Utah is not only famous for having some of the best skiing in the country, it’s also one of the best places for paleontology in North America. Due to a vast variety of different rocks capable of preserving fossils, the state has the most dinosaur species in the country! The diversity of the terrain also provides a scenic landscape made up of Kayenta and Navajo sandstone, with wind and rain having sculpted the soft sandstone over millions of years.
This terrain is the central feature in the Mighty Five National Parks and is why so many flock to the state throughout the spring and fall, exploring the hundreds of hikes available. Eastern Utah is a high-elevation area covered mostly by plateaus and basins, where you can discover Arches and Canyonlands National Parks whereas southern Utah is the lowest and hottest spot, with Zion National Park the furthest south in the state.
So, without more suspense, here are, in our humble opinion, Utah’s best day hikes:
Angels Landing, Zion National Park
Angels Landing is one of the most popular hiking trails in Zion National Park, and for good reason! With 21 grinding switchbacks and a chain-assisted section, you’ll want plenty of water and a full day to conquer it! With 6.2 miles of trail, there and back, and an elevation gain of 500 metres, you’ll spend about 4-5 hours or more here, depending on how many breaks and photos stop you take!
The trail begins across from the Grotto bus-stop, crossing the Virgin River on a sandy path before the gradient increases and you’ll find yourself winding your way up the mountain side. The path is paved as you transition back and forth along the switchbacks, eventually coming into the shady depths of Refrigerator Canyon beneath Angel's Landing.
The pavement, and the switchbacks, end at Scout Lookout where you’ll encounter an exposed route and chains anchored by posts to assist you for the last ½ mile. Be careful as some parts are only wide enough for one person so watch for someone going the other direction! Once you’ve reached the summit, an exposed ridge, you can sit and take in the 360degree view of the park in all it’s glory.
The best time of year to hike to Angel’s Landing is in Spring or Fall, and it’s included on the Mighty Five ‘Pika’ and Utah Explorer ‘Bobcat’ trips.
Fairyland Loop Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park
In our opinion Bryce Canyon is best seen from below the rim and the Fairyland Loop offers spectacular views of the hoodoos as they loom overhead. The loop takes around 3 hours to complete and covers 7.8 miles.
The trail starts where the Rim Trail ends, at Fairyland Point, and you’ll begin to descend into the canyon steadily. The impressive Fairyland amphitheatre of hoodoos will be to your right, with Boat Mesa looming over them. You’ll reach the lowest point of the trail after 1.5miles, where you’ll start to climb up to a saddle below the Coliseum. The trail will ease off, and there’s an opportunity to take a short side hike on the Tower Bridge Side Trail. Tower Bridge is a rock formation that’s been heavily eroded and looks similar to the famous London icon. It’s worth a look as it’s only 0.2 miles off the main track. Otherwise you can continue with the challenging climb through the Campbell Canyon and passed the Chinese Wall to join back up with the Rim Trail, and back to Fairyland Point.
The trail has a few steady climbs though plenty of flat sections which allow you to catch your breath back and take photos. A sunhat and plenty of water is recommended, especially if you’re planning on hiking in the midst of summer.
The Narrows, Zion National Park
The Narrows is the narrowest section of the Zion Canyon with walls a thousand feet tall and the river sometimes just twenty to thirty feet wide. The most popular route is from the bottom-up, beginning at the Temple of Sinawava, a paved pathway winds its way through the Canyon for about one mile before the trail ends and you can continue hiking through the Virgin River. You can walk as far as you want and most people spend a full day in the canyon.
You can also hike from the top down, starting at Chamberlain’s Ranch and it’s 16-miles down to the Temple of Sinawava. There’s also 12 campsites along the river so you can take your time and stay overnight, provided the water level is low. A permit is necessary, and you reserve your campsite when you reserve your permit.
It’s a good idea to check the water levels ands weather beforehand so you’re well prepared. Closed-toe shoes are a must and it’s recommended to bring along a hiking pole for balance. The water gets deeper as you go along so you can always choose to experience the shallower water at the beginning and then head back. If you’re not keen on getting your shoes wet, you can easily rent special hiking boots from just outside the park entrance for US$25 per day.
You can hike The Narrows all-year round though always check the water levels first, and it’s included on the Mighty Five ‘Pika’ and Utah Explorer ‘Bobcat’ trips.
Observation Point Trail, Zion National Park
The Observation Point Trail culminates at one of the best viewpoints in Zion, looking south over to Angel’s Landing. You can reach the Point from inside the National Park via the East Rim Trail or start from outside the park on the East Mesa Trail, though the meet up before the last climb. If you’re starting on the East Rim Trail, it’s only 6.7 miles there and back, though with an elevation gain of 762 metres, you could be hiking for up to 7 hours, depending on your fitness level.
