East Temple Loop Hike, Zion National Park


This hike is an extension of the popular Canyon Overlook trail — but this route isn’t for everyone.  In fact, there’s no official trail — just an exhausting climb up a slanted rock wall that’s probably steeper than the roof on your house.  The rewards are great: you get to see a little-visited corner of Zion National Park, and take in sweeping views of Zion’s east side, and Pine Creek Canyon.

My Visit

If you think this is dramatic…

… you might not be able to handle this entire hike.  The climb up the Canyon Overlook trail includes some steep drops and narrow ledges.  There are guard rails to protect you — unlike what’s waiting up ahead.

Take in the view of Pine Creek Canyon from the Canyon Overlook viewpoint.  Standing (or sitting) here, you’re directly above the Great Arch of Zion.  The view is great, but it can get better.

Turn to your right, and you’ll see the distinctive peak of the East Temple.  I don’t think there’s any way to get to the very top of the East Temple without using ropes and rock-climbing skills.  That’s okay, because just getting to the saddle — the area in the upper-right of this picture — is enough of a challenge to satisfy all but the most adventurous.

As I mentioned, there is no official route to take you up the hill.  I followed this sandy path until it ended, then started climbing on rocks.  That slant is pretty steep everywhere, but it’s not as consistent as it appears.  There are spots where it’s nearly vertical, and places where the slope tapers off, providing a place to sit and rest.

So, I started hiking, heading uphill, but moving laterally as well, in an effort to minimize the effort needed to gain elevation.  This picture was taken, perhaps, a quarter of the way up from the Canyon Overlook.  Already, the view towards Zion Canyon is improving, and Bridge Mountain (on the left) becomes a more prominent landmark.  You can also look down to the valley floor, and see zig-zagging Route 9, making its way to the tunnel.

Looking uphill can be daunting.  The slant is so steep, you can even lose track of exactly where you’re trying to go.

Notice that the West Temple is level in this picture — meaning that this really is the angle you’ll be climbing.  Making frequent switchbacks helps, but you may need to get on your hands and knees at times, or simply just lean over to the side, to balance yourself.  Thick-soled, “sticky” hiking boots are also essential.

Surprisingly, there’s a lot to photograph on the way up.  I found this picturesque old tree, which at some point, must have been growing much higher on the hill.

While taking these pictures, I briefly forgot that I was standing on a slope, and nearly toppled over.

On the way up, I went much further west (towards Zion Canyon) before switching back, than I did on the trip down.  I suppose there’s no wrong way — you just have to scout out the areas that are easiest to climb.

On the way up, I had thought about trying to climb up to the base of that final cliff.  Once I got to the saddle, I realized it’s quite a long way further.  I was more than content with my accomplishment…

… and the view that came with it.

On the other side of the saddle…

… there’s a slight drop in elevation (using your hands may be necessary to get down, and you’ll need to remember your path).  Then, you pass across a relatively gentle slope up…

… to a few beehive-looking rocks.

From here, you can look back at the East Temple, now that you’re almost on the opposite side…

… and you have an excellent view of the next canyon over, as well as the next series of mountain peaks.

If you’re hoping to make a “loop” out of this unmarked route, then you’ll need to find a way down into this canyon.  Once you’re at the bottom, just follow the drainage and you’ll end up back at Route 9, just a short jog away from the parking areas.

I don’t know about you, but to me, this looked like a pretty serious descent.  Of course, the way I had just come was also pretty intense.  But on this side, I spent a while searching, and I couldn’t find a predictably safe route.  I was afraid I’d get halfway down, and reach an impassable slope, then have to climb back up and try again.  I didn’t have the energy for that — and I was pretty sure that I had seen the best of the scenery already.

I made the choice to hike back to the saddle, and go down the way I came up — but at a slower pace, enjoying the scenery and taking a few more pictures.

And that’s exactly what I did — except this time, I followed a much different path, staying further east than on the ascent.  It paid off for a while, but there were quite a few steep spots that I wasn’t expecting.

I had noticed this outcropping on my way up, and on the way down, I was close enough to give it a closer look.

Looking straight up, I’m pretty sure this is where I was, about an hour earlier — somewhere around those beehives.

The view of the canyon is a little different over here…

… but I still found plenty of places to photograph the East Temple…

… and I found some evidence that I wasn’t the first person here.  I needed that reassurance, because I didn’t know exactly where I was going.

The final few vertical feet proved to be the toughest.  Further west, where I ascended, this part was easy — a nice slope down solid rock.  But over here, the hillside was loose and steep.  I finally found a way down, but it wasn’t easy.

This is the view, looking up from the Canyon Overlook trail.  I came down through there, somehow, and almost twisted my ankle in the process.  I was stepping on a big boulder, which decided to start sliding as soon as my other foot got in front of it.  As I started to fall, the rock started to roll over my ankle.  It left me with a bruise, but it could have easily twisted my ankle or snapped the bone.   Moral of the story?  Try to make your exit (back onto the Canyon Overlook trail) as far west as possible, preferably back at the overlook itself.

The Bottom Line

I really enjoyed this hike.  After all these years visiting Zion, I’m glad there seems to be an endless supply of new hikes to fun places.  If you’re not comfortable going off-trail, or hiking up a trail that’s steeper than the pitch of your roof, then this trail is not for you.  But, if you don’t mind huffing-and-puffing, and you like to get away from the well-traveled path, you’ll enjoy this route immensely.


To experience this route, you’ll first need to hike up the Canyon Overlook trail.  It begins at the east end of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel.  Park in one of the parking lots near the end of the tunnel, then hike the 1/2 mile trail to the viewpoint.

From the end of the official trail, you will need to blaze your own trail, climbing up the slanted slickrock below the East Temple.  You’ll cross the saddle, and with some luck, you’ll be able to find a safe route down the other side.  Once at the bottom of the next valley, you can make your way back to Route 9, then walk along the road to your car.

Drivelapse Video

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.

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