James Kaiser

Best Backpacking Trails in Zion National Park

best backpacking trips zion

Backpacking is one of the best ways to experience Zion National Park . There’s nothing like camping in Zion’s wilderness to appreciate the park’s staggering natural beauty.

While there are plenty of great day hikes in Zion , backpacking reveals some of Zion’s most incredible landscapes—with a fraction of the crowds!

There are backpacking trails that explore the depths of narrow canyons, and trails that meander high above their rims. Trails that pass through wide-open desert, and trails that follow beautiful mountain streams.

And then there’s the ultimate backpacking experience: the Trans-Zion Trek. Stringing together four beautiful trails, the Trans-Zion Trek is a 50-mile, 3- to 5-day adventure that crosses the entire park!

Zion Backpacking Permits

All Zion backpackers need permits to camp in the backcountry. The permit system is necessary to limit crowds in the wilderness. While it can seem frustrating at first, when you’re enjoying a beautiful campsite with zero crowds, the Zion permit system makes total sense.

Advance Permits

Over half of all permits can be reserved on the park’s website up to three months in advance. March permits become available January 5 at 10am MT, April permits become available February 5 at 10am MT, and so on throughout the year. Cost: $5 online reservation fee plus $15–25 depending on group size.

Walk-in Permits

About one-third of permits are reserved for walk-in permits and cannot be reserved in advance. Those permits become available at park visitor centers the day before a trip.

Learn more about Zion backpacking permits

Zion’s Best Backpacking Trails

West Rim Trail, Zion National Park

West Rim Trail

The West Rim Trail is one of the most famous backpacking trails in Zion. And with good reason. Starting near Lava Point (one of the highest and best viewpoints in the park ), it follows Zion’s spectacular West Rim before dropping into Zion Canyon. Along the way you’ll pass high plateaus, tall ponderosa forests, and hidden sandstone canyons that rival Zion Canyon in visual drama. Eight lovely campsites are scattered along the trail.

Learn more about the West Rim Trail

East Rim Trail, Zion National Park

East Rim Trail

Although not as famous as the West Rim Trail, the East Rim Trail is no less spectacular. Starting near Zion’s eastern boundary, it ascends high above the striking canyons of East Zion en route to a lovely ponderosa forest. Dispersed camping is allowed near Stave Spring, the only reliable water source on the trail. Side trails radiate out to Cable Mountain and Deertrap Mountain , both of which make fabulous day trips. The East Rim Trail finishes with a dramatic descent through Echo Canyon before finishing on the floor of Zion Canyon at Weeping Rock .

Learn more about the East Rim Trail

Hiking The Narrows, Zion National Park

The Narrows – Top Down

The Narrows bottom-up , which starts at the northern tip of Zion Canyon, is one of the most popular day hikes in the park. But day hikers are only allowed as far as Big Spring. Past that point, The Narrows is the exclusive realm of backpackers with permits. Those who explore The Narrows top-down are rewarded with the same remarkable scenery—but with zero crowds! A dozen riverside campsites are spread out along the trail.

Learn more about The Narrows top-down

La Verkin Creek Trail, Zion National Park, Utah

La Verkin Creek

Wrapping around the base of Zion’s remote Kolob Canyons, the La Verkin Creek Trail explores a fascinating – and overlooked – part of Zion National Park. Sheer sandstone cliffs tower above, while beautiful La Verkin Creek bubbles below. Ten riverside campsites are spread along the trail. About 6.5 miles past the trailhead, a side trail heads to Kolob Arch, the largest rock arch in Zion—and one of the largest freestanding rock arches in the world!

Learn more about the La Verkin Creek Trail

Hiker in Hop Valley, Zion National Park, Utah

Stretching between Kolob Terrace and Kolob Canyons, Hop Valley has a flat valley floor surrounded by tall sandstone cliffs. It’s like a mini-Zion Canyon without the crowds. In fact, both Zion Canyon and Hop Valley formed the same way: ancient rockfalls dammed the canyon, forming ancient lakes that deposited sediments over hundreds of years. When the lakes drained, the flat lakebed became a flat valley floor.

In summer, when crowds and temperatures are peaking in Zion Canyon, higher, cooler Hop Valley makes a terrific escape.

Learn more about the Hop Valley Trail

The Chinle Trail, Zion National Park, Utah

Chinle Trail

Passing through Zion’s low elevation Southwest Desert, the Chinle Trail is like no other backpack in Zion. Most Zion trails pass through narrow canyons or along canyon rims. The Chinle Trail passes through wide-open desert. Dramatic sandstone peaks pierce the horizon, adding plenty of visual drama. Due to its low elevation, the Chinle Trail is hotter than other trails. Although sweltering in summer, the warmer temperatures are a blessing in the cooler months.

Learn more about the Chinle Trail

Trans-Zion Trek

Stringing together four popular trails, the Trans-Zion Trek is the ultimate Zion backpacking adventure. Starting in Kolob Canyons, the 50-mile trek follows La Verkin Creek to Hop Valley, then continues along the West Rim Trail to Zion Canyon. From there you’ll hike up the East Rim Trail to Zion’s eastern boundary. Most backpackers complete the trek in three to five days.

The hardest part: getting permits. During peak season it can be tough to get permits for any of the four trails that make up the Trans-Zion Trek. Obtaining all four at the same time can be particularly difficult. Consider going off-season in May or October, when you’ll also enjoy beautiful spring wildflowers or gorgeous autumn foliage.

Zion Backpacking Tips

Hiking in southern Utah presents several challenges, most notably hot summer temperatures that can top 100˚F in Zion Canyon. When temperatures spike, consider hiking in the cooler morning or evening hours. Another option is hiking in higher, cooler parts of the park such as Kolob Canyons, Kolob Terrace or East Zion.

Always carry and drink plenty of water (rangers recommend one gallon per person, per day), and protect your skin from harmful UV rays with high SPF sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat. To cool down, a wet bandanna on the back of the neck works wonders. 

Hiking / Backpacking Shuttles

Many of the trails listed above start at remote trailheads. Unless you have two cars, transportation can be tricky. Fortunately, private shuttles can drop you off at popular trailheads. I list the best, most reputable shuttle companies in my guidebook Zion: The Complete Guide .

Plan the Perfect Trip to Zion!

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5 Incredible Backpacking Excursions in Zion National Park, Utah

Posted by Sarah Lamagna June 09, 2021 Updated January 05, 2024

We research, evaluate and select travel destinations based on a number of factors, including our writers’ experience, user reviews and more. We may earn a commission when you book or purchase through our links. See our editorial policy to learn more.

Designated in 1919 as the 15th National Park, Zion marvels everyone who visits its sandstone cliffs and geological formations.

Zion averages around 4.5 million annual visitors — but only a handful of those get to see the true wild of the park’s backcountry. If you elevate your adventure and head out on one of the several backpacking trails, you’ll get to see a side of Zion that many visitors overlook. Whether it’s the dramatic top section of The Narrows, the Southwest Desert, or the less-touristy views in Kolob Canyons. No matter where you decide to camp in the backcountry, the views will not disappoint.

As a reminder, hiking in Zion National Park has its own quirks. In this part of the desert, even on the hottest of days the nights can drop considerably so come prepared to keep warm in your tent. With high temperatures during the day, it also means that water is more essential than ever. Plan ahead of your trip to see what water sources are located along your trail of choice.

Hiking in places like The Narrows offers stunning views but potentially dangerous situations. During rainy weather — especially the July to September monsoon season — this area can be hit with flash floods at a moments notice. So take head and watch the weather around the days of your trip. Carry the gear you’ll need depending on the trail you take. Ask yourself if you’ll need to buy neoprene socks or trekking poles or a larger water bladder. Even the best and easiest of backpacking trips can go sour quickly if you aren’t prepared with the right gear or the right information.

Pro tip: all backcountry camping requires a permit within Park boundaries. Some sites are reservable in advance, others are first come, first serve. Check out the National Park Service’s information on backpacking in the park.

Related Read: 7 Epic Things to Do at Great Basin National Park, Nevada

1. The Narrows – Top Down

zion narrows backpacking

Why you should go: see a stunning portion of The Narrows that day hikers can’t enjoy.

  • Distance: 16 miles (shuttle)
  • Elevation loss: 1,500 feet (the entire hike is downhill)
  • Difficulty: challenging

Most visitors to Zion National Park see only the southern portion of The Narrows . The popular day-hike starting at the northern tip of Zion Canyon is one of the most popular day hikes within the park boundaries. However, day hikers are not allowed past Big Springs — about 4 miles from the end of the Riverside Walk and where hikers enter the water.

But anything to the upstream of Big Springs is only for those with coveted backcountry permits. This is a point-to-point backpacking excursion meaning you start at one end and finish at another. You’ll need to shuttle between the two spots.

The hike starts at Chamberlain’s Ranch where you walk for three miles on an easy gravel road. Then head into the Upper Narrows portion until you reach the Deep Creek Confluence. This is where the backcountry campsites are located — you’ll be given a campsite when you pick up your permit. Hopefully you’ll land a campsite further down so you won’t have to hike as much the second day. But no matter your designated site, they pack in as many views as possible inside a slot canyon.

The campsites end at Big Springs and is where you might start to see more people in the creek. You’ll know you’re getting closer to the trailhead as more and more people walk by you wondering why you’re wearing a huge backpack. Tourists come from all over to see the famed “Wall Street” and some are not necessarily prepared with the right footwear or gear.

Pro Tip: explore the gorgeous Orderville Canyon as a side trip if you’ve got time and the weather is on your side.

Related Read:   12 Gorgeous Cabin Rentals Near Zion National Park, Utah

2. Hop Valley

hop valley backpacking zion

Why you should go: a mini–Zion Canyon without the crowds.

  • Distance: 14.3 miles (out and back)
  • Elevation gain: 1,020 feet (all uphill on the way back)
  • Difficulty: moderate

Hop Valley is part of an overlooked and under-appreciated side of Zion National Park: Kolob Canyons. Because area is higher in elevation than the main part of the park, it tends to be cooler — meaning this is a great place to beat the summer heat! This is also a great trail to do in the spring or fall though as wildflowers bloom and autumn leaves light up the edges of the trail.

No matter the season you head out, the trail starts with the smells of dry sagebrush —you know the smell I’m talking about! You’ll pass through a private ranch (the owners graciously allow hikers/backpackers to access their land) along the sandy trail. Due to the ranch, you’ll see plenty of cattle on the trail and is why Hop Valley is known to locals as “Plop Valley”.

Soon enough, glimpses of Kolob Canyons appear in your view. You’ll be surrounded by gamble oak (which is a true sight to see in the autumn) as you ascend the northern end of Hop Valley. There are two designated campsites along this section. After you set up camp (and if the light is on your side), then I suggest making the quick trip to Kolob Arch (the largest rock arch in Zion) before you head out the next day.

Pro tip: there is a small creek that flows through Hop Valley but it’s contaminated by cattle droppings. Get your water at Beatty Spring, just off the La Verkin Creek Trail.

Related Read:   11 Beautiful Glamping Spots Near Zion National Park

3. West Rim Trail – Top Down

west rim trail backpacking zion

Why you should go: single-handedly the best views in the park.

  • Distance: 14.2 miles (shuttle)
  • Elevation gain: 1,748 feet

Without a doubt, the most popular and famous backpacking trail in Zion is the West Rim Trail . It follows along Zion’s incredible and majestic West Rim before it drops into Zion Canyon, so its popularity is understandable.

There are eight campsites along this trail, but you can do this as a day hike if you’re a strong hiker. This is a point-to-point hike, so you’ll need to establish a shuttle/pick-up system prior to heading out on your adventure. As you hike longer and longer, the views of the dramatic sandstone peaks just get more incredible. One such sight is along a spur trail that heads west to Cabin Spring — definitely take this spur trail!

Eventually, you’ll descend into Behunin Canyon and around the base of Mount Majestic and end at Scouts Lookout. But your hike is not over. If you have energy, do the final push towards Angels Landing — believe me, it’s well worth the extra mileage and nerve-wracking drop-offs to get to this spot. After concluding this daring trail, simply head to the Grotto bus stop (#6 on Zion’s bus route).

Pro tip: load up on water at Potato Hollow Spring — it’s the only dependable water source before West (Cabin) Spring.

Related Read:   When is the Best Time to Visit Zion National Park?

4. La Verkin Creek Trail

kolob arch zion backping

Why you should go: hike to the largest rock arch in Zion National Park.

  • Distance: 18 miles (out and back)
  • Elevation gain: 2,326 feet

Although this is the longest hike in the Kolob Canyons section of Zion National Park, it’s a truly lovely stroll along the less visited section. The La Verkin Creek Trail starts at Lee Pass. Fun (or maybe not so fun) fact: Lee Pass is named after John D. Lee who was an early member of the Church of Latter Day Saints. He hid out in this area of Zion after he convinced a group of emigrants to surrender their weapons and property to Mormons which led to 120 of the emigrant party to be killed by Mormon militia and Paiute Indians. He was later convicted of mass murder and executed in 1877.

But this hike is so not as depressing as that story. You weave in and out of ponderosa pine forests and sagebrush ecosystems with the tall sandstone cliffs towering above you. All the campsites along the trail offer these incredible views. About seven miles in, you’ll hit the spur trail for Kolob Arch which is a highlight of the trail. The arch is the largest one in Zion and one of the largest free-standing arches in the U.S.

Related Read:   11 Backpacking Trips in the U.S. That Should be on Your Bucket List

5. Chinle Trail

chinle trail zion backpacking

Why you should go: the only place in Zion you’ll find petrified wood.

  • Distance: 15.5 miles (out and back)
  • Elevation gain: 1,794 feet

The Chinle Trail has scenery like no other in Zion National Park. So if you’re tried of the slot canyons and river crossings, then look no further than this trail. The trail actually starts out off of park land to the southwest of the Zion’s South Entrance. The first part of the hike meanders through a luxurious and ritzy housing development (not really my cup of tea if you ask me) before it opens up into the wild of Zion National Park.

The trail traverses Zion’s lowest elevations with sweeping views of the sandstone cliffs like the ones around the base of Mount Kinesava. Make sure to stay on trail always as cacti and biological soil crust are just off trail. Geology nerds will be excited about passing Huber Wash and entering the Chinle Formation in this area. Once upon a time, Zion was a humid swamp covered in mosses, ferns, and green forest. Those trees were buried and then mineralized forming petrified wood that you can easily see along the edges of the trail today.

Remember Leave No Trace principle # 4 , and leave what you find.

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Posted by Sarah Lamagna

Sarah is an ecologist-turned-freelance writer specializing in the ecotourism and slow/sustainable travel industry. Her bylines include The Denver Post, 5280 magazine, VeryWellFamily, Matador Network, and was an expert on NPR’s The Takeaway for her work on the wildfires in Colorado.

