“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.
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.
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.
It was all over for us too soon, as we had to head back and pack up before check out time at our hotel.
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.
When 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.
One 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.
Trekking up a mountain’s shoulder, hiking through a flowering alpine meadow, snowshoeing through a dense pine forest, or taking in the 360 degree views from a ridge top vantage point make me feel alive. The experiences in these places give me a profound sense of space and place.
Travel does a similar thing, pushing me out of my comfort zone, exposing me to new experiences, new people and new ways of thinking; it also gives me that sense of space and place in this world.
I believe that life is lived in the contrasts: when you experience simplicity and complexity and life's ups and downs, whether they be physically in this world or mentally in your own personal inner landscape, you know that you are truly living.
The bigger they are, the more there is to explore!