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Two Short Hikes in Zion: Canyon Overlook & Many Pools


Steve Ancik

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Zion National Park is one of my favorite national parks, and for good reason: there are amazing views, beautiful cliffs and streams, abundant photography opportunities, and wonderful hikes. The park has several well-known popular hikes – The Subway, Zion Narrows, and Angel’s Landing for example – but there are some other shorter or lesser known hikes that are also well worth your while. I have made a couple of short visits as part of my mountain biking and hiking trips over the past two years, and these two hikes stand out as favorites. Both are relatively short and have breathtaking views.

Short Day Hikes in Zion - Canyon Overlook Trail & Many Pools

Looking out from the alcove along the Canyon Overlook Trail in Zion National Park

Canyon Overlook Trail

A very short hike, by most hiker’s standards, Canyon Overlook Trail is just a half-mile long well-maintained route. It is quite popular, so solitude is not usually part of the experience here. The trail starts off with a climb up rock steps leading past a “bonsai” tree and along a cliff edge high above the Pine Creek Slot Canyon. The trail has handrails in places to protect sightseeing tourists from falling to their doom while gazing at the amazing scenery. The main rock that forms the massive cliffs of the park is of early Jurassic age (about 180 million years old) Navajo sandstone, a formation that was laid down in a vast sand dune field covering much of what we now call the Colorado Plateau. The sand is cross-bedded, showing the layers of the dunes as they shifted and blew across the area. With this thick formation now exposed to wind, water, and freeze-thaw cycles, the rock has been eroded into fantastic shapes, exposing the layers and colors.

The Canyon Overlook Trail in Zion View

Along the hike to the canyon overlook there is a section of the trail which passes under an overhanging rock that forms a small cave-like alcove, plus hanging gardens with plants growing on the vertical rock faces and a bridge suspended above the canyon. Arriving at the end, the views open up and you are treated to a view toward the west, where you can see the massive (over 2,000 foot high) orange, pink, and cream-colored cliff walls of the main Zion Canyon. Visible from the overlook are peaks with names such as Bridge Mountain, The West Temple, Towers of the Virgin, Altar of Sacrifice, The Streaked Wall, and The Sentinel. It took my group of four mountain bikers about an hour to complete the hike (on foot) while taking plenty of photos.

Canyon Overlook and Many Pools Day Hikes in Zion

The Canyon Overlook (left) and Many Pools (right) hikes in Zion offer stunning scenery and relatively easy hiking.

Many Pools

Another short, but lesser-known hike on the east side of Zion National Park is along a canyon known unofficially as “Many Pools.” This hike is not along established trails, but instead follows a fairly wide drainage that rises to the north. On my visit, we hiked just under a mile up the canyon and gained about 600 feet of elevation by the upper end. We could have continued further, but we were running out of time for this day. Views from all along this canyon are spectacular in every direction. On the hike, you pass several of the pools or potholes, which are places where the flowing water has eroded the Navajo sandstone and formed low areas where water collects. We saw several of these pools filled with water, and some that were dried up when we were there in May of 2022. There were even a few tadpoles in a couple of the pools.

Many Pool Hike in Zion - Looking Downstream

To the sides of the wash, there are interesting hoodoo formations, as well as areas with several different colors of rock and lots of cross-bedding. Hiking is mostly easy, with only a few areas where you will need to bushwhack through low shrubs and trees and a couple steeper places that are easily climbed over or around. This is an excellent hike in east Zion, and took my group less than two hours to finish. It’s an excellent spot that is less busy than many other trails in Zion, and affords you with stellar views of the eastern part of the park.

Looking South in Many Pools, Canyon View

Looking south from the upper part of the canyon (Many Pools).

Final Thoughts

There are many other hikes in Zion, but these two are fairly easy and show you a good example of the geology and scenery of the eastern part of the park. Utah offers countless hiking opportunities and one can spend many years exploring the various corners of the state. As far as views go, in my opinion, you can’t beat Zion National Park, and the two hikes mentioned here are an excellent introduction to the views and experience the park has to offer.

Need to Know

Information

No permit is required for these hikes. There are certain other hikes in the park which DO require permits. The park has an entry fee of $35 for private vehicles, or you can purchase an annual national park pass for $80. For more hiking and backpacking ideas in Zion, see our TrailFinder Page with links to all of our previous TrailGroove Zion articles and find even more by searching for Zion here.

Getting There

Parking for the Canyon Overlook Trailhead is just east of the eastern end of Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. Parking is limited to two small parking areas and a few roadside spots, but we had to wait only a few minutes (we were there around 8:00 am on May 1st) for a hiker to return from their hike and vacate their parking spot. During busy times of the day, it may be necessary to return several times to get a space.

For Many Pools, parking is at a small parking area less than one mile to the east of the eastern tunnel along Zion-Mount Carmel Highway on the eastern side of the park. There is an outhouse at this parking lot. From the parking lot, walk east along the road (be careful as the shoulders are very narrow) for about 500 feet, then cross to the western side of the road. From there, you will descend into the lower end of Many Pools Canyon. The hike continues to the north up the drainage.

Best Time to Go

For the Canyon Overlook Trail, morning is best for photography, as the view is to the west and the canyon walls will be well-lit during the morning. Sunset may be another good time if clouds are just right, but the canyon will be in shadow then.

Any time of day would be good for photography at Many Pools, as the views from Many Pools Canyon are mainly to the south. The hike would be most interesting after there has been sufficient rain to fill the potholes, but it would be a good hike at any time of the year. In summer, try to avoid the hottest part of the day, as it is quite exposed to the sun.

Maps and Books

The National Geographic Trails Illustrated Zion National Park map is a great general map of the park. Canyon Overlook Trail is shown on the map, but Many Pools is not. Trails Illustrated also offers a Zion Day Hikes map and the Utah Delorme Atlas can be helpful for getting to and from trailheads and exploring the rest of the state. For a guidebook on the area, see Best Easy Day Hikes, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks as well as Hiking Zion and Bryce Canyon.

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