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The 14 Best Hikes in Zion National Park, Utah

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Table of contents

Zion Narrows Top Down Backpacking Guide

best backpacking trips zion

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best backpacking trips zion

One of the nation’s deepest and longest slot canyons, and also one of the most popular hikes in Zion National Park, The Narrows is the consummate epic adventure. Few things compare to hiking 16 miles through a narrowing natural hallway while angling shinbones against stealth currents and feet atop slippery rocks and mud. Ambitious, river-fording-experienced hikers can do all 16 miles in a very long day, but the best way to experience the iconic canyon’s spectacular beauty and solitude is to spend a night. The best of the route comes on Day 2, where sheer walls of sandstone reach thousands of feet above the North Fork of the Virgin River, framing blue slivers of sky and lush hanging gardens of fern, moss and monkey flowers.

Quick Facts

Distance : 16 miles

Days Needed : 2 days

Elevation Gain/Loss : -1,410 feet net elevation loss

Best Travel Time : Mid-May through Mid-October

Permits : Yes, very competitive

Difficulty : Moderate to Difficult

Shuttle Available : Yes

  • Gorgeous slot canyon
  • Good balance of sun and shade
  • Well-spaced campsites
  • Lower congestion due to limited permits
  • Constant source of water to keep you cool
  • Quiet nights
  • Possibility of dangerous flash floods
  • Highly competitive permit system
  • No bail out points
  • Constant wading and slick rocks can be tough on feet
  • Deep pools occasionally require swimming or chest-deep fords
  • Very little wildlife sightings

best backpacking trips zion

Best Time to Travel

The very best times to visit The Narrows is mid-April to June and late September to mid-October when the temperatures are cooler and the risk of flash floods is lower. But for experienced hikers, who are tuned into heat risks, it’s quite doable in June through September because the river will help cool off overheated bodies. It’s also a little easier in the summer because water levels are lower, rarely breaching the knees.

Flash floods

Flash floods are a serious concern in the Narrows that you should not take lightly. They pose a bigger risk in early and late summer and often accompany thunderstorms. It’s not unheard of for such storms to unload up to 4 inches of rain in 15 minutes. With no place to permeate, runoff collects in gullies, which overwhelms and releases into washes, and, finally, with ferocious momentum hurls down into the hallways of slot canyons. The deeper the water, the faster it runs, collects and eventually produces a life-snuffing wave that knocks down everything in its path. There’s virtually no escaping this in The Narrows.

That’s why the park service automatically closes The Narrows when the National Weather Service delivers a Flash Flood Warning, and keeps it closed for two hours after the warning is lifted. Before you venture in, check water volume data at the Virgin River Flow Gauge and keep an eye on current weather, and any flash flood forecast. Permits are never issued and existing ones rescinded when flows exceed 120 cubic feet per second (unlike the 150 cfs cutoff elsewhere in Zion). Finally, keep in mind that flooding is possible at any time, and floods have occurred on days they were not forecasted. As the park service, reminds you when you get your permit, your safety is your responsibility.

  • Total Distance : 16 miles
  • Total Elevation Gain/Loss : -1,410 feet net elevation loss
  • Overall Difficulty : Moderate to Difficult

As always, difficulty ratings depend on your experience, physical fitness, pack weight, and weather conditions. Seasonal rainfall and snowfall significantly impact water level, which fluctuates daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. The Narrows is mostly a moderately difficult trip when the river is running below 70 cubic feet per second (CFS). Most fords are knee deep but also across slippery, uneven river bottoms with occasional pools up to waist deep. Above 70 CFS, particularly walking against the current, crossings get much more difficult.

As always, know your limitations, brush up on your skills , and dial in your lightweight gear . Doing so will make for a safe and enjoyable adventure.

Whether you plan to day hike or backpack, you need a wilderness permit  for any travel above Big Spring, which is just under half way up the main gorge of The Narrows.

Zion National Park releases half of all available Narrows permits for advance reservations via a calendar reservation system. Reservations are available online, for a $5 fee, up to three months in advance of your trip date and become available the fifth day of every month at 10am Mountain Time. So for a trip in June, you can look for permits starting April 5, in July on May 5, and so one. For a more last-minute option, you can try to make a reservation (until 5pm MT) on the day before your trip, if a permit is still available for your desire entry day.

When day trips are fully booked up through the aforementioned Calendar Reservations system, the Last Minute Drawing becomes an option. To get one, submit an online application to obtain any remaining reservations for permits. Requests can be submitted as early as one week prior to a trip date until two days before at noon MT. The drawing is held at 1pm MT, two days before a trip date. Any spaces not taken through the drawing will be available as Walk-in Permits the day before a trip date. The Last Minute Drawing is limited to one request per person.

If spaces still remain after the Last Minute Drawing, Walk-in Permits become available one day in advance of your desired trip. Most backpacking sites are also available as walk-in permits and are obtained at park visitor centers the day before your trip.

best backpacking trips zion

Permit Costs

  • $15.00 1-2 people
  • $20.00 3-7 people
  • $25.00 8-12 people

Frequent visitors to Zion should consider enrolling in the Zion Express Membership . It allows members who have obtained a reservation to convert it to a permit online, three days before their trip. There’s no cost to enroll, no waiting in line to pick up permits, and reservation fees are applied to the cost of the permit. The entire flexible permit process can be completed online.

Unlike starting at the bottom (Temple of Sinawava), where the first couple of miles from the trailhead are as crowded as a New York subway but the scenery is immediately gorgeous, hiking top down delivers untold dividends in solitude along with mile after mile of sheer jaw-dropping beauty.

Chamberlin Ranch trailhead

The 3-mile hike into the actual “Narrows” starts just south of the Virgin River after a brief stream crossing (just past the Narrows information sign). It’s a straightforward route through the fairly desolate arid pasturelands of the privately held Chamberlain Ranch. The dirt road route is bordered by a desert forest of juniper and piñon pine and lined with electric fences holding back grazing cows. At 2.5 miles, you’ll encounter an old dilapidated homestead called Bulloch’s Cabin. From there, go about 200 yards further and take one of the trails heading eastward toward the stream—there’re a scattering of trails, but all eventually lead into the stream bed of the North Fork of the Virgin River. At this point, it’ll be clear that you’re entering the canyon, and before long the walls began to rise. From here on out, you’re in and out of water for the next 13 miles.

Here’s where the constricting walls give the Narrows its eponymous name as the route begins to traverse river and riverbank. In places here in the Upper Narrows, you can reach out and touch both walls of the narrowing gorge. The route here mostly only requires short fords and follows a well-defined trail along the riverbank.

 Just upstream of this mileage, you’ll work your way around a sketchy feeling traverse by a cascading waterfall, and then finally arrive at the confluence of Deep Creek, one of the North Fork of the Virgin River’s most significant tributaries and where water levels and CFS increase. The water volume, in fact, increases about three-fold. This means deeper crossings, and more challenging currents. 

Just below the confluence of Goose Creek, things get even more challenging. Expect a slower pace as pools deepen, detours steepen and slick down climbs impede speedy foot travel.

 You’ve arrived at Big Spring. From this point on, until you reach Orderville Canyon confluence two miles later, you’re in the water continually, sometimes up to your chest and, sometimes possibly swimming. This is easily the most dangerous part of the hike. There are few high ground escapes here.

Orderville Gulch, Mystery Canyon and Zion Stadium are where you’ll start seeing more sunlight along with hordes of day hikers. The steady uptick of people will continue to increase as you get closer to the exit at the Temple of Sinawava trailhead. The good/bad news is the level dirt trail gets a lot easier, and faster as you near the end of your adventure.

Getting To the Trailhead

Chamberlain’s Ranch Trailhead (also known as the Zion Narrows Upper Trailhead ) is a 1.5-hour drive from inside the park and the end of the road at the Temple of Sinawava trailhead. To get there, drive 2.5 miles east on Route 9 from Zion National Park’s East Entrance. Take a left on the paved route that goes north and continue 18 miles to a bridge that crosses the North Fork of the Virgin River. The route starts out paved but switches to gravel along the way. Just past the bridge, turn left and drive .25 miles to Chamberlain’s Ranch Gate. You may need to open it, and if so, be sure to close it behind you. We don’t want to let the cows out. Drive another half-mile in and park just before the road crosses the river.

Sedans can usually make it out to the ranch in dry weather, but things can get dodgy fast when the rain falls. The unpaved road gets very slick with mud. Snow closes the road out to the ranch entirely in winter.

best backpacking trips zion

Shuttle Options

You’ll need to take a shuttle service, hire someone to drive you, or take two cars and shuttle yourself to hike this route. Using two cars is the most economical, but it’s also very time consuming.

Commercial shuttle service is available to Chamberlain’s Ranch. The fee or charge per person ranges from $25 – $40. Seating is often limited so it’s best to nail this down well in advance of your departure date.

  • Zion Rock and Mountain Guides: 435-772-3303
  • Red Rock Tours: 435-635-9104
  • Zion Canyon Transportation: 1-877-635-5993
  • Zion Adventures: 435-772-0990.

If you use the park shuttle for your exit at the Temple of Sinawava, you’ll need to leave a vehicle at the Visitor’s Center. The park shuttle is expected to begin running on weekends in February until full time service starts on in March. The seven day shuttle typically does it’s last run the final weekend of October, although a weekend shuttle sometimes run through the third week of November. We always recommend calling the Visitor Center , as shuttle availability can change year-to-year. 

The Narrows offers 12 numbered sites. Only one-night stays are allowed, and require a top down traverse from Chamberlain’s Ranch to Temple of Sinawava (vis-a-vis) The River Walk Trail. Register for a campsite when you pick up you Zion backcountry permit. Pre-registrations are recommended for weekend trips. Campsite capacity is limited and only two sites can accommodate groups of more than 6 individuals. There’s really not a bad one out of the whole lot. If anything, you should select a campsite that matches your group size. The following is a list of campsites and size:

CAMPSITE #1: Maple Falls (also called Deep Creek) – 4 people

Just before you reach Campsite 1, the river dives over a 12-foot waterfall, which you can bypass by staying left and hiking up and over a steep, narrow but well defined path. The campsite is downstream of the falls on a fairly flat spot near the Deep Creek confluence. It can be reserved in advance.

CAMPSITE #2: River Bend – 4 people

Located on the right side of the river just past a waterfall about a 10-15 minute hike from the Deep Creek site. Look for a sharp bench about 10 feet above the river. It’s available for walk-up permit only. Over the next two to three miles, there are 10 more campsites located about a 10-15 minute walk downstream from each other. Keep an eye out for campsite markers as they’re not all obvious.

CAMPSITE #3: River Bench – 6 people

Another 10-15 minute walk and located on the right hand bench in a small stand of maple trees about 20 feet above the river. Pre-reserve or get a walk-up permit.

CAMPSITE #4: Flat Rock – 2 people

Look for a large flat rock next to the river about 10 minutes downstream from Campsite #3. The site is up on a bench about 6 feet above the river next to the canyon wall. It’s available for walk-up permit only.

CAMPSITE #5: RingTail – 6 people

About 5 minutes downstream from Flat Rock, look for a sandy area on the bench to the right just before Kolob Creek confluence. Pre-reserve or register on a walk-up basis.

CAMPSITE #6: Kolob Creek – 12 people

Also on the right about 20 feet above the river on a bench. It’s available for walk-up permit only.

CAMPSITE #7: Box Elder – 6 people

10 minutes downstream from Kolob Creek, this site is located on the left on a bench about 30 feet above the river. It’s available for reservations online or on a walk-up basis.

CAMPSITE #8: Boulder Camp – 6 people

Across the river from Box Elder, around a sharp bend, follow the trail on the right up slope for about 50 feet. It’s available for walk-up permit only.

CAMPSITE #9: Left Bench – 6 people

This one is on the left, about a 10-minute hike beyond Boulder Camp on a 10-foot bench next to the canyon wall, also in a grove of maples. It’s easy to miss. It’s available for pre-reserve or on a walk-up basis.

CAMPSITE #10: West Bend – 6 people

Located near Goose Creek, which about 1.3 miles past the confluence with Kolob Creek, and only 5 minutes from Left Bench, this campsite sits on a high bank on a westward bend of the river. It’s available for walk-up permit only.

CAMPSITE #11: Spotted Owl – 4 people

The sunniest of all the sites, it’s up a slope 10 feet above the river on the left side, immediately after the first stream crossing. It’s available for walk-up permit only.

CAMPSITE #12 High Camp – 12 people

Travel another 15-20 minute (it’s a particularly challenging route) to find the next campsite, which is about 300 yards upstream from Big Spring. Look up on the left side of the river to a 25-foot high bench featuring a stand of maple and Douglas fir. Keep in mind that Big Springs is also the typical turnaround spot for day hikers coming up from the Temple of Sinawava. The site can be pre-reserved or permitted on a walk-up basis.

best backpacking trips zion

Day Hiking Options

Top to bottom.

You could choose to walk the entire length of the Narrows in one day, though calling it a grueling undertaking would be an understatement. In the best of conditions for experienced hikers, it will take you about 12 hours to cover the 16-mile route. Wilderness permits are required to enter and hike the Narrows, and as with overnights, they are not issued when the flow is 120 cfs or greater. You’ll still need two cars or a shuttle to day hike.


You won’t need a permit to hike the Narrows upstream as far as Big Spring and back, a strenuous, 10-mile round trip, all-day adventure. This option allows you to see some of the most spectacular and narrowest parts of the canyon, but you’ll miss out on the incredible solitude an overnight experience in the canyon provides. This route is very crowded during shoulder and peak season.

Maps & Guidebooks

To date, there are no specific guidebooks detailing just the Narrows. There are several regional books that cover it as part of their overall Utah or Zion National Park coverage. As far as maps go, the USGS 7.5-minute topographical maps Straight Canyon, Clear Creek Mountain and Temple of Sinawava all show The Narrows.

  • Zion National Park Trails Illustrated Topographic Map – A highly researched and detailed 1:37,700 scale map that includes a chart detailing the extraordinary geology of Zion and a companion hiking timetable for The Narrows. It also has information on trailheads, campsites and mileage. (Bonus: Every Trails Illustrated map is printed on “Backcountry Tough” waterproof, tear-resistant paper. A full UTM grid is also printed on the map to aid with GPS navigation).
  • Lonely Planet Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks – If you are doing more hiking in the area, this Lonely Planet guide offers in-depth information on various of hiking and backpacking options and a wealth of other useful planning tips.
  • Water, Rock, & Time –The Geologic Story of Zion National Park by Robert L. Eves Learn how the landscape of Zion was created through the ongoing processes of geology. You’ll also learn about the main rock layers, and the role of water in carving and shaping the slot canyons, including The Narrows.
  • We use Caltopo to research trips, plan routes, and print maps for many of our backpacking adventures. It takes a little time to learn the tool, but it’s an excellent resource.
  • We use Gaia GPS for on-trail navigation on most of our backpacking trips. We always bring a topo map and compass , but Gaia is an excellent tool in the field. GPS signals can be very hard to come by when the canyon walls are steep, but may be possible in wide sections.
  • NPS- Plan Your Visit – Here’s a good planning primer from Zion National Park. You can also apply for permits and find up-to-date information on The Narrow’s conditions and regulations.

best backpacking trips zion

Zion’s backcountry staff recommends treating all water from the river and its springs since much of the water has passed over rangeland and may be contaminated with illness-causing pathogens. They also encourage hikers to carry in all of their water. Having said that, they also recommend drinking one gallon per person per day, which is a lot of water weight on your back. We recommend carrying a gallon to get you to Big Spring. Fill up and treat for your final day out. We often use the SteriPEN Ultra when backpacking, but in the desert we usually prefer chemical treatments. The lightest and most foolproof method is chlorine dioxide tablets or drops . If you prefer to filter your water, our top choice is the Sawyer Squeeze . Check out our water purification guide for more info and gear recommendations.

