the arch for a short rock scramble. This will provide a complete view without the frame of the arch.
3. Murphy Point Trail
Covering 3.6 miles with little elevation, the Murphy Point Trail follows the canyon’s rim with vibrant desert views. The trail begins in a desert field leading up to the canyon. The views continue to get better until you find yourself on the precipice. Then turn and follow the rim. Along the way, you’ll look over the rolling Green River, the White Rim Road, and the impeccable Candlestick Tower. Complete the trek at sunset with a headlamp handy for the best experience.
Also consider the following family-friendly hikes in the Island in the Sky region:
- Aztec Butte (2 miles): A somewhat challenging climb to a scenic viewpoint in the Island in the Sky area where you’ll see ancestral Puebloan structures called granaries
- Upheaval Dome Overlook (1.6 miles): A short, steep hike to get the best view of perhaps the most interesting geological feature in Utah
- Grand View Point (2 miles): An easy day hike to a magnificent viewpoint overlooking canyon country
Also consider the following family-friendly hikes in the Needles region:
- Cave Spring (.6 mile): An opportunity to learn about the park’s cultural history and desert plant life on a short hike
- Pothole Point (.6 mile): A short, educational hike about what life was like in desert potholes; great for families with small children
- Slickrock Foot Trail (2.4 miles): A scenic trip through the geology of the park; this trail stays high and gives a great overall perspective of the entire southeastern corner of Canyonlands National Park
Capitol Reef National Park Hiking Trails
The seemingly endless stretch of cliffs you’ll see at Capitol Reef are beholden to The Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile-long ripple on earth’s surface. Millions of years ago, a faultline shift caused a series of uplifts, ultimately creating the daunting stretch of cliffs and canyons you see today. Nowadays hikers from around the world visit the park to experience the geologically spectacular landscape from an easily accessed network of hiking trails.
1. Cohab Canyon Trail
The gilded Cohab Canyon features honeycomb walls mixed with reds, oranges, and oxidized iron. It’s arguably the most multi-faceted canyon in Capitol Reef National Park. Its captivating beauty was once home to the many wives of the polygamists in Fruita.
As you walk along the 3.4-mile return trail, the canyon makes way for mini archways and dramatic hoodoos that exist within the Kayenta Formation. To lengthen the hike, join a duo of trails that lead to views above the Fremont River and Fruita.
2. Cassidy Arch Trail
You don’t have to go to Arches to admire nature’s incredible engineering. The moderate trail is 3.4 miles long and takes you to the famous Cassidy Arch.
The hike is beautiful throughout, guiding you along the edge of a canyon with plenty of epic views. Just be warned, you’ll often walk alongside a large drop-off.
The arch isn’t just a beautiful sight; it’s one of the few you can walk across. The memorable experience is sure to get the heart racing but will make for some amazing photos.
3. Upper Muley Twist Canyon
Those seeking a true adventure should consider the Upper Muley Twist Canyon. The 14.8-mile, difficult trail takes you by arches, through narrow slot canyons, and along an elevated rim.
The trail follows the canyon as it carves its way through the Waterpocket Fold showcasing Wingate and Navajo sandstone along the winding canyon. The rock has eroded creating a swath of interesting formations from arches to honeycombs.
The trail meanders through narrow canyons and by slip rock to dramatic views. The trail is marked by cairns but a map is recommended.
Also consider the following family-friendly hikes:
- Capitol Gorge (1 mile): A quick hike through a beautiful, deep canyon that leads hikers to historic inscriptions from pioneers and miners
- Grand Wash (2.2 miles): A trailhead at the end of The Grand Wash Scenic Drive leads hikers into a deep canyon with spectacular narrows
- Fremont River Trail (1 mile): While not too long, this hike starts easy but gets relatively steep; expect impressive views of the Fremont River with every step
- Hickman Natural Bridge Trail (.9 mile): One of the park’s most popular trails, hikers will see artifacts of the Fremont people and an impressive 133-foot long natural arch
Bryce Canyon National Park Hiking Trails
Hiking through Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the best ways to see the park’s famous hoodoos, spires, and sandstone fins. An interconnected network of trails makes it easy to keep hiking all day where trails branch off toward new landmarks and discoveries all without ever straying too far from the park’s main road. Whether you’re a family of adventurers or venturing into a solo backpacking expedition, Bryce Canyon’s trails won’t disappoint.
1. The Rim Trail
To see a lot of the park on a single trek, put on your hiking boots and explore the Rim Trail. 11 miles return, the moderate trail comes with a steep incline to begin. But once you’re at elevation, you’ll have splendid, heart-stopping views in every direction.
Start at Bryce Canyon Point which you can reach on the park’s shuttle. The highlight of the experience is capturing the Bryce Amphitheater in all its glory. Hike into the amphitheater on one of three hikes or continue to admire more of the trail’s prismatic topography.
2. Bryce Point to Sunrise Point
This 8-mile moderate hiking trail provides many of the park’s intriguing geological wonders in one place. The trail begins with a beautiful trek to Sunset Point. After your walk at elevation, descend into the famous amphitheater via the Navajo Loop Trail. Venture down into the aptly named Wall Street with sandstone spires soaring left and right.
The magical vistas continue to get better as you trek beside the hoodoos along the brilliant Queen’s Garden Trail. Here, the rock monuments soar through the pines before being replaced by the Two Bridges Hoodoo. Eventually, you’ll reach Sunrise Point for an awe-inspiring view.
3. Fairyland Loop Trail
Beginning at Fairyland Point, a stop along the shuttle route, the Fairyland Loop Trail is one of the best day hikes in Bryce Canyon National Park. Covering 8 moderate miles, the trail will take you to Sunset Point for an enthralling golden hour.
The trail takes you by many spectacular hoodoos but the real highlight is Tower Bridge. Named after the famous bridge in London, the natural phenomenon stands imposingly above the rest of this unforgettable landscape. For many, this is a common turnaround point.
Also consider the following family-friendly hikes:
- Navajo Loop Trail (1.4 miles): A popular trail that makes a short 1- to 2-hour loop from the rim at Sunset Point down to the floor of Bryce Canyon; the trail visits favorite hoodoo formations such as Wall Street, Twin Bridges, and Thor’s Hammer
- Queens Garden Trail (1.8 miles): A short trail descending below the canyon rim that takes hikers to fascinating rock formations including Gulliver’s Castle, the Queen’s Castle, and Queen Elizabeth herself
- Bristlecone Loop Trail (1 mile): A short loop that stays entirely above the canyon rim as it traverses a subalpine fir forest; the trail is named after the bristlecone pine trees, the oldest tree species in the world which is found more frequently along this trail than along other trails in Bryce Canyon
- Connector Trails (2 to 4 miles): A series of short “connector” trails that take hikers from the canyon rim to various points along the Under the Rim Trail
Zion National Park Hiking Trails
Zion carries a reputation as a bucket list destination for adventurous trail seekers around the world. Here you can gaze down the commanding Zion Canyon from atop Angels Landing, reconnect with nature on a multi-day backpacking expedition, or visit one-of-a-kind destinations like Emerald Pools via easily accessed day hikes. However you imagine a perfect day hiking, Zion National Park has the trails to fill your itinerary. To start planning your trip, browse the park’s trails below.
1. The East Rim Trail
For an epic full-day trek, don’t look past Zion’s East Rim Trail. The lengthy 22 miles will have you working up a sweat as you venture deep into the park exploring every inch of the eastern canyon. The hike is rated as moderate to difficult.
You can start in two different spots with the East Entrance being the most common. From there, trek up and down into the spectacular Echo Canyon. In the other direction, you’ll hit the fascinating Weeping Rock first.
To get here, jump off at Shuttle Stop 7 readying your legs for 2,400 feet of ascent up the side of Echo Canyon.
2. The Narrows
Zion National Park was carved by the Virgin River. The Narrows Trail takes you along the water, deep into the intricate slot canyon. As you wander beside and sometimes through the river, the walls of the canyon rise to either side, curling and rising above your head.
The vibrant colors of the rock cover all shades of browns, reds, oranges, and yellows with some black scars added for good measure. The trek is a sensory experience with each splash of water echoing along the trail.
You can hike the moderate to difficult trail in either direction with a popular choice being the 16 miles down to Chamberlain Ranch to camp overnight. Before arriving at Zion, you’ll need to grab a permit for this hike.
3. Emerald Pools Trail
The Angels Landing hike may be one of the most popular in the United States. But it’s been written and walked to oblivion. The Emerald Pools trail is an underrated, easy-to-moderate hike that’s as fun for adventurers as it is for families.
The trail’s name promises a certain type of natural grandeur and it certainly delivers. Along the short 3-mile trek, you’ll enjoy a trio of emerald pools sparking under the Utah sun. You’ll reach the first pool in a single mile, one that also features a breathtaking waterfall. A brief stroll will take you to the Middle Emerald Pools Falls, one that will have you sitting and admiring the views for a while yet.
Those feeling adventurous can add in some light scrambling to reach the Upper Emerald Pools. To reach the trailhead, make your way to Shuttle Stop 5.
Also consider the following family-friendly hikes:
- Northgate Peaks Trail (4.2 miles roundtrip): This family-friendly hike offers expansive views of Zion and makes for an excellent summer route due to its high elevation
- Pa’rus Trail (3.5 miles): This easy out-and-back is not only one of the park’s most pleasant strolls, but the paved trail is also open to dogs on-leash, cyclists, and is wheelchair accessible
- Riverside Walk/Gateway to The Narrows (2.2 miles): A short, paved stroll along the Virgin River to the stunning mouth of Zion’s iconic slot canyon
I was here, I saw this and it mattered to me.
—Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel