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Kay Rodriguez

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Kay Rodriguez is the Chicago-based travel writer and photographer behind Jetfarer and Skyline Adventurer. When she's not blogging furiously on her laptop or editing photos, you can find Kay running, hiking, or paddling in a new city.

While Baltimore may be best known for its Inner Harbor, there are actually several beautiful places to get outdoors in and around the city. Within just a few miles of the city, outdoor lovers can find forests, lakes, canyons, and more! Hiking near Baltimore is a wonderful way to experience nature and get your blood flowing without going too far from the city. We created this guide with some of the best hikes near Baltimore to help you plan your next outdoor adventure!

Photo Credit: Mike (Flickr CC)

Easy Hikes Near Baltimore

Merryman’s Mill Trail

  • Trail Length: 3.8 miles
  • Location: Loch Raven Reservoir

Boasting beautiful, tranquil trails that run along the Loch Raven Reservoir, the Merryman’s Mill Trail is a quiet, peaceful hike accessible to all levels of hikers. Best done in the early morning hours when the fog hangs over the reservoir waters, this trail combines woodland trails, whispering streams, and varied terrain for a fun hiking experience. You can also find crumbling ruins of historic stone structures along the way! For hikers who enjoy solitude and nature, it’s one of the most peaceful places to go hiking near Baltimore!

Photo Credit: Mark S (Flickr CC)

Kilgore Falls

  • Trail Length: 1.3 miles
  • Location: Rocks State Park

Perfect for families and adventurous hikers of all levels, the Kilgore Falls trail is a short, fun hike to a gorgeous waterfall in Rocks State Park. While it’s one of the more popular (read: crowded) hikes near Baltimore, it’s a fantastic option for those who don’t mind getting a little muddy! The trail is easy and flat and is accessible for children and first-time hikers. Note that the trail also loops above and around the falls – don’t miss out on this part if you want to experience a new perspective!

Stony Run Trail

  • Trail Length: 5.6 miles
  • Location: Wyman Park

For a more urban trail just north of the city, the Stony Run Trail is one of the most convenient hikes near Baltimore for all levels. Waterfalls, tunnels, bridges, and forests are all highlights of this diverse and accessible trail. To make things even better, there have been some recent improvements to the trails, and they’re very well-marked and maintained to ensure hikers’ safety and enjoyment.

The trail does run through neighborhoods and residential areas, so if you’re looking for a complete nature experience, this isn’t it. But if the outdoors is calling you and you don’t want to stray too far, the Stony Run Trail is the perfect option.

Photo Credit: Paul Waldo (Flickr CC)

Swallow Falls Canyon Trail

  • Trail Length: 1.1 miles
  • Location: Swallow Falls State Park

The Swallow Falls Canyon Trail might seem like a short hike, but it really is one of the most beautiful easy hikes near Baltimore. Located in Swallow Falls State Park, the trail brings hikers of all levels to a picturesque waterfall, rocky canyon-like terrain, and peaceful forests. For a quieter hike through some of the most scenic nature in the Baltimore area, the Swallow Falls Canyon Trail is a fantastic, family-friendly option.

Photo Credit: Chesapeake Bay Program (Flickr CC)

Moderate Hikes Near Baltimore

Grist Mill Trail

  • Trail Length: 5.2 miles
  • Location: Patapsco Valley State Park

The Grist Mill Trail in Patapsco Valley State Park is the perfect blend of history and nature. With historic tunnels, beautiful suspension bridges, and miles of old trees and forests, this trail is certainly one of the most diverse places to go hiking near Baltimore. On this journey, you’ll wander past train tracks and stone ruins, along streams and large bridges, and through tranquil nature areas with a shady tree canopy.

Photo Credit: Patrick Gillespie (Flickr CC)

Annapolis Rock via The Appalachian Trail

  • Trail Length: 5.1 miles
  • Location: South Mountain State Park

Have you ever wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail without spending several months on it? The Annapolis Rock Trail is a fantastic place where you can do just that! This absolutely jaw-dropping hike is a 2.5 mile ascent to a very beautiful viewpoint – a rocky outcropping overlooking the surrounding Appalachian Mountains. While the incline can be quite steep, the rewards at the top are well worth the trek.

Pro tip: This is one of the most popular hikes near Baltimore, so go early or on weekdays to avoid the crowds that flock here during peak hours.

Photo Credit: Kay Rodriguez

Maryland Heights Loop

  • Trail Length: 6 miles
  • Location: Harpers Ferry National Historic Park

History enthusiasts will really enjoy the Maryland Heights Loop at Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, an important landmark of the Civil War. Here, the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers converge, as do the borders of three states – Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. However, don’t let this forested, rural area fool you: Harpers Ferry is less than two hours from the city. It’s a perfect place to go hiking near Baltimore on a day trip or weekend getaway.

There are two trails available that stem from the Maryland Heights trailhead – the overlook and the full trail. If you’re strapped for time or want to spend the afternoon exploring the town of Harpers Ferry, we recommend opting for the shorter trail, which brings you to the most stunning viewpoint in the entire park. The viewpoint is full of boulders and captures a bird’s eye glimpse of the convergence of the rivers, as well as the town of Harpers Ferry and the historic iron bridges that lead into it.

CLICK HERE TO READ OUR COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE MARYLAND HEIGHTS LOOP

Photo Credit: Nicolas Raymond (Flickr CC)

Paw Paw Tunnel Trail

  • Trail Length: 4.9 miles
  • Location: C&O National Historic Park (West Virginia)

Another one of the historic hikes near Baltimore is the Paw Paw Tunnel Trail, a former railroad tunnel that was converted into a hiking path. The unique thing about this tunnel is that it’s surrounded by waterfalls, making for an incredibly unique and picturesque setting for hiking near Baltimore. If you’re looking for something different than the forest hikes on this list, the Paw Paw Trail is one you can’t miss.

Photo Credit: Bart

Cascade Falls Trail

  • Trail Length: 3 miles
  • Location: Patapsco Valley State Park

Locals love the Cascade Falls Trail at Patapsco Valley State Park because it’s a fun, moderate trail through some muddy and varied terrain. It’s a great place to get your hands (and feet) dirty in a totally spectacular environment. A trail through the woods leads you past rocks and trees to a small but scenic waterfall – the Cascade Falls. Though crowded, the Cascade Falls Trail is a lovely place to escape the city and get outdoors!

Photo Credit: Geoff Livingston (Flickr CC)

Billy Goat Trail

  • Trail Length: 3.6 miles
  • Location: C&O National Historic Park

One of the best hikes near Baltimore, the Billy Goat Trail is a fun and adrenaline-inducing rock trail that runs alongside the Potomac River, right near Great Falls. The entrance/trailhead starts at the parking lot of the C&O National Historic Park – you’ll need to walk a bit along the canal before the official entrance to the Billy Goat Trail itself. Once you are on the trail, you can choose from a few different sections and trails, each ranging from 1.5-2 miles in length.

After you’ve started on the trail, it’s a bit of climbing and hopping over the rocky cliffside of the river before getting to the large, “famous” scramble up the side of a cliff. Leave your trekking poles at home – you’ll need your hands AND feet for this hike!

Photo Credit: Rick Schwartz (Flickr CC)

Difficult Hikes Near Baltimore

Catoctin Trail

  • Trail Length: 10.7 miles
  • Location: Cunningham Falls State Park

The Catoctin Trail is a beautiful point-to-point hiking trail located in Cunningham Falls State Park. Featuring lots of bridges, varied terrain, and plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities, this challenging trail is definitely worth the effort. While we wouldn’t recommend this trail for beginners, intermediate and advanced hikers can enjoy the difficult, technical terrain here. Worst case, you can always shorten the journey or turn it into an out-and-back trail by turning back when you’re ready to wrap up.

