It was a little over an hour before sunrise at Zion National Park. With only ten spaces, the tiny parking lot was almost full when we arrived.
As we clambered up the rocks in the dark, we gripped the railings to keep our balance on the narrow ledges. Thank goodness for our headlamps to light the way.
We lost the trail in a few spots; footsteps of other hikers were the only clue on which way to go in the dark.
By the time we reached the viewpoint, a few people had already grabbed their places and were eagerly awaiting the show. Despite the freezing wind on our faces, we found a spot to sit on the rocks and waited for the light to hit the canyon stretched beneath us.
Though we never got the perfect sunrise, as the thick dark clouds quickly took over, it sure was the perfect spot. We’re in love with this view.
In this post, we share all the details you need to find this quick hike to a stunning morning sunrise viewpoint in Zion National Park, Utah.
How to Find the Canyon Overlook Trail
Most of the year a shuttle service is required to access the scenic drive in Zion National Park. However, the only way to access this hike in the park is by private vehicle.
The main parking area for the sunrise hiking trail is immediately on the right, just after exiting the long Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel when traveling east on Hwy 9.
As mentioned, there are only 10 spaces in the main parking lot, including a handicap spot. However, another small lot with about 12 spaces is just a little further down the road on the left.
If you’re coming along Hwy 9 from the west, the second lot is best. The park service blocks off the left turn into the main lot to help with traffic from the tunnel.
Only park in official spots. If you look closely in the photo above, you’ll see a car parked in the white striped area. When we got back from the hike, it had a “Tow” sign on it.
Once you’ve parked, cross the road and look for the Canyon Overlook Trail sign. Be careful when crossing the road, or exiting the tunnel, as the crosswalk is hard to see in the dark.
Hiking the Canyon Overlook Trail
Hiking the 1-mile Canyon Overlook Trail takes about 30 minutes each way. After the initial elevation gain over a few slick-rock slabs and stairs, the trail evens out.
Throughout the trail there are several very steep drop-offs. Most have railings and there’s even a plank board walkway, so nothing to worry about. However, there was one spot about half-way up the trail that required careful footing. It is just after a rock cave.
The park lists the trail as moderate. However, if you can get over the short rock scramble at the very beginning, you’ll likely find the rest of the trail easy.
Enjoy the View of Pine Creek Canyon
Once you reach the top, you’ll know it. Perched over 2,200 feet above the canyon floor, the overlook gives an amazing vantage point over Pine Creek Canyon.
On a clear morning, the sun will illuminate the peak of Bridge Mountain on the left, then slowly creep down the canyon walls. Looking down, you’ll notice Hwy 9 snaking through the canyon.
Actually, the sunrise overlook spot sits right above The Great Arch. On Hwy 9, there’s a large car pull-off area on the corner of the second switchback which gives a good view of the Great Arch.
You may be able to tell from the rain in our last photo the weather was not kind to us at Zion National Park. Our sunrise started out great, with beautiful pink light illuminating the top of the canyon. However, dark clouds quickly surrounded the sun.
Though we were freezing cold, we waited and waited for the light to shine through again. We got lucky with one last quick burst of light about mid-way down the canyon before the sun disappeared for the rest of the day.
Even with the gloomy weather, the Canyon Overlook Trail was our favorite short hike in the park. We will definitely be redoing this sunrise hike next time we are at Zion.
A Few Final Tips
- Visiting for sunrise not only gives you the best view, but it also gives you the best chance of getting a parking space. This hike is very popular. You’ll have to get lucky to get a spot later in the day.
- Apart from the small cavern around the half-way point, there is very little shade from the blistering sun on this trail or at the overlook.
- If you go for sunrise or sunset, bring headlamps. Headlamps are more convenient than trying to use a flashlight or your cellphone when using the railings to get up the rock scramble.
- Obviously, weather is variable depending on the time of year. We went in early October and the top of the lookout was painfully cold because it was very windy.
- Finally, as you wait for the sunrise, don’t be surprised if tiny chipmunks check you out. These little critters are quite brazen. They ran right up to us and even ran across our bags. Though they are cute and they will tell you they’re starving (they’re not, don’t listen), feeding any animal is strictly forbidden in Zion National Park.
Continue with our First Time Visitor’s Guide to Zion National Park.