Sunday, August 3, 2014

Best trails for enjoying Zion NP’s wonders

Riverside Trail through Zion Narrows
Among the best ways to see Zion National Park’s top sights is via a day hike. Just five trails will allow you to enjoy each of the park’s highlights – a canyon’s exotic geological features, the world’s second longest arch, an incredible river narrows, hanging gardens, and magnificent California condors.

Zion Canyon
For 15 miles, the Virgin River cuts through cream, pink and red rock representing 150 million years of Earth history. The result is soaring towers, spectacular spires, and imposing monoliths. The 2-mile round trip Watchman Trail allows hikers to see several of the canyon’s exotic geological formations, including the Beehives, the Towers of the Virgin, the West Temple, the Altar of Sacrifice and the Watchman.

Kolob Arch
The park boasts the world’s second longest natural arch, Kolob Arch, which spans 287.4 feet. It can be seen in a long day hike through the backcountry on the 14-mile round trip Kolob Arch Trail, which leaves from the Lee Pass parking area.

Zion Narrows
At the famous river narrows, water is forced through a narrows between two high sandstone walls, an impressive sight. The 2-mile round-trip Riverside Trail leads to the narrows opening. Hike the trail in late summer when the water is warmer and lower than earlier in the year so that you can wade into the narrows.

Hanging gardens
At Weeping Rock, water seeps out of a concave cut in a sandstone wall, allowing for a lush hanging gardens to flourish amid the desert. The 1-mile round-trip Weeping Rock Trail is uphill with a steep stairs leading to the hanging gardens, but the site’s beauty is worth the climb.

California condors
More than 200 bird species can be found in the park, and the most magnificent of them is the rare California condor. They usually can be seen flying over the 5-mile round-trip Angels Landing Trail; the trail does have steep drop-offs so is not for young children.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.