These hikes through epic canyons, arches, and needles of sandstone invite you to hit the trail and spend your day exploring Utah’s stunning national parks.
Starting from Zion Lodge, hike both the Upper and Lower Emerald Pools Trails to small ponds, waterfalls, and verdant hanging gardens. If these trails are too tame (and you are up for a stiff climb and sheer drop-offs), the West Rim Trail to Angels Landing is a classic hike you’ll want to try.
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 (2.4-km) Queen’s Garden Trail. 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. You can connect with the Navajo Loop Trail to bring the total distance to about 3 miles (4.8 km).
The hike up Calf Creek to Lower Calf Creek Falls is a delectable sampler of the sights that make the slickrock canyon country of Escalante so compelling. From a trailhead right off Highway 12 (15 mi/24 km 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 (8.9-km) round-trip trail is easy enough for families.
Many of the hikes in Capitol Reef involve quite a bit of climbing, but 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 (244 m) high and narrows of just 20 feet (6 m). Pick up the trail from Highway 24, 5 miles (8 km) south of the visitors center, where Grand Wash enters Fremont Canyon. For a view over the wash, continue on the trail and climb to Cassidy Arch (3.5 mi/5.6 km round-trip), named after outlaw Butch Cassidy.
Hiking into Horseshoe Canyon to view the phenomenal rock art is a near-mystical experience. The Great Gallery Trail, 7 mi (11.3 km) round-trip requires negotiating a steep canyon wall, but these stunning petroglyphs in a verdant canyon are well worth the effort. The trailhead is 30 miles (48 km) east of Highway 24 on gravel roads.
In Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky District, the landscape is nearly all vertical. 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 Green and Colorado River gorges.
The hike to Chesler Park, in the Needles District, begins at the busy four-wheeling Elephant Hill parking area but quickly leads away from the noisy crowds to a lovely meadow, complete with an old cowboy line camp.
The 3-mile (4.8-km) round-trip hike to Delicate Arch is 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 early or late in the day to Devils Garden at the end of the paved parkway, and hike the 7.2-mile (11.6-km) loop trail past eight arches and the weird formations in Fin Canyon.