Like most slot canyons, there’s no official trail to follow through the Narrows. Instead, you’ll walk along sandy riverbanks and benches, wade through the river, and follow the curves of the canyon walls. It’s easy to follow the route as there is nowhere else to go (except if you decide to take a side trip up Deep Creek or Kolob Canyon). That being said, stay on the main stem of the river and avoid hard rights and lefts, which in most cases lead to deadend side canyons. Carrying a GPS or offline navigation like the Gaia GPS phone app is recommended. In wider sections of the canyon you might still get a connection and can plot your location. Caltopo is another excellent pre-trip mapping software that we recommend.

Human Waste

Pee in the water, but carry human waste disposal bags to haul out your solid waste. When you pick up your permit, the backcountry staff will hand you a Restop 2 compostable human waste disposal bag. It’s the best option for protecting the Virgin River from human pollution. Also called “Wag bags,” they’re easy to use and improve everyone’s experience of this irreplaceable highly trafficked area. Essentially an oversized Ziploc, it contains compostable polymers that instantly break down waste and turn it into a deodorized gel. The bag is very secure as well as the most sanitary way to transport and pack out your waste. Throw it in the trash on exit.

When you think about how many visitors hike in these canyons every year, and virtually no safe place to dispose of human waste, it’s pretty clear that the environment will suffer. When wag bags aren’t used, campsites smell awful and water sources become contaminated. This is for the greater good and you love nature, so please do your part to preserve this special place.

best backpacking trips zion

Backpacking Gear

We prefer lightweight backpacking because it’s more comfortable and it allows us to cover more ground with less effort. For recommendations on our favorite lightweight backpacking equipment, check out the CleverHiker Gear Guide  and Top Picks  page.

What To Pack

We used the Marmot Tungsten 2P UL  for this trip. It strikes a good balance between weight, cost and livability and is included on our best lightweight backpacking tents list .

For this trip we used the HMG Southwest 2400  backpack. It’s incredibly light and comfortable if your base weight is minimal. The HMG Southwest made our favorite lightweight backpacks list  as well.


Nighttime temperatures in the desert vary greatly depending on the season. When evening lows dip around freezing, we use the  Feathered Friends Egret UL 20 Women’s Sleeping Bag  and the  REI Magma 10 Men’s Sleeping Bag . When nighttime lows are 40°F or higher we prefer lightweight quilts like the  Enlightened Equipment Revelation . Here’s a list of our favorite  lightweight sleeping bags .


We used the  Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite  and  Sea to Summit UltraLight Insulated sleeping pads on this trip. Both are light, comfortable, warm, and make our list of the best backpacking sleeping pads .


We used the BRS Stove ,  Snow Peak Mini Solo Cookset , and Snow Peak Folding Spoon  on this trek, all of which make our top picks gear list  and best lightweight stove list . 


Zion’s backcountry staff recommends treating all water from the river and its springs since much of the water has passed over rangeland and may be contaminated with illness-causing pathogens. They also encourage hikers to carry in all of their water. If you are treating your water, we recommend the SteriPEN Ultra ,  chlorine dioxide tablets , or the Sawyer Squeeze . Check out our list of the best water filters for more info. 


You will have to carry a lot of water along this route, so good water bladders are key. We use Platypus Platy Bottles  on all our desert hikes and they hold up well over tough miles.


Footwear is a somewhat complicated choice for this trip. You’ll be spending a good portion of this hike in water and your shoes will be wet for the entire trip. Footing is the biggest challenge in riverbeds and on the steep banks along the river. Also, water temperature at certain times of the year can be very cold, so 2-3mm neoprene socks are highly recommended.

Because of the slick and rocky riverbeds, many hikers prefer sturdy, lightweight drainable canyoneering boots ( example ) with ankle support and lugs for traction. It’s uncommon for hikers to own this specific type of footwear, so many rent them from one of the gear equipment shops in Springdale before their trip.

If you have strong ankles, tough feet, and lots of river fording experience, it’s also possible to hike this trip in trail running shoes, but that’s a personal choice. We hiked this trip in trail runners with neoprene water socks to help keep our feet warm and it worked out well for us. Check out our best backpacking footwear list for more info. 

We would definitely not recommend hiking this route in open-toe sandals, though some do. In our opinion, you’ll at very least want closed-toe trail running shoes to protect your feet from getting torn up on the river rocks. 

We used the Petzl Actik  on this trip, which is an affordable, bright, and lightweight option.

When backpacking in The Narrows you’ll have to carry all your food. For some suggestions on common backpacking food options, check out our Lightweight Backpacking Food Guide  and best freeze-dried meal list . 


Although you won’t have to worry about bears, we find the Ursack Bear Bag  is the most foolproof food storage method to prevent critters (mice, chipmunks, squirrels, etc.) from getting to your food.

You’ll be wading through and fording rivers, sometimes waist and chest deep depending on time of year, for a good portion of this trip. Very few (if any) backpacking packs are fully waterproof, so we recommend packing all your items in individual dry bags, such as HMG roll top stuff sacks and S2S eVAC Dry Sacks .

Regardless of daytime temperatures, warm fleece clothing is essential, as evening temperatures in the canyon can drop significantly. When you’re cold and wet, you need warm and dry clothing. Day hikers should also be prepared for the drastic temperature drops in the late afternoon and early evenings.

Quick-dry clothing is essential for this trip. Forget cotton, which gets soggy and draws heat away from the body. Synthetics are your friend in The Narrows. Wool, especially hybrid merino, can be useful for keeping you warm but still takes longer to dry than synthetics. In the winter or shoulder season (as late as mid-May) you may want to consider renting a dry suit.

Here are some of our favorite hiking/backpacking clothing items from our Top Gear list . 

  • 1 Rain jacket shell: Patagonia Stretch Rainshadow / Rab Kinetic Plus
  • 1 Pair rain pants (optional): Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic
  • 1 Down jacket: Patagonia Ultralight Down Hoody
  • 1 Fleece jacket (optional): Extra warmth under your down jacket that will be warmer when damp and better to hike in.
  • 1 Pair hiking pants: PrAna Zion Stretch or running tights
  • 1 Pair hiking shorts: Nike dri fit running shorts
  • 1-2 Hiking t-shirts: Nike dri fit t-shirts
  • 1 Long-sleeve shirt: Nike dri fit quarter zip
  • 1-3 Pair underwear: ExOfficio boxer briefs or or ExOfficio women’s briefs
  • 2-3 Pair socks (add thin sock liners if using boots) : Balega running socks for warm weather & SmartWool mountaineer socks for snow.
  • 1 Pair long john bottoms and top for nighttime use (optional)
  • 1 Sun hat with full sun protection: Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap
  • 1 Pair gloves or mittens


We used Gaia GPS phone app  and Caltopo  in planning our trip and printing maps. We also carried the Zion National Park Trails Illustrated Topographic Map . In addition, we always hike with a compass  too, though the route was easy to follow and we didn’t end up needing it.


We used the Spot Gen3 GPS Messenger  throughout all our backpacking trips in Utah this year. The Spot can be used to send GPS distress signals in areas without cell reception, which is excellent, but it can also be used to send pre-programed messages (email or text) to let loved ones know you’re okay.


A small personalized first aid kit is essential. We used the .5 Ultralight Kit  and added extras, like painkillers and personal medications.


We cannot overemphasize how important it is to prepared for desert sun conditions. Sunglasses (polarized recommended), sunscreen, and spf lip balm are all critical on this trip.


We brought along a small Swiss Army Knife  which came in handy here and there. 


Although we don’t usually hike with trekking poles, they would be handy on this type of trip. Fording rivers will test your balance, especially moving against currents with slippery rocks underfoot. Check out some of our lightweight recommendations on our Best Trekking Poles list . 


  • Small towel: the Nano pack towel is great.
  • Cash and ID
  • Personal toiletries
  • Hand sanitizer: Always apply after using a bathroom and before eating.
  • Wet wipes: These are useful for cleaning up after hiking.
  • Insect repellant: Insects weren’t an issue for us on this trip, but we always carry 1 oz of DEET per person and pre-treat our clothing with permethrin .
  • Camera: The Sony RX100 is our go-to camera for lightweight backpacking.
  • Protective phone case: You will be trekking through wet, sandy, and dusty trail conditions on this trip, so a protective phone case is a good idea: LifeProof Fre phone case .

More Narrows Photos

best backpacking trips zion

Why trust us?

We understand how tough it is to find trustworthy gear advice, and that’s one of the main reasons we built CleverHiker. We live for outdoor adventure, and we take these guides very seriously.

  • Our recommendations are completely independent and based on hands-on experience.
  • We test outdoor gear for a living – we’ve logged over 20,000 trail miles and 1,000 nights in the wilderness.
  • Our team has thru-hiked some of the most iconic long trails, including the Continental Divide Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, Colorado Trail, Long Trail, Oregon Coast Trail, Arizona Trail, Pinhoti Trail, Superior Hiking Trail, as well as extensive peak bagging, and international treks.
  • We field test every product we recommend, which is sadly not the norm.
  • We travel to industry trade shows to stay up-to-date on product innovations.
  • We continuously update our guides throughout the year and when new products launch.
  • We treat recommendations to our readers as if they were for our family and friends.
  • We’re lifelong learners and we’re always open to feedback. If you think we’ve missed a worthy product or got something wrong, we’d love to know about it.

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Zion National Park, Utah

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Bearfoot Theory

West Rim Trail Backpacking Guide in Zion National Park

Plan your Zion West Rim Trail backpacking trip with this detailed guide that includes info on permits, campsites, gear, and more.

Plan your Zion West Rim Trail backpacking trip with this detailed guide that includes info on permits, campsites, gear, and more.

The Zion West Rim Trail is a 16-mile point-to-point trail that explores some of Zion National Park’s most expansive views, traversing a variety of different terrain starting from Horse Pasture Plateau before dipping into Zion’s iconic red canyon. The beginning of the trail is dotted with Ponderosas, sagebrush, and yucca – quite different than your typical Zion landscape. This is one of the most remote trails in Zion National Park, where you’ll cross paths with very few hikers, at least until the end when the trail hits the junction for Angel’s Landing before descending to the end of the trail.

When done over two days, the West Rim Trail is a leisurely backpacking trip that is great for beginners, but beautiful enough to keep even the most experienced backpacker excited. In this West Rim Trail Backpacking Guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know to plan an awesome weekend getaway on the Zion West Rim Trail. If you’re heading to Zion National Park, check out our comprehensive park guide here .

For an easy Zion National Park backpacking trip, read our West Rim Trail guide below.

Important Reminder: As it goes in all of the destinations we share, please practice  good trail etiquette  and remember to  Leave No Trace . This means packing out all of your garbage (including toilet paper) and following the established rules.   In the desert, this also means   learning how to protect cryptobiotic soil  and how it has a huge impact on our ecosystems.

Zion West Rim Trail Basics

  • Trail Type:  Point-to-Point (shuttle recommended)
  • Distance:  16.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain:  1700ft
  • Recommended Time:  2 days/1 night
  • Difficulty:  Moderate
  • Campsites:  9 available
  • Permits: Yes (for backpacking)
  • Dogs allowed: No

The most popular way to hike the West Rim Trail is as a one-way, top-down overnight hike starting at Lava Point , the highest point in Zion, and ending at The Grotto in Zion’s main canyon. This route, which is shown in red on the map below, means you get to experience the slow transition as you hike through the subalpine forest down into the painted desert canyons. This direction is also almost completely downhill, with only a few short uphill sections.

For the purposes of this guide, I am assuming that top-down will be your plan of attack. While best experienced as an overnight backpacking trip, quick hikers can also pull this off as a long day hike.

Zion National Park West Rim Trail Map

Alternate Route: Another option is to hike it as an out and back from the Grotto Trailhead (Zion shuttle stop #6) in the main canyon. People who do this route usually stop and turn around somewhere near Cabin Spring. To reach the top of the plateau, you need to continue about 1.5 miles past Cabin Spring. Based on the views, I think this would be worth the effort, but it would require getting a very early start.

Side Trip: Toward the end of your hike, you will reach Scout Lookout, which splits off to the popular Angel’s Landing. Tacking on Angel’s Landing adds 0.9 miles, 750 feet of elevation gain, and requires an advance permit . If you do plan to hike Angel’s Landing, make sure you save enough time to reach the end of the trail before the day’s last shuttle leaves otherwise you’ll find yourself stranded within Zion Canyon with a long walk back to the Visitor Center. Angel’s Landing is not for the faint of heart, and you should stash your heavy backpacking gear if possible.

Plan your Zion West Rim Trail backpacking trip with this detailed guide that includes info on permits, campsites, gear, and more.

Best Time to Hike The Zion West Rim Trail

Lava Points sits at 7,890 feet above sea level, and the road to get there can be snowed in as late as May. Typically the road opens in June but in warmer years, the road does open earlier. What that means is that if you have a trip planned for May, you might want to have a backup plan. On the other hand, because of this uncertainty, getting a walk-up permit for the West Rim Trail during the shoulder seasons might be easier than in the later months.

Temperature-wise, May, June, September, and October are the most comfortable months to hike the Zion West Rim Trail. Keep in mind that the first half of the hike is up on the top of the plateau and is going to be much cooler than down in the canyon. In May when I did the West Rim Trail, we encountered snow flurries and low 40s temps when we set off on the trail, and the next day as we descended into the canyon it was 80 degrees. So you need to be prepared with clothing that will keep you comfortable in a wide range of temperatures. Summer in Zion is prone to thunderstorms and flash floods, so if you plan to backpack then be sure to check the weather ahead of time.

Zion National Park West Rim Trail Backpacking Guide

Zion West Rim Trail Permits

Please note that permit information is accurate as of March 2022. Please check the NPS website for the most up-to-date permit information.

If you are day hiking the West Rim Trail, you do not need a permit. All Zion National Park backpacking trips require a wilderness permit (which doubles as a campsite reservation). 4 of the West Rim Trail campsites are available by advance reservation, while the other 5 are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Advanced Permits

Advanced permits for campsites #2, #4, #6, and #8 become available at 10am Mountain Time on the 5th of every month, 2 months prior to your start date. For example, if you want to go backpacking in Zion National Park in September, you would need to reserve a permit on August 5th.

When you go to book a campsite, available dates for the selected campsite will appear in green while dates that have already been reserved will appear in red. The number in the bottom left corner is the group size limit for that site. Permits during peak season weekends usually sell out quickly, but advance permits can be made up until 5pm Mountain Time the day before your trip.

All Wilderness permits must be obtained in-person at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center Wilderness Desk either the day of or 1 day prior, to your start date and the reservation holder must be the one to obtain the permit.

Walk-Up Permits

Walk-up permits for sites #1, #3, #5, #7, and #9 become available one day prior to your trip. For the best chance of getting your desired permit and campsite, be at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center Wilderness Desk right when it opens the day before your trip. Depending on the time of year, you may be able to get a permit the day of if they aren’t all taken.

