Observation Point was my very favorite of all the trails I hiked in Zion National
Park this week.
From the Point you have one of the best
views in the whole park -- several
miles of Zion Canyon and the rims on either side of it, and you're even looking down on
iconic Angels Landing, which I marked with a red dot in the photo below:
Impressive view of Zion Canyon
and Angels Landing (red dot) from Observation Point
I'm sorry Jim wasn't able to do it with me but hope he can
manage this relatively difficult eight-mile hike the next time we are here.
While his knee still hurts, he's focusing on cycling, not hiking. But I know he'd enjoy
the awesome views, unique terrain, challenging workout, and lack of crowds on this
The shorter but steeper Hidden Canyon Trail starts from the
Observation Point Trail approximately three-fourths mile above the main
trailhead at the Weeping Rock shuttle stop. I climbed up only about a
third of a mile of it near the end of my Observation Point hike but will
provide some information and pictures of the Hidden Canyon Trail on the last page
of this multi-page entry.
The National Park Service rates both of these trails as "strenuous."
Both are out-and-back and start from the same trailhead at Weeping Rock.
This map section from the
park website shows the proximity of the two trails
to Angels Landing, Riverside Walk, and The Narrows. I marked the Point with a red
I also marked what I hiked today in yellow on the map, including the
lower part of the Hidden Canyon Trail.
Descriptions I've read of the Hidden Canyon Trail, especially beyond
the mouth of the canyon, do sound strenuous because of rough terrain,
bouldering, and steep grades.
However, if you're in good hiking condition the difficulty level of
the Observation Point Trail is more like "moderate" or, at worst,
"moderately strenuous." I've certainly hiked more difficult terrain,
rougher trails, longer distances, and higher elevations that I would
definitely describe as "strenuous." This hike didn't wear me out like
some others have that were of similar or even shorter distances.
This is about as rough as the
trail surface gets -- uneven slickrock in Echo Canyon.
There is a lot of old crumbling
concrete in various places, and roots to step
over up on the plateau. Some
sections are rather smooth sand or rock.
In addition to the distance, what can make the Observation Point
Trail difficult for many people is the 5,296-foot total elevation gain
and loss -- a 2,148-foot elevation gain in four miles,
followed by a 2,148-foot elevation loss in four miles -- at an altitude of
approximately 4,359 to 6,508 feet. For those who aren't acclimated to moderate
altitudes, this trail might not be much fun.
Most of the gain and loss is
in the lower three miles. None of the grades are very steep, just relentless, as
in the first mile and a half with all the long switchbacks that take hikers from
the valley floor to Echo Canyon. There are more switchbacks in the upper canyon.
The next photo illustrates the lower set of switchbacks quite graphically. I took
it looking down from one of the higher switchbacks; you can see
some people on switchbacks above you on the mountainside when you're
ascending but you can't see much of the trail from below -- certainly not
The red dot is the junction with
the Hidden Canyon Trail, which starts out with tighter switchbacks.
The last mile on the cliffside bench and plateau is relatively flat, so you've
got two mostly-flat middle miles out of eight miles total.
Folks who are afraid of heights may freak out in the third and fourth mile where
the narrow trail has been blasted out of the cliffside (next photo) and
is very close to the edge for more than half a mile:
Between a rock and a hard place .
. . narrow trail, long drop.
The drops in some places, like right at
Observation Point, are a couple thousand feet down to the main canyon if
you slip off the side. You can see that in the first photo in this entry.
Acrophobics might enjoy the first two miles of the trail, however,
through the lower switchbacks with great views, the beautiful narrow
slot of Echo Canyon (unless they're also claustrophobic!), and the upper canyon section
before the trail gets close to the edge of the abyss.
As I was ascending the trail this morning I encountered the first
hiker coming back down, a young woman in her 30s, just before I entered the slot canyon in the
second mile. I asked her opinion about the trail, assuming she'd been all the way up to the
No, she said, she "got to the scary part halfway up" and turned
Uh, oh. I wondered what I'd gotten myself into.
She was in enough of a
hurry that I didn't get a chance to ask her specifically what scared her.
She mentioned seeing five bighorn sheep but I don't think they would be a threat or
frighten anyone. To me, it's a real treat to see large wildlife, like the
young ram I photographed this afternoon on the way down the mountain:
Sure-footed ram on very steep slickrock
I caught up to another woman in Echo Canyon who'd also talked to the
intimidated hiker briefly but she didn't know exactly why she'd turned around, either.
When I saw the second woman at the top later on, we talked about how
much we both enjoyed this trail and never found a part scary enough to make us want
to turn around. Neither of us knew for sure what spooked the young hiker
but we assumed it was the beginning of the narrow, "edgy" section of trail in the third mile.
Although I loved the "scary" part of the trail because of the
fabulous views and the adrenaline rush, I'd never want to be on that
section when it is wet, icy, or under any snow. That would be a death
wish. So would lightning or strong winds on such an exposed section:
Observation Point is right under
the red dot, still about a mile away from this vantage point.
In fact, this whole trail is exposed to the elements, so timing is critical.
It's high desert with few trees and virtually no shade or anywhere to
hide in a storm. There were some gusts of wind mid-day today when I was
up on the plateau but fortunately the mountain blocked them when I was
on the narrow cliffside section of the trail.
Even the slot portion of Echo Canyon can be dangerous if the slickrock is wet or
rain at higher elevations causes an unexpected flash flood:
In one place you have to walk in
-- or jump over -- the water in the slot canyon.
It may be dry in the summer months, from what I've
Spring and fall are probably the best times to hike this and most
other trails at Zion, as long as Echo Canyon isn't flooded from rain or
In those seasons temperatures are more moderate, flowers are
Evening primrose at about 6,200 feet elevation
leaves are either coming out or turning pretty colors, and there
aren't as many people on the more remote and difficult trails in the
park like Observation Point.
This and other trails with sections over slickrock would be more dangerous in the winter
months if there is any snow and ice on them. Heck, they're dangerous simply if it just
rained. Even in mid-April I've seen some snow and ice remaining in
shady crevices on various trails.
Summer has its own perils. High desert heat and direct,
burning sun can be an issue, as well as significantly more hikers on the trail.
But on a beautiful spring day like today -- overcast in the
morning, mostly sunny in the afternoon, dry, minimal wind, mid-50s to mid-70s F. --
the conditions were perfect for hiking this trail.
A view from the edge toward
Observation Point (far upper R) and the West Rim
My only regrets are that 1) Jim wasn't there to enjoy it with me and
2) the sky was overcast until I was coming back down. A
blue sky in the morning would have given me better pictures on the
ascent and up at the Point itself.
Photos in this multi-page entry -- I took almost 500 pictures in
8+ miles!! -- are from both the ascent and descent. The sky is white or
gray in the morning shots and blue with pretty white clouds in most of the
GETTING TO THE TRAILHEAD
Easy peasy -- hop on the shuttle bus, ride to stop #7 at
Weeping Rock, walk toward the restrooms, and you'll see the trailhead
for several trails just before this footbridge over a stream:
The short Weeping Rock Trail bears left just past the
bridge. Go straight ahead for the Observation Point,
Hidden Canyon, and East Rim trails, as well as access to several other trails in the
eastern part of the park.
This map section is from an interpretive panel at the
end of the bridge above. I marked the Observation Point Trail and part
of the Hidden Canyon Trail that I hiked in yellow. I added a red dot to
indicate Observation Point:
OK, let's go! I'll break the rest of this entry into sections based on the terrain.
UP, UP, & AWAY: THE LOWER SWITCHBACKS
The first mile and a half (approximately) of the Observation Point
Trail zig-zags up a steep slope on slickrock and concrete between several high, flat-topped peaks
in the White Cliffs Formation.
The first time you're on this trail you can't really tell where
you're going unless you've seen some pictures in other hikers' reviews.
You can't see much of the trail as you're looking up,
although you might see some hikers who are farther ahead and higher up the switchbacks.
Ironically, you can see The Big Picture best from the other side of
Zion Canyon! I marked the slope with a yellow arrow, although the
trail doesn't go straight up like that (!):
I got these two graphic photos (above and below) of the lower part
of the Observation Point Trail two days ago
-- and thousands of feet away -- while hiking the West Rim Trail.
I zoomed in for the next picture and marked it with red
dots to make it easier to see the switchbacks up the mountain:
Thanks to that view -- and reading a couple websites with trail
descriptions -- I had a good idea of what I was in for when I
started this hike. If I had seen it only on a map, I wouldn't have
been as prepared for either the number of switchbacks or how high they would take me
-- approximately 1,000 feet in elevation before reaching Echo
Here are some photos of this section, from both the ascent (overcast
sky) and descent (blue sky). There are great views up, down, and all
around from every level of the switchbacks:
Above and below: just
getting started on the switchbacks in the morning
Trail work is needed in some
sections where the
concrete and/or sandstone has deteriorated.
Building materials were stashed
along the switchbacks in the morning. Later in the
day, several workers were hauling
them up the mountain with these contraptions.
Above and below: afternoon
view down to Weeping Rock (under red dot)
Big Bend in the Virgin River, The
Organ formation in the center, West Rim of Zion Canyon in the
background. No, that isn't snow
but white rock at the top. It's why the White Cliffs are so-named.
Observation Point is in the
distance, above the white cliff. I didn't know for sure that was
my destination until I was on the
way back down and knew what the Point looked like.
Here's the picture of the
switchbacks below me again; red dot = junction with Hidden Canyon Trail.
Observation Point far right, West
Rim in background, The Organ lower left by the river
Angels Landing juts out from the
West Rim and is connected to
These are some of the views you see from the switchbacks as you get close to
the lower part of Echo Canyon on the way
up, or are just coming out of it on the way back down:
I love all the swirly rocks in
Zion NP, and there are quite a few on this trail.
Observation Point is at top of
picture, about 2½ miles away on foot from
Looking downstream (south) in
View of Observation Point before
entering the lower part of Echo Canyon
That's a worthy hike right there, if you don't have a lot of time or
energy to do the whole trail. It's about 1.5 miles to this spot where the trail enters
the lower end of Echo Canyon; that would make about three miles
if you turned around here and went back down to the river.
But there's so much more to see, let's keep going up!
Continued on the next page: tunneling into the sandstone
in Echo Canyon
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup
© 2016 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil