Utah’s Best Day Hikes
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.
The Emerald Pools trails start from Zion Lodge and make good variable-length hikes. Depending on your stamina and the amount of time available, hike to Lower, Middle, or Upper Emerald Pool, or take more time and visit all three.
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.
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 the Escalante region 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.
Many of the hikes in Capitol Reef involve quite a bit of climbing to reach high viewpoints over the Fremont River and 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 visitor 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, once a regular in these badlands.
The hike into Horseshoe Canyon to view the phenomenal rock art at the Great Gallery is a near-mystical experience for many—this remote canyon has been a sacred destination for thousands of years. 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 hiking trails explore the rock faces and canyon walls. The Neck Spring Trail drops from the Island in the Sky road down to a series of springs in Taylor Canyon, a tiny oasis with songbirds and luxuriant plantlife, then loops back up the canyon wall to complete the delightful, not-too-arduous five-mile hike.
Even though the Colorado River is responsible for trenching the incredible landscapes of Canyonlands, it’s often difficult to see the river in its canyon. In the Needles District, the Confluence Overlook Trail allows hikers to look down on the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers from 1,000-foot cliffs. This fairly easy 11-mile round-trip trail starts from the end of Big Spring Canyon Overlook Scenic Drive.
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.
© W.C. McRae and Judy Jewell from Moon Utah, 9th Edition