Get your heart rate up and find world-class adventure in Zion National Park. From backpacking the iconic Narrows to climbing beautiful hand cracks to a 15-mile bike ride, this is your schedule for adventure. This itinerary is ambitious even for the most adventurous among us, so rather than trying to conquer every item on this list in one trip, we’d encourage you to treat it like a bucket list. Pick and choose a few adventures for your trip, intersperse it with a couple mellow days of picnicking and ranger talks and save the rest for your next trip to Zion. We know you’ll be back.
Day 1: Backpack The Narrows
One of Zion’s most iconic features, The Narrows is a stunning slot canyon formed by the Virgin River. A hike here will bring you under towering cliffs, past breathtaking waterfalls and have you wading, and even swimming at times, in the Virgin River’s icy waters. You’ll need to apply for a permit to backpack the entire 16-mile downstream stretch starting from Chamberlain’s Ranch on the east side of the park, to the Temple of Sinawava on the west side of the park. Permits become available on the fifth day of the month before your desired hike date at 10 a.m. MT on nps.gov/zion. Half the permits are also available on a first-come, first-served basis one day in advance at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center Wilderness Desk. (www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/narrowspermits.htm)
If you’re looking for a mellower day without permits, start from the Temple of Sinawava (accessible via the park’s free shuttle) and hike five miles upstream to Big Springs – as far as you can get without a permit. While not quite as remote-feeling as the upper canyon, you’ll still see jaw-dropping sights like Mystery Canyon Falls at 1.5 miles and Wall Street at 3.5 miles where the canyon narrows to just 22 feet and the walls tower overhead at 1,500 feet.
Water levels fluctuate greatly and flash floods are a possibility. Always check weather conditions before hiking. You’ll need proper gear like waterproof shoes, pants and a dry bag for spending the entire day navigating slippery rocks and cold waters, even in the height of summer. Zion Outfitters in Springdale rents all the gear you’ll need to safely conquer the Narrows.
7 a.m. Start from Chamberlain’s Ranch
After leaving a shuttle car at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, park at Chamberlain’s Ranch Trailhead just outside the park’s east side and get an early start on today’s portion of the hike. Or alternately arrange a shuttle with Zion Adventure Company. You’ll be on a dirt trail until mile three when you’ll enter the Virgin River.
11 a.m. Stop for Lunch
Be sure to break for lunch before the canyon narrows at 6.45 miles. Always practice Leave No Trace and pack out what you pack in.
3 p.m. Set Up Camp
Set up camp at your designated site starting at mile 7.03. Miles 7-9 are time consuming, so make the choice when reserving your site to power through them before setting up camp or to tackle them the second day when you’re fresh. Be sure to pack plenty of warm, dry clothing as campfires aren’t allowed in the canyon.
Cyanotoxins often exist in the waters of the Virgin River. Water filters will not remove these potentially fatal bacteria, so always filter your backpacking water directly from springs and never from in-stream water. Be sure to avoid getting river water in your mouth or any open wounds.
Day 2: Continue the Zion Narrows
7 a.m. Hit the Trail
Get an early start to tackle some of the most difficult parts of the trail.
11 a.m. Break for Lunch
At mile 11.31 you’ll begin to encounter more people as you hit the un-permitted section starting from Big Springs. You’ll likely want to break for lunch before this so you can enjoy some solitude.
3 p.m. Head to Springdale for Après
You deserve it. Pick up your shuttle car once you finish the hike and head back through the park to Springdale for an early dinner and a beer. Zion Brewery at 95 Zion Park Blvd. serves up an impressive array of microbrews alongside burgers and sandwiches — a perfect end to a long backpacking trip.
Day 3: Take a Scenic Bike Ride
8 a.m. Get Your Caffeine Fix at Deep Creek Coffee Co.
Start your morning off right with locally roasted, small-batch coffee, smoothies and breakfast fare like bagel sandwiches, toasts, burritos and quinoa bowls at Deep Creek Coffee Co. in Springdale. It’s located at 932 Zion Park Blvd., #3.
9 a.m. Rent a Bike
Stop by Zion Outfitters and rent a cruiser bike or e-bike to go for a mellow scenic ride up Zion Canyon. You’ll be minutes from the park visitor center at this rental shop and can walk through the pedestrian entrance station with your rental bike.
Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is closed to passenger vehicles in the summer months, so the only way to see this stunning canyon is by shuttle bus or by bicycle. From the Pa’rus Trail beginning at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, you can bike 7.5 miles, merging with the scenic drive up the canyon. The trail gains 450 feet so is a beautiful, mellow ride well-suited for fit families at 15 miles roundtrip. If you’re looking for a shorter ride, hop on the shuttle which is equipped with bike racks for regular bikes, but not e-bikes, at any of the stops along the way to get a lift back to the visitor center.
If you’re looking to add on more to your day, you can access several shorter hikes from the scenic drive including the Emerald Pools (1.2-2.2 miles roundtrip with trailheads beginning at the no.5 and no. 6 shuttle stops).
