Canyon Overlook Trail, Zion National Park
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Leading hikers 1,000 feet above the Zion canyon floor, the Canyon Overlook Trail has one of the most spectacular views in Zion National Park. The Canyon Overlook trail showcases some of Zion’s most incredible rock formations and is an iconic photography spot in the park.
The 1-mile trail is a moderate hike with little elevation gain but the reward is an incredible vista of Zion, making it one of our favorite trails the park. For those of you planning a trip to Zion National Park we wanted to share our experience and tips for hiking the Canyon Overlook trail.
July 2020 update: Canyon Overlook trail is currently open.
Canyon Overlook Trail
The Canyon Overlook trail is a popular trail in Zion National Park beside the town of Springdale, Utah. The park is home to the tallest sandstone cliffs in the world and they soar over the Virgin River and the Zion Canyon valley floor.
The Canyon Overlook trail is one of the best hikes in Zion and is located at the east entrance to the Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel on the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. The Upper East Canyon is a beautiful part of the park and the Canyon Overlook Trail is one of the only marked trails in the area.
The trail sits atop an overlook above the Great Arch, a blind arch indented in the rock face below. In fact, it was known as the Great Arch Trail until the 1940’s!
The trail offers spectacular views of the Zion Canyon and some of the park’s most notable rock formations. The Towers of the Virgin, the East and West Temples and the Streaked Wall all stretch across the horizon from the trail’s main viewpoint.
Canyon Overlook Trail Map
How to Use this Google Map: Click on the grey star at the top of the map and this map will be added to your Google Maps account. You can then view it on your phone or computer in Google Maps by clicking on the menu button, going to “Your Places” and selecting this map. We use these maps all the time as you can set out your itinerary ahead of time and quickly reference the saved maps.
Where to stay in Zion National Park
Zion has both in park accommodation and out of park options in Springdale which is adjacent to the main south entrance to the park.
Springdale: Given the shuttle system, it’s just as easy and likely less expensive to stay adjacent to the park in the small town of Springdale. Springdale has other advantages including easier access to food options and more modern lodgings.
- Cable Mountain Lodge: great selection of family friendly rooms, excellent food and an outdoor pool overlooked by the Zion Watchman! Our Zion favorite – check prices now!
- Flanigan’s Inn: Flanigan’s Inn is a reasonably priced option with good sized clean rooms, a pool and a hot tub – check prices now!
In Zion: There are two reasons we like to stay in the park: the first is if we want to camp and the second is for getting an early start on Angels Landing from Zion Lodge. With the Zion shuttles suspended most days during winter, those staying outside the park can reach Angels Landing just as easily as those staying in Zion Lodge before sunrise so we prefer Springdale in the winter months.
- Camping: There are two campsites, Watchman Campground and South Campground, within the park. Both campsites are located near the visitors center at the South entrance. At the Watchman sites are released for reservation on a 6 month rolling basis while in the South Campground it is on a 14 day rolling basis.
- Zion Lodge: located deep within the park the historic lodge offers a mix of cabins and hotel rooms. We’ve stayed in the Lodge and it’s a nice traditional option which really allows you to immerse yourself in the park. The lodge fills up well in advance and the rooms are basic and expensive.
Hiking the Canyon Overlook Trail
The Canyon Overlook trail is a relatively easy 1-mile round trip although the trail’s exposed rock ledges and, at times, uneven path add to the challenge.
- Hike Length: 1-mile round trip
- Hike Time: around 1 hour
- Hike Difficulty: the hike is rated as moderate by the National Parks Service. The hike itself is relatively easy but the uneven trail and exposed ledges add to its difficulty.
- Elevation change: 163 feet
- Zion Shuttle stop: Canyon Overlook Trail is not serviced by the Zion Shuttle. Hikers need to drive to the trail head. Limited parking is available close to the start of the hike.
The Canyon Overlook trail begins at the east entrance to the Zion – Mt Carmel Tunnel on the Zion – Mt Carmel Highway.
Zion – Mt Carmel Highway
The Zion – Mt Carmel Highway is a scenic drive which cuts through Zion National Park. It showcases some of the park’s most beautiful scenery including the six switchbacks leading out of Zion Canyon, Checkerboard Mesa and the Zion – Mt Carmel Tunnel. Like many visitors, we drove the highway as we left Zion for Bryce Canyon National Park.
Canyon Overlook Trail Tip: As you drive along the highway you will spot the Great Arch eroded into the rock. The Canyon Overlook Trail sits atop the arch. There are parking areas along the highway to allow you to stop and take in the views. The arch is visible when approaching the Canyon Overlook trail from the west, the Springdale side. If you entered through the east gate, you can stop to see the Great Arch after leaving Canyon Overlook on the way to Springdale. There are several of pull-ins which allow visitors to view the arch.
Getting to the Canyon Overlook Trail
You will need to drive to the Canyon Overlook trail as this area of the park is not serviced by the Zion shuttle. Parking is limited so you may have to wait for a spot at busier times.