Wilderness Permit Fees

  • $15.00 for 1-2 people 
  • $20.00 for 3-7 people 
  • $25.00 for 8-12 people

There is also a $5 processing fee for Wilderness permits.

Plan your Zion West Rim Trail backpacking trip with this detailed guide that includes info on permits, campsites, gear, and more.

Zion West Rim Trail Campsites + Water

You must camp at designated campsites on the Zion West Rim Trail. There are a total of 9 campsites and the Zion National Park website has pictures and a detailed description of all of the campsites . In terms of breaking up the distance between the two days, the best campsites to aim to stay at are Sites 1-6 . Note on the map that site #1 is the furthest from Lava Point.

Other than distance, things to keep in mind when choosing a campsite include the campsite capacity and water availability. The only year-round reliable spring on the West Rim Trail is Cabin Spring near sites #1 and #2. Potato Hollow and Sawmill Spring are both seasonal and were completely dried up when we were there in May. All of the water sources are circled in blue on the map above. I recommend carrying more water than usual (I love carrying soft water bottles since they pack up small) since water can be unreliable until Cabin Spring.

Zion National Park West Rim Trail Backpacking Guide - Campsite #4

Zion National Park Backpacking Gear

Zion’s West Rim Trail doesn’t require any technical backpacking gear. Since you will be hiking downhill for the bulk of Zion’s West Rim Trail, I highly recommend bringing trekking poles to protect your knees and help you stabilize on loose ground.

Make sure to pack plenty of layers as camping up on the West Rim can get unexpectedly cold. Also, if you aren’t camping near a flowing spring, be sure to start the hike with enough water to get you to Cabin Spring (and don’t forget the water you need for dinner and breakfast). You will also want to bring a water filter , as the water is murky and not safe to drink without filtering it.

Kristen backpacking in Zion National Park // West Rim Trail

Zion West Rim Trail Transportation

Transportation is one of the trickier parts of planning your West Rim backpacking trip since it is a one-way trail. If you have more than one car, you can do a car drop at the Visitor Center and shuttle yourself to Lava Point, then drive to pick up the car at Lava Point after you finish your hike. However, that will add at least 2 hours to your trip, so I recommend booking a shuttle service to drop you at the Lava Point trailhead to start. If you do plan to drive yourself, you can  check conditions on Kolob Terrace Road here .

Booking a one-way shuttle typically costs $45/person (as of March 2022) and is well worth it. There are several outfitters in town – check out Zion Rock and Mountain Guides , Zion Adventures , and Red Rock Shuttle . When you finish the trail, you will take the Zion National Park shuttle from the Grotto trailhead back toward your car.

Zion West Rim Trail Itinerary

Please note: this trail report is from my West Rim backpacking trip in May 2015 and details, such as water availability on trail, should be checked before your own trip.

Day 1: Lava Point to Campground

The trail begins at Lava Point , the highest point in Zion National Park. We started our hike mid-morning and the weather was not looking good with wet snow flurries and the temperature hovering around 40 degrees. But we were in high spirits and excited to experience a new side of Zion at 7,800 feet above sea level. The high alpine vegetation and the cool mountain air felt nothing like the Zion that I knew.

Around lunchtime, the sun broke through the clouds, and it looked like the rain was on its way out. We stopped at Potato Hollow in hopes of finding water but had no luck. Water availability is limited on the trail, and you should plan on bringing enough to get you to Cabin Spring which is located near campsite 2 and typically flows year-round. After Potato Hollow, the views started to open up, and it only got better as we continued. Around 4:30 we reached our designated campsite, Campsite 4 . Despite being exposed, we were shielded from the strong winds that were whipping along the rim just a couple hundred feet away. For a group of 8, the site was huge and we had plenty of room to stretch out and enjoy the solitude.

Read next: Best Backpacking Trips in Utah

Sunrise at Campground #4 Zion West Rim Trail

Day 2: Campground to The Grotto

On Day 2 I woke up to an amazing sunrise view from my tent. It was so cool being able to see both the sunset and the sunrise from our campsite. We had a lazy morning, hitting the trail around 10:45am. That’s the beauty of taking two full days to hike the West Rim Trail – there’s no need to rush, and you can take your time to soak in the experience. 

About an hour after leaving camp, we stopped to fill up our water at Cabin Spring , which is located just a few feet from a vertigo-inducing cliff. After leaving Cabin Spring, the vegetation thins out and the slick-rock trail, which was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Core, hugs the side of the cliff. Here you get the most dramatic views of the entire hike.

Plan your Zion West Rim Trail backpacking trip with this detailed guide that includes info on permits, campsites, gear, and more.

As you reach the end of the trail, it spits you out right at Scout’s Lookout and the junction to Angel’s Landing . As you make your way down into the main canyon on Walter’s Wiggles , you’ll encounter a lot of people on the trail who are making their way up. Enjoy the last bit of views and make sure to take a dip (or at least cool off those feet) in the Virgin River on your way to the shuttle bus.

For a beginner-friendly backpacking trip, the West Rim Trail in Zion was so much bang for the buck. Non-stop views, relatively few people, and awesome camping made this trip so much fun.

Plan your Zion West Rim Trail backpacking trip with this detailed guide that includes info on permits, campsites, gear, and more.

Have you hiked the Zion West Rim Trail or are you planning a backpacking trip there? Let us know in the comments below!

Plan your Zion West Rim Trail backpacking trip with this detailed guide that includes info on permits, campsites, gear, and more.

With two decades of hiking and seven years of van life under her belt, Kristen has dedicated her life to helping people experience the positive effects of nature. As a pioneer in the outdoor blogging space, she founded Bearfoot Theory in 2014 and has since authored more than 350 blog posts about outdoor travel, hiking, camping, and van life. Her work has been featured in National Geographic, Outside Magazine, and Backpacker, and when she’s not on the road, she lives in Park City, Utah with her partner Ryan, their son, and two adventure pups.

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I haven’t been on a backpacking trip yet, but I am totally eating up your blog. Zion has always been on my list of places to visit, and this trip seems great. I have a list of gear I have to accumulate, but I’m hoping to get out soon. Thanks for sharing and making your posts so full of info. SUPER helpful!

Amanda – That’s great that you are thinking about going backpacking for the first time. Zion is a great place to try it out, and the West Rim in particular, is an awesome choice. Just make sure to carry enough water. Other than that, it’s a pretty easy trip and a big payoff in terms of the views. Hope you get out there soon and let me know if I can help in any other way! -Kristen

Another well written post! Great job Kristen! 🙂

Thanks Liz! I really appreciate that!

Planning a 30th BDAY backpacking trip in Zion and your post was more helpful than their website. Thank you!

Sweet! Thanks for letting me know.

How many miles from nearest trailhead to campsite 4? I’m trying to plan a one night backpacking trip anywhere in Zion with a less than 5 mile hike in. Any suggestions? We have a group size of 7 and some in our party have backpacked before but are not in the best of shape.

Campsite 4 is more than 5 miles in from the Lava Point trailhead. It’s probably more like 7 or 8 miles, and it’s also not near any water. That said it’s all downhill so the hike itself is not that difficult.

Very helpful list and descriptions ! Doing this hike in a few weeks (beginner backpacker) and a little worried about the switchbacks by cabin springs. How wide is the trail here? I have a healthy fear of heights but am trying to soothe my fears! Thanks!

The trail was all pretty wide and well maintained. Have fun out there!

Hi! I just booked a reservation for site #4 for July but I am planning on going out and back from The Grotto trailhead. Do you know roughly how many miles it is from the grotto to site #4? trying to figure out how much time it would take..roughly.

Hi Olivia, it is 17 miles.

Hi Kristen! Thanks so much for this guide. Me and my partner (group of 2) want to do the West Rim Trail sometime during Thanksgiving Week (Nov 18-24). We’ve had trouble booking campgrounds at other parks around this time of year. Do you think it would be too risky to opt for a walk-up instead of making a reservation for a 1-night backpacking trip? I’m hoping that we will be able to do a walk-up permit for a campsite since my understanding is that Nov is off-peak.

Hello! Great question–it really is a gamble–you’re right that is more of the off-season but it’s also a holiday and I am sure others will have similar ideas of taking this time to get outdoors. I would definitely go for it but be prepared for cold weather layering!

Hi! Thanks so much for this blog post. It’s been super helpful in planning our first backpacking trip. We’re doing this hike next week and have reserved site #4. Can you estimate around how long it took your group to get to the campsite? We’re trying to figure out what time to start our hike. Thanks in advance!

Saw this post and now I am planning a future backpack trip on the West Rim Trail. Great info.

It’s a good one! Let me know if you have questions.

Thanks for a very informative post. It has me excited about our upcoming backpacking trip. Could you please tell me how many miles campsites 7, 6, and 5 are from the Lava Point Trailhead. Is there a map showing distances between campsites or distances between campsite and Lava Point?

You should check the map and info on the Zion national Par website.

Planning this hike for early October and was wondering if you have a sleeping bag recommendation. I currently have a 15 and 30F REI Magma and I’m not sure how cold it will get on the rim at campground 4. Thank you!

Hi there, Katrin! Thanks for your comment. October is usually a pretty nice time of year there, so you’ll probably be fine with the 30F bag. But, I recommend you monitor the weather within the week before you leave to make sure a weather system isn’t moving through. Good to hear you’ve got a couple of options. Enjoy your trip, let us know how it goes!

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Angels Landing - Zion National Park

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A must-see destination for nature lovers, Zion is like the Grand Canyon but it towers above us instead of below!

best backpacking trips zion

We offer multiple Zion hiking tours that explore Southern Utah’s national parks, many of them combining Zion with other Southwest and Utah highlights like Bryce, the Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Grand Canyon. We offer camping-based and inn-based Zion tours that showcase the best of Utah’s Canyon Country on day hikes complimented by wonderful camping or lodge-based accommodations. We also offer Zion Day Hike Tours for folks with less time who want to maximize their experience with the help of an expert!

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Looking out at Zion Canyon from the Angels Landing Trail in Utah

Ultimate Utah National Parks Hiking Adventure

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best backpacking trips zion


Wildland Trekking has been funning guided hiking tours and backpacking trips in Zion and other Canyon Country destinations in Utah since 2006. We know this place like the back of our hands and we’re in love with it. It’s our passion for Canyon Country that has helped us earn the #1 tour company spot and solid 5-star status on Trip Advisor’s Zion page . We invite you to read some of the reviews and see for yourself what guests have to say about the Wildland experience!

Hikers on tan stone


Quality over quantity – that’s what it’s all about. Some Utah tour companies run tours with 24-30 guests and then brag about having 3 guides on every trip. Our philosophy in this regard is that there’s a sweet spot in the 6-12 guest range that creates the perfect social environment and amount of personal attention to have an exceptional experience. Fewer than 6 guests (unless it’s on a private tour) is too few, and more than 12 is too many. So we run our trips with 6-12 guests. Every now and then a tour runs with fewer than 6 guests, most often due to cancellations.

best backpacking trips zion


One of the most important points for us is that we believe our guests should have to worry about as little as possible. For this reason we make all of our trips all-inclusive. What does this mean? It means that we provide local transportation, gear, meals, permits and fees, and of course your amazing Wildland guide(s). Many trekking and walking companies don’t provide all of this or charge add-on fees to have them included. With Wildland, it’s all in one easy-to-decipher package that is ready to go for you.

best backpacking trips zion


The most important ingredient in the “exceptional hiking experience” recipe is your guide. That are what makes the difference between an amazing experience and an average experience. We understand this only too well, and so put tremendous energy and intention into finding the best guides, training them well, supporting them to be their best, and fostering an internal culture of positivity and excellence. And, we believe it’s good for people to know that we follow all labor laws which is unfortunately very rare in the outdoor adventure industry.



On our multi-day Zion hiking tours, many of which combine other national parks as well, we either camp or stay in lodges. Of course the choice is yours as to which type of trip you’d like to join. Either way though the lodging and camping is in premier locations. On our inn-based tours we stay near Zion, Bryce and/or the Grand Staircase-Escalanate National Monument in hand-picked, wonderful accommodations. On our basecamp tours we stay in private or state park campgrounds specifically selected for their natural beauty, amenities and proximity to phenomenal hiking.

Video Introduction to Our Utah Inn-based and Basecamp Tours

Check out a video introduction to our Zion, Bryce and Escalante frontcountry tours. These include inn-based and basecamp trips, some of which also include the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

best backpacking trips zion

more information about hiking zion

Are there guided hikes in zion.

Zion National Park is an excellent place to join a guided hiking tour. With a quality Zion tour company, you can beat the crowds, explore more of the Park, make the most of your time in Zion, and learn about the amazing history of not just Zion, but also the Colorado Plateau and Utah’s Canyon Country. On a multi-day guided Zion hike, you can enjoy having all of the details (permits, reservations, gear, meals, transportation…etc.) taken care of for you so you can focus entirely on exploring the most dramatic of Utah’s incredible national parks.

the wildland trekking utah experience

We offer many ways to explore and discover Utah, with tours in Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National park, Grand-Staircase-Escalante, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park and the Paria Slot Canyons. When you hike with us in Zion, you can expect to have an unforgettable experience that takes you to the must-see highlights of the national park(s) we’re visiting, but also off-the-beaten-path hikes that show you some of the undiscovered gems as well. The camping accommodations in Utah are comfortable and scenic, and the lodging is in hand-picked hotels, cabins, and inns that put you right where the action is.

why hike zion?

Zion is one of Utah’s most popular national parks, and for very good reason. Zion is sort of an above-ground Grand Canyon, in that the geologic layers are as sheer and stunning as in Grand Canyon, but they ascend up to buttes and mesas instead of descending down into canyons. Defined by 7 geologic layers and the famous Virgin River Narrows, Zion is a trekking paradise with hiking trails appropriate for all abilities. Our Zion hiking tours include a Zion basecamp tour; Zion and Bryce lodge-based tour; and Best of Utah inn-based and basecamp tours; and a Zion, Bryce and Grand Canyon inn-based tour.

hike zion on your own or with a guide?

Hiker overlooking Zion

  • Hiking with expert guides who can help Zion come to life in enriching and exciting ways through stories, natural and cultural interpretation, tidbits of knowledge, knowing how to navigate this popular national park to find degrees of solitude, and identifying and enjoying the best hikes.
  • Relax and let us take care of all the details including campground or hotel reservations, transportation, meals, permits and fees, gear and more. Our guests tell us again and again that this is an invaluable benefit in today’s busy world, where the efforts to effectively plan a trip can be time-consuming and tedious.
  • Combining Zion with other amazing hikes in Utah, like Bryce, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
  • Increased safety standards that come with medically certified wilderness guides who carry company-issued emergency communication devices and comprehensive first-aid kits.