Raven Rocks Trail

  • Trail Length: 5.3 miles
  • Location: Bluemont, VA

For hikers who want a short but challenging hike to a spectacular viewpoint of the Appalachian Mountains, the Raven Rocks Trail is a fantastic option for hiking near Baltimore. Dirt trails wind through the forests on a challenging but even uphill, bringing you to outstanding views and cool rock formations along the way. There are 4 different viewpoints along the trail, but the final one is by far the most breathtaking, especially in the fall with shades of red, orange, and yellow. You’ll also cross the Virginia/West Virginia border during this hike!

Photo Credit: Chesapeake Bay Program (Flickr CC)

Pinnacle Overlook via Conestoga Trail

  • Trail Length: 10.3 miles
  • Location: Conestoga, PA

Another very special hike within driving distance of Baltimore is the Pinnacle Overlook Trail, located near Lancaster, PA. As part of the Conestoga Trail, the Pinnacle Overlook hike brings you to some very unique and beautiful views over the Susquehanna River. The terrain here is quite rocky and challenging, not suitable for beginners but fantastic for experienced hikers who want a blend of beautiful views and difficult terrain. If you’re a hiker who is itching for a challenge, there are few better hikes near Baltimore than to Pinnacle Overlook.

Additional Resources on Hiking Near Baltimore

What to Pack

  • Hiking boots – You can’t hike without appropriate footwear, period. For most trails, we recommend an all-purpose waterproof boot with ankle support. We recommend Salomon hiking boots or Keen hiking boots for a comfortable hike.
  • Breathable hiking clothes – For warmer hikes, you’ll want to stay cool in a sweat-wicking shirt/tank top and breathable pants, like these PrAna hiking pants for men and women. For cold-weather hikes, we recommend dressing in layers, including merino wool baselayers, an insulated puffer jacket, and a waterproof outer shell. And don’t forget a pair of the best hiking socks in the world!
  • Trekking poles – You won’t need these for every single hike, but we recommend throwing them in your car anyway just in case. We recommend the Black Diamond foldable trekking poles, which are lightweight and easy to transport.
  • Water bottle – Having water available at all times is a huge must. To spare disposable plastic, we recommend bringing your own refillable water bottle. We’re obsessed with Hydro Flask bottles because they keep water cold for hours, but a good old Nalgene works very well too.
  • Sunscreen and bug spray – This should be self-explanatory, but sweatproof sunscreen and DEET bug spray can help you avoid sunburn and bug bites, two of hiking’s most annoying after-effects.
  • A brimmed hat or cap – The sun can be brutal in open hikes, so always pack a brimmed hat or cap for day hikes in the sunshine.
  • Emergency blanket and first aid kit – We’d strongly recommend bringing a first aid kit and a lightweight emergency blanket on every hike. Why? Because the unfathomable can happen, and it’s always best to play it safe.
  • Durable day pack – A durable day pack is the perfect spot to stash all your hiking gear. While any backpack will do, we recommend Osprey day packs because they’re comfortable and breathable for long hikes.

Wondering what exactly you should pack for your next hike? Visit our Complete Day Hiking Packing List for our full list and our top gear recommendations.

Related Links

At first glance, you may not think of St. Louis as the world’s most famous outdoor city. But if you take the time to look carefully, you’ll find that this Midwest city has a ton of beautiful green spaces. Hiking near St. Louis is a fantastic way to get to know some of the stunning forests, mountains, and rock formations in and around the city. As a bonus, many of the nearby trails are suitable for hikers of all levels, including families, dog owners, and first-timers. We created this guide to the best hikes near St. Louis to help you plan your next outdoor adventure!

Photo Credit: Eric Bueneman (Flickr CC)

Easy Hikes Near St. Louis

Lakeview Loop

  • Trail Length: 3.8 miles
  • Location: Creve Coeur County Park

The Creve Coeur Lakeview Loop is a 3.8-mile urban trail in St. Louis that’s beloved by locals for hiking, biking, and walking. Creve Coeur Lake is a very scenic lake located in Northwest St. Louis, and this trail forms a loop around its tranquil, quiet banks. With an all-pavement trail, this is arguably the easiest and most accessible of the hikes in St. Louis. For families, dog owners, and those just wanting to get some fresh air close by, the Lakeview Loop is a perfect outdoor spot.

Grant’s Trail

  • Trail Length: 8 miles (one way)
  • Location: Southwest St. Louis

As another one of St. Louis’ beloved urban outdoor trails, Grant’s Trail is a lovely spot for easy hiking, running, and biking in the city. For beginners and families, it’s a great spot for hiking in St. Louis. The trail is completely paved and passes by horse pastures, creeks, forests, and wildflower-filled fields, and because it’s an out-and-back trail, you can hike for as long or as little as you’d like.

Photo Credit: Brad Kebodeaux (Flickr CC)

Elephant Rocks Trail

  • Trail Length: 1 mile
  • Location: Elephant Rocks State Park

In our opinion, the Elephant Rocks Trail is one of the coolest and most unique hikes near St. Louis. Located in Elephant Rocks State Park, the highlight of this short, easy trail is the massive boulders that you’ll find overlooking a quiet pond below. Other things you’ll find on the trail include forests, stone house ruins, and views of the surrounding forests. Hikers and children will love this area because there are lots of rocks to explore and climb!

Hawk Ridge Trail

  • Trail Length: 4.1 miles
  • Location: West St. Louis (Edgar M Queeny County Park)

For a more nature-inspired experience, head to the Hawk Ridge Trail to the west of St. Louis for a peaceful, paved hike through forests and meadows. Along the way, you’ll see towering, centuries-old trees, lakes, and wildflowers in the warmer months of the year. As the trails are completely flat, they’re perfect for hikers of all levels, including younger children and families.

Photo Credit: Gewel Maker (Flickr CC)

Moderate Hikes Near St. Louis

River Scene Trail

  • Trail Length: 3.1 miles
  • Location: Castlewood State Park

As one of the most popular trails near St. Louis, the River Scene Trail is a 3.1-mile path that offers stunning views of Castlewood State Park. This moderate trail is suitable for hikers of all levels, with a gradual incline and stairs that bring you up and down the hillside to the viewpoint of the Meramec River. From the top, you’ll get to see sweeping views of the riverbend surrounded by forests, a real treat for hikers, especially in the morning or early evening.

Lewis and Clark Trails

  • Trail Length: 5.8 to 8.2 miles
  • Location: Weldon Spring Conservation Area

The Lewis and Clark Trails are composed of a series of one main and two loop trails located in Weldon Spring Conservation Area. Cited by locals as some of the most beautiful places for hiking near St. Louis, the trails have a little bit of everything, from wide views of the river to dense forests, rock formations and wooden bridges. On this trail, you’ll spend most of the time soaking up the serenity of the forest, and you may even spot local wildlife (like deer) along the way!

Photo Credit: Keith Yahl (Flickr CC)

Mina Sauk Falls Trail

  • Trail Length: 2.8 miles
  • Location: Taum Sauk Mountain State Park

Intersecting with the long-distance Ozark Trail, the Mina Sauk Falls Trail is, in our opinion, one of the most scenic hikes near St. Louis. With large rock formations and a breathtaking waterfall, as well as some eye-catching views of the surrounding mountains (pictured above), this trail is really a treat for the senses. The trail leads hikers through the forest, past some exceptionally beautiful waterfalls, and over the trees to a bald area that boasts spectacular views. It’s the only true waterfall hike on our list, so for cascade lovers, the Mina Sauk Falls trail is a must-do!