Starting from the Weeping Rock Trailhead you’ll walk only a few minutes heading south, before making a right to join onto the East Rim Trail. The trail climbs up onto the Plateau through switchbacks for the first portion, straight up a slot in Zion Canyon, past Hidden Canyon Trail and all the way to an intersection with the East Mesa Trail.
East Mesa climbs very steeply, switch-backing multiple times until it eventually contours south of a small mesa. After crossing the mesa, you’ll turn left onto the Observation Point Trail which works its way out to the edge of the canyon rim and offers absolutely astounding panoramic views of the canyon.
Cohab Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park
Cohab Canyon Trail takes you through to a stunning, hidden, red rock canyon in the national park, with spur trails and overlooks along the way. There are two starting points for the 1.7 mile trail, you can either begin at the Scenic Drive where the trail climbs steep switchbacks before entering the canyon and drops quickly to the sandy floor. Otherwise you can begin at the Hickman Bridge Trailhead with a gradual ascent taking you up above the deep canyon.
Side canyons and abundant vegetation add to the beauty of the red rock walls and as Cohab Canyon widens, from either start point, the route traverses slickrock down to a junction with the trail that leads to the viewpoints high above on the north side. The one-way hike will take around 1-1.5 hours, though if you decide to explore the spur trails, you’ll need an extra hour for these.
If you only want to hike the trail one-way, you can always drop a car at one end, or you can easily arrange a shuttle pick-up from the end.
You can hike to Cohab Canyon all-year round though it’s quite exposed so it may be best to avoid in the summer months, it’s included on the Mighty Five ‘Pika’ trips.
Corona Arch, Moab
Corona Arch, also called Little Rainbow Bridge, is one of the largest and most spectacular arches near Moab. The arch opening measures 140 feet across by 105 feet high and you can lie down beneath the arch in its long, narrow shadow on hot days to get a true measure of both its size and fragility.
From the trailhead you’ll cross the railroad track and follow an old roadbed up through a gap in the rim. From the gap, follow the cairns, the trail will swing left and over a low sandy pass before heading down towards the base of a large cliff. At the base of the cliff you’ll encounter the first safety cable, cables have been put in place for safety and to assist as you climb up. The second cable starts where steps have been cut into the slickrock and from this point the Corona Arch comes into view. After the second cable, you’ll climb the short ladder over a small ledge and from here it’s an easy walk to the base of Corona Arch. The Bowtie Arch will also be on your left before you reach the Corona Arch.
You can hike to Corona Arch all-year round however Little shade is found along the trail, except beneath overhanging cliffs in the late afternoon, so it’s best to hike first thing in the warmer months, it’s included on the Mighty Five ‘Pika’ (Northbound) trip.
Chesler Park Loop, Canyonlands National Park
Chesler Park is a relatively flat grassy area surrounded by amazing rock formations, located in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Chesler Park Loop Trail is a 10.3 mile trail that’s broken into sections so you can hike as little or as far as you’d like. Starting at Elephant Hill Trailhead, the initial segment drops down into Elephant Canyon, wandering along slickrock benches and crossing a rugged red rock canyon. The trail climbs a steep, rocky slope to a pass overlooking the Park, the view is incredible, and worth the hike even if you elect to go no farther.
From here you’ll drop down again and loop around Chesler Park, traveling through an amazing landscape of stunning multi-hued sandstone pillars, fins, spires and knobs, eroded by wind and water into fantastical shapes. After the Chesler Park Viewpoint, the trail turns onto Joint Trail road, before joining up back up with the original trail and heading back the way you came from.
The whole loop will take you around hours, though you can cut out a section of it by taking the Devils Kitchen Trail through the middle. However you would skip the Chesler Park Viewpoint so we advise against this!
You can hike to the Chesler Park Loop all-year round though there’s not a lot of shaded areas so make sure to bring your sunhat and plenty of water.
Delicate Arch, Arches National Park
The hike to Delicate Arch is approximately a 3 mile hike round-trip and it’s best hiked in spring and fall when the temperatures are cooler, or during the golden hours just after sunrise or before sunset when the rocks seem to turn a magical colour and the air temperature is bearable again.
The trail starts at the Delicate Arch trailhead, with the first section wide and well-defined. You’ll encounter the Petroglyph Interpretive Trail, an easy side loop that visits a small panel of carved Ute Indian petroglyphs thought to be created after these native people acquired horses in the 1600's.
