Utah Trails
East Temple Saddle
Length: 2.3 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: Strenuous
Trail Map: Zion National ParkTrails Illustrated - Buy

Description: The Saddle route is an off-the-beaten-path in the most literal sense of the phrase. Visitors follow the Canyon Overlook Trail all the way to the vista itself, and then leave the pleasant path for a gravity-defying climb up the side of East Temple’s southeast hump, otherwise known as the Saddle. As it ascends the saddle of the titanic East Temple—leaving the tiny Canyon Overlook far below it—there are numerous occasions where there is no definitive path. “Up” or “down” is about all a visitor can expect in the way of directions along some portions of this hike. A steep ascent of the Saddle is only the first part of this route, after which hikers climb down the backside of the Saddle, cross Shelf Canyon, drop into Upper Pine Creek, and then find their way back to the parking lot. Despite its short distance, this hike can easily take upwards of four hours to complete.

Ascending the Saddle itself can be tricky, as there are few, faint paths to be found up the solid sandstone. A couple of cairns mark some of the safe routes. A rule of thumb is to stay as far to the east as possible, because the south face of East Temple is too sheer to climb. Once atop the Saddle, visitors will have to scramble down the backside, finding their way to the edge of Shelf Canyon below. Again there is little in the way of an actual trail, and one must spy the easiest, safest way down the slickrock. Shelf Canyon can be crossed if hikers follow it back to its beginnings, only a little way to the north. When Shelf Canyon is crossed successfully at its head, visitors will find themselves staring into Upper Pine Creek, which must be skirted until a path down into the canyon is found. After that, it is a simple matter to stroll down the canyon as far as Highway 9, and then follow it back down the hill to the parking lot.

For those visitors with plenty of bouldering and slickrock experience, this route will provide hours of challenging fun. Those without any experience with slickrock ascents and trail-finding should not attempt this trek.

Canyon Overlook Parking Lot
The trailhead begins here across the street from the parking lot. This is also the site of the east entrance of the Mount Carmel Tunnel, as well as the beginning point for those interested in descending the technical slot canyon of Pine Creek.

Canyon Overlook
The overlook itself is fairly easy to get to, and even most kids will find the trek to the Overlook more exciting than strenuous. Great Arch sits recessed into the cliff face below the Overlook, and the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway switchbacks zigzag down towards the Floor of the Canyon Road below. Looking to the north of the Overlook, visitors can begin to see the upward route that needs to be conquered in order to reach the Saddle almost 1,000 feet above.

East Temple Saddle
East Temple towers above Pine Creek and the Overlook, standing as a sentinel to the entrance of Zion Canyon and all of the treasured formations within. The Saddle sits 1,700 feet lower than the summit, but is still perched nearly 1,000 feet higher than the parking lot, and more than 2,000 feet higher than the floor of Zion Canyon.

Upper Pine Creek
The last leg of the hike, Upper Pine Creek is a pretty, mild adventure compared to the technical slot canyon that it will turn into at the Pine Creek Gorge.

Gifford Canyon and Pine Creek Confluence
At this point hikers leave the Pine Creek Canyon and take the highway back to the parking lot, which is a gently descending third of a mile west from here.