Best Day Hikes in Utah’s National Parks

Hikers enjoy and photograph the scenery near a large, low stone arch.

Mesa Arch, atop Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky. Photo © Bill McRae.

It’s difficult to imagine more dramatic landscapes than those found in Utah’s national parks. These day hikes through epic canyons, arches, and needles of sandstone invite you to get out of your vehicle and explore.


Zion

The Emerald Pools trails start from Zion Lodge and make good variable-length hikes. Depending on your stamina and time available, hike to Lower, Middle, or Upper Emerald Pool, or take more time and visit all three.

Distance: 0.6 miles one-way to Lower Emerald Pool; 1 mile to Middle Emerald Pool; 1.4 miles to Upper Emerald Pool. Duration: 1-3 hours. —p.38, Recreation


Bryce

Given the high elevation and the fact that all of Bryce’s best hikes descend from the rim (meaning a climb back up to the rim at the hike’s end), it’s good to start with the relatively easy 1.5-mile trek to Queen’s Garden. This will get you off the rim and down into the hoodoos and, unless you’re acclimated to the 8,000-foot elevation, give you a bit of a workout. If you need a longer hike, connect with the Navajo Loop Trail to bring the total distance to about three miles.


Grand Staircase-Escalante

The hike up Calf Creek to Lower Calf Creek Falls is a delectable sampler of the kinds of sights that make the slickrock canyon country of Escalante such a compelling destination. From a trailhead right off Highway 12 (15 miles northeast of Escalante), a trail follows a desert canyon past rock art, ruins of an ancient Native American village, and beaver ponds, and terminates at a delicate 126-foot waterfall. The 5.5-mile round-trip trail is easy enough for families.


Capitol Reef

Many of the hikes in Capitol Reef involve quite a bit of climbing to reach high viewpoints over the Fremont River and the Waterpocket Fold. However, hiking Grand Wash is easy and scenic. Grand Wash is one of only five canyons that cut through the rock reef, with walls up to 800 feet high and narrows of just 20 feet. Pick up the trail from Highway 24, five miles south of the visitors center, where Grand Wash enters Fremont Canyon. For a view over the wash, continue on the trail and climb up to Cassidy Arch (3.5 miles round-trip), named after outlaw Butch Cassidy.


Canyonlands

The hike into Horseshoe Canyon to view the phenomenal rock art at the Great Gallery is a near-mystical experience for many. The 6.5-mile trail requires negotiating a steep canyon wall, but experiencing the stunning petroglyphs in a verdant canyon is well worth the effort. The trailhead is 30 miles east of Highway 24 on gravel roads.

In Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky District, the landscape is nearly all vertical, and many hiking trails explore the rock faces and canyon walls. The Grand View Trail traverses more level ground, ending at the southernmost tip of the Island in the Sky peninsula, where you’ll have views over much of the park, including the gorges of the Green and Colorado Rivers.

Stretch your legs on the hike to Chesler Park, in the Needles District. Although the hike begins at the busy four-wheeling Elephant Hill parking area, it quickly leads away from the noisy crowds to a lovely meadow, complete with old cowboy line camp.


Arches

The three-mile round-trip hike to Delicate Arch is a fantastic experience, a moderately demanding trail up a slickrock formation to the arch and transcendent views over the Colorado River Canyon. If you’d prefer a trail without the crowds, go to Devils Garden, at the end of the paved parkway, and hike the 7.2-mile loop trail past eight arches and the weird formations in Fin Canyon.


Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Zion & Bryce.

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