Upper Pine Creek is the large north-south drainage that crosses under Route 9 roughly .4 miles east of the mouth of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. This wash runs north from the road for over a mile and a half and makes for a great little half-day stroll in some typically beautiful Upper East Canyon scenery. Note that Upper Pine Creek should not be confused with (Middle) Pine Creek, the technical canyoneering route; this hike is a family-friendly stroll.
A hike up Upper Pine Creek and back is moderately strenuous and could take between 2-4 hours at a moderate pace. The first task is to identify the correct drainage and find some parking. Upper Pine Creek is located .4 miles east of the mouth of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel and is the first large open drainage on the left (north) side of the road. There are several roadside parking spots close to Upper Pine Creek, from the always-crowded Canyon Overlook Trail parking lot, the few spots in front of Shelf Canyon, to a few smaller pull-off spots just to the east. Once parked, carefully walk the road and look for a trail of use that will take you down into the canyon.
Once in the drainage, the hiking is fairly easy and the scenery is quite pleasant and family-friendly. Sections of wide sandy streambed are interspersed with sections of interesting slickrock shelves. Note that Upper Pine Creek is more of an open wash than a deep canyon, so don't expect any dramatic slot canyon-type sections. After roughly .7 miles of easy going, you will reach a more congested section of canyon with several large boulders, ending at a tall sandy slope. While it is possible to scramble up the slope to get further up the canyon, it's much easier to backtrack out of the congested boulder section and look for an easier scramble up some slickrock on the west side of the canyon. The scramble is short and is not exposed and it will take you right to a sandy drywash in the upper section of Upper Pine Creek.
The upper section continues the pleasant scenery, but eventually you will reach more overgrown sections that require more difficult scrambling. When the going has lost its charm, it's time to turn around and head back. Note: Be sure to not scramble up anything that is too difficult; over the decades, a few parties have required rescue in Upper Pine Creek because they scrambled up something they could get back down safely.
|"Overlooked Peak" (Class 2-3 Scramble):|
While the stroll through Upper Pine Creek is pretty family-friendly and easy, for those looking to spice it up again with a side trip up and out of the drainage, a scramble up to "Overlooked Peak" is a nice diversion that could take an extra 2-4 hours to complete. WARNING: The route described here is not a technical climb, but this scramble has a fair amount of exposure and should not be attempted by those with a fear of heights or those who have no slickrock scrambling experience; a mistake here could have serious consequences.
As you hiked up Upper Pine Creek, you may have noticed that there are several spots where you can scramble up and out the west side of the canyon to the large slickrock shelf that runs above the wash. One of the easiest spots to climb out is roughly .6 miles up the canyon (or 1/10th of a mile down from the little scramble to the upper section of Upper Pine Creek). Scramble up the slickrock slopes and soon enough, you will be hiking in a sea of beautiful slickrock with Upper Pine Creek beneath you and Deertrap Mountain standing proudly above to the north.
After the initial scramble, hike northwest up into a large slickrock bowl. The going gets steeper here, so work the slopes and crack lines to make easier progress. The crux of the hike is one or two Class 3 scrambling sections which may be a bit intimidating to non-climbers. Soon enough you will be standing on top of the saddle between Spry Canyon on the west and Upper Pine Creek on the east. (This is the approach hike to the Spry Canyon and Lodge Canyon canyoneering routes.) "Overlooked Peak" is the minor mound-shaped peak in the foreground to the south. (The East Temple towers over it from the east.)
To get to the summit of "Overlooked Peak," it is now a matter of following the ridgeline south to the very top. While the uphill is fairly strenuous, there should be no major obstacles along the way. From the top, enjoy the lovely views in every direction, including a unique view of Deertrap Mountain. Return the way you came.
While Upper Pine Creek might not be a stunning destination hike, it is a wonderful diversion if you're looking for a random stroll in a photogenic open wash. The side trip to "Overlooked Peak" is a good sampling of slickrock hiking.