As rewarding as I find planning vacation details, we often discover that the most amazing experiences are unplanned. Guest writer, Mariel Antonio, has an beautiful story to share about ditching their original Zion hike plan, skipping the lines of a more popular hike, and their adventure on the less-explored stunning trail: the Zion Observation Point Trail. Ladona
Why You Should Change Your Zion Plans to Include Observation Point Trail
Have you spent countless hours researching, pinning, and planning your next Zion National Park tour to make sure you cover the best hikes in Zion? Plotting which days and what times you will do each hike, and making sure you are visiting all of the most sought-after trails?
What happens when your plans take a route of their own, dismantling all that you had prepared for? The answer: pure national park magic and venturing on one of the best hiking trails in Zion National Park.
My husband and I journeyed to Zion a couple of years ago during Memorial Day, a peak tourist time. We only had two and a half days there, so I had planned every trail excursion down by the day and time. The first morning would be wading in water through The Narrows, and the second would be shimmying on the popular Angel’s Landing chained path.
When we arrived at Zion and spoke to some other fellow travelers, we found that Angel’s Landing hike had waits of up to 1-2 hours, even when you left on the earliest bus in the morning. If you ventured on the hike at any other time during the day, the wait could even be up to 3 hours!
This is not how we envisioned our Zion experience. As much as we had wanted to climb the dare-devils’ Angel’s Landing, we knew long wait times and shuffling along in a line would take away the authenticity and enjoyment of what a national park visit is supposed to bring.
Rather than feeling like we were waiting for an ultra-popular Disney park ride, we changed our plans. We decided to try the Zion Observation Point Trail instead.
Why You Should Hike Observation Point Trail
The Observation Point Trail leads you to the top of Mount Baldy, rising at a whopping 6,521 feet high with the most iconic views of the park. The hike involves a 2,300 feet elevation gain of challenging switchbacks that lead you to the Zion heavens.
Know Before You Go
- Trailhead: Weeping Rock Trailhead (the 7th stop for the Zion Canyon Shuttle)
- Difficulty: Strenuous
- Time Required: 4-6 hours
- Mileage: 8 miles roundtrip (4 miles to the Observation Point)
- Elevation Gain: 2,300 feet
- Time of Day: Morning is the most optimal time to go as there is not a lot of shade on this trail
- Seasons: Year-round, although Spring and Fall are considered best since the temperatures are cooler
- Note: The Observation Point Trail is currently closed due to recent rockfall. Check status updates and other trail closure information on the Zion National Park website.
No Wait Lines to Hike Observation Point Trail
One of the major benefits of the Observation Trail is that there are no wait lines, even during the park’s busiest times of the year.
We took the earliest bus available in Zion, which I recommend for any hike in the park requiring 4 hours or more. You will have a more genuine experience and unobstructed views of the park by getting started as early as possible.
After exiting stop #7 on the Zion shuttle, we started on the trailhead with no stand-bys, only a few other fellow hikers. The first half of climbing switchbacks happens right away, gaining immediate elevation. This part of the hike was the least exciting, but know there are wonders to come.
Hidden Canyon Note: About ¾ of a mile up the first half of the switchbacks, you have the option to turn right and take the Hidden Canyon Trail. This trip will add about 2-3 miles of hiking to your overall trip, taking about 1-2 hours, including some exposed ledge hiking with chain support and a walk through the Hidden Canyon. We opted out of this detour.
Observation Point’s Echo Canyon Haven
Once past the Hidden Canyon trailhead option, the quick ascent continues and then the trail levels out into Echo Canyon, one of the most magnificent parts of the hike.
This striking narrow canyon sits 1,100 feet above the valley floor, boasting unique geological features and cooler temperatures for you to enjoy between the switchback sets. You will be able to take a glimpse into the dark slot canyon sections and hike through a jagged tunnel.
Echo Canyon Option: Hiking to Echo Canyon is an alternative option to hiking all the way up to the Observation Point. If you are questioning if you want to go all the way to the top, this is an optimal arrival and turn back point in the trail.
About a mile into Echo Canyon, you will meet the East Rim Trail conjunction breaking off towards the right. East Rim Trail is more difficult and leads out into the Eastern part of the park, deserving a full-day of its own.
Zion White Cliff Formations
Continue on the Observation Point Trail. You will begin to switchback up the mountain again on a more narrow and exposed path. The topography and landscape in this part of the hike are different from the first half, turning from reds, browns, and oranges to white sandstone as you zigzag your way through the exquisite upper White Cliff formations.
Take your time at this part. As you ascend higher, the views of the park get more spectacular. There is also some beautiful vegetation in this part of the climb, we were able to see desert roses in bloom during the spring.
Right when you are questioning if these switchbacks will ever end, the trail levels out for the last mile. Soak in all of the views during this last mile – you have earned it! You will head to the left to reach the Observation Point, passing the East Mesa Trail which is a less popular way to get there.
Observation Point View: Definitely One of the Best Hikes in Zion
You have arrived! Here the entire park extends out into an endless vista, where you can see the Virgin River and the Floor of the Valley Road weaving their way through the canyon. You can even look down at Angel’s Landing! Drink some water and enjoy lunch at the top of Zion.
After resting your legs, breathing in the air, and taking the most incredible pictures of the park, head back down the trail the way you came. It will be undemanding, but take it slow as the rock paths can be hard on your knees.
Zion National Park Trail Preparedness
We would recommend bringing the following items on your trip, and also for general safety awareness:
- Water & Lunch – Bring plenty of water to ensure you stay hydrated during this hike. Would also recommend bringing snacks or lunch to enjoy when you reach Observation Point.
- Hiking Shoes – Wear hiking shoes that offer traction and ankle support.
Sunscreen – Apply sunscreen before the hike, there is very little shade on this trail.
- Hiking Poles – If you have any knee sensitivity, would recommend bringing hiking poles or one pole for the hike back down the mountain.
- Weather – Stay informed on the weather conditions in Zion. During summer months the temperatures can climb up over the 100-degree mark.
- Safety – There are many native creatures that dwell in the park, including rattlesnakes, scorpions, and tarantulas. Be aware of your surroundings and do not touch or overturn rocks, boulders or venture off the paths.
Put Observation Point Trail on Your “Must See” List
There are times when you must be flexible with your plans during a national park trip, and this was one of those times for my husband and me.
As much as I wanted to dig my heels in and stick to the plan, this was divine park intervention. It led us to a trial that I would say MUST go on your “Must See List”. Even over more popular Zion trails that make all of the headlines.
Between unobstructed views, no wait lines, Echo Canyon, White Cliff formations and the ultimate panorama – Observation Point Trail is a path that will forever embody the spirit of Zion.
Mariel Antonio is a freelance writer for hire focused on physical, mental and spiritual health. Mariel believes every walk in nature is essential to well-being and is thankful for the national parks’ conservation. Please contact her for writing services