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Home to some of the most incredible hikes and magical views in Utah (maybe even in America’s southwest), Zion National Park is a popular bucket list stop. Whether you are on a Utah national parks road trip to check off exploring the entire “Mighty 5” or looking for an adventurous day trip from Las Vegas, Zion National Park is one of the most popular U.S. destinations for any adventurer.
But with Zion National Park drawing record-breaking crowds, especially post COVID-19 pandemic, expect your visit to Zion to be a little less intimate and quaint than you anticipated. June 2021 set the new record of a whopping 676,000 visitors!
More visitors means more congestion and noise on those famous Zion hikes, like Angels Landing and The Narrows, as well as long wait times to ride the Zion Canyon shuttle.
The older I get, the more I prefer quieter, more secluded experiences and adventures, especially in national parks (I know I'm not the only one that gets crowd anxiety!). I like being able to go at my own pace, be alone with my thoughts, and enjoy the serenity of nature around me.
So how do you avoid crowds in Zion National Park to make the most of your trip? Here's your list of six hiking trails away from the main part of Zion Canyon that offer just as breathtaking views (if not better) as the most popular Zion hikes, like Angels Landing, The Narrows, and Emerald Pools. Since these trails don’t require the shuttle to get to, you’ll have a quieter, more intimate Zion experience.
*Pro Tip: Want to really avoid the Zion crowds? Here's how to visit Zion WITHOUT the shuttle.
Located next to the Visitor Center, the Watchman Trail is one of my favorite Zion day hikes that not only is challenging but is less crowded.
I first hiked Watchman Trail in March 2020 (right before the pandemic!) from the Watchman Campground where we were staying. I specifically remember how secluded and connected I felt with the beauty of Zion National Park. As I hiked, I found myself winding through the sandstone canyons indulging in the quietness around me.
Although you don’t summit The Watchman itself, the end of the hike welcomes you to incredible panoramic views of lower Zion Canyon, the town of Springdale, and prime views of the Towers of the Virgin.
The final observation point was the first time I finally encountered two other hikers. What an incredible experience having this view all to ourselves! In a national park that’s constantly bustling with visitors, here was my sanctuary to sit in stillness without interruptions. Underneath the overcast skies, I soaked in the sounds of chirping birds and gazed at the brightly colored canyons in the distance.
The Watchman Trail in Zion is less trafficked than any other trail along the main part of Zion Canyon but offers stunning views of cascading canyons and desert plant life. With the trailhead to Watchman Trail so close to the Visitor Center, it doesn’t require the Zion shuttle to get to. This means you can check out the shuttle line to see if it’s something you want to wait in. And if not, hike the Watchman Trail, a quieter, kid-friendly Zion day hike!
As one of the few paved and easily accessible trails in Zion National Park, the Pa’rus Trail is perfect for anybody looking for kid-friendly or easy hikes in Zion. It’s also the only trail in Zion that allows dogs.
Starting at the Visitor Center, I loved listening to the serene sounds of the Virgin River as I followed the Pa'rus trail to Canyon Junction along some of the best views of The Watchman. Translated to "bubbling water" in Paiute, I'd say Pa'rus is an appropriate name for this trail!
I’d recommend walking or hiking the Pa’rus Trail in the late afternoon towards the Virgin River bridge, one of the best spots in Zion National Park to watch the sunset. Experience the brilliance of the orange colors of Zion’s canyons swirling in a different light as the sun sets in the distance. Gaze towards The Watchman with the peacefully flowing Virgin River in the foreground for incredible landscape shots of Zion.
Since the Pa’rus trail is paved and relatively flat, it’s easy and safe to walk back after sunset. Just make sure to bring a headlamp or flashlight.
The Pa’rus Trail is an easy and enjoyable Zion day hike near the Visitor Center that is a great way to finish your day in Zion National Park, perfect for anybody with kids or dogs!
Don’t have enough time to hike Angels Landing? Or are you looking for an easy Zion day hike with stunning views of Zion Canyon?
The Canyon Overlook Trail is a short and sweet hike on the east side of Zion National Park along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway offering incredible panoramic views of lower Zion Canyon.
And after hiking Angels Landing three times, I’d say the viewpoint at the end of Canyon Overlook Trail is just as spectacular as that at the end of Angels Landing! And you don't have to endure those intimidating switchbacks and the terrifying two-way traffic along the chained section of Angels Landing.
The observation point at the end of the Canyon Overlook Trail is also one of the best spots in Zion to watch the sunrise. You’ll be able to watch the first light of the day magnificently strike the East Temple as you look down Zion canyon.
As a relatively flat trail with railings, the Canyon Overlook Trail is another great Zion hike to do with kids. Just be careful since some sections have steep drop-offs on one side.
You cannot ride the Zion shuttle to get to the Canyon Overlook Trail. Instead, you can drive your vehicle and park in the small parking lot next to the trailhead. But get an early start since this parking lot is only big enough to fit about 12-15 cars!
The Canyon Overlook Trail is an incredible alternative to the Angels Landing hike if you want to avoid the congestion and intense difficulty of Angels Landing!
For a more intimate Zion National Park experience, escape the Zion Canyon crowds and explore Kolob Canyons in solitude.
Hidden about 50 minutes away from Zion Canyon on the northwest corner of the park is Zion National Park’s underrated gem, the unique Kolob Canyons. Along the 5-mile scenic drive along Kolob Canyons Road, you’ll see brilliantly red finger canyons jutting into the sky before you.
Kolob Canyons also give you access to several hiking trails that are more remote and laid back than the rest of Zion National Park. And don’t worry, the Kolob Canyons has its own visitor center for you to use the restroom and fill up on water before you hit the trails.
During sunset in Zion National Park, the Kolob Canyon’s red sandstone cliffs shine even brighter, making for a magnificent sunset experience.
Exploring and hiking the Kolob Canyons is one of the best ways to visit Zion National Park without the crowds and congestion.
Timber Creek Overlook Trail is a relaxing walk for hikers and families in Zion National Park to enjoy panoramic views of the brightly-colored finger canyons. There is even a picnic area by the trailhead for groups to rest and enjoy the scenery.
Hike deep into one of the finger canyons along the Taylor Creek Trail, which leads to the Double Arch Alcove, a colorful cave-like formation created by the erosion of Navajo sandstone.
Along the way, hikers pass by two historic cabins built in the 1930s, before Zion National Park added the Kolob Canyons region.
As a flat and well-marked trail, Taylor Creek Trail is a Zion hike to do with kids that’s away from the crowds.
La Verkin Trail begins with beautiful views of the Kolob Canyons and Timber Creek, giving hikers a taste of the Zion Wilderness, before reaching Kolob Arch, the world’s largest free-standing natural arches (at 287 feet wide and 75 feet thick)!
La Verkin Creek Trail offers 12 campgrounds for anybody wanting to camp overnight in the Zion Wilderness. Some campgrounds are first-come-first serve while others require a reservation.
With Zion National Park on everyone’s bucket list post pandemic, Zion can be extremely crowded especially during peak season (April - September) when the park gets more than 50% of it’s annual visitors.
More crowds means longer wait times for the Zion Canyon shuttle and more congestion on popular hikes like Angels Landing and The Narrows.
Check out these six Zion hikes that are less congested and don’t require the shuttle to get to if you want to avoid those Zion crowds for a more secluded experience in Zion National Park.
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