Sandstone Canyon Trail

  • Trail Length: 4 miles
  • Location: Don Robinson State Park

At less than an hour from St. Louis, the Sandstone Canyon Trail is a perfect option for those wanting to see a canyon area rather than miles of dense forests. The draw of this trail is the surprisingly large sandstone canyon (obviously) that you can find deeper into the hike, but there are also small surprises – waterfalls, ruins, and almost tropical-looking plants – along the way. Locals love this trail because it’s pretty close to the city and has lots of impressive rock formations to see and explore.

Photo Credit: Curtis Abert (Flickr CC)

Little Grand Canyon

  • Trail Length: 3 miles
  • Location: Shawnee National Forest

A southern Illinois gem, the Little Grand Canyon trail attracts hikers from all over the Midwest. And with a name like “Little Grand Canyon,” it sets a pretty high bar in terms of expectations. However, this trail definitely lives up to its name, with 3 miles of rocky, rugged terrain that take hikers through a beautiful and unexpected canyon in the Shawnee National Forest. You’ll needs to cross a few streams to get to the waterfall, so we’d recommend wearing a sturdy pair of waterproof boots and preparing to get wet!

Lime Kiln Loop Trail

  • Trail Length: 2.9 miles
  • Location: Rockwoods Reservation Conservation Area

The Lime Kiln Trail is a short and scenic trail that runs through the Rockwoods Reservation Conservation Area to a historic lime kiln. Don’t know what a lime kiln is? (It’s okay – neither did we.) It’s basically a large vessel used for processing limestone into lime. The trail has a lot more than just the kiln itself, with pathways that cover small creeks, beautiful forests, and rocky areas that provide a fun challenge to all levels of hikers. Locals love the variety of rocky and gravel terrain along the trail, as well as the manageable incline of the ascent.

Photo Credit: Eric Bueneman (Flickr CC)

Pere Marquette State Park Outer Loop

  • Trail Length: 6 miles
  • Location: Pere Marquette’s State Park

Pack your camera and your sense of adventure, because the Pere Marquette Outer Loop trail is 6 miles of breathtaking views and rocky terrain. Featuring a historic lodge, a powerful waterfall, and some very captivating views of the state park, this trail is beloved by locals for hiking near St. Louis. The viewpoints peer town to nearby rivers and lakes with miles of forests surrounding them, making for a picturesque pit stop or a great spot for photography.

Pro tip: watch out for muddy or slippery areas, especially after periods of rain.

Bell Mountain Trail

  • Trail Length: 11.6 miles
  • Location: Bell Mountain Wilderness

For a long, relaxed hike through the woods, the Bell Mountain Trail is a local favorite. At 11.6 miles, it’s one of the longer trails for hiking near St. Louis, perfect for a full day of nature and fresh air. The trail is mainly forested and leads up a gradual incline to a bald at the top of Bell Mountain, which has lovely views, especially in the fall. This is also a common trail for backpackers, as you can camp on the summit and wake up to gorgeous sunrise views. There have been reports of wild hog sightings in the area, so as always, stay alert and vigilant and remain far away from wildlife as you hike.

Photo Credit: Kbh3rd on Wikimedia Commons (via Flickr CC)

Wilderness Trail

  • Trail Length: 8.2 miles
  • Location: Meramec State Park

Another common trail for overnight hikers, the Wilderness Trail in Meramec State Park is a nice, forested path with plenty of places to camp. The trail boasts lots of rock formations, a cave called the Green Cave, and lots of gentle streams. Overall, it’s a fantastic day hike or overnight backpacking trip that’s suitable for hikers of all levels.

Photo Credit: Randy Watson (Flickr CC)

Difficult Hikes Near St. Louis

Taum Sauk Trail

  • Trail Length: 12.3 miles (one way)
  • Location: Mark Twain National Forest

The Ozark Trail consists of hundreds of miles of paths through the Missouri Ozarks, and the Taum Sauk section is one of the best highlights. Reaching the highest point in Missouri, the trail is an absolutely spectacular place for hiking near St. Louis if you are looking for a hard hike.

While the trail is beautiful, it’s also quite long and technically challenging, and should only be done if you have plenty of hiking experience under your belt. However, hikers that choose to embark on this difficult trail will be rewarded with lots of spectacular waterfalls, gorgeous views of the Taum Sauk Reservoir and surrounding mountains, and more.

This trail is point-to-point (12.3 miles one way), so it’s advised to camp or organize transportation in advance before departing on this hike.

Fox Run to Round House Loop

  • Trail Length: 10.2 miles
  • Location: Rockwoods Range Conservation Area

For experienced hikers looking for a quieter, more tranquil area for hiking near St. Louis, the Fox Run to Round House Loop in Rockwoods Range Conservation Area is a fantastic option. While the trail doesn’t have as many sweeping views as some of the others on our list, it’s generally much less crowded and more peaceful. The trail runs for 10 miles through the woods, crossing a handful of streams and offering many ups and downs for a fun variety in terrain.

Photo Credit: fredlyfish4 (Flickr CC)

Buford Mountain State Forest Trail

  • Trail Length: 9.1 miles
  • Location: Buford Mountain Conservation Area

Want to tackle five peaks in one day? For the competitive hikers out there, the Buford Mountain Trail is a fantastic and challenging option that takes you to the second-highest peak (after Taum Sauk) in the state of Missouri. On the way to the top, you’ll pass lots of charcoal kilns, glades, and rocky outcroppings that boast breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. Locals strongly recommend solid boots and trekking poles, as the ascents and descents here can be quite steep.

Whispering Pines Trail

  • Trail Length: 9.2 miles
  • Location: Hawn State Park

We’ve saved the best for last, and the Whispering Pines Trail is certainly a one-of-a-kind trail. As one of the hardest and most diverse hikes near St. Louis, the Whispering Pines Trail runs through forests, creeks, rock formations, and ridgelines. Well maintained and fairly easy to follow, the trail offers 9.2 miles of beautiful nature, while also giving experienced hikers a welcome challenge.

Many choose to split up this trail into a multi-day excursion by backpacking for 2+ days. Locals who are avid hikers rave about this trail, lauding it as one of the most spectacular trails in the entire state of Missouri.

Additional Resources for Hiking near St. Louis

What to Bring

  • Hiking boots – You can’t hike without appropriate footwear, period. For most trails, we recommend an all-purpose waterproof boot with ankle support. We recommend Salomon hiking boots or Keen hiking boots for a comfortable hike.
  • Breathable hiking clothes – For warmer hikes, you’ll want to stay cool in a sweat-wicking shirt/tank top and breathable pants, like these PrAna hiking pants for men and women. For cold-weather hikes, we recommend dressing in layers, including merino wool baselayers, an insulated puffer jacket, and a waterproof outer shell. And don’t forget a pair of the best hiking socks in the world!
  • Trekking poles – You won’t need these for every single hike, but we recommend throwing them in your car anyway just in case. We recommend the Black Diamond foldable trekking poles, which are lightweight and easy to transport.
  • Water bottle – Having water available at all times is a huge must. To spare disposable plastic, we recommend bringing your own refillable water bottle. We’re obsessed with Hydro Flask bottles because they keep water cold for hours, but a good old Nalgene works very well too.
  • Sunscreen and bug spray – This should be self-explanatory, but sweatproof sunscreen and DEET bug spray can help you avoid sunburn and bug bites, two of hiking’s most annoying after-effects.
  • A brimmed hat or cap – The sun can be brutal in open hikes, so always pack a brimmed hat or cap for day hikes in the sunshine.
  • Emergency blanket and first aid kit – We’d strongly recommend bringing a first aid kit and a lightweight emergency blanket on every hike. Why? Because the unfathomable can happen, and it’s always best to play it safe.
  • Durable day pack – A durable day pack is the perfect spot to stash all your hiking gear. While any backpack will do, we recommend Osprey day packs because they’re comfortable and breathable for long hikes.