Always make sure to yield to shuttle buses on the road.
5 p.m. Picnic at Checkerboard Mesa
Take some time to soak in Zion’s incredible scenery without an agenda. Head to the less-crowded east side of the park and park at the pull-off near Checkerboard Mesa. There are tons of great rocks for picnicking out here. Pack some sandwiches, or some charcuterie if you’re feeling fancy, and take in the sights as the sun starts to go down.
Day 4: Hike an Awe-Inspiring Trail
6 a.m. Hit the Trail
If you’re still craving more jaw-dropping Zion hiking, we’ve got two options for today’s hike. With some advanced planning and a little luck, you can score a permit to day hike the challenging Subway. If you don’t get a permit or are looking for a shorter but still adrenaline-filled hike, opt for Angel’s Landing.
Option 1: The Subway
The hike to The Subway affords you a true canyoneering experience. This stunning formation gets its name from its tube-like walls and is a 9 to 9.5 mile round-trip day hike. Its official name is the Left Fork of North Creek and requires competitive permits year-round. This hike can be done two different directions, both of which require extensive route-finding. The Bottom-Up route is a strenuous day hike starting from the Left Fork Trailhead. The Top-Down route is a true canyoneering experience including rappelling and swimming through deep, debris-filled pools. It starts from the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead. Park officials suggest you either have extensive route-finding knowledge or hike with someone who has navigated the Subway before.
If you’re planning on going April through October, an advanced permit lottery is available via www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/thesubway.htm. Submit your $5 non-refundable application fee two months prior to your desired hike date and cross your fingers that your name gets drawn. Permits are awarded on the fifth day of the month after application. For example, if you wish to hike the Subway in July, submit an application in May and you’ll be notified on June 5 if you’ve won the lottery. Reservations for off-season become available the fifth day of the previous month.
Option 2: Angel’s Landing
While the Angel’s Landing hike may be shorter than the Subway, don’t underestimate it. You’ll gain 1,488 feet in elevation up steep switchbacks over 2.5 miles. The last half mile is the most daunting. It traverses a narrow ridge where the trail is only a few feet wide at points with drop-offs plummeting up to 1,500 feet below on either side. At times, you’ll even need to climb a steep cliff. There are chains to support you along the way, but be cautious and courteous of others.
There are usually a few fatalities at Angel’s Landing each year from people not staying on trail. It’s really important to have solid footwear on and to have your hands free at all times. You can’t access the trailhead via car May-Nov., so you’ll need to ride the free park shuttle to stop no. 5, the Grotto. The first shuttle leaves the Zion Canyon Visitor Center at 6 or 7 a.m., depending on the time of year, but if you’re looking to have a more intimate experience and avoid the sometimes-dangerous crowding on the route, time your hike with sunrise and ride your bike 5.5 miles up the canyon to the trailhead to start hiking before the shuttles begin running.
6 p.m. Refuel at a Converted Filling Station
Whiptail Grill used to be a gas station and is now a Mexican cantina with an inventive menu and patio. After a long day hiking, enjoy spaghetti squash enchiladas, slow-roasted sweet pork made into tacos with pineapple barbeque chipotle, green chili burgers and more. Find it at 445 Zion Park Blvd. in Springdale.
Day 5: Rock Climb Zion’s Walls
Zion’s stunning sandstone walls make it a great spot for trad (those who place their own protection, as opposed to sport climbing where routes are bolted) climbers. While the park is known for some of its challenging big-wall climbs, like Moonlight Buttress which is rated 5.12d (for reference 5.0 is a sidewalk and 5.5 is generally where the average person begins to need ropes), there are still plenty of opportunities for recreational climbers looking for more moderate routes.
7 a.m. Get Beta at Zion Rock & Mountain Guides
This gear shop and guiding service located at 1458 Zion Park Blvd. in Springdale is a great stop for picking up a couple extra carabiners or getting beta on routes in the area. If you’re not a comfortable lead climber, they also offer guiding services outside the park.
8 a.m. Climb The Headache
The Headache (www.climbing.com/places/the-headache-zion-national-park-utah/) is a 5.10 hand crack that runs three pitches and is a great day climb for experienced trad climbers. It’s shaded for most of the morning, making it a great choice for warmer days. From the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, drive towards Mt. Carmel Tunnel and park at the last switchback on the east side (approximately six miles). Walk past the ranger kiosk and continue east down a trail on the left to the obvious crack.
Zion often closes rock climbing seasonally for raptor resting, so be sure to check with rangers before setting out. Zion’s fragile sandstone can often become soft and unstable after a rain so wait until a wall is truly dry before climbing.
5 p.m. In-N-Out Run
On your way back to the airport in St. George or Las Vegas, stop by southern Utah’s only In-N-Out Burger at 832 Telegraph St. in Washington (a suburb of St. George) for burgers and animal-style fries. While not posted on the menu, employees will know you’re ordering fries covered in In-N-Out’s delicious fry-sauce topped with melted cheese and grilled onions.