While much of the amazement of Utah’s Zion National Park can be experienced without securing a Zion Wilderness permit, some of the park’s most remote corners and breathtaking vistas can only be accessed with a permit in hand. By reducing the number of daily visitors that venture into the park’s more technical terrain, the national park service has managed to keep the Zion Wilderness truly wild, making these three permitted hikes among some of the most sought-after things to do in Zion National Park.
The Best Permitted Hikes Near Zion National Park
This semi-technical slot canyon offers two permitted approaches — from the top-down or the bottom-up — as it leads hikers to a pristine emerald pool hidden within arching sandstone walls that create the illusion of a subway.
Bottom-Up Approach: Left Fork of North Creek
Length: 6.5 miles
Rating: Difficult & Semi-Technical
We recommend most travelers approach The Subway from the bottom up, starting at the Left Fork of North Creek Trailhead on Kolob Terrace Road. While technical in parts, the 6.5-mile out-and-back hike acquaints you with the diverse ruggedness of Zion Wilderness, requiring creek crossings of various depths and scrambling over boulders as you wind your way through and along North Creek until you reach the trail’s prized emerald pool.
Top-Down Approach: Wildcat Canyon Trailhead
Length: 8.9 miles
Rating: Difficult & Technical
This day-long hike features beginner technical canyoneering aspects involving several rappels, creek crossings of which depths can plunge above-waist and sections of trail that require down-climbing. Notably not for the faint of heart nor those with a fear of heights, the top-down approach to The Subway features spectacular views of the surrounding canyon as you scramble, wade and belay your way to The Subway.
It is important to note that this point-to-point trail should be attempted only by those with proper gear, equipment and proven canyoneering skills, as no commercial guiding services are allowed to operate within Zion Wilderness. However, if this top-down approach sparks a curiosity for harnessed climbing, there are numerous guided climbing and canyoneering services that operate near (but not within) Zion National Park.
Top-Down Hike through the Narrows
Distance: 15.5 miles
Rating: Difficult & Semi-technical
No visit to Zion National Park is complete without stepping foot in the Virgin River as it cuts between the canyon’s soaring sandstone walls that climb upwards of 100 feet and narrow to an arm’s-width in some sections of the canyon. While the majority of visitors to The Narrows begin their journey venturing upstream from the Temple of Sinawava, those with proven canyoneering experience can descend into The Narrows with a top-down approach.
Hiking The Narrows from the top down can be completed in one or two-day installments, with the designated permit, and each of require exceptional levels of preparedness when assessing gear, canyoneering equipment and proper sustenance for completing this full-day or overnight adventure.
This point-to-point hike begins near Orderville, Utah at Chamberlain Ranch and covers nearly 16 miles of the Virgin River. Shuttles can be arranged to take you to the trailhead from Springdale, the small town that lies at the south entrance to Zion National Park. Starting from the Chamberlain Ranch trailhead, the first 3 miles of this top-down approach follow a dry gravel road before beginning the top section of the trail, noted by the confluence of Deep Creek and growing canyon walls as you venture further down the canyon. At roughly 11 miles in, top-down hikers can expect to cross paths with adventuresome bottom-up hikers making their way upstream to Big Springs and wading through Wall Street – an iconic section of The Narrows. Where Wall Street ends, the canyon begins to widen over the last two miles of the top-down approach, making the end of this bucket list hike marginally easier than the top section, and every bit as enjoyable.
How to Secure a Zion Hiking Permit
Due to the popularity of Zion Wilderness, the park service operates an online lottery for reservations made during peak season from April through October. Zion permits are available up to 3 months in advance and become available online on the 5th of each month. As soon as you’ve booked your place to stay near Zion National Park, you’ll want to hop on submitting your lottery permit.
Last Minute Drawing for Wilderness permits are made available 7-2 days before your trip date. Although rare, walk-in permits may become available the day before your trip date if unused permits remain after the Last Minute Drawing. However, we recommend applying far in advance to increase the likelihood of accessing highly coveted areas of the canyon.
Know Your Desired Resource Area
If crossing off The Subway or descending top-down into The Narrows is on your bucket list, bookmark the following resource areas for when submitting your permit application:
- Left Fork North Creek (The Subway)
- Virgin Narrows Day-use Trail From Top (The Narrows)
Pay The Park
There is a non-refundable $5 fee required of all online Wilderness reservation applications. 100% of your application fee benefits ZIon National Park.
Not only must you agree to the conditions of your Zion hiking permit, but you should also research what to pack for Zion National Park, and plan ahead for required gear and equipment needed to ensure your safety.
Before exploring The Subway, The Narrows or any other region prone to flash flooding, you should check in with your local ranger station and national weather service for risk of flash flood warnings.
Cozy Up Back At Under Canvas
After a long day spent hiking in Zion’s back country, you’ll have Under Canvas’ upscale glamping accommodations to return to with a plush King-size bed, hot showers and a crackling campfire to gather around as you recount the day’s adventures and take in the night sky.