While much of Utah’s Zion National Park is open for exploration without a permit, its most secluded areas and astonishing vistas are exclusively accessible with a permit. By restricting the count of daily visitors who tread into the park’s challenging terrains, the National Park Service has successfully preserved the unspoiled nature of the Zion Wilderness and maintains safety for visitors. These permitted hikes are among the top things to do in Zion National Park. In this guide, we’re sharing everything you need to know about Zion hiking permits, including which trails require them, which don’t, and the steps involved in obtaining permits.
Whether a permit is required for your chosen hike, please note that recreational park passes or the America The Beautiful Annual Pass are needed to enter Zion National Park.
Zion Hikes that Require Permits
Rating: Strenuous & Technical
The most iconic trail in Zion, Angel’s Landing, begins at shuttle stop #6, The Grotto. This lofty rock formation can be accessed from two permitted routes — the West Rim Trail or the Scout Lookout — guiding hikers to a breathtaking viewpoint above the Zion Canyon floor. The terrain is nothing short of rugged, with glimpses of the Virgin River and encompassed by towering cliffs, with the final ascent delivering an unparalleled bird’s eye view of the park.
We recommend conquering Angel’s Landing via the West Rim Trail, beginning at the Grotto Picnic Area on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. As the trail is strenuous and technical, it takes hikers through a challenging ascent, zigzagging up the mountain’s west side via a series of sharp switchbacks known as Walter’s Wiggles. The last half-mile of the route is the most daunting, a slender ridge with sheer drop-offs on either side. Chains have been installed for safety, leading you to the summit, where the reward is a panoramic view of Zion Canyon, stretching as far as the eye can see.
How to Get a Permit for Angel’s Landing
Pick seven preferred dates and times, or ranges of dates and times for your hike, and submit them for permit application. The lottery date window opens one month in advance for the next three months. The application fee is $6, covering a group of up to six hikers. If you are selected for a permit, Recreation.gov will email your permit confirmation.
Apply for a permit a day before your hike on Recreation.gov. This daily lottery opens at 12:01 a.m. and concludes at 3 p.m. MT. The application fee is $6, allowing for a group of up to six people. For example, if you plan to hike on Tuesday, your application should be submitted between 12:01 a.m. and 3 p.m. MT on Monday. Permits are issued at 4 p.m. MT on the application day. You will receive a confirmation email upon winning the permit, which should be printed or downloaded before your hike. If unsuccessful, you will be notified via email and may try for a future lottery.
Left Fork of North Creek (The Subway)
Rating: Difficult & Semi-Technical
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.
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.
How to Get a Permit for The Subway
If you plan to explore the Left Fork of North Creek (The Subway) from April through October, an online Advance Lottery system will help you secure your permit reservation. Simply submit your application two months before your trip and choose up to three preferred dates on the Zion Wilderness Reservations System. Remember, each hiker can make one application per canyon each month. Take your time selecting your dates since they can’t be changed once your application is submitted. After you’ve applied, watch for an update email on the 5th of the following month. The application carries a non-refundable fee of $5.
Any remaining slots for the Left Fork (Subway) not secured through the Advance Lottery are made available through Calendar Reservations one month in advance through the Zion Permits Calendar Reservation System. These online reservations are accessible within a two-month timeframe, one month prior to the trip. On the 5th of every month at 10:00 a.m. MT, reservations for the following month open up. If there are spaces remaining, bookings can be made until 5:00 p.m. MT the day before your hike. Each Calendar Reservation carries a small non-refundable fee of $5.
For those spontaneous adventures or when the Advance Lottery and Calendar Reservations are fully booked, an online Last-Minute Drawing for Wilderness permits becomes an ideal alternative. This option allows individuals to apply and secure any remaining permit reservations. Each hiker can submit one request per canyon for the Last-Minute Drawing, which can be done seven days prior to a trip date until two days before at 12:00 p.m. MT through the Zion Wilderness Reservations System. The online draw occurs at 1:00 p.m. MT, two days before the trip date, after which applicants will receive a notification email about the status of their request. Any spots not claimed through the Last-Minute Drawing will be available as Walk-in Permits the day before a trip date. A small non-refundable fee of $5 applies.
The Narrows: Top-Down Hike to the Temple of Sinawava
Rating: Strenuous & Semi-Technical
The Virgin River has carved an awe-inspiring gorge in the upper regions of Zion Canyon: a stunning 16-mile stretch, up to 1,000-feet deep and, in places, a mere 30-feet wide. A journey through the towering walls, sandstone grottos, natural springs, and hanging gardens provides an unforgettable experience. But it’s not a hike to be taken lightly. Hiking The Narrows involves spending 80% of the journey navigating the river, wading, walking, and even swimming with the river as your guide. With its swift currents, chilly waters, and slippery rocks underfoot, the experience can be as challenging as it is breathtaking.
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 at Zion National Park’s south entrance. 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 going 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 2-miles of the top-down approach, making the end of this bucket list hike slightly easier than the top section and every bit as enjoyable.
