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Hiking East through Zion’s 1920’s Tunnel ~ Day 2

As you continue from Day 1 ~ Hiking the Zion Canyon Scenic Interior, we move east along Highway #9 for Day 2’s hiking adventures.

Slot Canyon views, Petroglyphs and the Belly of the Dragon

While the popularity of Zion National Park is centered in the main canyon along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, East of the 1920's tunnel is some exciting hiking (click any photo to enlarge)we urge you to consider hikes east of the main canyon for additional geologic features and panorama perspectives. The drive along Highway #9 through the 1920’s-built, Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel to the East Gate is both picturesque and wondrously scenic. Every roadside viewpoint delivers grandiose cliff faces and colorful views. Here’s our vetted list of a few easterly hikes (within the Park boundaries and a few beyond that called out to us) we recommend that we completed in a day’s hiking.  

Zion Canyon Overlook Trail

0.8 mi (1.4 km) there and backtrail with a 150 ft (48 m) elevation gain, Easy, 30 min

The Overlook Trail accessed from the east[GG Recommendation: A short, easy hike to see another amazing perspective of the canyon valley. Don’t skip this one!] Immediately past the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel exit is the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail(head). Parking is limited to about 8 spots here, but lots of roadside parking opportunities are available in the next few turns of the road. This short trail features a short, suspended wood/steel walkway navigating past solid rock and a cave-like channel along the underside of a massive outcropping before opening onto a wide rock ledge hundreds of feet above the canyon floor in a canyon 1640 ft (500 m) wide. We recommend this trail early in the day so the east sun plays with the colors on the facing sandstone cliff walls.

Petroglyph Pools to Slot Canyon

1.2 mi (1.9 km) there and back trail with a 200 ft (60 m) elevation gain – Easy to Moderate, 50 min

Petroglyph pools etched in the sandstoneThis trail is not marked but easy to follow. Descend from the road into the wash below and through the tunnel under the road. Within a few hundred feet is a side trail towards the rock wall (on the left) where you will find ancient petroglyphs (estimated 1000 years old) carved into the rock face by ancient Ananzi or Paiute ancestors. Take a moment to step back and admire the texture of the rock face carved by millennia of erosive forces. Follow the trail up the sloping rock valley (to the right) for the Petroglyph pools – carved by water eroding the softer sandstone in circular pools where the current was stronger. Continue as the canyon narrows towards the rock arch into a hidden slot canyon for a cool respite from the heat before returning.

Red Hollow Trail

(Outside Zion, 22 mi east in Orderville)

1 mi (1.6 km) there and back trail with a 160 ft (48 m) elevation gain – Easy, 50 min

Red Hollow slot canyonWe wanted to experience a slot canyon and our timing wouldn’t allow use the great Antelope Canyon - Red Hollow was a closer alternative. This is a very sandy trail and walking takes a little extra effort. Follow the dry riverbed towards the slot canyon entrance, but note this trail is also shared with horse tours so watch where you step. We recommend this trail past midday when the sun lights up the area in amazing red and orange tones. A few small rockfall climbs and this narrow slot canyon delivers somewhat tight corners and a curving swoop of stone artistry typical of sandstone slot canyons. Sadly only a few 100 ft long, we got our taste of slot canyon majesty and will make plans for more in our future travels.   

Belly of the Dragon Trail

(Outside Zion, 14 mi east in Mt. Carmel Junction)

1.8 mi (2.9 km) there and back trail with a 184 ft (56 m) elevation gain – Easy, 15 min+

we were intrigued with the Belly of the DragonWith a name like Belly of the Dragon, we simply had to check it out! A super-popular (especially with families) destination and amazingly, the channel cave feels like it’s described – like you’re walking through the belly of a dragon. After a quick 6 ft drop into the channel, this old drainage pathway stretches maybe 100 ft (30 m) under Highway #89. Water has eroded the sandstone into spine-like formations and the floor has eroded a few feet to make this a real treat to walk through (kids love it). It gets dark in the middle but you quickly emerge the other side. The hike continues 5 minutes in a box canyon and after scrambling up and over the canyon wall, continues another mile or so. There’s nothing scenic to note in the hike, so we recommend you simply take in the Belly of the Dragon.  

Honorable Mention to other east-of-tunnel hiking contenders:

From East of the main canyon, this trail to Observation Point (via East Mesa) or the similar (via Stave Springs Trail) bypasses most of the climb and accesses the observation area from the east. Driving to these trailheads have rough, offroad sections requiring 4WD, so our plan was to use East Zion Adventures Shuttle from the Zion Ponderosa Ranch to the respective trailheads. Sadly, road access to the trailheads was inaccessible this early in the year. Hiking this trail is now moved ahead to our next visit … in a different season.  

  • Observation Point via East Mesa Trail – this was our A1, #1 Zion hike we wanted to experience, but alas conditions were too muddy and the roads to the trailhead impassable for late March. We knew Angels Landing gave spectacular panoramic views of the main canyon but the skill and mettle to summit Angels Landing was not in our cards. Observation Point is 820 ft (250 m) higher than and overlooks Angels Landing - reputed to deliver an even more spectacular visual experience. Historically, Observation Point was accessed from the canyon floor via East Rim and East Mesa Trail – which would have been a challenging climb with 2650 ft (860 m) over 3 mi (5 km) one way. Currently, this route access is indefinitely closed due to the Weeping Trail rockfall of 2019.
  • breathtaking views from the Overlook TrailFrom East of the main canyon, this trail to Observation Point (via East Mesa) or the similar (via Stave Springs Trail) bypasses most of the climb and accesses the observation area from the east. Driving to these trailheads have rough, offroad sections requiring 4WD, so our plan was to use East Zion Adventures Shuttle from the Zion Ponderosa Ranch to the respective trailheads. Sadly, road access to the trailheads was inaccessible this early in the year. Hiking this trail is now moved ahead to our next visit … in a different season.
  • Separation Canyon Trail – a moderate 2.8 mi (4.5 km) loop trail south of Highway #9 into a side canyon through washes and various rock formations.
  • Checkerboard Mesa Canyon Trail – Follow the trail for about 2 mi (3.2 km) along Checkerboard Mesa to the vantage showcasing the hills and valley beyond.

Having added Day 2’s hikes and mesa views east along Highway #9 to the hikes of the main Zion Canyon Scenic Interior, continue your explorations with our hiking recommendations layering on even more grandeur of what Zion National Park has to offer:

Remember to review the 9 tips for exploring Zion National Park that will set you up for success in achieving the best experience while enjoying this century-old, picturesque national treasure.

 

 

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