The Grand Canyon's glacier-carved cliffs often steal the spotlight when adventurers are planning out their stateside itineraries. While you can't miss hiking along the North Rim, rafting down the Colorado River, or taking a dip in the turquoise waters of Havasu Falls, we're making a case for exploring one of America's less-frequented national parks.
Just a three-hour drive from Las Vegas you'll find a picturesque red rock canyon in the Southwest corner of Utah. Zion National Park, with its narrow slot canyons, lush hanging gardens, and towering sandstone cliffs, might just be America's best-kept secret. Boasting scenic trails, premier canyoneering, and epic climbing routes, it's the ideal destination for anyone looking to lace up their hiking boots.
When you're planning your next outdoor adventure, skip the Grand Canyon, and spend three days exploring Zion National Park instead—trust us, you won't regret it. Read on to find out how to make the most of a three-day trip to Zion National Park.
Take advantage of Zion's convenient shuttle system, and tackle several of the park's less strenuous trails. (Think of day one as a warm-up for the more intense itineraries we've put together for days two and three.) Here are some scenic hikes to add to your list.
Emerald Pools: With their signature green hue, these three glistening pools are collectively one of the park's most-visited attractions. Consisting of three pools (Lower, Middle, and Upper) with trails of varying difficulty leading to each, you can easily customize your hike depending on how athletic you're feeling.
The Grotto: After you hit the pools, this shaded trail is perfect for taking a leisurely stroll. Conveniently, The Grotto trail connects to the Lower Pools trail, so you can easily add it to your route.
Weeping Rock: A short shuttle ride from The Grotto, this short, half-mile hike leads to lush hanging gardens that'll almost make you forget that you're technically in the desert.
After a day of stretching your legs on the park's more accessible trails, take on Zion's most well-known hike, The Narrows. Instead of following a traditional dirt trail, you'll wade through the Virgin River itself to explore the narrow slot canyon.
The Narrows: Watch your step as you make your way upriver through the narrow slot canyon. For a doable half-day hike, follow the river through the towering sandstone cliffs for two to three miles until you reach Orderville Canyon, which will be a fork in the river to the right.
Pro tip: Pack an extra pair of socks. After you've splashed around in the river, you'll have to hike about a mile on dry land (via the paved Riverside Walk trail) to get back to the shuttle. A quick wardrobe change will make the trek a bit more pleasant.
Hidden Canyon Trail: If you're up for another hike, take the shuttle from The Temple of Sinawava to Weeping Rock. From there, you'll find Hidden Canyon Trail, known for its steep switchbacks and its fickle waterfall (which usually makes an appearance in the spring).
Now that you've gotten your feet wet, hit Angels Landing, one of the park's steeper trails. Once you've taken in the view from the top and hiked back down into the canyon, explore beyond the main canyon road on the park's famed Zion–Mount Carmel Highway.
Angels Landing: Don't let the 2.2-mile note on the trail marker fool you, this hike is not for the faint of heart. While it's not an easy climb, it's well worth the effort to get to the top to enjoy stunning panoramic views of Zion Canyon.
Zion–Mount Carmel Highway: Just beyond Zion's main canyon road is one of the most scenic drives in America. Head east, and keep an eye out for otherworldly rock formations like Checkerboard Mesa.
Canyon Overlook Trail: Located just east of the one-mile long tunnel on Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, this winding trail leads to the best view of Zion's lower canyon. From the observation point, you'll see some of the park's most famous monuments like East Temple, West Temple, and Towers of the Virgin from an Instagram-worthy vantage point.
Have you visited Zion National Park? Tell us which hikes, activities, and accommodations you recommend in the comments below.