Utah

Hiking the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail for a Jaw-Dropping View

The Zion Canyon Overlook Trail is a popular trail in Zion National Park. It’s a short 1-mile hike with a minimal elevation gain, offering spectacular scenery along the way and a jaw-dropping view at the end. It’s located near the Park’s east entrance, at the end of the famous Zion tunnel. Hiking this trail was one of the many highlights of our trip to Zion National Park. Let me show you why you shouldn’t miss the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail.

How to Get to the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail

Two main roads run through the Zion Canyon section of Zion National Park. The Zion Scenic Drive runs north-south and, for most of the year, can only be accessed by a shuttle system due to visitor volume. The Zion-Mt Carmel Highway runs east-west through lower Zion Canyon. This road takes you through a tunnel built through the high sandstone cliffs and then out to the Park’s east gate. The hike sits directly at the eastern end of the tunnel. No need to worry about the shuttle here – you can drive this highway with your own vehicle year-round.

The drive to the Zion Canyon Overlook trailhead along the Zion-Mt. Carmel highway is beautiful. It starts by climbing through a series of switchbacks, surrounded by the Canyon’s tall sandstone walls. It then passes through the 1-mile long Zion Tunnel.  Large windows are carved through rock at various points along its length.  The tunnel was a remarkable feat of engineering when it was built in the 1920s, and at the time was the longest tunnel of its type.  

Note: the tunnel closes during winter evenings. And it closes to large vehicles in the evenings year round. These hours vary depending on the time of year. You can check the tunnel schedule here.

Windows of the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel in Zion National Park
Windows peering out through the sandstone are spaced along the Zion Tunnel
East entrance to the tunnel in Zion National Park
East entrance to the tunnel

Immediately after exiting the tunnel on the east side, you’ll find the first of two small parking lots for the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail. The second sits up the road just a bit further (with restrooms).

One of the small parking areas for the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail
This first parking lot sits directly across from the trailhead

At the Start

The Zion Canyon Overlook Trail is not a steep hike. Zion’s website says the overall gain is 163 feet. Most of the climbing happens immediately at the beginning, where a short burst of switchbacks quickly takes you up through the bulk of the trail’s gain. Once on top of the switchbacks, the hike has only a slight continuous incline to the Overlook.

Trailhead for the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail in Zion National Park
The Trailhead
Switchbacks along the sandstone at the beginning of the Zion Overlook Trail
Switchbacks at the beginning

Walking the Edge

While hiking the trail, you do walk along several ledges with drop-offs. Many of these feature protective rails. I’m height-phobic, and did not have any anxiety through these areas. Except for Overlook at the end, I didn’t feel that any of the drop-offs were scarily far down.

Many years ago, when my now 21-year old daughter was a baby, I carried her in my arms along this trail, without the foresight (or travel blogs) to know what was ahead. And I still have the occasional nightmare of tripping and dropping her over the edge on that day. It is easy to lose your footing while hiking here. I think she still may have permanent marks from holding her so tightly. But after hiking the trail again now, those drop-offs aren’t nearly as far as they are in my nightmare memories. Still, a baby backpack would be my strong recommendation.

Railing to protect from drop offs along the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail in Zion National Park
Railed platform along the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail in Zion National Park
In this short spot along the trail, a wooden platform has been extended out over the edge.
One of the areas along the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail with a protective rail

Sights Along the Way

While the major attraction – the Overlook – is at the trail’s end, the journey itself features lots of spectacular scenery.

Walking under a sandstone shelf along the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail
One of the great views across to a sandstone peak along the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail
One of the sights below while hiking in Zion National Park
Looking down from the trail – a slot canyon that reminded me of a clam
Layered Sandstone rock formations in Zion National Park
Approaching the final overlook along the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail
Approaching the end of the trail. The far west canyon walls can be seen in the distance

The Zion Canyon Overlook

After 0.5 miles of hiking, you arrive at the edge of Zion Canyon’s east walls with a spectacular view out across lower Zion Canyon to the west. There is no railing here, but the view can absolutely be appreciated in all it’s glory from a few feet back.

One of the views at the end of the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail in Zion National Park
The northwest view from Zion Canyon Overlook

Final Thoughts and Tips

  1. Morning is the best time to hike the Zion Canyon Overlook trail. The view faces west and it’s nice to have the sun behind you.
  2. You’ll notice that Mrs. Thorough Tripper is bundled up. Hiking on an early March morning meant temperatures in the high 30s. Plus it can be windy standing at the Overlook
  3. As with most of Zion Canyon, we did not have cell service in this part of the Park (Verizon)
  4. Parking is always a challenge in Zion National Park. You’ll have the best luck finding parking at this trail early in the morning or later in the afternoon.

If you want to read about other things to see in Zion, check out my post on the Scenic Drives of Zion National Park. And to read about other great trails in Utah’s Parks, check out my posts on The Cassidy Arch Trail in Capitol Reef, The Rim Trail at Dead Horse Point, the Petrified Dunes Trail at Snow Canyon State Park, and Snow Canyon’s Cinder Cone Trail.

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