Wondering what exactly you should pack for your next hike? Visit our Complete Day Hiking Packing List for our full list and our top gear recommendations.

Related Links


Known for its beaches and laid-back vibes, San Diego is a heavenly city for outdoor lovers. Even if you’re not a surfer, there are tons of ways to explore the outdoors in the city, and hiking in San Diego is one of them. With a wide variety of terrain in the city and its surrounds, hikers will find trails ranging from wildlife-rich nature preserves to challenging summit scrambles. A short drive from downtown San Diego can take you to beaches, deserts, mountains, and more! To help you plan your next adventure, we created this guide with 21 of the most breathtaking hikes in San Diego and the surrounding areas. (Let us know if we missed your favorite!)

NOTE: Some of these trails may be closed currently due to safety concerns regarding the current global pandemic. Head to the San Diego Parks website to get the latest information.

Easy Hikes in San Diego

Torrey Pines State Park Beach Trail

  • Trail Distance: 2.3 miles
  • Trailhead Location: Torrey Pines Park Road (Torrey Pines State Park)

If you’re seeking one of the most iconic hikes in San Diego, the Torrey Pines Beach Trail is it. Here, you’ll find beautiful seaside bluffs towering over the crashing waves of the Pacific on a flat, easy trail that’s perfect for hikers of all levels, including children! The sweeping views of the coastline are well worth the hike itself, but as a bonus, you’ll also wander through magnificent rock formations and wildflower meadows, too.

We’d recommend hiking at Torrey Pines in the evening to enjoy the sunset over the coast, but mornings can be nice with fewer crowds. On the trail, there’s very little shade, so we’d recommend bringing a hat and sunscreen if you choose to go then.

Big Laguna Trail

  • Trail Distance: 13.3 miles
  • Trailhead Location: Turn off Sunrise Hwy to Laguna Meadow Rd (Cleveland National Forest)

For a day-long adventure on an incredibly scenic San Diego hiking trail, look no further than the Big Laguna Trail. The trail runs along the peaceful shores of Little Laguna and Big Laguna Lakes, with plenty of shade from the local evergreen forests. The trail boasts some serious alpine vibes, even in the winter when there’s snow on the ground. You might even forget you’re in Southern California! Locals absolutely love the Big Laguna Trail, and many cite it as one of their absolute favorite hikes in San Diego. Needless to say, this is one you definitely shouldn’t miss!

The palm trees in the indian canyon. Palm Springs

Palm Canyon Loop

  • Trail Distance: 2 miles
  • Trailhead Location: S. Palm Canyon Drive (Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Reservation)

Welcome to a desert oasis – the Palm Canyon Loop trail! Yes, this trail is home to an actual desert oasis, featuring towering palm trees, glimmering streams, and eerie rock formations. The unique scenery here definitely puts it on the radar as one of the top hikes in San Diego – it’s a pocket of paradise in the otherwise parched terrain of the Palm Springs desert. Because the trail is fairly flat, it’s perfect for hikers of all levels to get out in the wilderness. Local hikers love the Palm Canyon Loop trail because it’s short, easy, and has lots of vibrant and picturesque scenery along the way.

Los Penasquitos Canyon in San Diego

Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail

Located in a wide canyon, the Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail is one of the absolute best places for hiking in San Diego. This multi-use trail runs through wooded areas, vast meadows, and culminates in a quaint waterfall. It’s also flat the whole way, so it’s great for beginners as well as more experienced hikers. Note that because this trail is used by hikers, runners, bikers, etc., it can become very crowded on weekends. Visitors love that this trail is longer with easy terrain, perfect for a longer day of hiking and enjoying the scenery.

Blue Sky Ecological Reserve

If it’s a more forested hiking trail you’re seeking, the Blue Sky Ecological Reserve is one of the shadier hikes in San Diego that’s perfect for hikers of all levels. Towering, old oak trees provide a cool canopy over the trail, which boasts a view of Lake Ramona if you hike all the way in. The reserve also offers a variety of programming for visitors, like guided docent tours and frequent nature education events. Because of the variety of trails and things to do, this is an especially nice hike for families with children.

Photo Credit: Tim Buss

Batiquitos Lagoon Trail

  • Trail Distance: 3.1 miles
  • Trailhead Location: End of Gabbiano Lane (Carlsbad, CA)

For wildlife lovers, there are few better places for hiking near San Diego than the Batiquitos Lagoon Trail. This marshy area is home to many local species of birds, marine life, and plants, which you can learn more about on this 3.1 mile trail. For families and avid nature lovers, there’s an adjacent Nature Center with tons of information on the different species you can find in the lagoon. Additionally, the lagoon itself is quite picturesque, and worth the hike on its own!

Photo Credit: Sharron McClellan (Flickr CC)

Moderate Hikes in San Diego

Cuyamaca Peak Loop Trail

  • Trail Distance: 7.7 miles
  • Trailhead Location: Highway 79, turn to find the trailhead – GPS: 32.96022, -116.58021 (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

As one of the highest peaks in San Diego County, there’s no shortage of awesome views or spectacular scenery on the Cuyamaca Peak Loop Trail. With its beautiful, old trees, sweeping valley views, and gentle incline, this is one of the most accessible and worthwhile hikes in San Diego for all levels.

On the trail, you’ll find wooded sections interspersed with views of the surrounding mountains along the 7.7 miles of this loop trail. Hikers mention that the trails can get quite muddy after periods of rain, so it’s a good idea to wear waterproof hiking boots and trekking poles.

Stonewall Peak Trail

For a short hike with a gentle incline and views for miles, the Stonewall Peak trail is a fun challenge for hikers of all levels. Located just across the highway from the Cuyamaca Peak trail head, the Stonewall Peak trail offers stunning views of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Along the trail, you’ll come across several gentle switchbacks that lead to the peak. While the switchbacks can feel arduous and repetitive, the panoramic views from the top are well worth the effort!

Photo Credit: David Foltz (Flickr CC)

Cowles Mountain

  • Trail Distance: 3 miles
  • Trailhead Location: Intersection of Navajo Road and Golfcrest Drive (Mission Trails Regional Park)

Cowles Mountain is the highest peak in San Diego County, and the trail here takes you all the way up to the top. This short trail is rated as moderate and is one of the best hikes in San Diego for all levels, giving hikers the chance to experience some of the best views in the city without having to scramble. Note that this is one of the most popular trails in San Diego, and it gets extremely crowded on weekends. Your best bet is to go early in the morning for optimal views and minimal crowds.

Iron Mountain Trail

  • Trail Distance: 5.2 miles
  • Trailhead Location: Near intersection of Poway Rd and Highway 67 (Poway, CA)

According to locals, the Iron Mountain trail ranks among the top mountain hikes in San Diego for its views alone. Located in nearby Poway, this hike features a challenging ascent leading up to a panoramic viewpoint of the surrounding mountaintops and valleys. The uphill can be tricky, but many hikers say that the downhill can be even more tricky, as the steep slopes can cause slippage and often get muddy after rains. Bring trekking poles if you think you’ll want extra support for the descent!

