Canyon overlook

Canyon Overlook Trail

General Description

The Canyon Overlook Trail offers some of the most spectacular views anywhere in Zion National Park.  The best part is, the trail is family-friendly, and only one mile round trip.  Along the trail hikers catch views into the snaking narrow slot of Pine Creek.  Cross the narrow bridge suspended on the cliff side and pause in a maidenhair fern covered grotto. The final viewpoint offers majestic panoramas of the Temples and Towers of the Virgin and the historic Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway 1000 feet below. Hikers might even come face to face with bighorn sheep on this outstanding, best bang for your buck trail.  The Canyon Overlook Trail has some minor exposure and the viewpoint only has a partial railing.  Keep a close eye on small children and do not get too close to exposed edges.

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Getting to the Canyon Overlook Trailhead

From the Zion Visitor Center, take the park road 5 miles to the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel.  This incredible feat of modern engineering is 1.1 miles long and opens at the main parking area for the trailhead.  This parking lot is rather small, so continue a short distance up the road to additional parking in designated areas along the road if it is full.  If you are approaching from the east (Mt. Carmel Junction) drive 20 miles west on State Highway 9 to reach the trailhead parking area.  The trail begins near the kiosk at the tunnel entrance/exit on the north side of the road.  Be mindful of traffic when crossing the road.  There is no Zion Canyon Shuttle access to the Canyon Overlook Trail.

History of the Canyon Overlook Trail

The expertly crafted Canyon Overlook Trail was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933 to provide access to the viewpoint above the Great Arch.  From the viewpoint, hikers get a bird’s eye view of the historic Zion-Mt. Carmel highway and tunnel.  Construction crews worked tirelessly from 1927-1930 blasting and sculpting the switchbacks and  tunnel to complete the circuit from Zion to Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon.  The tunnel itself is bored through 1.1 miles of solid rock and is considered among the greatest engineering feats of modern time.  Another historic structure of note is the Pine Creek Bridge 1000 feet below the Canyon Overlook viewpoint.  This bridge showcases the kaleidoscope of colors found in the sandstone throughout Zion National Park.

Zion landscape

3 Best Day Hikes Near the Canyon Overlook Trail

While you are in the area, check out these excellent day hikes near the Canyon Overlook Trail:

Destination Miles Elev Difficulty Style
Clear Creek 0-8 mi Minimal Easy Out and Back
Watchman Overlook  3 mi 500 ft Moderate Out and Back
East Rim Trail  11 mi  2400 ft Strenuous Thru-hike

1. Day Hike Option 1: Clear Creek

Hiking in Clear Creek is more of a choose your own adventure than an official hiking trail.  There are no specific start/end points and hikers can explore as much or as little of this wonderful little drainage and its side canyons as they wish.  Take your pick of the numerous turnouts between the upper end of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel and Checkerboard Mesa, and follow the short social trails into the drainage.  Clear Creek is usually dry and offers tons of interesting little family-friendly exploration options.  Just take note of your entry point so you can easily navigate back out and begin your hike.  Keep an eye on the weather, as Clear Creek can flash flood with relatively little rainfall.

2. Day Hike Option 2: Watchman Overlook Trail

The Watchman Overlook Trail is a hidden gem in Zion National Park.  While most visitors are scrambling to get to the iconic Angel’s Landing and Narrows hikes, the Watchman Overlook Trail is largely overlooked.  If you are looking for a dirt trail and a little peace and quiet, this is your hike.  The trail is 3 miles round trip with about 500 feet of elevation gain and is suitable for almost everyone.  Hikers are quickly swept away into a quiet little side canyon headed by massive cottonwood trees, a trickling spring, and cattails.  Take the loop hike out to incredible views of Observation Point and Angel’s Landing 6 miles to the north.  Don’t forget to turn around and get the best views of the Watchman as he stands silent guard at the mouth of Zion Canyon. Guide’s tip: This trail makes an unforgettable sunrise hike.

3. Day Hike Option 3: East Rim Trail

The East Rim Trail is great as a long day hike option or as a leisurely backpack.  Hikers can start at the Observation Point trailhead and climb over 2000 feet to the top of the plateau or begin at the east entrance to Zion National Park an descend into the canyon.  Either way, you are treated to breathtaking views of Zion Canyon and the other-worldly coliseum of Echo Canyon.  If you choose the backpacking option, be sure to take time to explore the spur trails to Deertrap and Cable Mountains for some seldom visited canyon-edge vistas.  All overnight trips in Zion National Park require a wilderness permit obtained at the Zion Wilderness Desk.  Don’t forget to arrange a shuttle if you are through-hiking this trail.  CLICK HERE for more information on shuttle services in Zion National Park.

Maximize Your Visit to Zion National Park on a Hiking Tour

Guided day hike tours and multi-day packages allow visitors the opportunity to make the most of their time in Zion National Park and to do it hassle-free. Guided tours include gear (backpack, trekking poles, crampons in winter), meals, accommodations on multi-day tours, local transportation, and a professional Utah hiking guide. Through their knowledge, stories, and personal passion, guides can bring a place to life in a way that’s much more difficult to do on your own.


