Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Distance: 1 mile round trip
Location: Zion National Park east entrance
Park in the lot off Route 9, east of the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel
Southern Utah is rife with jaw-dropping beauty, and the Canyon Overlook Trail in Zion National Park has stunning pay-offs requiring very little effort.
Some hikes aren’t terribly interesting but you do them because you get a big view at the end of it. Other hikes are enjoyable along the way, but there’s no climactic destination to reward your efforts. Canyon Overlook is one of the rare trails that is both interesting along the way and dramatic at the end. And it’s all crammed in to one short mile.
The trail takes you beneath overhanging rock ledges, along walls of wildflowers, and across narrow pass or two that might give pause to anyone with a fear of heights. It has a real Indiana Jones feel to it.
From the trail you can see deep striations in the slabs of slickrock carved by water long ago. It looks like an alien desert. Ferns and wildflowers grow right out of the rock walls, which dribble out rainwater that seeps through the porous sandstone. Among the amazing vistas and dramatic hikes we did in Zion, it was these lush hanging desert gardens that tickled me the most. I didn’t expect to see so much green.
On your way out to the overlook, take a moment to look off to your left. There are a few “windows” cut into the wall of the canyon. Behind those windows is Route 9, the road that leads to the heart of the canyon. (You’ll notice the road winding along below you once you reach the overlook.) You might also spot a desert bighorn sheep scrambling up the rocks.
As interesting as the trail itself is, though, the real payoff is the view of the canyon from the trail’s end. Zion Canyon stretches out in front of you, and there’s no counting the number of colors in the walls of rock. We did this hike in the morning, and the light made it look like a painted backdrop.
As with all popular hikes, watch your pack at the overlook. The chipmunks have lost all fear and will climb on or in your pack. (Please don’t feed them. We are visitors in their habitat, and they are wild animals.)
You won’t have the place to yourself, but the overlook is large enough to find a little spot to call your own. It’s good people watching, anyway, between aggressive chipmunk encounters and people teetering at the edge to get the perfect photo.
This is a must-do hike, and it only takes an hour or so, depending on how long you linger at the overlook. Being near the entrance, it’s a great way to start or end your trip to Zion.