  • December-February : winter in Zion is the quietest time of year to be there in terms of other visitors. It’s absolutely lovely having this stunning national park a lot to yourself. Average temperatures include highs in the upper 40s and lows in the mid 20s (both fahrenheit). Winter storms are definitely a possibility, but so are beautiful, sunny days with cool but manageable hiking temperatures. We do not offer backpacking and basecamp tours in Utah in the winter, but we do offer lodge-based tours, particularly our Zion and Bryce Lodge-based Tour .
  • March-May : Spring is, along with Fall, an absolutely wonderful time to visit Zion and other Utah national parks like Bryce Canyon , Grand Staircase-Escalante , Canyonlands and Arches . Spring is relatively busy, especially during the spreak break weeks in late March and early-mid April. To avoid the larger crowds, plan your trip in early-mid March or late April through mid May. Temperatures are mid: highs in the low 50s to upper 60s and lows in the 30s and 40s. Expect the possibility of a late winter storm in March and April and generally dry conditions in May.
  • June-August : Summer in Zion can be quite warm (mid to upper 80s fahrenheit) and this is the time of year when you’ll see the largest crowds. Don’t expect to have Zion to yourself in the summer, but you can still expect to have a marvelous experience hiking the Narrows and Angels Landing , with incredible views of Zion Valley and its breathtaking sandstone walls, spires and other formations.
  • September-November : Fall, like Spring, is a fantastic time of year to visit and hike Utah’s national parks . The summer crowds have tapered off a bit and temperatures are nearly perfect for being outside and going on hikes (highs in the mid 50s to high 70s fahrenheit, lows in the 30s and 40s.) Fall tends to be pretty dry once the summer monsoons have dissipated, normally in mid September. There is the possibility of an early winter storm in November. Camping trips and backpacking trips are best in September and October, and inn-based tours in November.


Tips for visiting zion national park.

  • VISITING ZION : Learn about Zion’s top highlights, best hikes, best tours, visiting in winter months and a lot more!
  • WHEN TO VISIT ZION : Get information on every month of the year and find out which one will work best for you.
  • 10 BEST ZION HIKES : See our recommendations of the 10 best hikes in Zion National Park – these are outstanding!
  • TOP ZION TOURS : Learn about the best tours to do, including hikes, canyoneering, bicycle tours, climbing and more.
  • WHAT TO SEE IN ZION IN ONE DAY : Find out how to make the very most of one day in Zion National Park.
  • HOW TO HIKE THE ZION NARROWS : Learn everything you need to know to hike Zion’s Virgin River Narrows.
  • ZION BACKPACKING PERMITS : Get information on how to secure Zion National Park backpacking permits.

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Hiking down a dramatic section of the West Rim Trail (Zion National Park) -- © 2008 Joe Braun Photography

Compared to some larger national parks, Zion is relatively small and doesn't have the numerous multi-day hike options like Yosemite or Glacier National Park, but there are several two-day backpacking routes that offer wonderful scenery and solitude, including the West Rim Trail and the La Verkin Creek Trail . Also gaining epic popularity is the " Trans-Zion Trek " (also known as the "Zion Traverse"), a 47-mile hike that connects several different trails to hike from one corner of the park to the other.

It is important to note that backpacking at one of the wilderness campsites is not the same as camping at the large campgrounds . While staying at the Watchman Campground or South Campground is more of a social experience with several amenities and facilities, the backpacking campsites along Zion's remote trails are primitive and are intended for smaller groups doing long hikes in Zion's wilderness.

a campsite along the LaVerkin Creek Trail (Zion National Park) -- © 2016 Joe Braun Photography

Important Points for Backpackers:

A wilderness permit is required for any overnight hike and you must stay at your designated campsite. Some campsites are available for online reservation several months in advance, but other campsites are only available to walk-ins the day before or of your hike. Even if you have an online reservation, you must visit the Wilderness Desk at the Zion Visitor Center or Kolob Visitor Center to get your actual permit. See the NPS Zion Backpacking page for more information.

Wilderness campsites are primitive. No open fires are allowed and there are no facilities, restrooms, or garbage cans. Pack out all of your trash and leave the site clean for the next group.

Do not squat or poach any campsite that you don't have a permit for. During the height of the tourist season, almost all of the campsites get booked for every night. If you pitch a tent at the wrong campsite, you will ruin the experience for others who were expecting to get away from it all. Rangers do often come around and check permits.

You are required to pack out all solid human waste. Because of the overwhelming popularity of Zion's wilderness areas and campsites, nature cannot keep up with everyone digging catholes, so NPS requires that you pack it all out, including your poo and toilet paper. Let's talk about wag bags!

Limited at-large camping is permitted in only specific zones within Zion National Park (and you still need a permit). Some of these zones include the east plateau off of the East Rim Trail as well as sections of the Kolob Terrace off of the Northgate Peaks Trail and near Wildcat Canyon. See the NPS Wilderness Map for more information.

Classic Backpacking Routes:

West Rim Trail (Zion National Park)

WEST RIM TRAIL (Top-Down Hike)

Fairly strenuous hiking/backpacking. Starting from Lava Point or the West Rim Trailhead, the trek down the West Rim Trail is a long and beautiful hike along Zion's upper plateau, ending with a dramatic descent through the magical sandstone formations of the White Cliffs down to the Grotto in Zion Canyon. Numerous majestic viewpoints are found throughout the hike, including Angels Landing.

Zion Narrows top-down (Zion National Park)


Strenuous river hiking/backpacking. Starting from Chamberlain's Ranch outside the northern corner of Zion National Park, the North Fork can be hiked top-down from the upper plateau. This is the less popular way to hike the Zion Narrows and can be done in a long and trying single day or better yet as a two-day backpacking hike. A Zion wilderness permit is required for any top-down hike.

La Verkin Creek Trail (Zion National Park)


Strenuous hiking/backpacking. The La Verkin Creek Trail is the main connecting trail through the Kolob Canyons section of Zion. A long dayhike to see the Kolob Arch makes for a strenuous and rewarding day and is probably the most popular use of the trail. Numerous campsites also allow for longer options to explore Beartrap Canyon, Willis Creek or continue a trek through to Hop Valley.

Chinle Trail (Zion National Park)


Fairly strenuous day hike or backpacking. While there are many hiking possibilities in the "desert section" of Zion National Park, the Chinle Trail is the one official trail. Starting in the "Anasazi Plateau" residential development, the trail enters Zion and continues for seven miles, crossing over a petrified forest and the several named washes of the area. A handful of campsites are scattered along the trail for backpacking opportunities.

Trans-Zion Trek (Zion National Park)


Strenuous 3 to 4-day backpacking. The "Trans-Zion Trek" (aka the "Zion Traverse") is a long multi-day hike that connects all of Zion's long trails together. The route is roughly 37 miles long and starts at Lee Pass in the Kolob Canyons section and ends at the Grotto in Zion Canyon. (The complete trek used to finish at the East Entrance before the 2019 landslide that closed the lower East Rim Trail.)

Continue to: Canyoneering Routes

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West Rim Trail Zion National Park: Ultimate Backpacking Guide

Published by sarah vaughan on october 16, 2021 october 16, 2021.

Backpacking the West Rim Trail in Zion National Park is the perfect adventure for those seeking solitude and mind-blowing views in southern Utah. Zion is a geographically small but incredibly popular national park. This means that the handful of easily accessible trails and famous landmarks, like Angel’s Landing and the Narrows, are often overflowing with crowds. Finding solitude to enjoy this beautiful place in peace can be challenging.

But look no further than the West Rim Trail, where you can experience some of the most unique and beautiful views the park has to offer and escape the crowds! The West Rim Trail leads past Angel’s Landing, where most people turn back after climbing the famously narrow ridge, leaving the rest of the West Rim Trail nearly empty. We believe that backpacking is the best way to experience the West Rim Trail in Zion. In this article, we’ll cover all the details you need to know to plan the perfect backpacking trip!

best backpacking trips zion

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best backpacking trips zion

Article Contents

  • West Rim Trail: Zion National Park

Route Options

  • Visiting Zion National Park
  • Best time to backpack in Zion
  • Backpacking Permits

Choosing a campsite

  • West Rim Trail packing list

Other useful resources

best backpacking trips zion

Backpacking the West Rim Trail: Zion National Park

While Zion National Park is be best known for Angel’s Landing and the Narrows, the less visited West Rim Trail completely blew us away with its stunning desert vistas and surprising solitude. A backpacking trip is a fantastic way to experience all that the West Rim Trail has to offer, and even allows for a quick detour to the famous Angel’s Landing.

Quick Stats

  • Hiking distance | 15 – 16 miles (depends on the route)
  • Permits Required? | Yes
  • Permit Fees | $20 – $30 (varies by group size)
  • Designated campsites? | Yes
  • Trip length | 1 night/2 days

best backpacking trips zion

Read more about Zion National Park

  • Unique and beautiful landscapes
  • Option to take a detour to Angel’s Landing, one of Zion’s most famous hikes
  • Experience hard to find solitude in Zion National Park
  • Heavy crowds below Angel’s Landing
  • Advance permits required and can be difficult to obtain
  • No water sources on trail

There are 3 possible route options for backpacking the West Rim Trail in Zion. We’ll cut to the chase and say we believe the best route is option 3, the West Rim Trail Loop from the Grotto . As such, the hike details in this article will focus primarily on this route.

But to help you make the best decision based on your own goals and interests, we’ll describe each of the possible routes below, complete with the pros and cons of each.

1. Top down from Lava Point to the Grotto

The most popular way to backpack the West Rim Trail in Zion is “top down” from Lava Point to the Grotto. This 16 mile one-way route begins from the West Rim Trailhead near Lava Point, the tallest point in Zion National Park. The trail leads through Potato Hollow, joins up with the West Rim Overlook trail and Telephone Canyon loop and continues down past Angel’s Landing to the Grotto Trailhead.

PROS : 3600 feet net elevation loss ; see the entire West Rim Trail CONS : not much to see in the Potato Hollow area between Lava Point and the West Rim-Telephone Canyon loop; one-way hike requires transportation between trailheads

2. Bottom up from the Grotto to Lava Point

If you feel like taking on a challenge, reverse the direction and hike bottom up from the Grotto to Lava Point.

PROS : see the entire West Rim Trail; easier to get to Angel’s Landing early in the morning CONS : not much to see in the Potato Hollow area be tween Lava Point and the West Rim-Telephone Canyon loop; one-way hike requires transportation between trailheads; 3600 foot net elevation gain

best backpacking trips zion

3. West Rim – Telephone Canyon Loop from the Grotto

Our favorite backpacking trip option starts and ends at the Grotto. The route includes a detour to Angel’s landing, continues along the West Rim Trail up to the West-Rim Telephone Canyon loop. We love this route because it allows you to see the best of the West Rim trail, skip less exciting sections, and avoid having to arrange transportation between trailheads.

CONS : miss part of the West Rim trail (between Potato Hollow and Lava Point) PROS : cut out less exciting portion of the West Rim trail; loop hike does not require additional transportation between trailheads; easier to get to Angel’s Landing early in the morning

best backpacking trips zion

West Rim Trail Zion Hike Details

This section will focus on hike details for the West Rim Loop from the Grotto (option 3 described above), as this is the backpacking trip that we took and based on what we have heard from others, seems like the best option.

  • Hiking distance | 15.5 miles
  • Elevation gain | 4400 feet
  • Total time | 9 – 12 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 8
  • Difficulty | difficult

Find this hike on AllTrails: Angel’s Landing, West Rim, Telephone Loop

This route gives you the option to take a quick detour to the famous Angel’s Landing, before leaving the crowds behind to explore more of the West Rim Trail. We’d even say that the views from the rest of the West Rim Trail are more stunning than those from Angel’s Landing!

How difficult is backpacking the West Rim Trail?

With about 4400 feet of elevation gain over 15.5 miles , this hike is no walk in the park (even though it actually, kind of is a walk in the park, but you get the idea). There are two very steep sections, which are particularly challenging carrying a heavy backpack.

You’ll meet your first tough section only minutes into the hike when you encounter the 21 short, steep switchbacks known as Walter’s Wiggles on the trail leading up to Angel’s Landing.

Then, prepare for another steady incline climbing towards the intersection of the loop trail. While there is some elevation in other sections of the hike, most of the elevation is in these two areas.

Parking and getting to the trailhead

To backpack the West Rim Trail – Telephone Canyon loop, you will start and end at the Grotto trailhead. During peak season, you will need to take a park shuttle to the trailhead, which you can pick up from the main Zion National Park visitor center.

If you plan to take a detour to Angel’s Landing, be sure to get an early start as the crowds at this popular spot are insane. Waiting in line to get up and down the narrow ridge can add significant time to your hike.

Zion West Rim Trail Map

The entire hike can be divided into 5 main sections:

West Rim Trail to Angel’s Landing

Angel’s landing.

  • West Rim Trail Past Angel’s Landing

Telephone Canyon

  • West Rim overlook trail

In the following sections, we will go into more detail on each part of the trail. On the map below, we’ve highlighted each of the sections to help you follow along as we describe each part of the hike.

best backpacking trips zion

When you arrive at the Grotto trailhead, head across the bridge and follow signs for Angel’s Landing. The trail starts out fairly moderately, winding through the canyon alongside the beautiful Virgin River.

As the trail diverges from the river, the seemingly endless series of switchbacks begin. As you enter Refrigerator Canyon and start to think the trail has leveled off, you’ll round the corner to see 21 tightly winding switchbacks known as Walter’s Wiggles staring back at you.

Pace yourself and rest often – remember that you’ve still got a long way to go after reaching Angel’s Landing.

Eventually the trail levels off, and you’ll arrive at a clearing where the infamous narrow ridge known as Angel’s Landing comes into view.

We recommend finding a discrete hiding spot for your packs while you take the roughly 1/4 mile detour up to Angel’s Landing. Climbing Angel’s Landing requires focus, steady feet and good bit of scrambling – you really don’t want to be hauling a huge bag up the very narrow, crowded ridge. Collect your nerves and head up for the adventure of a lifetime!

If you are afraid of heights, you may have trouble with this section of the hike. That being said, I (Sarah) am prone to panic attacks in sketchy sections and I did not find Angel’s Landing to be particularly frightening. I absolutely loved this climb.

We’ve mentioned this a few times but it is worth repeating – Angel’s Landing is very popular and is almost always packed with people.

Because the trail leading out onto the ridge is narrow, it can be difficult to maneuver around slow moving hikers and you’ll probably have to wait for people coming in the opposite directions at times. It is still very much worth the extra effort but know the 1/4 mile detour can add a bit of time to your trip.

best backpacking trips zion

West Rim Trail past Angel’s Landing

After you’ve checked off the ultimate bucket list hike at Angel’s Landing, it’s time to leave the crowds behind and experience the remote beauty of Zion National Park’s West Trim Trail! I’d estimate that over 95% of the hikers do not go past Angel’s Landing.

What those poor souls don’t realize is how much they are missing out!

best backpacking trips zion

Telephone Canyon – West Rim Trail Loop

After a long and grueling climb, you’ll finally reach the intersection of the West Rim – Telephone Canyon loop.

Which direction should I hike?

If at all possible, we recommend hiking the loop counter-clockwise , starting with Telephone Canyon. This allows you to leave the best views for your hike out tomorrow morning. If you chose to hike clockwise, don’t expect to see any spectacular new views the next day.

That being said, the direction you chose to hike will depend heavily on which campsite you are staying at and how much time you have each day.

best backpacking trips zion

Quite frankly, the views from Telephone Canyon are the least impressive of the entire hike. The majority of the trail leads through a heavily wooded forest with no real viewpoints.

At the intersection of the loop, the trees open up a bit offering vistas looking down over Zion Canyon. These sights are cool, but nothing compared to what you’ll see on the Rim Trail.

best backpacking trips zion

Finding your campsite

Each of the campsites along the West Rim Trail – Telephone Canyon loop are well-marked with numbered stakes . As you hike, keep an eye on your location and be on the lookout for a post marking your campsite.

West Rim Overlook Trail

After a good night’s sleep, pack up camp and prepare to be blown away by more incredible West Rim views. If you didn’t get a chance to see the sunset over the West Rim, we highly recommend getting up early for sunrise.

As you make your way along the West Rim overlook trail, you’ll enjoy stunning views of swirling striped ridges and honeycomb-shaped rock formations to the West. The landscape here is unlike anything we had every seen before! The majority of the hike along the West Rim Trail offers sights, with a few forested sections here and there.

This section was easily our favorite of the entire backpacking trip!

best backpacking trips zion

Return hike

After reaching the Telephone Canyon – Rim Trail intersection again, continue back down into the canyon retrace your steps past Angel’s Landing and Refrigerator Canyon to the Grotto trailhead.

best backpacking trips zion

About Zion National Park

Zion National Park is one of Utah’s “might five” national parks, located is the southeastern corner of the state. The main entrance to Zion is located in Springdale, Utah, a cute but a bit touristy town with plenty of food and lodging options.

The park itself is known for its towering canyon walls, majestic red rock, and unfortunately, large crowds. Make sure you plan to get into the park as early as possible.

There are a few well-known hikes in the park including Angel’s Landing, the Narrows, and Observation Point. When we visited, the main trail to Observation Point was closed due to a rock slide and the Narrows is only accessible when weather is dry. But, like we keep saying, if you are willing to explore beyond these popular adventures, solitude isn’t hard to find!

How to get to Zion National Park

Zion National Park is an essential stop on any Utah National Parks road trip . It is easily accessible from:

  • Las Vegas in 2.5 hours
  • Bryce Canyon National Park in 1.5 hours
  • Capitol Reef National Park in 3 hours
  • Page, Arizona in 2 hours
  • The Grand Canyon (South Rim) in 4 hours
  • Salt Lake City in 4.5 hours

Getting around via Zion shuttle

The majority of the park is closed to personal vehicles during peak season (March – November), so you will need to a take a shuttle to get around. The shuttle is free and at this time, advance tickets are not required.

You can pick the shuttle up from the visitor center. Parking is limited, so arrive early to secure a spot. You can find more details on the Zion shuttle here .

Entrance fees

As with most national parks, Zion charges a $35 per vehicle entrance fee which is valid for 7 days. If you plan to visit at least three national parks within a one year period, it makes practical sense to purchase a U.S. National Parks pass for $80, giving you unlimited access to all parks across the country.

You may read more about Zion entrance fees here .

best backpacking trips zion

Backpacking permits

Permits are required for backpacking the West Rim Trail in Zion National Park. Backcountry permits are in high demand, so make sure that you are prepared to reserve your permits as soon as they are released.

50% of all available permits are reservable in advance. Permit reservations are made available on the 5th of every month, two months in advance of your trip. For example, if you are planning a trip any time in May, reservations would be released on April 5th. Most backcountry reservations book up with minutes of being released.

The remaining sites are available on a first come first serve basis in person at the visitor center on the day before or the day of your trip. You can find more details about permits and fees at Zion here .

There are six campsites available along the West Rim Trail – Telephone Canyon loop. We highly recommend trying to snag campsite #6, as it almost perfectly splits up the hike. A short walk from the campsite leads to some of the most incredible views we experienced on the West Rim Trail – a perfect spot to watch the sunset!

Best time to backpack the West Rim Trail in Zion

The best time to hike the West Rim Trail in Zion is in the spring or fall, when temperatures in southern Utah are typically mild. During the summer, temperatures can often reach 100°F and the trail offers little shade, making for a blazing hot hike.

Note that the campsites are located at higher elevation than the rest of Zion National Park, so prepare for significantly cooler temperatures at night. When we hiked in early April, we got snow at the higher elevations of the West Rim trail and temperatures reached below freezing at night.

Expect the trails to be covered in snow for much of the winter. Heat, lack of shade and fresh water sources can make backpacking during the summer unbearable. Be sure to check the National Weather Service for update weather forecasts before taking off on your trip.

Please be aware that there is no reliable water source along this trail. Furthermore, toxic cyanobacteria have been found in the Virgin River making the water unsafe to drink even after filtration.

It’s best to pack in all the water that you will need for the entire hike.

best backpacking trips zion

West Rim Trail Zion packing list

In addition to your standard backpacking gear, below are a few additional items we highly recommend making sure you bring for backpacking the West Rim trail.

Waste Disposal | Biffy Bags It’s not glamorous, but you must pack out all your waste (that includes your #2!) so be prepared with waste disposal bags. These Biffy Bags do the trick (and they’re actually quite “luxurious” in the backcountry!).

Water | Platypus 2-liter There are no reliable water sources along the trail, so you’ll need to pack in all the water you need for drinking and cooking. We use these 2-liter Platypus bags to pack extra water on backpacking trips in the desert and have found them to be reliable.

Sunscreen | a significant majority of the hike is very exposed, and the desert sun is strong no matter the time of year

Sunglasses | Goodr We both love our Goodr sunglasses for hiking! They are cheap ($25) and non-slip, making them perfect for a day out on the trails.

Warm Layers | Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody Even during the summer, it gets quite cold at night here. Pack a warm sleeping bag and extra layers for when the sun goes down. My Arc’teryx jacket is incredibly warm, lightweight and packs down small!

Our Backpacking Essentials

Good gear can make all the difference on a backpacking trip. Below we’ve compiled a list of our tried and true backpacking gear essentials – we use these items every time we backpack and couldn’t live without them.

Backpack | 40L Osprey Tempest / 65L Osprey Ariel / 55L REI Co-Op Flash For one-night backpacking trips, I (Sarah) love my 40L Osprey Tempest! It fits the essentials but is super lightweight. For longer trips and/or carrying more weight, the 65L Osprey is more spacious, really comfortable, and provides more hip support. Matt’s go-to pack for most trips is the lightweight 55L REI Flash.

Backpacking Tent | Mountain Hardwear Aspect 3 A reliable tent makes all the difference in the backcountry, and the Mountain Hardwear Aspect 3 has not let us down. Though it’s not cheap, it’s lightweight (less than 4 pounds), durable, easy to set up and feels spacious enough to fit 2 people comfortably.

Campstove | Jetboil Flash Picture this: you wake up in the dark in the backcountry, aiming to catch the sunrise somewhere nearby but its so cold you don’t want to get out of bed… then you remember you’ve got a Jetboil and piping hot coffee can be ready within minutes! Morning made.

Coffee | Sea to Summit Collapsible Coffee Filter If you’re a coffee snob (like me…) who needs *real* coffee in the morning, even in the backcountry, the compact Sea to Summit collapsible filter makes it easy. Pair with the Jetboil Flash and Sea to Summit cups and you’ll have your cup of joe in no time!

Sleeping Bag | REI Co-op Women’s Magma 30 / REI Co-op Men’s Magma 30 At this price point, you can’t beat the REI Co-op Magma 30 (Women’s and Men’s). We both use this sleeping bag, and it’s lightweight enough for backpacking without sacrificing on warmth and durability.

Sleeping Bag Liner | Sea to Summit Reactor Thermolite Sleeping Bag Liner I’m a very cold sleeper so I often bring this Sea to Summit sleeping bag liner,even for summer nights. It’s super cozy, lightweight, adds 8 degrees of warmth and helps keep your sleeping bag cleaner.

Trekking Poles | Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking Poles / Distance NFZ Tre kking Poles I had always thought trekking poles were silly until one very steep, exposed, slippery hike in Death Valley left me feeling quite insecure even with solid tread on my boots. Immediately after I bought my Black Diamonds and haven’t hiked without them since.

Sleeping pad | Women’s Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xlite Sleeping Pad / Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xlite Sleeping Pad I often sleep better on my Therm-a-rest sleeping pad than I do in a hotel bed… this thing is so comfy and weighs only 12 ounces! Only downside I have found is it is a bit noisy if you tend to move in your sleep a lot.

Inflatable Pillow | Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow This Sea to Summit inflatable pillow is super lightweight and packs down tiny (I’ve actually lost it a few times because it packs down so small), so it’s great for camping and backpacking trips. The best part, it’s shockingly comfortable! I am a light sleeper (in a normal bed), so this is huge for me!

Dehydrated Meals | Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai with Chicken Backpacker’s Pantry has a huge variety of dehydrated meals that we’ve found to be surprisingly tasty. The Pad Thai and Chana Masala are our all time favorites!

GPS | Garmin InReach Mini The one piece of gear you hope you never need to use, but is worth its weight in peace of mind. We always carry our Garmin In-reach Mini in case of emergency in areas without cell service and it gives us (and our parents) peace of mind. It can also be used to simply let a loved one know you’ve arrived at your destination.

Headlamp | Black Diamond Storm 400 Navigating around a campsite is nearly impossible after dark without a headlamp. We both use Black Diamond Storm 400’s, and we’ve found them to be reliable and long-lasting despite the compact size.

Be confident you have everything you need with our Zion West Rim backpacking checklist!

Our interactive excel checklist is complete with all the essentials you need for backpacking the Zion West Rim and customizable based on your trip length and hiking distance.

Get our Complete Free Zion West Rim Backpacking Checklist

best backpacking trips zion

Planning a road trip through Utah? We think you may also be interested in the following:

  • Zion & Bryce Canyon | The Best 3 Day Zion & Bryce Canyon Itinerary
  • Road Trip : Adventurous One Week Road Trip in Arizona and Southern Utah
  • Canyonlands : How to Hike to Druid Arch in Canyonlands
  • Bryce Canyon: How to Hike the Figure Eight Loop in Bryce Canyon
  • Grand Canyon: How to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
  • Grand Staircase: 9 Amazing Grand Staircase Escalante Hikes
  • Grand Staircase: The Ultimate Coyote Gulch Backpacking Trip: Grand Staircase Escalante

best backpacking trips zion

Have you backpacked the West Rim Trail in Zion? Interested in taking on the adventure? Let us know in the comments section below!

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Sarah Vaughan

Hello! I'm Sarah, one half of the couple behind Two Outliers! In 2023, I quit my job as a Data Scientist to travel around the world on an epic 15-month journey in search of the world's greatest hikes and outdoor adventures. Matt and I started Two Outliers in 2021 as a place for visitors to find concise, accurate, and honest information to plan their own adventures. We hope our experiences inspire you to hit the trail! Happy Hiking! Sarah

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Top 3 Overnight Backpacking Hikes in Zion National Park

Zion National Park is about as perfect of a place to go backpacking than anywhere else you could find. Every single one of the Zion backpacking trails is amazing , and there are a lot of hikes that you can choose from. In this article, we’ll recommend three of our favorites, as well as being great for beginners and experienced tourists alike. There aren’t very many activities that help your mind and body reset, reenergize, and reprioritize as well as overnight backpacking. And remember, always plan your backpacking trips to begin early. You don’t want the sun to go down and not be where you want to be.

West Rim Trail

There are a couple of different ways that you can hike this trail, but we think the best way is the top-down, two-day backpacking route that begins at Lava Point. This starting point is about a 19-mile drive from the town of Springdale, so we recommend having someone drive there or calling up one of the many adventure companies in town to drive you up there so you don’t have to spend time getting a vehicle after your hike is all finished. This hike is pretty hard even though it’s downhill most of the way. The scenery just keeps getting better and better as the hike progresses, culminating in the best scenery of all atop Angel’s Landing who’s trail connects toward the end of the West Rim Trail. Length: 18 miles.

The Narrows (Top-Down Route)

The world-famous Narrows is one of the most fun and rewarding hikes in the world. If you hike the whole Narrows, top to bottom, it’s roughly 17 miles and is a wonderful, overnight, two-day excursion. One of the coolest parts of hiking the whole Narrows for two days is that you get to see the canyon transform into the majestic slot canyons that make The Narrows famous. Spending two whole days in The Narrows is an experience that you’ll never forget. It’s incredible. Remember to consider the weather in your planning. Rain and The Narrows together do not bode well for hikers. Even rain that isn’t falling directly over The Narrows itself can spell danger in the form of flash floods. Be smart.

La Verkin Creek Trail

This is certainly the shortest trail on our list, but that doesn’t exclude it from becoming a two-day overnight Zion backpacking trip. The La Verkin Creek Trail is chock full of amazing sights and scenery. Two days are needed to really see it all properly, in our opinion. This is the trail where the Kolob Arch is located, which you may have heard of; and this is just one of the many beautiful things you’ll see on this trek. If you want to, you can even extend your journey another day and more miles and head toward Willis Creek. Another thing this trail is known for is its camp sights. There are many designated camping spots all along La Verkin Creek that will make your overnighter very enjoyable.

If backpacking is your thing, then Springdale and Zion Canyon should be your place. Come stay at the Cliffrose Lodge & Gardens before and after your overnight Zion backpacking trip to make your vacation even better.

Zion Backpacking

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1 Week, 5 Utah National Parks: A Curated Road Trip Itinerary

In just one eye-popping, mind-blowing, camera-clicking week, experience all of utah’s mighty 5..

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You may have heard, Utah is home to some pretty amazing national parks. And by amazing we mean jaw-dropping, breathtaking, heart-racing stuff. Cliffs, hoodoos and pillars made of candy colored rock; slot canyons, natural arches and verdant valleys. The scenery goes on and on and on. 

So obviously you’d like to see for yourself, did nature really design a valley of castle turrets? Can a bridge of rock be held up by sheer willpower? Yes and yes, and we have a customizable Utah national parks itinerary to prove it. Use our free PDF map download to navigate your road trip through Utah’s Mighty 5 in one fell swoop. Well, a 1,000-mile scenic drive, gallons of drinking water and miles of hiking swoop. Tuh-MAY-toe, tuh-MAH-toe.

What's so great about that arch on Utah license plates? See for yourself in Arches National Park.

Travel tips

Before throwing your hiking shoes and sunhat into your carry-on, take care of a few details.

  • Buy an America the Beautiful park pass; the $80 fee covers entrance to all the national parks, saving you some cash for souvenir T-shirts. Get your pass through the National Park Service .
  • Make park reservations. Arches requires a timed-entry ticket from April through October; visit Recreation.gov to make your vehicle reservation. Some hikes in Zion have a permit lottery; sign up at Recreation.gov . 
  • April to October is peak season: Make camping or hotel reservations well in advance.
  • Check the weather . It gets HOT during the summer months; pack appropriate clothing, sturdy footwear, reusable water bottles and plenty of sunscreen.
  • Plan to start your days early. Most people visit the park between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.; go during the off hours for cooler temps and fewer crowds. Plus, the lighting is better for your Insta pics.
  • Remember, you can come back! It’s impossible to hike every trail in one park in just a day or two, let alone all five. So plan what you can reasonably do this time around. And don’t worry, the scenery has been around for thousands of years, it’ll be here for you next time.


