Wednesday, September 25, 2013

See Zion Canyon’s famous sites from vista

Zio Canyon from vista point on Canyon Overlook Trail.
Photo courtesy NPS.
Topo map for Canyon Overlook Trail.
Families can hike past hoodoos to a vista that affords a fantastic view of Zion National Park’s famous Beehives, East Temple, the Streaked Wall, and the Towers of the Virgin, on the Canyon Overlook Trail.

The 1-mile round trip hike is excellent any summer day, but temps are cooler in the morning and late evening. The trailhead is along the park’s major highway, Utah Hwy. 9 (aka Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway or S.R. 9) on the east side of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel near the ranger booth. A parking lot sits on the opposite side of the road from the trailhead; overflow lots are a little farther east down the road.

An easy trail for adults, its 163-feet elevation gain makes this moderately difficult for young children. Most of the trail consists of sandstone with a few sections of packed dirt.

From the parking lot, use the crosswalk over Utah Hwy. 9. The trail begins with steps carved into sandstone, taking hikers above the tunnel.

Below the trail to the north is Pine Creek Canyon. The waterway through a narrow slot canyon is popular among canyoneers. If you hear a scream from below, it’s probably a canyoneer stepping into the ice cold creek, which can stretch from wall to wall.

Most of the trail is exposed, so you’ll definitely want to slather on sunscreen and wear a sun hat. About a quarter mile from the steps, shady overhang with green maidenhair fern offers some relief. Water seepage through the sandstone allows the ferns and other plants at the alcove to flourish.

From the alcove, the trail gains in elevation as it passes slickrock hoodoos. These pinnacles of rock formed because erosion-resistant hard rock rests on top of softer sandstone, which wind and rain cut and carve.

The trail next comes close to the cliff edge, so make sure children remain away from the railing. Immediately after a rain, the trial can be wet and slippery, making this is particularly dangerous spot.

A half-mile from the trailhead, you’ll reach a vista that overlooks lower Zion Canyon. Among the famous sites, from east/right to west/left, are:
g Beehive – Look straight ahead at the large crown of white, rounded tuft that appears like its namesake.
g East Temple – The pine-covered peak above the beehives tops out at 7709 feet, almost a half-mile above you.
g Switchbacks – Hwy. 9 winds down the cliffside into lower Zion Canyon.
g The Sentinel – To the northwest is this monolith that appears to guard over the canyon from its far side.
g Streaked Wall – Left of the Sentinel is a massive sandstone striped in red and white.
g Altar of Sacrifice – Directly west of the vista and south of the Sentinel is a red-streaked formation; the red is caused by water leeching iron oxide out of the rock.
g Sundial – South of the Altar is a formation that looks much look a horizontal sundial.
g West Temple – South of the Sundial is a monolith whose rocks began to form in the Middle Jurassic. The Altar of Sacrifice, Sundial and West Temple, are collectively known as the Towers of the Virgin.
g Bridge Mountain – South of the vista point on the other side of the tunnel is a peak topping out at 6,180 feet and that boasts two freestanding arches.

If looking at a topo map of the trail, you may wonder where the Great Arch is located. You’re actually standing atop it. For many years, the footpath was known as the Great Arch Trail. Civilian Conservation Corps in 1993 constructed the current trail.

If raining, do not walk this trail, as the wet rock is too slick. Also avoid it if there is lightning.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.