Sunrise at Canyon Overlook

“Got the headlamps?” “Check.” “Coffees?” “Check.” “Puffies and toques?” “Yep.” We were up before the crack of dawn on our last day in Zion, ready for one last taste of adventure before we had to leave her for the climbing Mecca of Red Rocks in the Nevada desert.

Canyon Overlook lies on the east rim of Zion Canyon and is a hike with a little bit of everything. You climb up sandstone mounds, walk along sandstone ledges, travel under overhangs, peer down a deep slot canyon, travel across a catwalk hung over a chasm, walk through sand, and then come out to an absolutely incredible spot. Perched on the white sandstone top of the canyon wall, you look out across the vast expanse of Zion. And at dawn, it is truly majestic.

IMG_1799 2
Walking in by headlamp was a fun experience.
IMG_1791 2.jpg
Daylight was just entering the sky as we left the catwalk. We were almost at the lookout spot.
IMG_1795 2.jpg
Lit up by our headlamps, this was one of the sandstone ledges you hike along to reach the viewpoint.
Dawn creeps into the day in a wash of purples and pinks.

As the sun rose behind us, the darkness gave way to that soft pre-dawn light. The purples and blues and greys were the first colours to come come out to play.

That hesitant moment, just before the sun rises and bathes the landscape in a golden glow is beautiful!
IMG_1839 2.jpg
And then it’s there! The sun pours gold over the west rim of the canyon!
And gradually, the landscape fills with light.


As we explored the slickrock there, climbing up to arches and caves, natural windows and dry waterfall areas, the warm colours came out to play. Across the canyon, the rock faces of the west rim glowed, their oranges and yellows and reds looking like bullion bars, putting on an incredible show.

IMG_1810 2.jpg
There were fun sandstone features to climb and poke about in.
The rounded waves of sandstone, artfully carved out by a millennia of torrential downpours and flash floods, are the ultimate scrambling playground.
IMG_1814 2.jpg
Sometimes, the rock erodes into window features, giving a unique view of the main canyon.

It was all over for us too soon, as we had to head back and pack up before check out time at our hotel.

One last look, and then it was time to scramble up & out.
IMG_1847 2.jpg
The ledges and catwalk on the way out take you past this magnificent slot canyon that has cut like a knife through the soft sandstone rock. The bridge in the distance is just after the road emerges from the long tunnel.

If You Go….

  • This is a very short hike and great to do with young kids because it has a little bit of everything, to keep them engaged. The drop off areas are (for the most part) fenced off, the trail itslef is very clear and easy to follow, and the distance-demands placed on little feet is very minimal. Do it at dawn, and it will become one of those unforgettable, “Remember when we…” kind of family history moments.
  • The trailhead is not signed. Take the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway (tunnel road). It branches off to the right, after the museum, after you have entered the park. Park in the first parking lot immediately to your right as you exit the long tunnel. Cross the road at the crosswalk there and head up the stone steps with the metal railing.
  • Go early, or don’t go at all. Parking at the trailhead is very tight with a mere 10 spots in the first parking area, at the crosswalk. There are another 6 official spots at the next bend in the road, on the opposite side, with room for 11 more on the shoulder areas there. That’s it. Going through the park gates at 6:30am, we got the last parking spot at the trailhead by the crosswalk.
  • IMG_5998When we came out of the hike after sunrise, all the spots were taken, and people were parked along the roadside in every available spot, some with quite a lengthy walk to the trailhead.
  • When you drive out of the parking area, you must turn right, in a direction that takes you away from the park gates. There are safety cones and barricades up, preventing you from turning left. So go right, and take the next available & safe opportunity to do a U-turn. We followed the road for a bit, thinking that there must be a plan of sorts for turning traffic around…. but there isn’t. It’s a pretty drive, though, through the white sandstone of the top layer of rim rock.
  • When we headed back down toward the Springdale entrance of the park, we went, once again, through the long tunnel that was blasted out of the rock in the 1950s. It’s quite a neat experience. Emerging out the other side around 8am, we noticed that the attendant was there at a barricade near the tunnel entrance on the “up” side, already monitoring the flow of cars on the road. I’m not sure if she was there to stop cars at some point to limit the flow, or what, exactly, she was doing… but I figure her presence didn’t bode well for the post 8:30am crowd.
  • Leaving through the park gate at 8:20am, there was a long, double wide line up of cars waiting to enter the park itself … a good half hour wait or more. But when we went through just after 6:30am on our way in, there was no one manning the booth and no line up at all.
  • IMG_1831One last comment about playing up there at the viewpoint: remember that as you climb the rocks there at the canyon’s edge, cryptobiotic soil is exceptionally fragile. Do not step on the soil. Hop from rock to rock. That black microbiotic crust that forms on its surface is very delicate. It takes decades to grow and is essential in the desert environment, helping to hold onto the soil in wind and rain storms, providing essential habitat for microorganisms and plants. One errant step and “poof!” it is gone. Please tread carefully as you explore.

Read More About our Time In Zion

13 Comments on “Sunrise at Canyon Overlook

  1. Pingback: Don’t Do Angel’s Landing! – Trail to Peak: The Adventurous Path

  2. That early light is a favorite for photographers. Some of the snootier ones rarely shoot outside the morning and evening golden/blue hours, and use mid-day for scouting. (I’m either not snooty, or just lazy). I bet it was even more beautiful in person.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Wow, this looks like a stunning hike! I’m getting ready to head out west on May 1, but I’ll be doing the parks peripheral to Four Corners, so to the east of Zion and Grand Canyon. I’ll look forward to following you for more adventures!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Wow, just amazing! One of the first things I thought of looking at these photographs of the early morning sun pouring over the rocks is that the air must have smelled wonderful. I could almost smell it!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: