It’s no secret that their stunning views and unique landscapes are what draws millions of visitors to Utah’s Mighty 5 national parks each year. But how these guests choose to explore the parks is just as important.
A vast majority of Utah’s national parks tourists hike at least a trail or two during their visit. For some, a short hike or nature trail is more than enough before they retreat back to air conditioning. Others are on a mission to see the best and worst of what the parks have to offer by scaling some of the most difficult trails in the nation.
Attracting everyone from adventure seekers to families on vacations, these are the most popular hiking trails in each of Utah’s national parks.
ZION NATIONAL PARK: THE NARROWS
Drawing thousands of visitors a year to Zion all on its own, The Narrows is perhaps as famous as the park itself. That’s because of the trail winds through its namesake feature; a massive slot canyon, one of the largest in the country.
You’ll have to get your feet wet to enjoy this trail, as the Virgin River runs through the canyon. But you can hike as far into it as you choose. Most visitors opt for either the 6 or 8-mile round trip loops. If you obtain a permit, you can even do a 16-mile, top-down hike, though this requires training and hiking skills, and permits are difficult to come by.
Currently closed to visitors (as of June 21, 2019) because of snowmelt that has caused the Virgin River water level to rise, visitors to the park eager to hike The Narrows have turned to other trails, and particularly, Angels Landing. This has caused some congestion and crowding that park officials are working to control.
ZION NATIONAL PARK: ANGELS LANDING
With The Narrows closed, for now, it’s worth noting Zion’s second most popular trail, Angels Landing. While it may not see quite so many hikers, there’s a good reason; you can choose an easy hike in and out of The Narrows. At Angels Landing, the only way to the top is on a 5-mile, steep, strenuous climb that will take you nearly 1,500 feet higher than where the trailhead begins.
The difficult climb is far from the only danger. The trail narrows at points as it climbs, leaving hikers perched on just a foot or two of the trail at the edge of a sheer cliff face. Lose your footing and your bucket-list hike could become deadly. Luckily there are chain handrails to help keep visitors safe, but this trail is still best left to experienced hikers.
BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK: NAVAJO LOOP TRAIL
Compared to a 16-mile hike through The Narrows or a climb to Angels Landing, the Navajo Loop Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park will sound like a breeze. But don’t let the distance fool you; during your 2.9-mile round trip hike, you’ll climb steep inclines and trudge along endless switchbacks.
On this hike, you’ll get a tour of the park’s most famous features. Marvel at colorful hoodoos and stunning ridges lined with green pines. You can also enjoy one of the best views in the park at Sunrise Point.
ARCHES NATIONAL PARK: DELICATE ARCH
One of the most photographed and visited spots in all of Utah, let alone the Mighty 5, is Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. Perhaps the reason this trail is so popular is that it’s relatively easy, at least compared to some of the other parks’ top trails.
At just 3-miles round trip, it won’t even take you a half-day to walk. Of the more than 2,000 arches in the park, this freestanding attraction rises high above the horizon, making for an excellent photo opportunity. Visitors come at all times of day, to capture photos of sunsets, sunrises, and even stars peeking through the arch.
CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK: MESA ARCH
It takes just a half-mile of easy walking to reach this incredible sight. Nonetheless, it’s a trail that should be on everyone’s bucket list, from beginner hikers to experienced pros.
Mesa Arch is one of the most recognized landmarks in all of Utah. Rising high above the red rocks and jagged landscape, this massive arch features a 500-foot drop-off off the back that is sure to get your adrenaline pumping.
Many visitors to the park choose to visit the arch in the early morning, when you can catch the sun’s rays reflecting off the bottom of the arch, illuminating it bright orange. But no matter what time of day you visit, it’s a beautiful sight.
CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK: HICKMAN BRIDGE
Canyonland National Park’s Mesa Arch is far from the only massive arch in the state. Capitol Reef National Park has a similar sight, although it is classified as a natural bridge rather than an arch.
Hickman Bridge is a 133-foot long natural bridge that rises out of the rocky landscape. The bridge rises over 120 feet in the area at the center. To get here, you’ll only need to walk a moderate 2-mile trail. The trail also features 17 spots to pause and observe everything from an Indian granary to another, much smaller natural bridge, making this an ideal hiking spot for families. Hike it in the spring and you’ll get to enjoy the colorful wildflowers that bloom here.