It’s my second visit to Zion National Park: I have a day here, after enjoying the jaw-dropping scenery at Bryce Canyon. Leaving Bryce in the late afternoon, I’ve got just enough time for the short hike to the Zion Canyon Overlook on the way to Springdale, where I’m staying overnight. I’ve got an early start on the following day for the West Rim walk.
Coming from the east, I need to cross the national park via the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. Completed in 1930, it’s an impressive ten-mile stretch of road as it winds past and through rock formation in the park. Near the middle are two tunnels carved through the rock. The second one is 1.1 miles long, with a number of windows along it’s length providing a glimpse of the valley below. Just before the second tunnel is a steep track down from the carpark into Pine Creek, a narrow slot canyon. I explore the first hundred metres or so, before there’s a steep drop. This is the first of six rappels in a strenuous but fairly short canyoneering route.
On the opposite of the road to Pine Creek is the start of the Zion Canyon Overlook trail. The trail heads up a series of stone stairs, rising quickly above the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway and the start of the second and longest tunnel.
The trail then follows the upper walls of the Pine Creek Canyon, at times passing some overhangs.
As the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail progresses, you can see down into Pine Creek canyon – far below I can see the small group of canyoners that I’d met half an hour earlier commencing their descent into the canyon.
A bit further on there’s a large overhang that could almost be described as a cave. Directly opposite is the East Temple, rising above Pine Creek.
A few hundred metres past this overhang is the lookout or overlook. High above the lower Zion Canyon, there’s an impressive view of the Streaked Wall, and the Beehives at the far end of the valley. You can see the switchbacks of the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway below the west end of the Mount Carmel Tunnel. Directly below the overlook is the Great Arch which is recessed into the cliff underneath us.
After enjoying the view from end of the Canyon Overlook Trail, the sky starts to look threatening and I make a hasty retreat… it’s a fairly quick return back to the car, and there’s only a few drops of rain despite the dark sky. After driving through the Mount Carmel Tunnel, there’s a great view back from the side of the road of the Great Arch. Directly above the Great Arch is the Overlook.
It’s a scenic drive through a set of switch-backs, as the road descends steeply down to the Virgin River at the bottom of the canyon.
I make one last stop when I reach the parking area along the Virgin River, and go for a short walk down to the river.
Munching on the lush vegetation bordering the river is a deer, who lets me get fairly close before taking off.
The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive follows the Virgin River upstream to Zion Lodge to where it ends at the Temple of Sinawava, providing access to most of the popular walks. Between March and October it’s closes to public cars (unless you’re staying at Zion Lodge) and is serviced by a shuttle. I’m staying just outside the park in Springdale, so I continue for another couple of miles down the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway.
Accommodation near Zion National Park
The Zion National Park Lodge is the only accommodation inside the national park, and is hands-down the best place to stay – if you can get a booking! (If you’re staying at the lodge, you can drive into the park and up to the Lodge year-round.) If there’s no availability, the town of Springdale is just outside the park, and has a range of options from camping to upmarket hotels. A free Springdale Shuttle stops at nine locations in town and picks up and drops off visitors at the park’s pedestrian/bike entrance.
Getting around Zion National Park
The Canyon Overlook Trail is one of the few hiking trails you can drive to and park all year round. For all the trails along the Scenic Drive, you’ll need to take a (free) shuttle between March and October when cars are not allowed to enter the park.
More information on Zion Canyon Overlook
- NPS – Zion Trail Descriptions (includes Zion Canyon Overlook and other short trails)
- Erik Molvar & Tamara Martin, “Hiking Zion and Bryce Canyon” – Purchase AU / US
- Zion Guru – hiking shuttles