You can experience the outdoor wonders in three ways: fully immersive, semi-immersive and I-need-a-good-night’s-sleep immersive. If you want the deep dive experience — dirt in your shoes, campfire smell in your clothes — you can set up a tent in or near the national parks.

If you want to dip your toes in the wilderness but still want a mattress, consider renting an RV, campervan or camper trailer . But, if you’re more of a hot shower, hot tub kind of traveler, there are hotels and cabins , either inside the parks or in nearby towns. Can’t decide? Try glamping , camping-like lodging with some luxury hotel amenities.

Arrivals and Departures

The national parks are located in the southern half of Utah, so the two closest international airports are in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Plan your travel as a round trip, or fly into one city and leave from the other. Pick up your rental vehicle and let your Utah national parks road trip begin.

Introduce yourself to Zion along the Riverside Walk.

Day One: Airport to Zion National Park

  • Salt Lake City to Zion: 313 miles, 4.5 hours
  • Las Vegas to Zion: 168 miles, 3 hours
  • Lodging: Camping (spots inside the park fill quickly), hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, glamping

We suggest starting your Utah national parks road trip at Zion , when your legs are the freshest; there are some serious hikes here. In fact, there are so many swoon-worthy hikes at this park, it’s hard to choose just one. Or two. Or three. There’s a reason Zion sees some 5 million visitors every year. Plan on spending at least two days, if you can, to soak up all the scenery. And hey, if you decide to stay even longer, we totally get it.

Temple of Sinawava

After checking into your accommodations, head over to the park to stretch your legs on a warmup hike. Catch a free shuttle at the Visitor Center; it travels the length of Canyon Scenic Drive, with stops at the Zion Lodge and the trailheads.

Stay on until the last stop, Temple of Sinawava, and take the Riverside Walk for the perfect introduction to the park. The paved, 2-mile (round trip) walk takes you along the Virgin River and into a canyon. You’ll see hanging gardens, weeping walls and maybe some wildlife.

This trail ends where the Narrows hike begins. If it’s open and you have sturdy shoes, step into the river and walk the first portion of the hike. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to catch the shuttle back or you’ll be walking an extra nine miles. Fuel up for tomorrow at one of Springdale’s many eateries.

  • Grilled grub: Camp Outpost, Whiptail Grill
  • Fancy fixin’s: Spotted Dog, King’s Landing Bistro
  • Family fare: Zion Pizza & Noodle, Porter’s

Get the best view in Zion National Park from Angels Landing.

Day Two: Zion

If you can get a permit, hike Angels Landing . It has a lot of uphill, steep switchbacks and some sheer drop-offs, but the view of the canyon from way up there? Matchless. Plan on taking several hours for the 5-mile hike. Pack a lunch to enjoy at the top; it’s definitely a better view than any rooftop restaurant can offer. Be sure to pack out all your trash. Register for permits with the National P ark Service .

If you didn’t get a permit, there are plenty of other (and easier) hikes . We recommend Emerald Pools . You’ll see three natural ponds and some waterfalls, separated by a short climb through desert vegetation. The lower pool is a fairly easy hike; it’s a bit more work to get to the other two, but the trail is easy to follow. At the upper pool, cool off in the grotto surrounded by enormous, weeping rock walls.

If you still have some energy, you may want to try another short but noteworthy hike . When you're properly worn out for the day, head back to Springdale for dinner, then maybe catch a show at the Bumbleberry Inn .

Day Three: Zion to Bryce Canyon

  • Zion to Bryce: 2 hours, 84 miles
  • Lodging : Campgrounds, cabins, B&Bs, glamping

Next stop, Bryce Canyon . Drive back into Zion, heading east on scenic Highway 9 toward Mt. Carmel. You’ll drive through the mile-long Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel. In addition to gaining a mad respect for 1920s sandstone blasters, you may catch a glimpse of some bighorn sheep through the built-in windows.

Make one last stop before you leave the area: Checkerboard Mesa . Imagine a giant sat down to do his math homework and got a bit carried away drawing lines. Then, on to Bryce.

Note: Oversize vehicles, such as RVs, are only allowed through the tunnel during limited hours and must pay an additional fee. Read more about restrictions at the National Park Service .

Walk among sandstone towers in Bryce Canyon.

Bryce is Nice

Remember when you tried to make an epic sandcastle? Well, Bryce Canyon did it first. See an entire valley of the tallest, coolest, colorfulest hoodoos on a walk from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point. 

If your legs are still a bit wobbly from Zion, take the Mossy Cave Trail , an easy 1-mile round trip among the spires. Another option is the Bristlecone Loop Trail , which will give you a bird’s-eye view. A little more challenging, the Navajo Loop is the most popular trail in the park; you’ll descend 800 feet into the heart of the hoodoos.

Got more stamina than that bighorn sheep you saw on the drive over? Try the 8.3-mile Fairyland Loop . You’ll hike down into the pink and white canyons, see natural amphitheaters and be surrounded by hoodoos. No need for wings, but you may wish you had some.

Park your tired puppies back in the car and head over to the tiny town of Tropic for some tasty respite. Steaks, house specials, lavender sponge cake and a wine menu await you at Stone Hearth Grille . For more casual fare, stay in Bryce Canyon City for Ruby’s Inn Cowboy’s Buffet and Steak Room .

The vistas are wide and grand in Canyonlands. Photo by Chad Hurst

Day Four: Canyonlands

  • Bryce to Canyonlands: 4 hours 20 minutes, 256 miles
  • Lodging : camping, hotels, cabins, glamping

Are you ready to mumble? Under your breath in awe, that is. Definitely not because your quads and hammies are jiggly; they can rest on the drive. Pull out our map of Utah national parks and head toward Moab. It’s the home base for Canyonlands and Arches.

Where Bryce seems like fine handiwork, Canyonlands was made with broader strokes. Get an overview of Utah’s largest national park from the Grand View Overlook . The easy hike takes you up a 1-mile sandstone stairway — to heaven? Just about. It ends at a mesa with an unobstructed view of Monument Basin. Be aware, while the path is wide, there are sheer cliffs.

Catch a perfectly framed sunrise at Mesa Arch.

Mesa Arch is another sweet spot for sweeping vistas, evident by the dozens of photographers shooting here at sunrise. The 27-foot long arch is so obliging, it perfectly frames your photos of the La Sal mountains. It’s worth squeezing into your day no matter the hour, since the trail is only 0.6 miles round trip. Hint: Walk to the arch clockwise, then retrace your steps back to avoid some of the stone steps.

If you’re visiting Canyonlands in the spring or winter, consider hiking the Confluence Overlook Trail , a moderate, 11-mile round trip. You’ll do some scrabbling up and down rocky slopes but it’s mostly flat. The payoff is the vista, 1,000 feet above the spot where the Green River and Colorado River come together. We don’t recommend it for a summer’s day; the trail is fully exposed — no shade — and the heat can be brutal.

The Confluence Overlook Trail is long, but the views are unparalleled. Photo by Chad Hurst

Even if you’re camping, head to Moab for some dinner and a casual walk down its charming Main Street. For a small town, there’s a surprisingly large assortment of dining options, from traditional kebabs at Sultan Mediterranean Grill to curry from Thai Bella Moab.

Day Five: Arches

  • Canyonlands to Arches: 29 minutes, 26 miles

Just half an hour away from Canyonlands, Arches has mesas, buttes and some wiiiide, gravity defying arches. The most popular — so popular it can be seen on one-third of Utah’s license plates — is Delicate Arch. It’s not an easy hike to see it; there are some steep stretches on the 3-mile trip. But you’ll be rewarded by a magnificent, solitary arch standing in a bowl of sandstone. Wax as poetic as you like, it’ll be fitting.

Visit one of the world's longest natural bridge in Arches.

Actually, rare beauties are a thing for Arches. You’ll understand what we mean when you head over to Landscape Arch ; it’s the fifth longest natural bridge in the world. The slab of rock spans 290 feet, but it is only 18 feet wide. How does it stay up? No idea.

Day Six: Canyonlands or Arches

Have time to stick around for another day? You could take another hike in Arches, or head back to Canyonlands. Or consider some activities nearby such as white-water rafting , kayaking and off-roading . 

Drive on to the town of Torrey, just outside Capitol Reef, for the night so you can get an early start in the morning.

Day Seven: Capitol Reef and Home

Park logistics.

Arches to Capitol Reef: 2 hours, 133 miles

Lodging : camping, glamping, hotels

The final stop on our Utah national park itinerary is Capitol Reef National Park . This compact park is no slouch in rock sculptures, either. 

Reach for the stars at Cassidy Arch, named for a local outlaw.

First hike: A moderate 3.5 mile climb to Cassidy Arch . It’s a big one — standing 400 feet tall. It’s pretty photogenic, too, much like the movie star who played the arch’s namesake, Butch Cassidy. 

Next up, a moderately easy jaunt up to the Hickman Bridge . The 2-mile round trip trek includes fantastic scenery along the way, culminating in not just one, but TWO arches.

Grab a late lunch outside the park at Capitol Burger, a food truck serving gourmet burgers (find its exact location for the day on its Facebook page). Then settle your trail-worn body into your vehicle, crank up the air, choose your playlist and head back to the airport.

Home Logistics

Capitol Reef to Salt Lake City: 3 hours 23 minutes, 218 miles

Capitol Reef to Las Vegas: 5 hours, 327 miles

On the long drive back, make your case for which national park deserves a second, longer look. Utah.com will be here to help you plan your next trip and all your other excursions around our state.

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This Arizona Hike Is An Easier Alternative To Zion's Narrows

The Narrows are beautiful, but Arizona has another, easier hike that also offers dramatic red canyon walls while wading through a river.

  • West Fork Trail in Coconino National Forest is a convenient, budget-friendly alternative to Zion's Narrows hike.
  • The trail offers similar views with red rock walls and a creek, less crowds, and a more accessible experience overall.
  • Hikers can explore beyond the end of the established trail to experience a narrow canyon resembling Zion's Subway area.

The Narrows is one of the most iconic and most dangerous hikes in Zion National Park (besides the famous Angel's Landing) . Towering red canyon walls with the Virgin River bubbling at the bottom is a truly awe-inspiring combination and one that millions of people flock to every year.

With big crowds and plenty of technical challenges, the Narrows hike might not be the best choice for all travelers. Thankfully, the southwest has plenty of similar scenery to explore, with many trails offering similar views and experiences without the strain.

Tucked in Coconino National Forest is the West Fork Trail. All of Coconino National Forest is criminally underrated, but the West Fork Trail is a standout for its similarity to one of Zion's most famous trails.

Here are all the details on this hidden gem hiking trail, the perfect easy alternative to Zion's Narrows hike.

7 Underrated Sedona Hiking Trails That The Locals Love

About the west fork trail, the west fork trail is shorter and slightly more level than the narrows in zion, making it an easier hike overall.

There are two trails in the Narrows of Zion National Park, both ranked hard for their distance and overall physical demands. The Top-Down Narrows hike is so intense, it frequently becomes an overnight outing and is one of the many national park hikes that requires winning a lottery .

Even the permit-free Bottom-Up Narrows Trail is nearly nine miles of river wading in the high desert.

In addition to the standard Narrows hike, Zion National Park has several similar slot canyon river hikes, including the Subway, another permit-only hike that accesses another part of the Virgin River as it carves its way through Southern Utah.

Three Hardest Hikes At Zion (That Aren't Angel's Landing)

The West Fork Trail is around seven miles and is considered easy to moderate. An out-and-back hike, it is easy to adjust this experience based on time constraints and physical limitations.

With just over 500 feet of elevation gain, the West Fork Trail is less steep than the full Narrows hike. The West Fork Trail also requires less water hiking than the Narrows (although wading in the river is welcome).

In addition to the official West Fork Trail, hiking is permitted further up the canyon, which gets more narrow and waterlogged as it continues. For many, this extended section is the highlight of the hike, and the part that most closely resembles the Narrows.

While hiking is all about the experience, it is important to hike safely and smart. Particularly if planning to go past the end of the trail, make sure to have a hard copy map, share plans with others, and pack plenty of water. Even near the creek, dehydration is a serious concern in the desert of Arizona.

Getting To The West Fork Trail

The west fork trail is close to both sedona and flagstaff, making it easy to visit for most travelers.

The West Fork Trail is not only an easier hike than the Narrows in Zion National Park, it is a much more accessible one as well. Zion National Park's south entrance is about an hour from St. George, the nearest major city. While there is a gateway town, Springdale, options there are limited (and often costly).

Meanwhile, the West Fork Trail is just 20 minutes from Sedona, Arizona. While the West Fork Trail may not be one of the most secret hikes in Sedona , its convenience is undeniable. Sedona is a major hub of outdoor activities, which makes it easy for travelers to spend half a day exploring the West Fork Trail without committing to a long drive.

The ease of accessing the West Fork trailhead also makes it easier to beat the traffic, a key factor when planning to hike any of the trails in and around Sedona. The parking lot is relatively small, and fills up quickly, particularly on summer mornings. It also makes this hike one of the most popular Sedona hikes to include on an Arizona road trip , since it is so easy to reach and takes less time than similar hikes like the Narrows.

Despite being only 20 minutes from the heart of Sedona (and only 30 minutes from Flagstaff), the West Fork Trail is located in Coconino National Forest, which does have a day-use fee of $12 a vehicle or $3 for a walk-up individual.

Hikers who continue deeper into the canyon area past the established trail will enter the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness Area of Coconino National Forest. Watch for signage and make sure to follow all posted hiking restrictions.

This is still just a third of the price to access the famous Narrows hike, which requires paying the $35 Zion National Park entrance fee. Additionally, summer guests usually have to park in Springdale, which costs $30 a vehicle each day.

Those applying for a permit to the Narrows will also need to fork over $20 for a group application fee and $7 per person for overnight access to the region. This means that an overnight excursion in the Narrows can take not only two full days, but cost up to $92 for an individual to experience.

Comparing the two side by side, it is clear that not only is the West Fork a less strenuous version of the Narrows, but a much more economical and convenient version as well.

The Views On The West Fork Trail

The west fork trail has similar dramatic red rock walls along the trail to compete with even zion's views.

Of course, numbers mean nothing if the views don't measure up. The Narrows is famous for its combination of canyon walls and a rushing river. The canyon is often only 20 feet wide and requires hikers to wade through the river to experience the trail.

The West Fork Trail offers a similar experience, with red rock framing Oak Creek as it ripples through the wilderness area. The creek creates a unique oasis in the canyon area, offering plenty of shade along the trail.

Coconino National Forest has long established itself as having some of the most amazing hikes in Sedona , and the West Fork Trail and its dramatic formations put that accolade on full display.

The West Fork gets even more like the Narrows past the end of the established trail. A series of pools mark the end of the official West Fork trail, but hikers are allowed to explore along the river beyond this point, so long as they are prepared to get their feet wet. In this region, the canyon gets narrow, and closely resembles the Subway area in Zion National Park, with curved walls along either side.

Hikers also praise this region for its reduced crowds, as most visitors turn around at the pools area, leaving this narrow subway region relatively unexplored. Regardless of how far visitors go, the views are abundant and begin early enough for even less experienced guests to enjoy their moment in this piece of red rock paradise.