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Hikers on canyon overlook

3 Nearby Backpacking Trips

Zion National Park has some great backpacking opportunities.  Check out these backpacking trips near the Canyon Overlook Trail

Route Miles Elevation Gain/Loss Difficulty
East Rim Trail 11-21 mi +1000 ft, -2400ft Moderately Strenuous
Chinle Trail 15 mi +600 ft Moderate
Zion Traverse 47 mi +4000 ft, -4500 ft Strenuous

1. East Rim Backpacking Trip (2 days)

Hikers can start at the Observation Point trailhead and climb over 2000 feet to the top of the plateau or begin at the east entrance to Zion National Park and descend into the canyon.  Either way, you are treated to breathtaking views of Zion Canyon and the other-worldly coliseum of Echo Canyon.  The trail crosses the sandy sage flats and ponderosa pine forests of the plateau top, then drops sharply into Echo Canyon to join the more popular Observation Point trail. Backpacking the East Rim Trail allows hikers time explore the spur trails to Deertrap and Cable Mountains for some seldom visited canyon-edge vistas. Camping is allowed anywhere on the top of the plateau, but not in Echo Canyon.  All overnight trips in Zion National Park require a wilderness permit obtained at the Zion Wilderness Desk.

2. Chinle Trail Backpacking Trip (2 days)

The Chinle Trail is located in the southwest desert portion of Zion National Park and offers a great backpacking option during the cooler months.  While it may not be the most scenic hike, the Chinle Trail sees very little traffic and is the perfect opportunity to really get away from the crowds of Zion.  The hike crosses several interesting washes, sections of petrified forest, and offers stunning views of the West Temple towering 3000 feet overhead.  Take a little extra time and explore the Upper Coalpits Wash for some seldom seen and beautifully wild scenery.  The hike can be made a loop by arranging a shuttle pick up at the lower end of Coalpits Wash.

3. Zion Traverse Backpacking Trip (3-5 days)

The Zion Traverse is the mother of all backpacking trips in Zion National Park.  This masterfully crafted trek strings together a series of trails from the far northwest corner of the park to the far southeastern edge.  The Zion Traverse is the quintessential way to experience everything Zion National Park has to offer.  Take the spur trail to Kolob Arch, the second largest arch in the world.  Stroll through the quiet, forested plateaus of Zion’s West Rim. If you’ve got time and nerves of steel, take the harrowing side hike out to Angel’s Landing viewpoint.  Finally, take in the rugged beauty of Zion’s East Rim as you conclude your traverse.  Keep in mind that you will need to arrange a shuttle for this incredible thru-hike.

Join a Guided Zion National Park Trip

Joining a backpacking tour near Zion National Park is a worry-free, adventurous way to experience Southern Utah. With your gear, meals, local transportation, permits, and fees taken care of for you, you can travel light and focus 100% on enjoying the hiking experience, while the guide company takes care of everything else. Also, by going with local experts you’ll enjoy a greater level of safety and gain a much better understanding of the history and ecology of this remarkable region. Read more about a guided backpacking trip near Zion National Park.

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Red corridor rocks

When to Hike and Seasonal Considerations

The Canyon Overlook Trail is hikeable year-round.  During the winter months there may be some ice and snow on the trail.  Crampons are particularly useful during this time of year.  This is also a great sunrise hike.  From the Canyon Overlook Viewpoint, hikers and photographers can watch the Temples and Towers of the Virgin glow pink and fiery orange with the rising sun.  It is truly a sublime experience.

Necessary Permits

Day Hike Permits

There are no permits necessary for day hiking the Canyon Overlook Trail.

Backpacking Permits

Permits are required for all overnight trips in Zion National Park.  Hikers can apply for permits 3 months in advance on the 5th of each month.  There is a $5.00 non-refundable fee for an online calendar reservation, and there is an additional charge for a permit that is determined by the size of your group.  About one third of backcountry permits can also be obtained the day before or day of a trip by walk-up only. For more information on Zion National Park’s permit system, click here.

Suggested Packing List

Day Hike Packing List

  • 3-5 liters of water (more in summer)
  • Salty, calorie-rich snacks
  • lunch
  • backpack
  • trekking poles
  • crampons (in winter)
  • wide-brimmed hat
  • sunscreen, sunglasses
  • cotton t-shirt (spring-fall)
  • non-cotton t-shirt (winter)
  • rain jacket
  • warm non-cotton layer
  • 1st-aid kit

Backpacking Packing List

  • all items listed for day hikes PLUS
  • multi-day backpack
  • 3-season tent
  • sleeping bag
  • sleeping pad
  • backpacking stove and fuel
  • backpacking meals
  • 3 pairs wool socks
  • extra t-shirts

Please Respect Our National Parks – Leave No Trace

We strongly recommend abiding by all Leave No Trace ethics guidelines and practices so that our national parks and public lands are preserved for the enjoyment of future generations and for the people and animals who call these places home. Simple things like packing out your trash, obeying national park rules, and respecting the peace and quiet of our national park trails is a great start. If you’re going on a backpacking trip, you can read about more about the 7 Leave No Trace Principles.

About WildlandTrekking

Wildland Trekking, a home-grown USA adventure travel company started in 2005, has become one of the world’s leading trekking companies. Learn about the origins, mission and people of Wildland, America’s #1 source for Unforgettable Hiking Vacations!

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