Zion National Park is home to rugged trails with precarious dropoffs. Its red monoliths attract technical climbers from around the world. The park plays host to nearly 4 million visitors each year. But you don't have to be an outdoor expert or even have a lot of time to enjoy the beauty of the steep canyon walls. For a signature Zion experience, try these family-friendly activities that can be done in one day.
The Riverside Walk is a great activity for all ages. Our group included a 2-year-old and an 85-year-old. The paved trail meanders along the banks of the Virgin River. There is virtually no elevation gain. Trees and cliff walls provide shade in most areas.
The trail starts at the Temple of Sinawava, the last stop on the Zion Shuttle. The scenic walk is a favorite of Zion visitors. There is access to the river at several points along the trail. Here the Virgin is slow moving and great to splash around or cool your feet in.
The trail is 1 mile up and 1 mile back. During the winter months, the trail is sometimes closed due to icy conditions. There are restrooms and water available at the trailhead.
The Riverside Walk is the gateway to the Zion Narrows. The Narrows' slot canyon is a quintessential hike of this national park. Those more adventurous in your group can continue up the trail and hike through the Virgin River as the canyon narrows, its steep cliffs blocking out the harsh desert sun. Go as little or far up as you like depending on how much time you have.
The Pa'rus trail is the only trail in Zion Canyon open to bikes. It goes along the Virgin River valley and is bursting with wildflowers and other vegetation. It's a nice contrast to the rocky cliffs on either side.
The trail is paved and extends from the Visitor's Center parking lot to Canyon Junction. It is a 3.5-mile roundtrip ride, so it's great for kids. The trail is full sun, so it's best in the morning or evening.
There are a few points you can get off the trail, lock up your bikes and enjoy some of Zion's other sites like the Zion Human History Museum and the Zion Nature Center.
The Emerald Pools trail is a breathtaking mix of red rock monoliths, waterfalls and natural hanging gardens. It's a "choose your own adventure" hike. The trail is a 3-mile loop that passes the lower and middle Emerald Pools with a spur to the upper pools at the top of the loop. You can visit just the lower pool, the lower and middle pools, or all three.
The hike to the lower pool is easy and paved. It is 0.6 miles one way. There is a small elevation gain.
Here the trail goes under two waterfalls that are spilling down from the middle pools. Vegetation is creeping from the cracks in the rock walls.
Past the fall at the lower pool, the trail continues in dirt to the middle pools. There are switchbacks and a quick gain in elevation.
Between the two middle pools you'll find the spur to the upper pool. The hike to the upper pool is strenuous with a 350-foot ascent. The view is worth the extra work. A waterfall spills over the top of the red cliff walls seemingly from nowhere. The pool is clear and mist gives a refreshing feeling to the small alcove.
The hike back down to the trailhead near Zion Lodge is replete with picturesque views of the valley below.