While there is technically not a “bad” place to hike in Zion National Park, many of the park’s signature hikes present a number of challenges. Angel’s Landing, for example, tests an individual’s fear of heights. The Narrows, as yet another example, tests an individuals willingness to wade in cool to chilling water. Further complicating Zion’s hiking is the fact that as one of the National Park service’s signature - and most popular units, hiking in the main areas of Zion requires additional planning, from parking one’s vehicle outside the park, and riding the shuttle to a number of areas in the valley. While some of these issues can be avoided by going in the off-season, or into other areas of the park, the fact remains that some of the best views in the park can be found outside of the main valley of Zion at the Canyon Overlook with little to no effort.
Directions: The trailhead to the Canyon Overlook can be found immediately next to the east entrance of the Mount Carmel Zion Tunnel, which connects the west side of the park (and the main entrance) to the eastern side of the park by Highway 9. At over a mile in length, the tunnel was the longest of its kind in the United States when it opened in 1930. Today, the tunnel is an excellent tourist attraction in its own right, but during busy times, can also be an area of traffic jams and road delays. It should also be noted that the trailhead parking for the Canyon Overlook is very limited - no more than ten spots. Visitors should be advised that while there are some areas where parking is acceptable along Highway 9, on busy days it is difficult to find a spot for the trailhead.
The trail itself is very well marked and maintained. From the parking area, a set of stairs winds up and above Highway 9, before heading north along Pine Creek Canyon. While a casual hiker may assume that the trail has a great deal of elevation gain from the steps and switchbacks at the beginning, the truth of the matter is that the trail only ascends 163 feet total over a half mile, meaning that it is in fact, mostly flat. Even though the trail is flat, the views from the beginning onward are spectacular. In addition to the views of the signature red rocks of the park, and various geologic features, this trail also provides a little Zion adventure. For a majority of the hike, the trail runs along the edge of Pine Creek, and there is a drop-off to the creek below. While this vertical gain (and drop) does not mirror that of Angel’s Landing, for those who have a fear of heights, the sometimes narrow trail along the edge may be unsettling.
Having noted that, the trail is completely safe, mostly level, and for large swaths, has safety railing installed by the National Park Service. One of the interesting points on the route is a sandstone overhang that hikers walk under with the creek below. Once past this point, the trail has its last bit of elevation gain before ending on a broad plateau. To the North is Zion Canyon, and down below, if one entered from the West, you can see the road you drove up on. To the west is Pine Creek Canyon, which the trail has followed to this point. Unless it is a slow day, chances are that there will be innumerable people also marveling at the view, but due to the sweeping area along the plateau, there are plenty of spots to avoid one’s fellow visitors. When one is done looking at all of the colors in the canyon, the route back is the same for an easy one mile round-trip hike
Tips: Even though this hike is not in Zion Canyon, due to its short nature (and roadside trailhead), it is one of the park’s most popular hikes. Parking can be very difficult, and if this is something one has to do, the best times are either at the very beginning of the day, or the very end to avoid visitors.