Hiking in Zion National Park – Canyon Overlook and Emerald Pools

In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks. –John Muir

Zion National Park was the capstone park in our adventure out west. We chose where we’d stay based on proximity. It was the only park we visited twice. It was also the first hike in the mountains we’d take our kids on.

It didn’t let us down.

Canyon Overlook Trail
The drive up was almost as much fun for the kids as the hike itself. Zion is on a shuttle system, which means no cars on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive past the Pa’ Rus Trailhead.

To get up to Canyon Overlook, we took the Zion – Mt. Carmel Highway. The kids loved the switchbacks hundreds of feet above the canyon floor with no guardrails and seeing falcons catching thermals below our car. On the way up, we noticed arches cut into the cliff face that looked like the end of roads to nowhere, which we discovered were actually meant as “windows” inside the mile-long, one-way tunnel that cuts through the mountain.

Here’s where we got lost – the trailhead for Canyon Overlook is on the left as soon as you exit the tunnel. With all the cars lined up, we missed it and drove all the way to the exit of the park. But along the way we saw a mountain goat and lots of incredible formations. Up in the high country, it’s as if liquid rock flowed around the landscape and then froze in time. Sometimes, the best thing you can do when you’re in beautiful country like this is to get lost.

Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

At the trailhead, all were eager to break in hiking shoes and water bottles. The kids, as usual, were on the hunt for a perfect place to stop for snacks. We found one shortly after we started. A rock overhang shades a large area to the right of the trail, and we grabbed a few bites to eat. The kids loved climbing on a natural shelf under the overhang, and they probably would have been content to stay.

Canyon Overlook Trail - Zion National Park

Instead, we soldiered past some great views overlooking Pine Creek. About halfway up the trail, there’s another natural overhang with moss growing under it that’s a nice shade spot. Just before this is a narrow bridge going over a sizable drop. If you don’t like heights or have kids that have a hard time being careful, you might want to skip this trail. There are railings anywhere there’s an edge, but little kids could probably slip and scoot right underneath the rail.

Canyon Overlook Trail - Zion National Park

The view at the end of the trail is absolutely worth the effort. The viewpoint looks out over East Temple and Bridge Mountain, and is one of the easier places in the park to see the canyon from a completely different perspective.

Canyon Overlook Trail - Zion National Park

Emerald Pools
After our short warm up hike, we grabbed the shuttle bus from the Visitor Center (don’t even think about trying to find parking during late morning or early afternoon) and took a ride through the canyon, all the way out to the Temple of Sinawava. The narrow windows on the busses make it tough to see the towering cliffs properly, but step outside and it’s breathtaking in any direction.

To hike Emerald Pools, get off at Zion Lodge and head across the street. The trail up is fairly easy with some gentle up and downs. There were lots of lizards, beetles, and even a toad along the path that our kids had a blast trying to spot.

This was also where we noticed, for the first of many times, how many foreigners and different languages we heard while out and about in the parks. At one point, Sandi commented, “Europeans smell nice,” which I heard as “Your penis smells nice,” and I just about stepped off the trail laughing. The kids thought it was hilarious too, and I’m sure everyone around us thought we were nuts.

Lower Emerald Pool wasn’t that impressive in July when we were there, but during the spring months when the water is up and the waterfall tumbling over the cliffs overhead, you might feel differently. We hiked just past Lower Emerald Pool and then turned around since our 5-year old had reached her maximum hiking distance with the two trails we tackled.