Day 3: Observation Point, Zion Canyon
*We have added Observation Point to BecauseItzThere’s list of Great Hikes in The US and Canada. It’s hard to believe a hike could get much better…yet the almost universal consensus is that this hike ranks below Angels Landing and The Narrows, both of which are Bucketlist Hikes. Need any more reasons to visit Zion? 🙂
Back in Zion and ready for another day of hiking. We’d been thwarted by Angel’s Landing, but we weren’t about to be thwarted again.
The hike we chose for this day was the eight-mile out and back trip to Observation Point, a rather unimpressive name for such a staggering viewpoint perched at the canyon’s upper edge. (It’s an Observation Point in the same way that Niagra Falls is a stretch of whitewater.) Perhaps equally staggering is the terrain you have to cross to get to it. Only in a place like Zion could this glorious trail be no better than the THIRD best in the park. It’s just one of the reasons we think so highly of Zion.
Observation Point is accessed via the Weeping Rock trail head. Some may say that this is named for a nearby rock formation that drips constantly (and reminded me just a bit of a place called Alum Cave in another national park.) I am however of the opinion that the weeping is a reference to any unlucky motorist who arrives late to this trail and finds the parking lot full, and is then forced to park out along the road…as many a sorrowful tourist did this day.
At any rate the lower sections of this trail are, like Angel’s Landing, basically a paved walkway, but quickly give way to a steeply pitched rock/gravel trail that was literally blasted from a vertical rock face. Though the footing is quite good through these sections the grade is very steep and many less fit hikers will struggle here. This would be a ill-advised hike to attempt mid-day during high summer, as there is little shade until the trail turns into the slot canyons higher up. Remember…only donkeys and gringos go walking at noon.
At the top of several long switchbacks the trail breaks right into a slot canyon that gets narrower.
…and narrower, until the walls seem to be closing in on all sides. You have reached the place known as Echo Canyon. But we didn’t notice many echoes in here. In fact, the place is, like many slot canyons…eerily quiet.
Along some of these sections are drops down into deep chasms that could only be reached by means of HUNDREDS of yards of rope. If you chanced to fall into one of them, it might well become your tomb.
Echo Canyon (unlike The Narrows) is fairly dry, but this still would NOT be a safe place to get caught in a flash flood. If storms beckon, don’t do this trail. These canyons were formed by the power of water, and that power is still very much at work here today.
Exiting Echo Canyon the trail ascends up and onto the cap of rock that forms the roof of Zion, offering some impressive views as it goes. This section is much less steep. It passes a junction with the East Rim Trail that heads out toward the boundary of the park. Some people were back country camped near the junction when we passed through.
After the junction there is another steep set of switchbacks before the trail breaks out onto the partly wooded/part scrub uplands of Zion. Here it meanders across a level grade out onto the brow of a huge, frowning rock prominence.
A large slab affords a sweeping view of the valley below, with the impressive walls of the White Cliffs directly in front of you and Angel’s Landing just across the way. Welcome to Observation (exclamation) Point!
This is a place to sit, have a break, relax and take in the views. And take a lot of pictures.
After resting here for a while, the tired hiker eventually must retrace their steps. It’s a knee pounding four miles back to the valley.
Sylvia and I greatly enjoyed this hike…in fact, it’s one of my all-time favorites in the Southwest, taking you through wonderful slot canyons en-route to a singularly staggering viewpoint. In many other parks, this would be THE signature hike. It’s very well worth doing. If you enjoy it, there’s also a side trail halfway up to Hidden Canyon…we could look down into this canyon from Observation Point. It looks interesting, but my recommendation is, give yourself another day to explore that canyon. I had to talk an enthusiastic Sylvia out of doing it this day.
Observation Point also quite challenging. Note that while it is not as precarious as Angel’s Landing, Observation Point is in some ways harder. It is MUCH higher up than Angels Landing (2100 feet elevation gain over four hard miles) and the steep sections of this trail go on for much longer. Many hikers will doubtless find the shorter but more difficult scrambles on Angel’s Landing to be more to their liking.
Observation Point is a rewarding, but physically demanding, hike that requires a significant investments in effort and time…allow a good six hours for this, more on a warm day. In fact, if it’s hot, or if thunderstorms threaten, I would NOT do this trail at all. The interior sections could be dangerous if flash floods occur and the exterior sections are exposed to the sun. My recommendation is do the ascent early and do the entire trail in fall or spring if you can. And bring plenty of water…you may find some en-route, but it will have to be filtered.
Our observation is…make it a point to do this hike. I doubt any hiker will be disappointed.
OH…and by the way…as a postscript…guess what we saw on a well-timed evening drive that night!
Desert Bighorn Sheep!!! 😊
Next…Canyon at the Edge of a Neon City