Canyon Overlook Trail Tip: there are some small overflow parking lots further east along the highway.
Hiking the Canyon Overlook Trail
The Canyon Overlook trail starts with a set of stone steps with a railing which lead from the parking lot to the trail. This short ascent covers most of the 163-foot elevation gain on the trail.
The trail then flattens out and leads hikers along a narrow path overlooking the Pine Creek Narrows a slot canyon below the trail. The views into the slot canyon along this section of the trail are really beautiful.
Canyon Overlook Trail Tip: the path is rocky and uneven and there are exposed ledges along the way. Take care as you hike – it’s worth stopping on the trail to the take in the views.
Most sections of the trail with drop-offs are railed however there are some exposed sections where care needs to be taken – especially with younger kids.
It passes through a lovely shaded alcove with ferns sprouting from the sandstone wall. During a summer hike, this is the first spot for an escape from the relentless Zion sunshine.
The path is surrounded by pine trees in lovely contrast to the orange rock. It continues over a boardwalk and through a grotto before a section of bare slip rock.
The final section of the trail is across more open terrain before leading up to the Canyon Overlook Viewpoint which overlooks the spectacular Zion Canyon 1,000 feet below.
There are amazing views of some of Zion’s famous rock formations. The Towers of the Virgin, Bridge Mountain, the East and West Temples and the Streaked Wall all stretch across the horizon from the trail’s viewpoints.
The Zion – Mt Carmel highway is also visible, and you can spot the switchbacks on the road. You will also see the Zion – Mt Carmel tunnel and its windows along the rock wall.
If you are really lucky you might spot one of Zion’s resident bighorn sheep!
Canyon Overlook Trail tip: part of the Canyon Overlook has a fence at the cliff edge. This might offer some comfort to those without a head for heights! I am terrified of exposed ledges but was able to enjoy the views from the overlook!
Canyon Overlook Trail tip: check out the information sign at Canyon Overlook which details the landmarks visible from the viewpoint. We love to know exactly what we are looking at across the landscape!
If you want to explore some more, it’s possible to climb further up the East Temple Saddle and through the upper end of Pine Creek.
Canyon Overlook Trail tip: Be careful if you choose to explore further: the cliff edge is exposed to a 1,000 foot fall into the canyon
Hiking the Canyon Overlook Trail with kids
Although not as family-friendly as the Pa’rus trail and the Riverside Walk, Canyon Overlook is still an option with kids provided extreme care is taken along the exposed parts.
On the trail itself, the path is uneven and there are some obstacles such as tree roots and boulders along to navigate along the way. Although most of the exposed parts are fenced off there are huge drops offs that are not protected. Take extreme care with kids and ensure they are in backpacks or hold their hand for safety.
On our last visit to Zion, we hiked to Canyon Overlook with our toddler and 9 month old. Our 2 year old was in his hiking backpack (we use an Osprey Poco Plus) and the 9 month old in her soft carrier, an Ergobaby 360. We’ve used these on hundreds of hikes and recommend both if you are planning on hiking with younger kids.
Canyon Overlook Trail tip: given the exposed paths with 1,000 foot drops into the Zion Canyon, we only recommend this trail for younger kids if they are in a hiking backpack or older kids who will follow instructions.
Tips for hiking Canyon Overlook Trail
- Water: the Canyon Overlook trail is a one mile round trip with limited shade so bring some water in the summer
- Hiking after rain: the trail can be muddy after rain. The slip rock is also really slippery when its wet so
- Summer accessories: sunscreen and a hat to protect from the sun
- Winter accessories: layers of clothing, a warm hat and a good jacket. The trails can be icy in places in Zion in Winter so invest in good hiking shoes/boots or Yaktrax on sneakers for grip.
- Parking: there is a small parking area just past the east entrance to the Zion – Mt Carmel Tunnel. At busy times you might have to wait around to grab a space. There is also some overflow parking further east of the trailhead which might be an easier option.
- Restrooms: vault restrooms are located across the highway from the ranger booth at the trail head.
Alternative Hikes in Zion National Park
Zion National Park is home to some iconic hikes and we love exploring its trails. Some great hikes in addition to Canyon Overlook are:
- Angels Landing: one of the most iconic and challenging hikes in Zion, Angels Landing follows a narrow mountain spine out to the center of the Zion Canyon.
- The Narrows: the iconic Zion Narrows follows the Virgin River into a narrow slot canyon. It is a difficult 9.4 mile out and back hike depending on how far you venture. The trail begins at the end of the Riverside Walk.
- Riverside Walk: Riverside Walk is a peaceful hike along a relatively flat paved trail which runs adjacent to the Virgin River. It starts at the Temple of Sinawava, the final stop on the Zion Shuttle and the start of the trail leads up the canyon past the tall weeping walls, lush vegetation and the occasional waterfall!
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