Forget Zion: Visit Utah's Most Underrated National Park

The Narrows is one of the most famous hikes in Zion National Park, but it is not the only place that travelers can hike along a river framed by canyon walls. The West Fork Trail, just 20 minutes outside Sedona, the West Fork Trail is a shorter, more level version of Zion's Narrows hike.

The West Fork Trail also comes with a much more budget-friendly price tag, all without compromising on views. The dramatic red rock is on full display, with the freshwater from Oak Creek creating a shaded haven in the canyon area. One of the top-rated hikes near Sedona, the West Fork Trail of Coconino National Forest is the perfect easy alternative to Zion's Narrows hike.

Have you ever hiked the West Fork Trail? Let us know in the comments!

paro taktsang, the tigers nest monastery in bhutan

The World's 10 Most Beautiful Hiking Trips

Talk about majestic scenery!

From the U.S. to Europe to Asia, these destinations are a delight to the eye with views of mountains, lakes, seaside cliffs, waterfalls, and lava fields. Since they are located worldwide, most require more than a weekend getaway , but there's plenty more to explore while you are in Utah, Italy, Norway, or Bhutan. Get your hiking shoes ready, there's much in the world ripe to explore! Here are some of the most beautiful hiking trips around the world.

Trolltunga, Norway

caucasian man on cliff admiring scenic view of mountain river

Norway's most spectacular cliffs hover 700 meters above Ringedalsvatnet lake and were carved by the icecap that once covered most of Scandinavia. The hike up to Trolltunga (meaning "the troll’s tongue") is a rigorous 17 miles or just over 12 miles depending on the trailhead, but well worth it for the awe-inspiring views. It's located near the town of Odda.

Path of the Gods, Almafi Coast, Italy

shoreline of the scenic amalfi coast from the path of the gods, southern italy

According to legend, the Almafi Coast's il Sentiero degli dei (the Path of the Gods) was created when the gods stampeded down from heaven to save Ulysses from the mermaids’ song. The 4.34-mile mountain ridge trail offers stunning views of the jagged seacoast and also winds through olive groves and vineyards.

The Narrows, Zion National Park

the narrows, zion canyon national park, usa

Soaring, picturesque walls climb a thousand feet tall in the narrowest section of the breathtaking Zion Canyon. Hikers should be prepared to get their feet wet once the trail enters the Virgin River as a part of The Narrows , and you can choose how far you want to hike—from 4 to 10 miles or more.

Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan

paro taktsang, the tigers nest monastery in bhutan

The Paro Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest Monastery) was built in on the site of a cave set into a cliff 3,000 meters above the Paro valley in the late 17th century, and views of it are just as breathtaking today. The hike to it is about 4 miles round trip and gains 1,700 feet in elevation. Hikers should allow time to visit tour the monastery's incredible temples after their journey.

Kalalau Trail, Kauai, Hawaii

backpacking in the tropics

Welcome to paradise. Traverse the rugged, scenic Nāpali Coast on Kalalau Trail for 11 miles from beach to beach to take in valleys and vistas, waterfalls and sea caves. To hit the highlights, take the trail from Kee Beach to Hanakapiai Beach for a 4-mile roundtrip hike.

Five Lakes Trail, Zermatt, Switzerland

the matterhorn

Take in the majesty of the Matterhorn and its reflection in three of the five Alpine lakes you'll see on this Five Lakes Trail around Zermatt's most gorgeous scenery. The trail is just over 6 miles, and you can stop to swim in Leisee and Grünsee lakes too.

Plitvice Lakes Loop, Croatia

croatia, plitvice lakes national park

Traverse boardwalks suspended over the turquoise water with stunning views of picturesque waterfalls in Plitvice Lakes National Park. The park offers several walking routes, but this loop, known as Trail A , is a short 2.2 miles and the most popular of them.

Tongariro Valley Crossing, New Zealand

landscape with volcano, tongariro, new zealand

Mountains abound across the world, but it's a special day when you can take in a volcanic landscape on New Zealand's greatest day walk, Tongariro Valley Crossing . The 12-mile journey takes you through the shadow of Mount Ngauruhoe and allows you to take in its emerald green lakes and watch semi-dormant volcanoes smoke not far off in the distance.

Mutianyu, Great Wall of China

spectacular sunset at the great wall of china

Stunning scenery surrounds Mutianyu , one of the best preserved sections of China's Great Wall located 40 miles north of Beijing. For a more challenging hike, walk its unrestored sections from Jiankou to Mutianyu, a 4.2-mile journey one way.

Landmannalaugar Short Loop, Iceland

aerial view of landmannalaugar

You've never seen anything quite like the colors and textures of Landmannalaugar's hills and ridgelines, and this 2.9-mile loop will take you through the highlights of its scenery with pretty lava fields beneath mountain views. It's all postcard-perfect.

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THE 10 BEST Things to Do in Elektrostal

Things to do in elektrostal.

  • 5.0 of 5 bubbles
  • 4.0 of 5 bubbles & up
  • Good for a Rainy Day
  • Good for Kids
  • Good for Big Groups
  • Adventurous
  • Budget-friendly
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  • Honeymoon spot
  • Good for Adrenaline Seekers
  • Things to do ranked using Tripadvisor data including reviews, ratings, photos, and popularity.

best backpacking trips zion

1. Electrostal History and Art Museum

best backpacking trips zion

2. Statue of Lenin

best backpacking trips zion

3. Park of Culture and Leisure

4. museum and exhibition center.

best backpacking trips zion

5. Museum of Labor Glory

best backpacking trips zion

7. Galereya Kino

8. viki cinema, 9. smokygrove.

best backpacking trips zion

10. Gandikap

11. papa lounge bar, 12. karaoke bar.

THE 10 BEST Things to Do in Elektrostal

Things to do in elektrostal.

  • 5.0 of 5 bubbles
  • 4.0 of 5 bubbles & up
  • Good for a Rainy Day
  • Good for Kids
  • Good for Big Groups
  • Adventurous
  • Budget-friendly
  • Hidden Gems
  • Good for Couples
  • Honeymoon spot
  • Good for Adrenaline Seekers
  • Things to do ranked using Tripadvisor data including reviews, ratings, photos, and popularity.

best backpacking trips zion

1. Electrostal History and Art Museum

best backpacking trips zion

2. Statue of Lenin

best backpacking trips zion

3. Park of Culture and Leisure

4. museum and exhibition center.

best backpacking trips zion

5. Museum of Labor Glory

best backpacking trips zion

7. Galereya Kino

8. viki cinema, 9. smokygrove.

best backpacking trips zion

10. Gandikap

11. papa lounge bar, 12. karaoke bar.


  1. 10 Best Hiking Trails in Zion National Park

    best backpacking trips zion

  2. Best Backpacking Trails in Zion National Park • James Kaiser

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  3. 5 Incredible Backpacking Excursions in Zion National Park, Utah

    best backpacking trips zion

  4. A Guide to Backpacking the Zion Traverse + Permit Info

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  5. Backpacking Zion National Park : r/WildernessBackpacking

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  6. The Best 2 Day Zion National Park Itinerary · Le Travel Style

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  1. Top Hikes in Zion National Park Ranked #zion #nationalpark #hiking



  4. Zion Traverse Hike, April 2021

  5. ZION National Park Utah, USA: Part 1

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  1. Best Backpacking Trails in Zion National Park • James Kaiser

    The West Rim Trail is one of the most famous backpacking trails in Zion. And with good reason. Starting near Lava Point (one of the highest and best viewpoints in the park ), it follows Zion's spectacular West Rim before dropping into Zion Canyon. Along the way you'll pass high plateaus, tall ponderosa forests, and hidden sandstone canyons ...

  2. The Best Backpacking Trips in Zion National Park

    The Narrows. There are many great canyon hikes in the Southwest, but a tiny number compare with The Narrows—which certainly ranks among the very best backpacking trips in the Southwest and the 10 best backpacking trips in America. Generally hiked over two days top to bottom, the route descends 1,500 vertical feet over 16 miles from the upper ...

  3. 10 Best Backpacking Trails in Zion National Park

    Zion Traverse: Lee Pass to East Rim Trailhead boasts the most elevation gain for backpacking trails with 8,467 ft of total ascent. The park's runner-up is Parunuweap Canyon Trail, which will get you 4,763 ft of elevation gain. Explore the most popular backpacking trails in Zion National Park with hand-curated trail maps and driving directions ...

  4. Backpacking

    The Zion Wilderness is a world-renowned destination that offers opportunities for solitude and adventure. With over 90 miles of trails and dozens of designated backpacking sites, Zion National Park offers a variety of unique backpacking opportunities. All overnight backpacking in the park requires a Wilderness Permit.

  5. 5 Incredible Backpacking Excursions in Zion National Park, Utah

    The West Rim Trail traverses some of Zion's most spectacular terrain. // Photo: Shutterstock. Why you should go: single-handedly the best views in the park. Distance: 14.2 miles (shuttle) Elevation gain: 1,748 feet Difficulty: challenging Without a doubt, the most popular and famous backpacking trail in Zion is the West Rim Trail.It follows along Zion's incredible and majestic West Rim ...

  6. Zion Narrows Top Down Backpacking Guide

    Zion Canyon Transportation: 1-877-635-5993. Zion Adventures: 435-772-0990. If you use the park shuttle for your exit at the Temple of Sinawava, you'll need to leave a vehicle at the Visitor's Center. The park shuttle is expected to begin running on weekends in February until full time service starts on in March.

  7. The best Backpacking in and near Zion National Park, Utah

    15.34 mi / 4304 ft gain. The Angels Landing, West Rim, Telephone Loop Trail is a 14+ mile heavily-trafficked loop trail located in Zion National Park near Springdale, Utah. This iconic trail offers incredible views of Zion Canyon and is rated as difficult, with steep drop-offs on both sides of the narrow ridgeline sect...

  8. 10 Incredible Zion Hikes: a Complete Guide To Hiking in Zion National Park

    Zion Hiking Tip: There are two ways to get to Observation Point. If you want to reap the rewards of an epic view via an easier hike, the East Mesa Trail to East Rim Trail is 4.4 miles out-and-back and is a very leisurely stroll to the lookout point. Zion Hiking Tip #2: If you plan to do both, do Angels Landing before you tackle Observation ...

  9. 10 Best Hikes and Trails in Zion National Park

    Description. Zion National Park is a unique landscape with high cliffs, narrow gorges and a beautiful view. The park has many famous walks. Angels Landing is an intense switchback trail with truly spectacular views from the top of the canyon. Another famous hike is the unique Narrows Trail, a very long hike through a river that lies between a ...

  10. West Rim Trail Backpacking Guide in Zion National Park

    Zion West Rim Trail Basics. Trail Type: Point-to-Point (shuttle recommended) Distance: 16.2 miles Elevation Gain: 1700ft Recommended Time: 2 days/1 night Difficulty: Moderate Campsites: 9 available Permits: Yes (for backpacking) Dogs allowed: No The most popular way to hike the West Rim Trail is as a one-way, top-down overnight hike starting at Lava Point, the highest point in Zion, and ending ...

  11. Zion National Park Guide: One-Night Backpacking Trips in ...

    While there aren't tons of multi-day routes, Zion offers great options for 1-night trips! These backpacking trips are an awesome way to experience a wide variety of scenery, from pine forests to deserts to canyons, while escaping the crowds at this much-loved park. Each of these routes gives a unique glimpse into Zion's less-traveled landscapes.

  12. Zion National Park Hiking Treks & Tours

    Wildland Trekking has been funning guided hiking tours and backpacking trips in Zion and other Canyon Country destinations in Utah since 2006. We know this place like the back of our hands and we're in love with it. ... See our recommendations of the 10 best hikes in Zion National Park - these are outstanding! TOP ZION TOURS: Learn about ...

  13. Joe's Guide to Zion National Park

    THE TRANS-ZION TREK. Strenuous 3 to 4-day backpacking. The "Trans-Zion Trek" (aka the "Zion Traverse") is a long multi-day hike that connects all of Zion's long trails together. The route is roughly 37 miles long and starts at Lee Pass in the Kolob Canyons section and ends at the Grotto in Zion Canyon. (The complete trek used to finish at the ...

  14. Backpacking Reservations

    The Zion Wilderness is a world-renowned destination that offers opportunities for solitude and adventure. With over 90 miles of trails, dozens of designated backpacking sites, multiple at-large camping areas, and 124,406 acres of designated wilderness, Zion National Park offers a variety of unique backpacking opportunities. Plan Ahead and Prepare

  15. West Rim Trail Zion National Park: Ultimate Backpacking Guide

    Backpacking the West Rim Trail: Zion National Park. While Zion National Park is be best known for Angel's Landing and the Narrows, the less visited West Rim Trail completely blew us away with its stunning desert vistas and surprising solitude. A backpacking trip is a fantastic way to experience all that the West Rim Trail has to offer, and even allows for a quick detour to the famous Angel ...

  16. Top 3 Overnight Backpacking Hikes in Zion National Park

    La Verkin Creek Trail. This is certainly the shortest trail on our list, but that doesn't exclude it from becoming a two-day overnight Zion backpacking trip. The La Verkin Creek Trail is chock full of amazing sights and scenery. Two days are needed to really see it all properly, in our opinion. This is the trail where the Kolob Arch is ...

  17. 1 Week, 5 Utah National Parks: A Curated Road Trip Itinerary

    Salt Lake City to Zion: 313 miles, 4.5 hours. Las Vegas to Zion: 168 miles, 3 hours. Lodging: Camping (spots inside the park fill quickly), hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, glamping. We suggest starting your Utah national parks road trip at Zion, when your legs are the freshest; there are some serious hikes here.

  18. Skip Zion's Narrows And Take This Arizona Hike Instead

    Watch for signage and make sure to follow all posted hiking restrictions. This is still just a third of the price to access the famous Narrows hike, which requires paying the $35 Zion National Park entrance fee. Additionally, summer guests usually have to park in Springdale, which costs $30 a vehicle each day.

  19. 10 of the Most Beautiful Hiking Trips Around the World

    Tiger's Nest, Bhutan. The Paro Taktsang Monastery (Tiger's Nest Monastery) was built in on the site of a cave set into a cliff 3,000 meters above the Paro valley in the late 17th century, and views of it are just as breathtaking today. The hike to it is about 4 miles round trip and gains 1,700 feet in elevation.

  20. Permits & Reservations

    Situated at 7890 feet above sea level, it is off the Kolob Terrace Road, 25 miles (45 minutes) north of the town of Virgin. It takes approximately one hour and 20 minutes to drive to the campground from the South Entrance of Zion Canyon. There are 6 primitive campsites available for reservations.

  21. 10 Best Hiking Boots of 2024

    Waterproof Lining. Gore-Tex. Boot Type. Midweight hiker/backpacking boot. The Hoka Kaha 2 GTX is our favorite pair of men's hiking boots. These boots, built on Hoka's foundations as a running shoe brand, bring a lively spring into your step thanks to the thick 2-inch compression-molded EVA midsole.

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    9. SmokyGrove. 10. Gandikap. 11. Papa Lounge Bar. 12. Karaoke Bar. What are the top attractions to visit in Elektrostal?

  25. THE 10 BEST Things to Do in Elektrostal (Updated 2024)

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