How to Get a Narrows Permit
Online reservations are offered under Zion Wilderness Reservations within a two-month window. You must first create an account. Beginning at 10:00 a.m. MT on the 5th of every month, reservations for the subsequent month are made available. If slots remain, reservations can be secured until 5:00 p.m. MT the day before your intended trip. It’s important to note that most spaces for the upcoming month are swiftly booked, often within minutes of reservations opening on the 5th. There is a non-refundable fee of $5 required for your reservation. Once your reservation is confirmed, an additional fee will be incurred when you collect your Wilderness Permit, securing your spot for an unforgettable adventure.
When Calendar Reservations for the Narrows are fully booked, there’s still a chance to secure a permit through the online Last-Minute Drawing. This option allows individuals to apply for any remaining one-day permits. Each person can make one request per canyon. Applications can be submitted from seven days in advance of your intended trip date up until two days prior at 12:00 p.m. MT. The drawing takes place online at 1:00 p.m. MT, two days before your trip. Following the draw, applicants receive an email detailing the status of their request. Any spaces left unclaimed through the Last-Minute Drawing will be available as Walk-in Permits the day before the trip.
Zion Hikes that Do Not Require a Permit
Zion is home to a number of bucket list hikes that don’t require any special permit, making them an excellent option for easy-going explorers or spontaneous adventurers. However, remember to grab a day pass from the National Park Service to set foot on these beautiful trails. The pass comes with an entry fee of $30 per vehicle, but don’t let this deter you – the sights and experiences are worth every penny! If you plan to visit multiple national parks throughout the year, the America the Beautiful Pass might be your best friend. It’s an affordable and convenient option that provides access to America’s natural wonders, and of course, it includes Zion!
The Narrows: Bottom-Up Hike from Temple of Sinawava
Rating: Moderate to Strenuous
The Virgin River Narrows Bottom-Up hike is an unforgettable experience that starts at the Temple of Sinawava, shuttle stop #9. This is a unique and popular hiking route in Zion National Park, where approximately 60% of the journey is spent wading, walking, and sometimes swimming in the river. Unlike the Top Down hike, this route does not require a permit and is a good alternative. The beauty of The Narrows lies not in reaching a particular destination but in the experience of the journey itself. There’s no specific viewpoint or particular breathtaking spot. Instead, the entire trail, flanked by towering canyon walls, is an ongoing spectacle. You can hike as much or as little as you want, and you can simply turn around and retrace your steps when you’re ready to head back. If you’re up for a longer trek, you can hike up to Big Spring without a permit, making for a round trip of 9.4-miles, each mile revealing more of the unique and stunning beauty of The Narrows.
Mount Carmel Scenic Drive and Canyon Overlook Trail
The Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway Scenic Drive offers a picturesque journey through one of the most stunning landscapes within the national park system. Situated on the park’s eastern side, a less crowded area compared to the main canyon, this drive presents a chance to spot the native bighorn sheep in their natural habitat. While venturing through this part of the park, the Canyon Overlook hike should be on your itinerary. The Canyon Overlook hike is a relatively easy trail that takes you to a dramatic viewpoint overlooking Zion Canyon, offering unmatched panoramic views of the surroundings.
The Observation Point Trail ascends 2,148-feet up the eastern rim of Zion Canyon, culminating at a viewpoint that offers one of the most spectacular panoramic views in the entire park. The trail takes you through a diverse mix of Zion’s breathtaking scenery, including the Echo Canyon with its slick rock landscapes and lush vegetation, the White Cliffs, and the extensive views of the main canyon from above. At the trail’s endpoint, you’ll stand at an elevation of 6,500-feet, providing a commanding view over Angel’s Landing and the rest of Zion Canyon. Despite the strenuous climb, the unrivaled view from Observation Point makes this one of the most rewarding hikes in Zion.
Prepare for your Hiking Adventure
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 for the required gear and equipment needed to ensure your safety. Always download or print a copy of your permits before entering the park since the service is spotty.
Before exploring The Subway, The Narrows, or any other region prone to flash flooding, check in with your local ranger station and national weather service for warnings.
How to use the Zion Canyon Shuttle System
Since 2000, the National Park Service has been running a shuttle system to minimize traffic and maintain the peaceful atmosphere of Zion Canyon. The Zion Canyon Shuttle links the Zion Canyon Visitor Center with various stops along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, departing every few minutes and heading either north or south. You can hop on and off at any open stop, tailoring your journey to your interests.
The Zion Canyon Visitor Center is typically the starting point for most visitors’ shuttle trips. And the best part? There’s no need for a ticket or reservation – the shuttles are free! They are a convenient way to access the trailheads for your chosen hikes. The frequency of the shuttles is about every 15 minutes on the Springdale Line (outside the park) and approximately every 5-10 minutes on the Zion Canyon Line (inside the park).
If you drive to Zion, the National Park Service parking lots often fill early in the day. Paid parking is available in the town of Springdale. If you leave your car in Springdale, you can ride the free Springdale Line shuttle to enter the park.
Cozy Up Back At Under Canvas
After a day of adventure and exploration in Zion, the luxurious glamping accommodations at Under Canvas await your return. Here, you can unwind in a plush king-size bed, refresh yourself with hot showers, and gather around a warm, crackling campfire. As you relax, you can relive the day’s memorable moments and marvel at the vastness of the star-studded night sky.