utah map
Zion Canyon Views

Zion National Park is the Yosemite of the southwest. Majestic views from the tops of towering canyon cliffs, without the crowds. Zion doesn't have grand waterfalls, but it does have colorful canyons, mesas, arches and alcoves to explore. This place is a hiker's paradise. There are trails that meander though canyons, hug the rim over deep gorges and lead to breathtaking vistas.

If you are in great physical condition and don't mind heights, a hike to the top of Angels Landing should be on your bucket list. Just don't kick the bucket here - it can be dangerous. Nevertheless, I liked this hike so much 20 years ago, I had to do it again. The reward is an amazing 360-degree view in the heart of Zion National Park. At the summit you see Zion Narrows to the north, and a look over the edge below is the Virgin River wrapping around a mesa like a horseshoe. It is known as The Big Bend.

Be forewarned - there are challenges this hike presents. One must scramble on steep rock near the end by using support chains. It is scary, and one mistake can be fatal. There have been deaths on this trail. You are responsible for your own safety, so decide carefully if the Angels Landing hike is right for you. That said, It is an incredibly popular hike, and I saw children as young as 12 making the climb. The parents probably aren't too smart for allowing them.

The safest and easiet hike with a great view of Zion is the Canyon Overlook Trail. The trailhead is at the east tunnel entrance. It is about a 20 minute walk to the overlook.

If you are up to a bigger challenge, the 8-mile roundtrip hike to Observation Point has variety and great views that change the entire way. The first part of this trek up affords a nice view west toward Angels Landing. The trail then winds through a slot canyon and eventually climbs up switchbacks to Observation Point. From here, you can easily see all the way south to Springdale, Utah. Cable Mountain is to the east, Angels Landing is just in front of you, and The Narrows behind you. It is safer hike than Angels Landing and still has outstanding views. But it is a somewhat steep climb up and your knees might not like the descent. The wind may be strong at the top of the canyon, so hang on to your hat.

Cable Mountain may have the best view in all of Zion. But it's a bit tricky getting there. You will need a 4-wheel drive vehicle if you choose to access the shorter trail from Zion Ponderosa Ranch on the east side of Zion National Park. It takes an hour to drive there from Springdale. Otherwise, it's an all-day hike beginning at Weeping Rock trailhead. The hike itself from Ponderosa Ranch is not that interesting as much of it goes through burned-out forest. But once on top of Cable Mountain you are treated to a birds-eye view of Angels Landing.

Ideally, to get a great photo from Cable Mountain you want to be on the summit by early morning to avoid shadows and looking into the sun. This can be problematic since it is at least a two hour hike each way, plus the drive. If you do it, don't forget to bring a wide-angle lens. The wind can be very strong here, so don't stand too close to the edge. The structure at the top is an old wooden cable pulley that is no longer in use. You can see it from many places in the park if you know where to look.

There are some easier hikes in Zion such as to Emerald Pools and Weeping Rock. And even more challenging ones like The Narrows if you have the right gear. The Narrows involves hiking upstream in the chilly Virgin River. Because of the record snowfall in Utah in 2011, the flow rate of the Virgin River was too strong in early June to venture into The Narrows. There are other slot canyons to explore in Utah and even Arizona where one can stay dry. And if you really want to see a lot of water, then make your way to Yosemite.


Visit these other great sites: