The Canyon Overlook Trail is a relatively easy and short hiking trail on Zion National Park’s east side. The trail leads to a spectacular view, looking back towards Zion Canyon. The hike is one mile, round-trip, and has an elevation change of 163 feet.
This was not my first hike on the Canyon Overlook Trail. It’s one of the first trails I ever hiked in Zion, way back in 2004, on my first visit to the area. I knew it led to a breathtaking viewpoint — but on this hike, I was planning to go further, all the way up to the saddle below the East Temple (I’ll cover that part of the hike on a separate page).
The trail begins at the east entrance to the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. Immediately, the path makes a short, steep climb, taking you up a few vertical feet, to a nice view of the tunnel entrance and bridge. Just out of frame, there’s a guard station, where traffic is routinely stopped to allow RV’s and other big vehicles to access the tunnel.
The trail hugs the edge of a cliff as it climbs. If you’re nervous about heights, you might not like this part of the hike. Since this is a popular trail, however, there are handrails in place in the most dangerous spots, to keep you from falling.
You’re about halfway to the viewpoint when you reach this “cave” — a huge rock overhang, in the side of the cliff. The trail passes underneath the overhang, then out the other side.
The trail meanders towards the East Temple — that dramatic mountain peak that’s brilliantly lit by the sun, especially during the morning and early afternoon. The optional off-trail hike (sometimes called the East Temple Loop) climbs up to the saddle in the upper-right-hand corner of the photo.
When you arrive at the end of the official trail, this is what awaits: a sweeping panorama of Pine Creek Canyon (that’s the side-canyon that you drove through, before passing through the tunnel). In front of my feet, you can see Route 9, as it twists around several switchbacks on its way up to the tunnel. Far in the distance, you can see the West Temple (slightly to the left of center — notice it looks similar to the East Temple, that’s directly behind you at this point). In the distance to the right is The Sentinel, which looms directly over Canyon Junction.
Another prominent peak, Bridge Mountain, is on the left — and a bit closer than the rest of the distant peaks.
The viewpoint also gives you a close-up look at one of the tunnel’s windows. This is the window that looks directly out onto the Great Arch of Zion — the huge alcove at the end of Pine Creek Canyon. When you’re at this viewpoint, you’re actually standing on top of the Great Arch — which is why you can’t see it from here.
Once you’ve enjoyed the view for an appropriate amount of time, turn around and head back the way you came. Or, blaze a trail up the impossibly steep slickrock to the saddle below East Temple, if you dare.
The Bottom Line
The Canyon Overlook Trail is a relatively easy and quick trail, that should be on your list — even if you only have a short amount of time in the park. You can hike it in an hour, and capture some postcard-worthy photos at the end of the trail.
The trailhead for the Canyon Overlook Trail is located at the east end of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, the narrow 1.1 mile tunnel carved through solid rock, on Route 9, just east of Canyon Junction.
If you’re traveling eastbound, watch for a small parking area on your right, immediately as you exit the tunnel. If you’re traveling westbound, you can’t access this parking area. Instead, there is another parking area, slightly farther from the end of the tunnel, requiring a short walk.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from Springdale, through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, and through Zion’s east side.