Continuing, you’ll gradually climb rolling hills before a steep ascent on a rock slope, this part of the trail crosses open rock with the route marked only with cairns. The grade then eases a bit and you leave the crevassed slickrock behind to climb smooth sandstone on the final approach to the arch, an exposed ridge around the back of a rock tower.
With little shade, it’s recommended to hike this trail in the early morning or late in the day during summertime. You can hike this trail all-year round and it’s included on the Mighty Five ‘Pika’ trips.
The Wave, Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
The Wave is situated on the Utah-Arizona border between Page & Kanab, and it’s overwhelmingly popular. Due to the fragile nature of the formation and the large number of people wishing to visit it, a daily lottery system is used to dispense only ten next-day permits in person at the Kanab visitor centre. Additionally, ten online permits for each date are available four months in advance of a planned trip.
The easiest, and most used route to The Wave is from the Wire Pass Trailhead, and you’ll hike approximately 3 miles across open desert, making the round-trip to and from the Wave nearly 6 miles. Although this is the shortest route, it’s also a slightly more challenging hike than several of the other available routes.
If you’re lucky enough to win the lottery, you’ll be provided with a map and a talk on safety before heading out on the trail. The Wave Trail isn’t well-defined so it’s best to listen, though there are some signposts along the way to steer you in the right direction.
The first section is on sandy/desert terrain, before crossing over a ridge and onto hard sandstone. After passing large buttes to the right, the terrain opens up and you’ll see a large rock face in the distance with a fissure/crack vertically down the face, that’s your destination!
Be sure to spend the whole day there, as there’s plenty to explore, and you may never get another chance!
Buckskin Gulch Day Hike – Wire Pass Trailhead, Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Buckskin Gulch is less well-known than the adjacent, world-famous Wave, and although, terrain-wise, this is not a difficult hike, it earns a tougher rating due to the length and level of commitment.
You'll wind your way along a sandy floor, sometimes through water and/or mud, sometimes between 200-foot-tall sandstone walls so close together you can touch both sides at the same time and in one spot, you'll need to climb down a short-knotted rope.
The recommended route begins at the Wire Pass Trailhead and finishes at the White House Trailhead, you’ll walk 12.4 miles in total, through the Buckskin Gulch and the Pariah Canyon. There’s a great panel of ancient petroglyphs in the Wire Pass Wash, near the beginning of the trail and always check the weather first in case there’s a chance of flash flooding.
Mount Timpanogos, Wasatch Mountain Range
Mount Timpanogos offers year-round views of spectacularly rugged terrain with outstanding glacial cirques, and moraines. There are two main trails to the top of Mount Timpanogos and we recommend hiking the Timpooneke Trail to the towering summit. The trail can be completed as a long, strenuous day trip or you may decide to breakup into a multi-day trip. You’ll encounter beautiful wildflowers along the way, as well as opportunities to spot wildlife including mountain goats.
The Timpooneke Trail begins at the Aspen Grove trailhead and works its way up the spectacular Primrose Cirque to the Emerald Lake basin. Emerald Lake is where the beautiful wildflower displays are, in the surrounding meadows and hillsides. The trail then junctions with the summit trail and several waterfalls can be seen along the last stretch.
If you’re keen on a day hike, you’ll need a full day to complete it, along with a great set of lungs as you’ll climb a total elevation of 4,842 feet (1,476 metres) over 14.9 miles (24.1 kilometres), there and back.
Pfeifferhorn Trail, Wasatch Mountain Range
The Pfeifferhorn, or Little Matterhorn as it used to be known by, is the fifth-highest peak in the Wasatch Mountain Range and one of the more stunning and dramatic non-technical hikes in the area.
This hike follows the Red Pine Lake Trail up to the lake, with the majority of the hike on a well-maintained and easy to follow trail. A portion of trail between Lower Red Pine Lake and the Alpine Ridge slightly difficult to follow and above Upper Red Pine Lake, the trail follows the faint steep ridge that leads to the Alpine Ridge. Once you've reached the Alpine Ridge, this last section is above the tree line on an exposed ridge and so it’s best to check the weather before heading out.
The trail is best hiked during the late spring to early fall and is 11 miles (17.7 kilometres) with an elevation gain of 3,648 feet (1,112 metres).
Hopefully now you have plenty of inspiration for your trip. If you're still a bit unsure on how to hike all those amazing trails in the short time you have, maybe it's worth looking into our Utah hiking tours, in which we already picked our favourites and take care of all the logistics for you!