If you're something in between a hiker and a technical rock climber, a person who prefers Class 3-5.2 or so without using rope, Zion National Park can leave you feeling a little left out when it comes to experiencing the high country.
But it doesn't have to be this way. On the east side of the park especially, where the road passes through a wonderland of mostly unnamed sandstone buttes and ridges, all it takes is a little imagination and sense of adventure to enjoy some very satisfying outings. This page describes one such outing that is very easy to describe and find. And although it is a short route, it is very physically taxing for its length, and it is not for the casual hiker who wants to see a little more.
Let me be clear: this is not
a route to the summit of the East Temple, though technical climbers wishing to climb the East Temple might use this route for an approach. It is a hiking and scrambling route that gets one far above a pretty but very crowded hiking destination, leading all the way to the base
of the East Temple and yielding spectacular views to the north that will never be seen or imagined from the trail below. The East Temple itself is a technical summit (from this side at least and, as a look at a map will suggest, from all sides), and the view of it from the end of this route will dispel any silly notions you might have had of free soloing it (yes, I had some of my own once).
Start from the trailhead for the Canyon Overlook. The trailhead is on the north side of the road, just beyond the eastern end of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. There are two parking areas, one on the north side of the road and the other on the south side, and each requires a short walk (about a minute) to the actual trailhead.
It costs $25 for a weeklong pass to enter the park. Annual and interagency passes (the latter are good for a year for admission to all federal recreation areas) cost more but are a bargain for those who visit this park or others several times a year.
If you are in an RV, are pulling a trailer, or have a double-wheel truck, you must pay an extra fee of $15 to pass through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, which is too narrow to allow oversize vehicles to stay in their lanes. Therefore, drivers of such vehicles must arrange for one-way passage while vehicles on the other side wait. The tunnel is closed to these vehicles before 8 A.M.; the latest time in the evening they may pass through varies by season, and drivers should check the park’s website for more information.
The East Temple gets closer... Views you won't see from below... ...and closer... ...and closer.
The hike to the Canyon Overlook is 0.45 mi and climbs 164' (both GPS measurements). The trail has long dropoffs in places, but there is a railing in those spots (this is a very popular trail because of its easy access and short length and low difficulty level, and many of the hikers are children and inexperienced adults). The scenic highlight along the way may be the slot of Pine Creek Canyon below. From the overlook, which provides a fine view to the east of notable summits such as Bridge Mountain and the West Temple, gaze northeast to the towering hulk of the East Temple. You will be heading for its southeast buttress.
You can create your own route to get up there. I took a mostly straight-up approach to the ridgeline on the right (running directly to the buttress), which had several interesting outcrops I wanted to see, and contoured or climbed (some Class 3 and 4) in places where the slickrock became too steep for regular hiking (my descent was more straightforward and was all hiking, but it was very steep and hard on the knees). I ended up on a small pinnacle at 6117' that provided a spectacular view north across upper Pine Creek Canyon toward Deertrap Mountain and other formations whose names weren't marked on my topo map. The East Temple, due to its size and proximity, dominates the view from start to end, but don't let it keep you from enjoying the rest of the excellent scenery on display in all directions.
From my perch, the East Temple was less than a mile away but still 1600' above me. From the pinnacle, it is possible to get a little closer and about 300' higher before the going becomes truly technical.
The distance from the Canyon Overlook to the Pinnacle was 0.4 mi and involved a climb of 830'. A quick estimate will tell you that is a grade of almost 1700' per mile, underscoring that this is no route for casual hikers.
The total one-way distance was 0.85 mi, with a climb of 964', with almost all of the climbing occurring along the second half of the route.
This route itself probably won't appeal much to experienced "Zioneers," who know all sorts of great, little-known objectives, but it should work very nicely to others looking for a taste of Zion's high country away from the crowds. This route can also be used to access areas to the north.
It is best to do this route early in the morning to avoid crowds on the trail and delays related to tunnel traffic and to avoid summer heat.
Good hiking boots or shoes are all that is really necessary, but having a pair of rock shoes as well could open up some extra fun on some of the outcrops and slickrock slopes.