TRIP REPORT: Canyon Overlook Trail – Zion National Park, UT 1-15-16
Hiking stats at a glance:
163 ft elevation gain
Less than an hour including enjoying the overlook.
Since the Grand Canyon visit turned out to be a bust we just kept on our way to Zion National Park where we would be staying for the night anyway. We took our time arriving, stopping at the Glen Canyon Dam and enjoying the views off the highway of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument but despite our pit stops we still arrived in Zion early enough to get a hike in. I knew it would be dark pretty early in the canyon so I picked the shortest hike with the best views I could think of, the canyon overlook trail.
The hike begins just off the main park road through Zion, right near the large tunnel before entering the main canyon. Since we were visiting in the off season we were able to park right on the road and did not have to fuss with waiting on shuttles etc. I have to say this was a welcome change from the shuttles and crowds that optimized my August trip to Zion.
We geared up pretty light with just our headlamps and a water bottle just in case as it was only a 1 mile round trip up to the overlook from the trailhead. We also decided to wear our microspikes from the start as there was some packed snow and ice which wasn’t completely unavoidable and since we figured we would probably finish in the dark we might as well play it safe and have an easier carefree time hiking.
The trail started at a short staircase off the paved sidewalk right off the road between the tunnel and the cut out where we parked. There is also a small parking lot that holds less than 10 cars directly across the road from the trailhead. I remember from my August trip that this parking lot is open year round for use but in the busy months I wouldn’t expect to find a spot there as there is often a line of cars waiting to even go through the tunnel let alone park close by.
The hike starts with the short staircase that I think encompasses the majority of the elevation gain for the hike and may actually be its steepest point. Once we cleared the staircase the hike became a nice hike along the slick rock of Zion canyon.
The hike itself is pretty easy and straight forward as it is well worn and there is only one obvious path to take. Despite how easy it is however the views are beautiful and it is a quite striking hike right from the start. Once we got past the start we were immediately thrown into an intimate canyon space with beautiful views everywhere we looked.
Along the trail in areas with steep drops there are also guard rails in place to protect against any mishaps. Normally I would be pretty against this type of thing but given the accessibility and the excessive amount of traffic this trail must see from casual travelers in the high season it seems like a necessary evil.
The trail continues on its way up to the overlook as you hike along the steep canyon walls. The trail also takes you over a short plank bridge that hugs the cliff and then under another overhang which adds interesting elements to the hike. The landscape of this hike is not terribly unique if you are local to the area but when you are used to hiking in the old rugged mountains of the northeast its a pretty fun an unique experience.
After passing the overhang the trail begins to open up more as you make your final approach up to the overlook. We encountered patches of snow along the trail but nothing terribly dramatic. The snow really added a beautiful element to the hike in this desert landscape.
The views also continued to be equally dramatic as we neared the top of the overlook.
One short section of hiking over exposed wavy rock and a short steep section put us at the top of the overlook.
Once we crested the top of the rise at the end of the hike we were greeted by beautiful views of the main Zion canyon below. For the limited amount of effort we put into the hike it was absolutely worth it. We were also able to catch the sunset from the overlook which only added to the experience.
We stayed for a while at the overlook as the sun fell until we could begin to see the night sky light up with stars. I have still never seen stars quite as beautiful and vibrant as I have in Zion National Park and this visit certainly didn’t disappoint. After enjoying the view of the night sky we worked our way back down to the car in the dark. The hike back was pretty quick and uneventful and thanks to the bright moon we didn’t even need our headlamps to find our way safely back out.
The hike overall was great and was a great option for spending a limited amount of time hiking. I would highly recommend this hike as a quick trip or as a nice option for star gazing.