Zion Canyon Overlook Trail is one of the best, most popular, and most accessible hikes in Zion National Park. The last time we passed through Zion, we missed making the short hike out on the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail, so it was a must-hit stop this time around.
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If towing, find pullout parking near the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail
Zion Canyon Overlook Trail: Getting There via Mount-Carmel Tunnel
The Zion Canyon Overlook Trail is located on the east side of the tunnel on the Zion Mount Carmel Highway. This is the road that takes travelers right through the center of Zion National Park. The Zion Mount Carmel highway is also technically part of Utah State Route 9, and has to be one of the most scenic drives in the country. If you’re driving west to east on the Mount Carmel Highway, you’ll climb a series of steep switchbacks, each rewarding you with a better and better view of the towering red cliffs that envelop the canyon.
As you rise out of the Zion canyon floor, you’ll eventually reach a long and rather impressive tunnel. This is the famous Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, which is just over a mile long and was completed way back in 1930. If you’re in a tall camper van or towing a trailer, like us, you’ll have to pay a small fee to pass through the tunnel. Due to the tunnel’s relatively narrow size, Zion National Park requires oversized vehicles to drive down the middle of the road when passing through the tunnel, so they have to stop traffic coming the other way. There are no lights in the dark tunnel, but there are several huge “windows” cut out of the rock that give you quick glimpses of the stunning Zion canyon below. As much as you want to stop and soak in the view though, you gotta keep moving. But the view from the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail is even better.
As soon as you exit the tunnel, look for a parking lot to your right. It’s not very big and might be full, but there are other spots to park nearby. With us towing a trailer, we had to find a small pullout down the road a ways, but not too far. After parking and taking a few shots of the Airstream (because it just looks so good against a backdrop of red rock cliffs), we walked to the Zion Canyon Overlook Trailhead to hike up for sunset.
Hiking the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail
The Zion Canyon Overlook Trail is only about a mile from the trailhead to the overlook, so it’s a small effort for a big reward. We set out about an hour before sunset, which was plenty of time to enjoy the evening show. The trail starts on slick rock, climbing some natural stone steps as you make your way up to the overlook. It’s a really cool trail that traverses some steep drop-offs, giving you views down into lush slot canyons. They put up railings to keep you feeling safe though – a little bit of an eyesore but probably for the best.
We took our time hiking the canyon overlook trail, soaking in the scenery along the way. The view at the end is the money shot, but the ones on the way there aren’t half bad either. We even saw a bighorn sheep strolling through the ravine below. As we approached the canyon overlook, rays of light from the setting sun became visible and we hurried up the last little bit to see what we hiked a whopping .9 miles for…
Zion Canyon Overlook: The Big Reveal
Wow. When you first peer over the rim and gaze down into the Zion canyon, it’s definitely awe-inspiring. Zion is kind of like the desert version of Yosemite National Park. The cliffs might not be as tall, and the valley not as wide, but Zion Canyon is similarly impressive nonetheless. We were there in mid-April, and at that time of the year the sun sets behind the cliffs directly in front of you as you gaze out at the canyon overlook. From a photography perspective, this actually makes for horrible, hazy light while the sun is still visible. But when you’re sitting there in person, feeling the last rays of sunlight warm your skin, it’s pretty magical.
Being adventure elopement photographers, we did some scouting around for the best spots to shoot portraits. There are lots of rocky perches that give you amazing views – you can’t really go wrong – but there is one particular high point that seems to be the most popular. You’ll have to share though, because everyone wants to climb up and look out from here. Still, we found a few other rocks away from the crowds that provided a nice, quiet escape while still delivering amazing views of the Zion canyon. After the sun dipped behind the cliffs, we snapped the classic Zion Canyon Overlook shot and then began the descent back to the Airstream. If you’re ever in Zion National Park, the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail is an easy must-do hike, any time of the day. We have a feeling sunrise is the best time to see it though. Next time…