The Best Hiking and Running Trails in Utah

Group of women hiking.

I’m a former wildlife biologist and adventure travel guide in Utah. Here are my favorite trails to run and hike in Utah’s State and U.S. National Parks. 

Two years ago I partnered with Stasherbags to highlight the U.S.A.’s Most Scenic Trails for Every Hiker. That was such a fun project that I want to do it again – this time with an emphasis on my specialty area, Utah. Featured here are excerpts of the Stasher article, with a few bonuses of my favorite trails that didn’t make the cut two years ago. 

Hikes with Kids

Thanks to Disney, our kids today understand that “The wilderness must be explored!” It may seem like taking children out to explore can be a dangerous or overwhelming adventure, but not with our favorite hikes suitable for families of any age or size. 

Balanced Rock, Arches National Park

The hike to Balanced Rock in Arches National Park is a perfect adventure for families with children, offering a short and easy trail that showcases one of the park’s most iconic formations. Beginning from a designated parking area along the main park road, this kid-friendly 0.3-mile trail features flat terrain and captivating views of the surrounding red rock landscape. 

As families make their way along the trail, children will delight in spotting other nearby rock formations and arches, adding to the excitement of the journey. The hike’s highlight is undoubtedly Balanced Rock itself, standing over 39 meters tall with a massive boulder perched atop a slender pedestal. This awe-inspiring sight is sure to captivate young adventurers and leave them with lasting memories of their time exploring the park.

The hike remains an accessible and enjoyable experience for families with little ones, providing a unique opportunity to witness the wonders of Arches National Park up close. With its short distance, stunning scenery, iconic landmarks, and unique stroller accessibility, the hike to Balanced Rock offers the perfect blend of adventure and accessibility for families seeking to explore the beauty of the desert landscape together.

It is important to remember that Arches is a very well-traveled National Park, meaning that there is always a crowd. Though it may be new to some, the National Parks Service recently implemented a “Timed Entry Reservation” initiative, which requires guests to reserve an entry spot on the day they want to visit. Information on how to create this reservation, its cost, and other FAQs can be found here

Riverside Walk, also known as Gateway to the Narrows

While the Zion Narrows is the most photographed of all parks, don’t let The ‘Gram fool you–this bucket list-worthy thru-hike is not a hike we guides recommend for children. My two cents? Give the kids a safe, enjoyable taste of adventure while they’re young–and come back to hike all 17 miles of the North Fork of the Virgin River when they’re grown!

Here’s my secret to creating a magical day for children at Zion National Park:

Children can wilt quickly in the Mojave Desert heat. Beat the throngs and catch the early morning shuttle before temperatures get too hot. Stay on the shuttle to the last stop, Temple of Sinawava, where the 2.2-mile round trip Riverside Walk, also known as Gateway to the Narrows, begins. This is the time and place to let the kids use the bathroom, fill water bottles using the park’s faucets, and have a snack before starting the spectacular scenic walk up the river corridor. 

The paved path is a great trail to educate the kids on proper hiking and outdoor etiquette. Remember to walk single file on the right side of the trail to let faster hikers pass, don’t throw rocks or sticks or harass the deer or wild turkeys that graze in the floodplain, and stop to listen quietly to the sound of water trickling through the rock seep or the flow of the Virgin River. 

Depending on the ambition and energy levels of your little hikers you may hike to the end of the pavement or stop for a swim in the river.

My Expert Guide Hiking Tip 🥾

legs of people hiking.

The night before the hike, soak a few bandanas in cold water. Wring out the excess, roll them up, and place them in the freezer. The morning of the hike, pack and seal the frozen bandanas in a [stasher bag] bag near the bottom of your backpack. When the kids get hot or need a little cleaning up, place the refreshingly chilled bandana on the back of their neck. All kinds of misery will be curtailed!

After the hike take the Zion Shuttle back down the canyon to Zion Lodge, where you can eat the picnic lunch you packed in your awesome reusable stasher bag, buy a fresh ice cream cone, and let the kids run barefoot on the grass under the shade of the enormous cottonwood trees. It’s an outing The Littles won’t forget!

The Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park

The Rim Trail at Bryce Canyon is a family-friendly adventure offering breathtaking views of the park’s iconic hoodoos and stunning rock formations. This easily accessible trail runs along the edge of the canyon, providing families with children a safe and enjoyable hiking experience. 

With its relatively flat terrain and well-maintained paths, the Rim Trail is perfect for little explorers, allowing them to soak in the awe-inspiring beauty of the canyon while staying close to the comfort of the rim. Along the way, kids can marvel at the colorful hoodoos (tall singular rock spires) towering below and learn about the park’s unique geology through informative signage and ranger-led programs.

As families venture along the Rim Trail, children will be delighted by the abundant wildlife and vibrant vegetation that call Bryce Canyon home. From curious chipmunks to majestic birds soaring overhead, there’s always something exciting to discover around every corner. Parents can rest assured knowing that the trail is suitable for all ages and skill levels, making it an ideal outing for families with young children. 

