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Getting There Lodging Restaurants Hiking Backpacking The Narrows The Subway Springdale

Zion has some of the most breathtaking day hikes in the nation, if not the world. Its trails climb to dizzying heights, with incredible views. Because of its desert location, it rarely rains in Zion, so you can enjoy day after day of hiking. This is truly a hiker's park.

But there are cautions.

First, you must be in reasonable condition. These trails lead steeply UP, as you can see in the photos. And there's no relief. They switchback continuously. You don't have to be in condition to go long distances, like you might have to do in some other national parks. These trails only go a few miles. But you have to be able to handle steep and continuous ascents, and then, later, steep and continuous descents. If you're reading this far enough in advance, you might condition yourself by finding a high local staircase (stadium, mall, office building, etc.) or a stepper machine and work out on them daily before you arrive.

Second, you must have proper equipment. You have to have good hiking boots. These are not trails for flip flops, sandals, tennis shoes or cheap boots. (And remember to wear the shoes in on previous hikes; do not arrive in Zion with new boots.) You need a good pack, good sunglasses, high number sunblock, and a good hat, preferably with a strap, since you'll be high on overlooks and out crops and wind will be tugging at you. (Some of the people in photographs are seen without hats. This is because they take off the hats for the photos.)

Third, you have to carry plenty of water. You'll be hiking in 90-100 degree heat and you'll be perspiring heavily. You have to replace that water loss.

The Emerald Pools Observation Point Angel's Landing West Rim East Mesa The East Rim Y

We've hiked these trails many times and we recommend the following strategies:

First, begin early. You want to get up to the top by mid to late morning, take a long break while eating a packed brunch, then be on your way back down by noon. You do not want to be on the way up, or up on top, when temperatures hit 100-110, which they do by about 1 pm. That kind of heat is bad any place, but in Zion, you're hiking and stopping for breaks on light colored polished rock. So the sun's rays are beaming down on you with no shade, then reflecting back up at you from that rock. You will, literally, be broiled. People pass out here from the afternoon heat. Often rangers stand at the bottom and won't even let hikers start up after 11 a.m. But they're understaffed and sometimes they're handling other situations. Do Not start up these trails after 11 a.m.

The only exception to this rule is the Emerald Pools hike, which is only 2.5 miles on much gentler terrain. It does climb 550 feet and include some rocky trail, but is much less demanding than the others.

Second, if you have any problems with heights, do not go on the hikes we're recommending here. You'll be hiking on narrow ledge trails with no outside guard rails and cliffs drop a thousand feet. We have personally helped hikers back down, and we've seen rangers helping hikers back down. These trails will expose anyone with even the slightest problem with heights. And the worst part is that coming down is more terrifying than going up. Many hikers make it to the top, then become paralyzed trying to come back down. But they're two miles from the trailhead, people are backing up behind and before them, the heat is rising, and they're in serious trouble. Most people handle these trails fine. We've seen very young kids accompany their parents with no problems. We've seen elderly hikers do fine. But you have to know your limits.

Third, take water. This is not the place for soft drinks, beer, wine or milk. You're going to be perspiring lots of water, and you need lots of water to replace it. You need several bottles of it. At least, you need one bottle for the hike up, one bottle for the break on top, and one bottle for the hike back down. If possible, you should pack the bottles with ice, then fill the remaining space with water. When you're up on top, and the Sun gets high in the sky, you'll be grateful for that icy cold water.

Veteran Zion hikers also take water filled snacks, like Berries or slices of Orange, Grapefruit, Watermelon, Cantaloupe, or Tomatoes.

After you take plenty of water, an electrolyte drink like Gatorade helps recharge your system. We'd save it for the trip back down.

Fourth, the hike up the Narrows is so unique, and requires such different equipment and planning, that we set it aside in its own category. However, we also recommend doing it as your first hike. The reason is that it's not a particularly strenuous hike, the river water and deep canyon shadows keep you cool, but doing this hike first allows you to acclimate to the altitude and heat for at least a day. You'll have enough other problems on those vertical hikes that you don't want altitude sickness complicating things. Hiking against the rapidly flowing river water also conditions your leg muscles for the ascents and descents to come.

With all these precautions in mind, if you came to Zion to focus on day hiking, we recommend four day hikes: Emerald Pools, East Mesa Trail, Angel's Landing, West Rim Spring and the East Rim Y.

This assumes you're not backpacking. The West Rim Spring day hike overlaps the Wild Horse Pasture backpacking trip. The East Rim Y overlaps the East Rim Trail backpack. So if you're doing one or both of those, we'd recommend hiking Emerald Pools, the Narrows, East Mesa and Angel's Landing, then backpacking or doing the Subway Bottom Up the last two or four days.

If you're staying in the valley, your best strategy for cooling off is to put on your swim suit and sit in the river. It runs amazingly cold and is very refreshing in the 100 degree heat. When we camp, we pick a site right next to the river for this reason. But the river's just across the road from the lodge and cabins.

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