When you’re looking for the best hike in Zion National Park, Angels Landing is often the answer that comes up. And yes, that’s a fantastic hike — but I think that Observation Point is the best hike in Zion. I’ll even go so far as to say that it beats out Angels Landing by a landslide!
Am I saying you should skip Angels Landing? No! If you have two days, do them both. However, if you only have one day in Zion National Park, go for Zion. Here’s why:
- Observation Point is much less crowded than Angels Landing. I’m someone who likes to enjoy the outdoors in relative peace; Observation Point gives you plenty of opportunities to do that.
- It tends to attract more experienced hikers, which means that you stay safer. Angels Landing is so popular that everyone tries to do it — even people who have no idea how to stay safe on that kind of hike! I can’t count the number of people I’ve seen doing incredibly dangerous things right next to those crazy-sheer cliffs.
- The Observation Point Trail hike is longer. I love a hike that takes up a good chunk of the day! It makes me feel so accomplished. Angels Landing is 5.4 miles roundtrip; Observation Point is 8 miles roundtrip.
- The scenery is more varied. As you hike to Observation Point, you get to see all of Zion’s moods and landscapes. It’s so beautiful!
- The views are even better. There’s a new gorgeous view around every turn. I couldn’t stop taking pictures.
Observation Point Trail at a Glance
Distance: 8.0 miles roundtrip
Time: 6 hours, according to the National Park Service. I took about 5:30, with plenty of stops for photos and snacks. There’s lots of climbing; if you’re slower on the uphills, plan for up to 8 hours.
Trail Conditions: Observation Point is well-maintained, with a packed-dirt trail for most of the way. Very easy to follow.
Elevation Change: 2,148 ft. Lots of climbing!
Dangerous Sections: Most of the trail feels very safe and protected. One section runs along a cliff, very high up. It’s exposed and a bit scary if you have a fear of heights. However, the trail is nice and wide, so you can stick right to the cliff if you’re nervous. (see the photo below) I would not do this hike if it’s been snowing; ice would make the climbing and the cliffs really terrifying.
Bathrooms: None one the trail; make sure to go in the parking lot.
Shuttle Stop: Get off at #7 Weeping Rock. In the off-season, you can also drive in and park at the Weeping Rock trailhead.
Where to start: Get on the East Rim Trail/Weeping Rock Trail. When the trail splits, take the East Rim Trail toward Observation Point. Near Echo Canyon, take Observation Point Trail when it branches off. Later, make sure you take the turn toward Observation Point rather than East Mesa Trail. Everything is very well-signed, so you won’t have a problem finding your way!
Things to Bring on a Hike to Observation Point
If you’re an experienced hiker, Observation Point is a breeze. Just load up your daypack with the usual supplies. The one big difference? The weather — I’ve hiked all over the world, and I’ve never seen that many conditions in one day! (See the “what to wear” section below) Prepare accordingly.
Water: Bring a lot, especially in the summer. The heat in Zion National Park can be a killer from June-September. I’m not being facetious — I mean a literal killer.
Snacks: You won’t die if you don’t have any, but it’s nice to have a couple of granola bars to snack on at the top. There’s a lot of climbing.
Sunscreen and a hat: You’ll need them both! If you’re not a hat-wearer, bring sunscreen at the very least.
What to Wear on the Observation Point Hike in Zion
What you wear can make or break your hike to Observation Point in Zion. Why? The weather.
On the hike in these pictures, it was 70 degrees at the bottom of the canyon. It got cooler as we climbed, and by the time we got to the top, a snowstorm was rolling up the canyon. Then, we hiked half of the way down in sleety snow, which turned to rain by the time we got to the bottom. (For reference, this was in April.) Spring is the craziest season in Zion!
Footwear: Running shoes are fine; hiking shoes are good if you need extra ankle stability. The trail is well-maintained, though, and you don’t need to worry much about uneven ground.
Clothing: Bring layers! A waterproof shell is a must, and it’s a good idea to bring a long-sleeve layer for the cooler weather near the top of the canyon. I’ve gone from a tank top to a long-sleeved shirt to a fleece jacket to a rain jacket and gloves and a winter hat — in one hike! Bring more layers than you think you’ll need, especially in the winter and spring.
Hiking to Observation Point in Zion National Park
The beginning of the Observation Point hike is pretty standard for Zion. You’ll do some switchbacks and plenty of climbing as you scale the canyon walls. There are detours to Weeping Rock or Hidden Canyon if you want a bit of an extra challenge. Take it easy on this section; you have lots and lots of climbing left! Also, be sure to look around and take in the view, which will look different every 100 feet.
Once you hit Echo Canyon, things start to get really fun! This canyon is gorgeous, with soaring red-rock walls. You’ll find plenty of shade; take advantage of it in the summer and have a little snack.
If you’re feeling cold or tired, this makes a lovely place to stop. It’s also fun for kids (and kids at heart) — there are lots of fun places to explore throughout the canyon. Continuing on? Just enjoy the views of the canyon. At one point, you hike directly under a wall that arches over your head. This is an awesome place to experience a slot canyon without going to Antelope Canyon or another of Utah’s popular spots. Bonus: no permit needed!
After you leave Echo Canyon, get ready for a big scenery change! The East Rim Trail goes off to the right; you want to take the Observation Point Trail to the left. Suddenly, you’re hiking through white cliffs dotted with scrubby trees. It’s remarkable — a completely different environment from the red stone walls.
Be prepared: here come the switchbacks! They zig-zag up the canyon walls, taking you higher and higher. As you climb, there are some absolutely beautiful places to take photos. You’re pretty far from the main Zion National Park canyon at this point — in the distance, you can see hints of the red rocks. (Don’t worry, you’ll see them again soon.)
The Scariest Section of Zion’s Observation Point Hike
Most of the Observation Point Trail isn’t scary at all. The trails are wide and relatively flat, so you don’t need to worry about scrambling or clinging to chains. (Angels Landing, I’m looking at you!)
There’s one big fat exception: after you climb up the side of the white-rock canyon, the trail rounds a corner. Suddenly, you’re facing a section of exposed trail that runs right along the side of the cliffs. The views are spectacular, but the sheer drop down the side is terrifying.
Don’t worry — the trail is nice and wide, so it’s easy to cling to the cliffs if you’re nervous. I was hiking with a friend who’s pretty new to this kind of hike, so I was more nervous for him than anything else! Here’s the trail (the drop is hiding behind the unexpected snowstorm):
View from Observation Point – The Best Hike in Zion National Park
Once you get over the cliff falling away to your left, it’s easy to appreciate the stunning views as you approach Observation Point. Scroll back up to the top of this post — that’s what the view looks like from the cliff! So beautiful.
Once you get off of the cliff, it’s all smooth sailing. The trail is wide and made of packed red dirt. At this point, it’s a quick walk to Observation Point itself; you can also walk to other viewpoints on the top.
Here’s the view from Observation Point in Zion — look out for the hikers on Angels Point! (That’s the fin of rock on the right side of the canyon closest to the camera.)
This right here is why I think Observation Point is the best hike in Zion National Park. You get to see Angels Landing, and you also get to feel a little bit superior, since you hiked farther and harder to get there. 🙂
In the distance, you can see the snowstorm starting to roll in. We spent so much time hanging out on the top of Observation Point that the storm overtook us. Before we left, the view had changed to this:
The way back down from Observation Point to the bottom of the canyon in Zion National Park is pretty straightforward. There’s lots of descending, which can be rough on your knees. If you’re a fan of hiking poles — or if you have knee problems — this is a good time to bust them out.
And that, my friends, is why Observation Point Trail is THE best hike in Zion National Park!