|Great White Throne, Angels Landing, and Zion Canyon from Observation Point|
8 miles round trip, 2100 feet elevation gain
Access: Zion National Park entrance fee required, Zion Canyon shuttle to trailhead
Observation Point is aptly named: the promontory juts over 2000 feet above the floor of Utah's Zion Canyon, delivering a bird's eye view of the many great cliffs of this sandstone cathedral. Observation Point is one of two hikes that brings hikers to lofty viewpoints of Zion Canyon, but provides a slightly tamer experience than nearby Angels Landing and the extreme exposure thrills encountered on the rock scramble to that summit. Instead, this hike packs in more variety, visiting not only a scenic viewpoint but also a narrow, hanging slot canyon bordered by thousand-foot overhanging rock walls. Although this trail is longer, requires more elevaiton gain, and involves more stream crossings than Angels Landing, Observation Point is arguably the easier and more accessible hike of the two for visitors weighing a decision on which hike to do.
Hikers should be aware that when the wash in Echo Canyon is flowing, the trail navigates a section that requires either hiking directly through the wash or multiple stream crossings; water levels will vary depending on conditions upstream but were shin deep during my hike. It is also important to note that flash floods may occur in Echo Canyon during storms, so hikers should avoid this trail when heavy precipitation is predicted.
From March to October, Zion Canyon is closed to private vehicles except to those with reservations for Zion Lodge. A shuttle bus runs from the park visitor center to the Temple of Sinawava, making nine stops along the way including one at Weeping Rock, where the Observation Trail starts; although this may sound inconvenient the shuttle bus has frequent service and moves reasonably fast and will save you a lot of time that you'd otherwise spend looking for parking in this incredbily popular park. The road is generally open to cars during the winter and the trailhead has parking for about 10 cars, but will occasionally be closed to cars and only open to buses on some winter weekends.
I visited on a bright blue February weekend day when enough visitors came to the park that the road was closed. I parked at the visitor center and hopped on the park shuttle bus. I rode the bus for about half an hour to Weeping Rock, which was the 7th out of 9 stops on the shuttle route. After hopping off the bus, I walked the short distance to the Weeping Rock parking lot and the trailhead for the hike.
From the parking lot, the Weeping Rock Trail led off to the left along a wash while the Observation Point Trail instead headed to the right. I followed the paved Observation Point Trail as it began an immediate ascent up a set of switchbacks.
Snowmelt from the higher elevations of the park fed the waters of the wash in Echo Canyon, creating a seasonal waterfall with a drop of at least three hundred feet at the point where the hanging canyon met the main Zion Canyon. The flow of the waterfall at Weeping Rock is a useful indicator of the water level in Echo Canyon: if flow is torrential, Echo Canyon is probably impassable and Observation Point unreachable.
|Observation Point and waterfall at Weeping Rock|
|Angels Landing, the Organ, and Cathedral Mountain|
The trail here was blasted into the side of the canyon, first following the canyon walls high above the stream below, which flowed through a narrow slot canyon. As I continued through the canyon, the overhanging walls of Cable Mountain loomed larger and larger before me. A few hundred meters further on, the trail came to the level of the stream and made a sharp turn at the base of Cable Mountain. Here, the top of the cliff of Cable Mountain was vertically above the position of the trail. Shortly afterwards, the trail crossed the stream at a crossing with good stones for rock-hopping.
|Cable Mountain rises over Echo Canyon|
|Trail through Echo Canyon|
|Upper Echo Canyon|
|Manzanita along the trail|
|View of Zion Canyon during final climb|
|Atop the mesa near Observation Point|
This spot on the canyon rim offered a nearly perfect vantage point south down the main trunk of Zion Canyon. The park road and the Virgin River both snaked along the wide bottom of the canyon, while the impressive rocks of the Great White Throne, Angels Landing, the Watchman, and the Sentinel that towered above the canyon floor were at eye-level. The full length of the remarkable narrow fin of Angels Landing was discernable from this perspective.
|Great White Throne and Zion Canyon from Observation Point|
|View north towards Temple of Sinawava|