Whether you’re taking a stroll or embarking on a mini adventure, the Rim Trail offers an unforgettable experience that the whole family can enjoy together amidst the breathtaking landscapes of Bryce Canyon National Park.

Accessible Trails for Hikers of All Abilities

State Parks truly are made for everyone to enjoy. With over 46 state parks here in Utah, there are so many accessible and friendly opportunities for those with accessibility needs. We wanted to highlight some of our favorites so that everyone in the family can enjoy what Mother Nature has to offer. 

Jordanelle State Park

Jordanelle is a beautiful lake-side park with accessible amenities such as campsites, picnic areas, and restrooms. Additionally, they provide accessible fishing docks and paved pathways for easy navigation around the park, ensuring that visitors with disabilities can enjoy outdoor activities comfortably. Whether in the water, out in the park, or cozying around a campfire, this park is truly made for the enjoyment of everyone. 

Dead Horse Point State Park 

This beautiful park in southeastern Utah offers stunning panoramic views of the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park, with accessible overlooks, paved pathways, and wheelchair-friendly trails like the East Rim Trail. The Visitor Center provides informative exhibits and accessible facilities, including restrooms and parking spaces, ensuring an inclusive experience for all visitors. Staff are typically accommodating, and the park’s website offers detailed accessibility information, making it easy to plan a visit tailored to individual accessibility needs.

Spend a few hours strolling alongside the Virgin River and let your thoughts wander. The most accessible trail in Zion National Park is also the quickest to get to–and one of the most scenic. The paved, wheelchair-accessible, bike and furry-friends-welcome path begins near South Campground, across the bridge and north of the Visitor Center. 

The path continues 1.7 miles one way to Canyon Junction, where iconic views downstream are best viewed during a summer sunset.  

Trails for Dog Lovers

When we say that Utah State Parks are accessible to everyone, we mean everyone! This includes all of our furry friends who are dying to get out and see the world just as much as we are. For all those dog parents out there, we’ve gathered some of our favorite locations to pursue with your pups.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

The pet cemeteries at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary outside of Kanab, Utah, are nothing short of special. The sweet sound of tens of thousands of wind chimes decorating the plots, suspended from nearby trees, headstones, and wire towers can be heard from ¼ mile away on a windless day. The best time to go is the mornings of the spring or fall. 

However, our favorite hike for dog families has to be the dog-friendly trails of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary located at Angel Canyon. Hidden Lake is a phenomenal trail where you and your dog can marvel at ancient Puebloan ruins and captivating pictographs. Our other prized trail is the scenic route from Angels Overlook to Angel Village, which offers moderate terrain with breathtaking views. These trails offer the perfect opportunity to bask in the light of nature and take in the beauty of Mother Earth.

Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument

For those who want to let their furry friends off the leash (with reason), a wonderful option is the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. There are so many hiking trails ranging from 0.1 to 20.5(!) miles. The hikes boast a mixture of colorful sandstone cliffs, beautiful slot canyons, and prehistoric sites. The area is also remote with fewer services than national parks, which means you and your dog can have the beautiful trail to yourselves.

My Expert Guide Hiking Tip 🥾

Attention animal lovers: don’t miss the opportunity to stop at the Best Friends visitor center and visit the rescue facilities of your favorite animals. Heartstrings will be tugged!  

Safe Trails for the Solo Hiker

Man looking across the Apls.

Sometimes, the best adventure is one taken alone. With the right skills and planning, nature can be an opportunity for us to reconnect with ourselves and encounter peace. We’ve gathered some of our favorite hikes with an emphasis on safety for those who are flying solo through the state and national parks. 

Kolob Canyons, Zion National Park

The breathtaking Kolob Canyons section of Zion National Park, located near Cedar City, Utah, offers many options for solo explorers. With stunning trails like the Timber Creek Overlook and Middle Fork Taylor Creek, solo adventurers can enjoy spectacular views of the canyons and cliffs while feeling safe and secure. The Kolob Canyon Scenic Drive also offers a scenic route for those who prefer a leisurely drive, ensuring an unforgettable and personal experience. 

Bryce Canyon National Park

Another popular location previously mentioned is Bryce Canyon National Park, where solo hikers can embark on trails like the Navajo Loop, Queen’s Garden, and Rim Trail. These trails offer breathtaking vistas and opportunities for solitude. Arriving early to beat the crowds and utilizing park shuttles enhance the solo hiking experience, allowing adventurers to immerse themselves in the park’s splendor and truly embrace that feeling of being one with nature. 

Trails for the Well-Trained Hiker 

A group on tour with Melanie going hiking.

Although Nature is for everyone, sometimes we need a little bit more experience before we can handle the fullness of what our parks have to offer us. For those who are looking to lead professional excursions thanks to Fitness for the Trails, or those who are feeling like they’re prepared professionals already, these extra-long hikes are the stuff of legends, where the deeper into the wild we travel, the closer we come to reclaiming the instinctive humanity within ourselves.

