The 12 Best Hikes in Utah’s National Parks

By Michael Lanza

From natural arches, hoodoos, and hanging gardens to balanced rocks and towering mesas, slot canyons and vast chasms, the desert Southwest holds in its dry, searing, lonely open spaces some of America’s most fascinating and inspiring geology. The writer “Cactus Ed” Abbey no doubt had this region in mind when he said there “are some places so beautiful they can make a grown man break down and weep.” Much of it sits protected within southern Utah’s five national parks: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef.

The good news? Many of the best sights can be reached on dayhikes of anywhere from a couple hours to a full day.

A hiker below the Wall of Windows on the Peek-a-Boo Loop in Bryce Canyon National Park.
Cyndi Hayes hiking below the Wall of Windows on the Peek-a-Boo Loop in Bryce Canyon National Park.

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-books to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

The list below of the best dayhikes in southern Utah’s national parks derives from numerous trips I’ve made to each of these parks over the past three decades, including the 10 years I spent as a field editor for Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog. Use my list as your compass, and I guarantee you will knock off the best hikes in these parks.

I’d love to read your thoughts about my list—and your suggestions for dayhikes that belong on it. Please share them in the comments section at the bottom of this story. I try to respond to all comments, and as I continue to explore more trails, I will regularly update this story.

A teenage boy hiking Angels Landing, Zion National Park.
My son, Nate, hiking Angels Landing in Zion National Park.

Angels Landing and West Rim Trail, Zion National Park

Angels Landing belongs on any list of the best dayhikes in Utah. The five-mile, nearly 1,500-foot round-trip hike of Angels Landing culminates in one of the airiest and most thrilling half-mile stretches (actually, 0.4 mile) of trail in the entire National Park System. You scale a steep, knife-edge ridge crest of rock, using steps carved out of sandstone and chain handrails in spots. And the 360-degree panorama from the summit takes in all of Zion Canyon.

Two tips: If you can hike a strong pace, start in very early morning or wait until mid-afternoon (when the lower section of trail falls into shade) to avoid the crowds and the heat of midday. And after summiting Angels, continue up the West Rim Trail for another mile or two before turning back—you will ditch the crowds and explore a sublimely beautiful area of giant beehive towers and white walls streaked in red and orange.

Due to the enormous popularity of this hike, Zion National Park holds a lottery four times per year at for a permit for dayhiking Angels Landing and a daily lottery, the day before you want to hike it, at Find out more at

See my stories “Great Hike: Angels Landing, Zion National Park” and “The 10 Best Hikes in Zion National Park.”

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A hiker on the Peek-a-Boo Loop in Bryce Canyon National Park.
My then-81-year-old mom, Joanne Lanza, hiking the Peek-a-Boo Loop in Bryce Canyon National Park.

Navajo-Queens Garden and Peek-a-Boo Loops, Bryce Canyon National Park

If the view of Bryce’s stone forest of multi-colored hoodoos is breathtaking from roadside overlooks, hiking in their labyrinthine midst is mesmerizing. Combine the popular and short Navajo Loop/Queens Garden Loop—which features one of the park’s best-known formations, Thor’s Hammer—with the Peek-a-Boo Loop (also shown in lead photo at top of story), and you will lose the crowds while walking through a maze of multi-colored limestone, sandstone, and mudstone towers.

The hike, mostly on good trails that are easy to follow, weaves among tall hoodoos, passes through doorways cut through walls of rock, and wraps through amphitheaters of wildly colored, slender spires that resemble giant, melting candles. The six-mile loop, with a total elevation gain and loss of about 1,600 feet, begins and ends at Sunset Point.

See “The Best Hike in Bryce Canyon National Park,” and all of my stories about Utah national parks at The Big Outside.

Hike all of “The 10 Best Backpacking Trips in the Southwest.”

Delicate Arch at sunset in Arches National Park.
Delicate Arch at sunset in Arches National Park.

Delicate Arch at Sunset, Arches National Park

The trail to what is probably Utah’s most famous natural arch is certainly a well-traveled path. But here’s the smart hiker’s strategy: Do it in the evening, timing your arrival at Delicate for shortly before sunset. The final stretch of the trail traverses the face of a small slickrock cliff before suddenly depositing you on the rim of an amphitheater of solid rock, looking across the broad bowl at Delicate Arch, with the La Sal Mountains, snow-covered in spring, visible through its keyhole. Then hold your jaw in place while watching as the low-angle sunlight seems to electrify the sandstone’s burnt color.

Just three miles round-trip with minimal elevation gain, it’s an easy stroll, even returning by headlamp; and that time of day is far more pleasant than trudging it during the morning or afternoon heat. Tip: Bring a headlamp and jacket and linger for a while after sunset, until most other hikers have departed, and you’ll enjoy a quieter, enchanting walk under a sky riddled with stars.

See my story “No Straight Lines: Backpacking and Hiking in Canyonlands and Arches National Parks,” and all of my stories about Arches National Park.

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A hiker in The Subway, Zion National Park.
David Gordon hiking The Subway, Zion National Park.

The Subway, Zion National Park

Zion’s most-famous, technical slot canyon, The Subway takes its name from a bend where floodwaters have bored an oval passage that—yes, you guessed it—resembles the most strikingly colorful subway tunnel you will ever see. Requiring a popular permit, the 9.5-mile, top-to-bottom dayhike descends a canyon at times wider than a soccer pitch, with trees growing in the shade of walls hundreds of feet tall, and narrows to a slot barely more than shoulder-width across. You will clamber over giant boulders in a twisting canyon of wildly sculpted, kaleidoscopic walls, wade or swim a few deep, frigid pools (bring a dry suit, which can be rented in Springdale), and make three short rappels.

See my story “Luck of the Draw, Part 1: Hiking Zion’s Subway,” for many photos and details on how to get the permit and do this classic hike.

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A hiker relaxing in Partition Arch in Devils Garden, Arches National Park.
Jeff Wilhelm relaxing in Partition Arch in Devils Garden, Arches National Park.

Devils Garden, Arches National Park

Much of the mass popularity of Arches owes to the ease of viewing many of its signature features on short to very short hikes and roadside walks. That’s exactly why Devils Garden is the best hike in the park (at least among hikes that follow established trails). Besides being really scenic—you can view seven arches, including the park’s largest, 306-foot-long Landscape Arch—it’s much more adventurous.

The hiking is nearly flat and easy up to Landscape Arch; beyond it, though, you’ll discover part of the magic of Devils Garden: immersing yourself in the landscape off the trail. You will scamper up and down steep sandstone fins and out onto exposed overlooks, and you can even scramble up into Partition Arch. Hike to all seven arches in the Devils Garden area, and you’ll cover about eight miles by the time you return to the Devils Garden Trailhead, at the end of the park road through Arches.

See my story “No Straight Lines: Backpacking and Hiking in Canyonlands and Arches National Parks,” and all stories about Arches National Park at The Big Outside.

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Hikers on the Chesler Park Trail, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park, Utah.
Hikers on the Chesler Park Trail, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park.

Chesler Park, Canyonlands National Park

Hiking to Chesler Park in the Needles District of Canyonlands has the quality of approaching the Emerald City in the land of Oz. Multi-colored, 300-foot-tall towers of Cedar Mesa sandstone form a castle-like rampart, looming ever larger as you approach Chesler. The trail then leads steeply uphill through a break in the row of pinnacles—the doorway into Chesler Park, a horseshoe of sandstone spires arcing around a patch of desert more than a mile across.

From ledges between the spires of Chesler, you get views of the park’s pinnacles and the sprawling badlands outside its walls, where giant, white-capped mushrooms of stone sprout from the earth, and more red spires rise in the distance. It’s roughly 10 miles out-and-back hike to Chesler without probing into it. But if you have the time and stamina, hike the path almost three miles around the park to the Joint Trail, which passes through a very narrow, sheer-walled slot in solid rock.

See my story “No Straight Lines: Backpacking and Hiking in Canyonlands and Arches National Parks.”

Want more? See “The 25 Best National Park Dayhikes
and “Extreme Hiking: America’s Best Hard Dayhikes.”

See menus of stories at the All National Park Trips and Family Adventures pages at The Big Outside.

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8 thoughts on “The 12 Best Hikes in Utah’s National Parks”

  1. We are planning to go to some of Utah’s National Parks the week of March 15th! Any tips or ideas on which parks we should go to and for how many days each? We have an 8 day trip and want to see and hike as much as possible!

    • Hi Kitty,

      Mid-March can be a great time to hike in southern Utah’s national parks, though it is kind of early season, so you could also see cold rain or snow flying. It depends on elevation. The hikes on this list are a good place to start and I could certainly offer other suggestions keyed to your interests in a much more in-depth way through my Custom Trip Planning, where I’d help you plan your trip and identify the hikes you’ll really enjoy.

      Thanks for the question and good luck with your trip planning.

  2. OMYGOSH….we went to some of these last year….what a blast. We missed the Subway hike….I dont remember that as an option….unless it was closed during COVID. or we just over looked it!
    Did the Narrows, Angels Landing (I stopped at chains husband went all the way) just to name a couple . We are definitely going back!

    • Good for you, Kathy. Get back there again as soon as you can. The Subway requires a permit. Read my story about it (linked in the description above). I’m just coming off another great trip in Canyonlands. Southern Utah is magical.

  3. Hi Michael,

    Loved reading this article. Planning to go to this area next week. Thinking of spending 4 days in the area. How is Utah in mid October?


    Jay Wah

    • Thanks, Jay. Normally, mid-October is a prime time of year in southern Utah. Temperatures vary with elevation. Certainly check the forecast before hiking into any narrow canyons, and avoid them if there’s any chance of rain. But you should have great hiking conditions. Enjoy!