Photo Credit: Kristina D. C. Hoeppner (Flickr CC)

Cedar Creek Falls

  • Trail Distance: 4.9 miles
  • Trailhead Location: End of Thornbush Road (Cleveland National Forest)

Be prepared to get wet if you’re hiking the Cedar Creek Falls trail! This hilly trail through Cleveland National Forest has three stream crossings, which can be higher than knee-deep depending on how wet the area is from recent weather. This trail ends in a pretty waterfall that is best visited after periods of rain (sometimes the flow trickles in drier weather). Along the way, you’ll find lovely, colorful patches of wildflowers, rock pathways, and lovely views.

Photo Credit: Photos by Clark (Flickr CC)

Oak Canyon Trail

  • Trail Distance: 2.7 miles
  • Trailhead Location: Mission Trails Regional Park

The Oak Canyon Trail is another trail in Mission Trails Regional Park that’s suitable for all levels. Here, you’ll find rock canyon areas, small ponds, and wide meadows, a wonderful balance of terrain for beginners to advanced hikers. For a longer hike, you can tackle the Oak Canyon to Grasslands trail, which spans 3.7 miles and tracks through even more wildflower-laden meadows! Hikers especially love this trail for families and children, since there are so many places to explore and the ascents/descents aren’t too difficult.

Lake Hodges Overlook

  • Trail Distance: 6.4 miles
  • Trailhead Location: Off Harmony Grove Rd in Escondido, CA (Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve)

The Lake Hodges Overlook is a moderate, accessible hike for all levels that brings you to a panoramic view of Lake Hodges and the Escondido area. The beginning of the trail is fairly steep and has several areas with switchbacks, but after that it’s a very manageable, gradual incline to the top, where you’ll see breathtaking views of the lake and its surrounding hills.

Note that this trail is quite exposed, so hiking in mid-afternoon direct sunlight is not recommended. If you do choose to hike in the sun, wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a wide brimmed hat.

Photo Credit: Photos by Clark (Flickr CC)

Three Sisters Falls Trail

  • Trail Distance: 4.2 miles
  • Trailhead Location: Trailhead begins on Boulder Creek Road in Descanso (Cleveland National Forest)

For multiple waterfalls on one single trail, the Three Sisters Falls trail is a fantastic, moderate hike with a lot of picturesque cascades. This trail begins on a downhill into the canyon where the waterfalls are located, then an uphill on the return trip. You’ll find unique-looking waterfalls that flow through the surrounding rocks, and you can also take a dip in the pools as a reward for hiking.

Maidenhair Falls & Lower Hellhole Canyon

  • Trail Distance: 5.6 miles
  • Trailhead Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

The name probably doesn’t sell you on the hike, but trust us, this is one worth doing! You’ll hike through the Hellhole Canyon trail, which, as its name implies, is very hot and has no shade. You’ll soon come across three separate palm groves that eventually clear out for a small waterfall, making for a pleasing reward after a tough hike. Make sure to bring sunscreen and plenty of water! This trail is best hiked in the cooler months, between October and May.

Photo Credit: kirybabe (Flickr CC)

Difficult Hikes in San Diego

Potato Chip Rock (Mt. Woodson)

  • Trail Distance: 7.6 miles
  • Trailhead Location: End of Lake Poway Road in Lake Poway Park

A picturesque and uniquely shaped rock sits at the end of this trail, offering a nice reward for those brave enough to tackle this challenging uphill hike. A 2,000+ ft elevation change lies in store, so be prepared for an intense climb. Much of the trail is exposed so be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen. The potato chip makes for great pictures, and you can even get on top of it, if you’re brave enough to take a little jump to it.

Corte Madera Mountain Trail

  • Trail Distance: 6.7 miles
  • Trailhead Location: Cleveland National Forest

Offering gorgeous views of the lush green forest below, Corte Madera Mountain is a must-do hike near San Diego. Most of the trail is relatively easy, but there are a few tough uphill sections that may limit the beginner hiker. The trail is very well marked, making it difficult to get lost. Be sure to wear long pants and a long shirt since the brush can get very dense in some parts. Part of the trail will take you through manzanita forests, boulder fields, and desert brush. Beware of wildlife as bobcats have been known to wander through the area!

Photo Credit: Ken Lund (Flickr CC)

El Cajon Mountain Trail

  • Trail Distance: 11.3 mile
  • Trailhead Location: El Capitan County Preserve

One of San Diego’s more challenging hikes, El Cajon Mountain will taunt you with several false peaks and uphill sections both up the mountain and back down. This trail is a serious challenge and a must for anyone looking for challenging hikes near San Diego. The hike starts with a smooth ascent along a paved road but will soon transition into some switchbacks. Don’t start swearing at the switchbacks though, because these are the only ones you’ll get the whole trail. Much of the rest of the hike is a straight up steep ascent to the top. Stunning views begin about halfway up. On clear days, you can see the Pacific ocean in the distance.

Split Mountain

  • Trail Distance: 11.4 miles
  • Trailhead Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Not to be confused with the other Split Mountain in California, Southern California’s Split Mountain offers stunning and secluded views of the desert plains. The trail is wide and you’ll often see Jeeps and other sport utility vehicles tackle the terrain alongside hikers. The highlight of the trek is the last part where you hike through a prehistoric graveyard of seashells. Yes, you read that correctly. Millions of years ago this place used to be underwater. We recommend going in the Winter and early Spring due to the heat.

Photo Credit: lhogue46 (Flickr CC)

Whale Peak

  • Trail Distance: 9 miles
  • Trailhead Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Take a spectacular hike through the desert wilderness up Whale Peak. This trail is for experienced hikers and requires trail finding, GPS navigation, and a high clearance vehicle. Beware: navigating apps have been known to take you to the wrong trailhead. Be sure to turn onto the first dirt road off of S2 after Scissors Crossing, and not the second road.

The trail will take you initially through a desert climate and will gradually transition into an alpine climate as you make your way up the mountain. You’ll pass several false summits and eventually climb a scramble up to the true summit. The views at the top are absolutely fantastic. Attempt this trail in the cooler months.

Additional Resources for Hiking in San Diego

What to Pack for Hiking in San Diego

  • Hiking boots – You can’t hike without appropriate footwear, period. For most trails, we recommend an all-purpose waterproof boot with ankle support. We recommend Salomon hiking boots or Keen hiking boots for a comfortable hike.
  • Breathable hiking clothes – For warmer hikes, you’ll want to stay cool in a sweat-wicking shirt/tank top and breathable pants, like these PrAna hiking pants for men and women. For cold-weather hikes, we recommend dressing in layers, including merino wool baselayers, an insulated puffer jacket, and a waterproof outer shell. And don’t forget a pair of the best hiking socks in the world!
  • Trekking poles – You won’t need these for every single hike, but we recommend throwing them in your car anyway just in case. We recommend the Black Diamond foldable trekking poles, which are lightweight and easy to transport.
  • Water bottle – Having water available at all times is a huge must. To spare disposable plastic, we recommend bringing your own refillable water bottle. We’re obsessed with Hydro Flask bottles because they keep water cold for hours, but a good old Nalgene works very well too.
  • Sunscreen and bug spray – This should be self-explanatory, but sweatproof sunscreen and DEET bug spray can help you avoid sunburn and bug bites, two of hiking’s most annoying after-effects.
  • A brimmed hat or cap – The sun can be brutal in open hikes, so always pack a brimmed hat or cap for day hikes in the sunshine.
  • Emergency blanket and first aid kit – We’d strongly recommend bringing a first aid kit and a lightweight emergency blanket on every hike. Why? Because the unfathomable can happen, and it’s always best to play it safe.
  • Durable day pack – A durable day pack is the perfect spot to stash all your hiking gear. While any backpack will do, we recommend Osprey day packs because they’re comfortable and breathable for long hikes.