Zion Narrows, Zion National Park

Catching a glimpse of the towering cliffs of the Zion Narrows in Zion National Park is on the agenda for nearly every visitor to the park. Every day of the busy summer, thousands of people complete the Riverside Walk just to take a selfie. But for seriously fit hikers, the 16-mile Zion Narrows River thru-hike is one for the bucket list. Embark on this hike, with its tumbling boulders and swimming holes formed by three powerful elements — water, rock, and time — and you’ll soon find yourself immersed in the sound of water echoing through sandstone walls dating back over 240 million years.

Most experienced backpackers will tell you that packing for a one-nighter requires as much attention to detail as a multi-day hike. Apply the right amount of logistical prowess to either the long one-day or single-overnight non-technical canyoneering route and you’ll be telling tall tales of this breathtaking slot canyon for decades to come. 

My Expert Guide Hiking Tips 🥾

  • While I enjoy hiking this spectacular canyon during the heat of summer, staying safe while hiking the slot canyons of Zion requires a great deal of flexibility due to seasonal rains. I prefer late September into early November after the highest risk of flash flooding has passed. 
  • The 2,000-foot vertical canyon walls limit the number of day-use only and designated campsite permits along the North Fork of the Virgin River. Your party must obtain a wilderness permit before embarking on the thru-hike by making a calendar reservation. 
  • Hire a local guide service in Springdale to shuttle your party through the East side of Zion to the trailhead in Chamberlain’s Ranch. Plan to complete the hike in time to catch the last Zion Shuttle of the day (time varies by season).
  • Important: Don’t forget the car keys! Keep them safe from accidental swims by storing them in a leak-free bag in your top backpack pocket. 

Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park

The very name of this popular hike in Zion National Park conjures a feeling of adventure for some hikers — and causes heart palpitations for others. Active, fit travelers from around the world come to Zion for this strenuous 5.4-mile round-trip hike. I tried to recall how many times I’ve hiked Angel’s Landing over my lifetime — 20 or 30, perhaps? My heart warms with memories of hiking with family and friends, private clients, and a few precious times alone. Completing 1,488 elevation gain with spectacular views extending the length of the canyon is a satisfaction, unlike anything we experience in everyday life. 

Make no mistake: while Angel’s Landing may be one of the most photographed trails in the USA, the final approach — aka The Spine — is dangerous. Hikers attempting to reach the top are greeted by a large sign with a stick figure of a human falling off a cliff. The sign isn’t merely a warning, but also a documentation of the 14 people who have fallen to their deaths since 1987.

To the Park’s credit, they haven’t closed the hike to adventurers seeking an encounter with one of the wildest locations in the entire park system. Instead, in April 2022 the park implemented a 6-dollar online lottery, making the final approach — a steep section marked by steel chains bolted to the sandstone wall to provide a handhold — admissible only to hikers with permits for the exact date and time slot. Visit Recreation.gov to apply.

My Expert Guide Hiking Tips 🥾

  • Where to begin: catch the shuttle at the Zion Visitor Center to Shuttle Stop 6, the Grotto. Cross the Virgin River using the footbridge across the street and follow the red, paved trail to the top.
  • Get an early start. I recommend catching the earliest shuttle possible (start times vary by season) and beginning the hike by the light of a headlamp. You’ll beat the crowds and catch the sunset at Scout Landing, a great place for people in your group with a fear of heights to wait while others complete the ascent to the top.
  • This unique desert environment is hot and dry! Drink at least 1 gallon of water per person per day, ideally 4-5 gulps every 20 minutes throughout the day.
  • Make a day of it. You worked hard for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! Pack a litter-free lunch and enjoy the views! 

The Spring in our Step

I love nature, as you all know. Nothing makes me happier than the opportunity to be outside. It was the inspiration that I received from my own experiences in some of these parks that led me to develop WebbWell, and that’s the type of experience I want you all to have as well. WebbWell is built around helping you be your best self, but getting the best for yourself out of this world as well.

That’s why we have an amazing app that lets people access wellness information anytime, anywhere. That’s why we developed our online training programs Fitness for the Trails™ and Mother Nature’s Gym Outdoor Fitness Retreats™, to help you all share the love of national parks with the world. I hope you can feel my excitement and passion for the outdoors as you read and prepare for your amazing Utah State Park adventure.

About Melanie Webb and WebbWell

Named “The person to call” by DEPARTURES Magazine, “a leader in the adventure travel industry” by Norie Quintos of National Geographic Traveler, and “one of the top trainers in the industry” by The Sports Club/LA (now Equinox), Melanie Webb is the founder and creator of WebbWell and the WebbWell wellness app. A sought-after industry and corporate retreat facilitator and speaker, her fitness course Mother Nature’s Gym Outdoor Fitness Guide is approved for 1.6 CEC’s from the American Council on Exercise.