Hiking Southern Utah: Overlook Trail in Zion Canyon
The Overlook Trail in Zion Canyon is a short, beautiful hike located on the east side of Zion National Park, just outside the Mt. Carmel tunnel. The hike is about one mile roundtrip, and it usually takes people about an hour. It is definitely one of the easier hikes in Zion, but it’s still considered a moderate-level hike due to a few exposed areas and sandstone pathways, which can be slippery. That being said, it is still a great hike for families and people of all ages, especially if you want to be able to view Zion Canyon from above without having to hike the more strenuous hikes like Angel’s Landing or Observation Point. Just remember to keep your children close. There are no special permits required for the hike, but don’t forget that there is a $30 fee to enter Zion National Park.
Zion National Park is a gorgeous landscape of red sandstone and green plant life. Even after countless visits, I’m still awed by the towering canyon walls that were carved out by the Virgin River. To really appreciate Zion Canyon, though, a person must climb to the top of those walls and view the canyon from above. Very few views are as spectacular as Zion Canyon. Oddly enough, most tourists never make it to the east side of Zion, which to me is the prettiest part and also the favorite of most experienced hikers who visit Zion. True, you don’t have the towering canyon walls on either side of you, but you still see the large, rolling mountains covered in trees and stone outcroppings. It is drastically less crowded, another bonus, and I rarely drive through the east side without seeing wild mountain sheep, something that still excites me.
The overlook trailhead lies right outside of the Mt. Carmel tunnel by the ranger booth. Exit the tunnel too fast and you’ll miss it. It begins with a staircase carved out of the sandstone that leads up and away from the road. Soon, you’ll be walking along the side of the mountain and looking down into a thin crevice known as Pine Creek Canyon. At about halfway, you’ll walk across a bridge that wraps around a corner and leads to an area of recessed rock wet with the moisture that caused it to erode and be filled with ferns growing out of the sandstone. It’s a great place to rest and enjoy the shade from the overhang as you look out over the canyon. You may even see some lizards or other creatures cooling off alongside you. At the end of the hike is a spectacular view of Zion Canyon. From the lookout point, you can see the tall mountain on either side and thick forest tapering down into the river that carved it all. Every time I see it, I can’t help but hum the theme to “Jurassic Park.” If you look closely at the canyon walls, you can see the windows from the Mt. Carmel tunnel. A plaque is placed near the railing to point out some of the other landmarks that can be seen. Most hikers choose to sit and enjoy the view before heading back. Twice while sitting there at different times of the year, I’ve heard what sounded like someone playing a Native American flute.
This hike is, so far, one of my favorite hikes I’ve done and definitely my favorite within Zion National Park. It can be hiked at all times of the year, although I’d use extra caution during winter as ice can form. It is mostly in direct sunlight, so be prepared to get a little hot in the summer. Most people choose to hike in early morning or in the evening in order to catch the sunset, but I almost prefer the afternoon, when it is least crowded. Whether you have a lot of time or just a little to spend in Zion National Park, I highly recommend this hike.