Wondering what exactly you should pack for your next hike? Visit our Complete Day Hiking Packing List for our full list and our top gear recommendations.

Related Links

The Canyon Overlook trail offers unparalleled views of Zion National Park, but unlike some of the other popular hikes in Zion, you don’t have to be an experienced hiker to get to this viewpoint.

We wrote this article to give you a comprehensive and detailed guide for this easy hike in Zion National Park. We’ve also included some extra tips on what to bring for a hike, and where to stay when hiking Canyon Overlook trail.

Things to Know About Canyon Overlook Trail

  • Distance: 1 miles
  • Length of Time: 1 hour
  • Elevation Gain: 163 ft
  • Difficulty: Easy

This trail is currently open, despite the recent road closure and other trail closures.

It features a slight and steady elevation gain over rocky, dirt terrain. Although there are steep drop-offs on one side, the trail itself only has a couple of narrow sections and there are guardrails over most of the edges. The path is not paved, and there are some stone steps in several parts, which means the trail is not wheelchair/stroller accessible.

This trail can be done at any time of day, though it may be more crowded during peak hours. Hiking poles are not recommended due to the narrow sections.


Where to See the Most Beautiful Landscapes in the World

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Hiking Canyon Overlook Trail

A wooden walkway encountered while hiking Canyon Overlook Trail
Some of the narrow paths are protected by railing.

Canyon Overlook trail features some of the best views of the eastern side of the park. We started our hike up some stone steps near the eastern exit of the Mount Carmel tunnel.

After a short two minutes climbing up these steps, we immediately get our first breathtaking views of the canyon. We stopped to take some pictures here and then continued forward past a couple of narrow sections with railings.

The halfway point of the trail is a cool, shaded alcove. Here we saw some cool hanging vegetation on the walls and took a short break. This was a great spot to take pictures. Be careful of this area when it’s wet! The thin layer of sand over rock quickly becomes slippery in the rain.

A shaded alcove on the Canyon Overlook trail in Zion.
This shaded alcove marks the halfway point of your hike.

After this section, we crossed a couple more narrow walkways at a slight uphill grade. The trail started to widen right before the viewpoint. It took us about half an hour walking at leisurely pace to reach the viewpoint at the end of the trail.

We took a fifteen minute break here to enjoy the gorgeous views of the valley below. Raf and I overheard a funny conversation from a group of Mormon missionaries here about their time in Brazil. They were trying to understand the indecipherable meaning behind certain Portuguese slang terms. We resisted the urge to chime in on that conversation but we chatted with a couple of other friendly hikers.

After a few more pictures at the top, we began our hike back down. It was easygoing on the way back. A couple of minutes in we saw a furry big horn sheep on the rock above us!

A placard found on the end of the trail that depicts the peaks seen from the end of the hike canyon overlook trail.
The peaks of the Canyon Overlook trail viewpoint.

Overall, the trail wasn’t too hard. It afforded us some beautiful views of the Eastern canyons in the park and didn’t require too much effort compared to some of the other hikes in Zion. While there are plenty of guardrails in place over the edges, there were a couple of narrow sections that might make someone fearful of heights uneasy.

What to do After Hiking Canyon Overlook Trail

After your hike, drive through Mount Carmel tunnel towards the main part of the park and have a quick lunch in the town of Springdale. Raf and I loved a the Zion Canyon Brew Pub. They had a wonderful nutty beer on tap, the Burnt Mountain Brown, and a delicious quinoa burger.

Or, if you are heading East out of the park, stop at the town of Kanab for an amazing lunch at the Rocking V Cafe. I had the one of the best veggie burgers of my life there!

Click here for a complete guide on Angels Landing, Zion’s best hike!

Know Before You Go: Canyon Overlook Trail Hiking Tips

A view of the canyon floor on one of the hiking trails in Zion National Park.
Gorgeous views await you at the top!

When to Visit Canyon Overlook Trail

Although the weather was pretty fair when we went in April, the Mount Carmel tunnel road was actually closed due to severe weather damage from the winter season. This meant we had to take an hour and a half detour around the South of the park to get to the trailhead.

For this reason, we recommend doing Canyon Overlook trail in the Fall when the weather is milder and the crowds smaller.

How to Get to Canyon Overlook Trail

Canyon Overlook trailhead
The trailhead sits in a corner opposite the parking lot.

From the South visitor entrance, continue up the main park road until canyon junction. To the left is the Zion canyon scenic drive that is accessible to official park shuttles only during spring-fall. Continue straight to take the road through Mount Carmel tunnel . There is a parking lot immediately on the right side as you exit the tunnel. The trailhead is across the road from the parking lot.

From the East visitor entrance, continue on the main park road through a first small tunnel until you reach the entrance of a second tunnel. This will be the Mount Carmel tunnel. The parking lot will be on the left side and the trailhead will be opposite it.

Mount Carmel tunnel.
The famous Mount Carmel Tunnel.

What to Bring for Hiking in Zion

We recommend the following gear for most Zion hiking trails:

  • Hiking boots – You can’t hike without appropriate footwear, period. For most trails, we recommend an all-purpose waterproof boot with ankle support. We recommend Salomon hiking boots or Keen hiking boots for a comfortable hike.
  • Breathable hiking clothes – For warmer hikes, you’ll want to stay cool in a sweat-wicking shirt/tank top and breathable pants, like these PrAna hiking pants for men and women. For cold-weather hikes, we recommend dressing in layers, including merino wool baselayers, an insulated puffer jacket, and a waterproof outer shell. And don’t forget a pair of the best hiking socks in the world!
  • Trekking poles – You won’t need these for every single hike, but we recommend throwing them in your car anyway just in case. We recommend the Black Diamond foldable trekking poles, which are lightweight and easy to transport.
  • Water bottle – Having water available at all times is a huge must. To spare disposable plastic, we recommend bringing your own refillable water bottle. We’re obsessed with Hydro Flask bottles because they keep water cold for hours, but a good old Nalgene works very well too.
  • Sunscreen and bug spray – This should be self-explanatory, but sweatproof sunscreen and DEET bug spray can help you avoid sunburn and bug bites, two of hiking’s most annoying after-effects.
  • A brimmed hat or cap – The sun can be brutal in open hikes, so always pack a brimmed hat or cap for day hikes in the sunshine.
  • Emergency blanket and first aid kit – We’d strongly recommend bringing a first aid kit and a lightweight emergency blanket on every hike. Why? Because the unfathomable can happen, and it’s always best to play it safe.
  • Durable day pack – A durable day pack is the perfect spot to stash all your hiking gear. While any backpack will do, we recommend Osprey day packs because they’re comfortable and breathable for long hikes.

Wondering what exactly you should pack for your next hike? Visit our Complete Day Hiking Packing List for our full list and our top gear recommendations.

Where to Stay When Hiking in Zion

To save money, we stayed in an Airbnb in nearby Hurricane. Hurricane is just 40 minutes from Zion by car, and it has everything you need — a grocery store, restaurants, pharmacy, gas stations, etc.

However, if you’d like to be right next to the park, there are tons of hotels and lodges in Springdale, which is just outside of the park entrance. Fellow travelers really love the Cable Mountain Lodge, stating that the rooms are spacious and clean, and it’s super easy to get into the park.


Heading to Zion National Park? You might find these other posts helpful:


If you’ve ever heard anything about Angels Landing, it’s probably one of two things: that it’s the most iconic hike in Zion National Park, or that it’s absolutely terrifying. Both are true: Angels Landing is a stunning, adrenaline-inducing trail that requires some rigorous rock scrambling in very close proximity to 1,000-foot drop-offs.

Needless to say, the Angels Landing hike is NOT for the faint of heart.

Because of its unique terrain and heart-thumping rocky pathways, Angels Landing is one of the most famous trails to go hiking in Zion National Park. In fact, the peak was named, according to the Union Pacific Magazine in 1924, “the summit, in fact, appeared lofty and inaccessible that the legend of the angels seemed wholly credible and some of us timidly deliberated the possibilities of joining their ranks.” Cool, huh?

The trail has a little bit of everything: flat, paved lakeside pathways, strenuous switchbacks, rough-and-tumble rock scrambles, and breathtaking canyon views. If your travels take you to Zion and you’re looking for a true adventure, read on for our very best tips (and a few misadventures) from the Angels Landing hike.

The author standing on the edge of a rock at Angels Landing
The gorgeous view from the top of Angels Landing

Things to Know Before Hiking Angels Landing

  • Distance: 5.4 miles
  • Length of Time: 3-6 hours (we took ~4 hours, including a few traffic jams…more on this later)
  • Elevation Gain: 1,500 feet
  • Difficulty: Hard

While the Angels Landing hike is one of the most popular hikes in Zion National Park, a walk on this trail shouldn’t be taken lightly. You should have a few difficult hikes under your belt before attempting this one.

Not to scare you, but there have been 8 confirmed deaths on Angels Landing, one which occurred just a week before we hiked there. If you choose to tackle this trail, you are assuming some level of risk. However, if you’re an experienced hiker with the right footwear and hiking gear, you’ll be fine. Hundreds of people do this hike safely every day.

The trail is very exposed, with little shade cover and limited chain railings. So, you’ll want to a) check trail and weather conditions before you hike, b) get there as early as possible, and c) wear sunscreen and sun protection and reapply often.

A view of the narrow trail and steep drop-offs on Angels Landing
Angels Landing has some seriously steep drop-offs

The second half of the trail to the summit is almost 100% rock scrambles, so be prepared to use your hands and feet. Forget hiking poles, especially for the summit – they’ll just get in the way and add extra weight to your pack.

You also want to make sure you wear appropriate hiking boots (we saw LOTS of people struggling and slipping in normal sneakers, and sandals – even Chacos – are just plain dangerous for this hike) and bring water. Park rangers strongly advise against bringing children under the age of 12 on this hike.

Lastly, get to the park as early as possible. If you do this, the air will be cooler and the crowds will be smaller when you start your hike. You’ll also have more time to visit other spots in Zion in the afternoon!

Got all that? Okay, great! You’re ready to hike Angels Landing!

Angels Landing, as seen from the beginning of the hiking trail.
See the tip of that tall rock? That’s Angels Landing.

What to Expect During the Angels Landing Hike

Getting to the Angels Landing Trail

Here’s the thing: the morning we were planning to hike Angels Landing, what was supposed to happen and what actually happened are two different stories.

What was supposed to happen was that we’d wake up at 5:30, get to the park by 6:30 AM, and board the first bus at 7:00 AM to Grotto Canyon (Stop #6), get off, and start hiking.

A simple bridge crossing a river at Zion National Park.
The beginning of the trail starts at this bridge crossing the Virgin River.

Well, we are NOT morning people, so what actually happened was that we overslept all 3,984 alarms we set (sorry, neighbors!), woke up around 8:00 AM, and hurriedly threw our stuff into our car and headed to Zion. We arrived in the park around 9:00 AM, drove around forever looking for parking at the Visitor’s Center, and finally got to the trail head around 9:45 AM.

Hmm…I guess we were only, like, 2-ish hours late…

Pro tip: Get to Zion before the first bus if you want to hike Angels Landing with smaller crowds and cooler temperatures. You’ll park at the Visitor’s Center and take the shuttle to Grotto Canyon (Stop #6) to begin the hike.

In the winter, there’s no bus, but you can drive your own car and park at Grotto Canyon. During the shoulder season (March-early May), the first bus is at 7:00 AM, and in the high season (early May-September), the first bus is at 6:00 AM.

A view of the first set of switchbacks in Angels Landing.
You’ll have to hike up your first set of switchbacks on that shaded wall.

Angels Landing Part 1: The Switchbacks

At this time, the trail was already full of people and some early hikers were making their way back down to the trailhead. Everyone we saw heading back looked miserable, which led us to question our own life choices in doing this hike. But, we stuck with it and soon found ourselves wandering on a pretty flat, leisurely riverside trail toward a tall set of switchbacks.

We started up the switchbacks and found ourselves appreciating that we’d gotten there early enough to mostly still be in the shade. After about 20 minutes up the switchbacks, we crossed a small bridge and found ourselves moving through a pathway in a narrow, shady canyon. Apparently, this shady spot is called Refrigerator Canyon, and I totally get why: it’s nice and cool in there!

Refrigerator Canyon inside the Angels Landing hike.
After your first steep section, you’ll catch a bit of a break walking through Refrigerator Canyon.

The path through Refrigerator Canyon was really flat and we loved the shade…but this break didn’t last long. We basically ran face-first into a SECOND set of switchbacks, which were much shorter in length.

Apparently, these latter switchbacks are named “Walter’s Wiggles” after the guy who blazed the trail. According to the lovely automated voice guide on the buses, Walter Ruesch was the first superintendent of Zion National Park and built the trail himself.

(Side note: as a self-proclaimed switchback critic, I actually loved Walter’s Wiggles. They were so cute!)

Walter's Wiggles are a set of switchbacks you'll encounter while hiking Angels Landing.
The infamous Walter’s Wiggles.

Finally, we made it up to Scout Lookout. Here, there’s a small bathroom building (presumably so you don’t pee yourself out of fear of heights on the second half), as well as the trailhead for the West Rim trail to the left. Don’t take that if you’re hiking Angels Landing – instead, head straight to the terrifying looking rock mounds ahead.

Pro tip: If you’re feeling nervous or tired and don’t want to continue to the summit, it’s totally fine to stop here at Scout Lookout! There are still some pretty awesome views and the people watching is prime. Plus, there are some shady rocks you can sit on.

A view of Angels Landing from Scout Lookout.
Scout Lookout offers a stunning view of what’s to come ahead on your hike to Angels Landing.

Angels Landing Part 2: The Scramble

Here’s where we were hitting ourselves for not getting up earlier: the rock scrambles were one quickly-growing traffic jam, with people moving up and down the trails in a chaotic mess. But, as we scrambled up the rocks (using the chains for balance), the crowds kind of came and went.

After the first section, we arrived at the famous part: the trail ledge with two 1,000-foot dropoffs on either side. Not gonna lie, it didn’t affect me that much (I think my fear sensors are forever dulled since my near death experience), but Raf was TERRIFIED. White-knuckled, grasping the chains, crouching down while he walked, it was miserable for him…and I know exactly why: Raf has a ridiculous fear of heights.

Pro tip: If you’re even remotely afraid of heights, don’t look down during this part. Also, if you brought trekking poles, put them away. They will distract you and take up precious space on the crowded, narrow trial.

The most narrow spot on the trail, where there are 1,000-foot drop offs on both sides.

But once we got past that one infamous part, it was pretty fun. We got held up at approximately 100 traffic jams, with people coming down as we were going up the narrow trail areas. Overall, it was really fun and challenging to scramble up the rocks, all while soaking in some seriously awesome Zion views. There are chains the entire way up for you to use to stabilize yourself and pull yourself up the rocks – USE THEM. They help a lot.

As we made our way to the top, we could see the views starting to become more and more expansive. On one side, you’ve got the entrance to Zion Canyon. The other side boasts views of the Virgin River all the way to the Narrows. As you can imagine, it’s pretty breathtaking…but don’t let the views distract you too much; the focus should be on where you put your feet and getting up the rocks.

A view of Big Bend at the top of the Angels Landing hiking trail.
The summit of Angels Landing had super amazing views, like this one!

Arriving at the Angels Landing Summit

Once we got to the top, there was a long pathway across the summit to see various different views of the canyon below. One side had views in the direction of the Watchmen, while the other looked over towards the Narrows and Big Bend. Super stunning and picturesque.

We sat up there for 20-30 minutes just admiring the views and congratulating ourselves for surviving the tricky scrambles and narrow trails. It was Raf’s first “summit” hike, so that was pretty cool, too.

Pro tip: Don’t forget to walk all the way to the end! The views are different depending on where you’re standing at the summit.

The way down is exactly the way you came up. Descending, the scrambles can be a bit more tricky (darn gravity), so be sure to hold on to the chains or nearby rocks for extra support. Also, you may need to wait several minutes for people to pass by during traffic jams.

Finally, the switchbacks down to the bus stop are much easier on the downhill, though do try to take them slowly if you have knee problems or pain.

The authors at the top of Angels Landing.
We made it!!!

Our Thoughts – Was it Worth It?

All in all, the Angels Landing hike took us just under 4 hours, including several traffic jams in the second half and a few photo breaks.

Despite what we’d read and head, neither of us thought it was that bad. A lot of people portray Angels Landing as a death-defying, treacherous hike, and we didn’t really get that vibe. As long as you play it safe, stay close to the rock walls/chains, and don’t get too close to the ledges, you should be fine! (Though if you’re severely afraid of heights, I’d suggest reconsidering.)

Overall, I’d say the hike up to the top of Angels Landing was arguably cooler than the summit itself.

Making our way down the scramble.

Don’t get me wrong, the top was beautiful, but I really loved scrambling up the rocks and getting to traverse a variety of terrain. It was a really unique kind of hiking challenge that I’ve only had a handful of times before.

Although I was with my boyfriend on this hike, I would hike it solo, too. There were enough people up there for me to feel comfortable, and I saw several solo hikers around. Although the trails were crowded, there was a certain level of camaraderie that most other hikers displayed, helping people up when they needed it, moving aside so people could use the chains, and more.

So…would I recommend Angels Landing? It depends.

If you’re SUPER afraid of heights – hard no. You’ll have a tough time. If you’re looking for a family hike, probably not, unless your kids are a bit older.

However, if you’re a reasonably fit, experienced hiker, I would wholeheartedly recommend tackling Angels Landing. It’s a fun, challenging, and unique hike, and I definitely understand why this trail is one of Zion’s most special places.

One of the authors poses at the end of the Angels Landing hiking trail.
Raf’s first summit hike!

A Hangry Hiker’s Guide to Where to Eat After Angels Landing

If you’re anything like me and get hangry AF after you hike, I recommend two options. For the nearest food option, head to the Zion Lodge and eat at either their snack bar (reasonable prices) or their restaurant (expensive).

Or, if you can spare some time, take the bus back to your car and drive over to the Zion Brewery in nearby Springdale, which has delicious craft beers and yummy dishes, with a nice view, too. Raf and I ordered a hummus and a quinoa burger between the two of us and washed it down with a Burnt Mountain Brown Ale. We couldn’t finish our food and had to take some home.

Glowing cliff faces in the sunset at Zion National Park.

Know Before You Go: Zion Hiking & Travel Tips

When to Visit Zion National Park

Zion is a year-round destination and is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can hike Angels Landing at any time of year.

We visited Zion in the spring and had a blast, but lots of trails were closed for maintenance or due to snow melt/landslides. If we were to come again, we’d probably opt to visit Zion National Park in the early fall, when the weather begins to cool down and the summer crowds subside.

What to Bring for Angels Landing

We recommend bringing the following for Angels Landing:

  • Hiking boots – You can’t hike without appropriate footwear, period. For most trails, we recommend an all-purpose waterproof boot with ankle support. We recommend Salomon hiking boots or Keen hiking boots for a comfortable hike.
  • Breathable hiking clothes – For warmer hikes, you’ll want to stay cool in a sweat-wicking shirt/tank top and breathable pants, like these PrAna hiking pants for men and women. For cold-weather hikes, we recommend dressing in layers, including merino wool baselayers, an insulated puffer jacket, and a waterproof outer shell. And don’t forget a pair of the best hiking socks in the world!
  • Trekking poles – You won’t need these for every single hike, but we recommend throwing them in your car anyway just in case. We recommend the Black Diamond foldable trekking poles, which are lightweight and easy to transport.
  • Water bottle – Having water available at all times is a huge must. To spare disposable plastic, we recommend bringing your own refillable water bottle. We’re obsessed with Hydro Flask bottles because they keep water cold for hours, but a good old Nalgene works very well too.
  • Sunscreen and bug spray – This should be self-explanatory, but sweatproof sunscreen and DEET bug spray can help you avoid sunburn and bug bites, two of hiking’s most annoying after-effects.
  • A brimmed hat or cap – The sun can be brutal in open hikes, so always pack a brimmed hat or cap for day hikes in the sunshine.
  • Emergency blanket and first aid kit – We’d strongly recommend bringing a first aid kit and a lightweight emergency blanket on every hike. Why? Because the unfathomable can happen, and it’s always best to play it safe.
  • Durable day pack – A durable day pack is the perfect spot to stash all your hiking gear. While any backpack will do, we recommend Osprey day packs because they’re comfortable and breathable for long hikes.

Wondering what exactly you should pack for your next hike? Visit our Complete Day Hiking Packing List for our full list and our top gear recommendations.

What NOT to bring to Angels Landing:

  • Trekking poles: These could be nice for the switchbacks, but honestly, they will be completely useless on the rock scramble. You need your hands for it, and if they’re tangled in trekking poles, you’re putting yourself at risk. If you HAVE to use poles for the earlier switchbacks, get a foldable and compact pair, like the LEKI Micro Vario, so you can stuff it in your daypack before the scramble.
  • Sandals or sneakers: Just don’t, guys. Wear proper hiking footwear with soles that can grip the rocks properly.
  • Children under 12: The park rangers mentioned that children under 12 should not hike this trail. There are tons of other trails to hike with the little ones.
  • Heavy things: You are going to be throwing yourself over rocks. Don’t weigh yourself down with a heavy, bulky bag full of stuff you don’t need.

Where to Stay in Zion National Park

To save money, we stayed in an Airbnb in nearby Hurricane. Hurricane is just 40 minutes from Zion by car, and it has everything you need — a grocery store, restaurants, pharmacy, gas stations, etc.

However, if you’d like to be right next to the park, there are tons of hotels and lodges in Springdale, which is just outside of the park entrance. Fellow travelers really love the Cable Mountain Lodge, stating that the rooms are spacious and clean, and it’s super easy to get into the park.


Heading to Zion National Park? You might find these other posts helpful:


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