Hiking in Zion National Park is the one and only way to explore this epic national park in Utah. And although there are a number of superb hiking trails in Zion, from easy walks on flat paved walkways to thigh-crunching climbs, there is one that stands out from the rest—the Observation Point Trail.
Observation Point vs Angels Landing – Which One Is Better?
Before you start commenting; I know that Angels Landing is considered to be the best hike in Zion National Park, but I completely disagree. Angels Landing is definitely the most popular hike in the park, which, as a result, makes that it’s typically much, much too crowded. I hiked this trail, too, and while it’s undeniably worth hiking, its enormous crowds spoiled it completely for me.
But then, there is Observation Point. This is not just a valuable alternative; it’s simply downright a better hike than Angels Landing. For the time and effort spent, the Observation Point Trail kicks Angels Landing’s butt for many reasons. There are much fewer people, the trail runs through a gorgeous slot canyon, and it ends at what has the be the greatest viewpoint in Zion National Park. There’s a reason that Observation Point bears the name it does.
So, in the Observation Point vs Angels Landing discussion, I just have to take the side of the Observation Point hike. It’s really a no-brainer for me personally.
The Best Hike in Zion National Park
This is the southernmost of the five Utah national parks, and it’s a real stunner. Nearly 4.3 million people visited Zion in 2016, placing it in the top five of most visited national parks in America. Set at one of the giant steps of the “Grand Staircase”—Bryce Canyon is the upper step while Grand Canyon is the lowest step—this is a place of sandstone caves, slot canyons, ravines, hanging gardens and weeping rocks, and striking rock formations.
On the Observation Point Trail, you’ll hit pretty much all of these. The trailhead lies at Weeping Rock, one of the nine Zion Canyon Shuttle Bus stops. As this name suggests, you can see a “weeping rock” there, essentially a dripping spring. Although this very short trail isn’t part of the Observation Point Trail, I do recommend walking it. Consider it a warm-up for the strenuous climb up to the rim of Zion Canyon afterwards.
Note that this is one of the most difficult hikes in Zion National Park, climbing a grand total of 2,150 vertical feet (655 meters). The hike is 8 miles roundtrip (13 kilometers) and you should count on 5-6 hours to finish it.
Even though this hike is tough and steep, the trail itself is much wider than Angels Landing. It is, therefore, much less scary and better suited for people with a fear of heights. There are still plenty of (very) exposed sections, though, so please do be careful during your hike. Use common sense and don’t go too close to the rim’s edge—there are no railings, ropes or the like.
The Observation Point Trail basically consists of two different sections. The first half of the hike is on the East Rim Trail and includes lots of long and strenuous switchbacks. To ease to ascent and offer some reward, this section also runs through Echo Canyon, which is one of the most beautiful slot canyons I’ve ever seen in my life.
When you look up, the flat side of Cable Mountain towers imposingly above and the rest of the climb takes you ever so slowly to the top of the mountain. Although it may seem as if you’ll never get there, once you do reach the rim, it’s an easy walk the rest of the way.
That last mile or so runs along the rim of Zion Canyon, offering increasingly awesome views until you reach the ultimate reward—the heartstoppingly spectacular view from Observation Point.
Perched no fewer than 6,508 feet (1,983 meters) above sea level, this is the single best viewpoint in Zion National Park. From its rocky ledge, you can actually look about 600 feet (200 meters) down on Angels Landing. As I mentioned before, from there, it’s a vertical drop of 2,150 feet (655 meters) to the bottom of the canyon and the Virgin River.
Looking straight ahead, the panorama takes in much of Zion Canyon and the winding course of the Virgin River, including striking formations such as Cathedral Mountain and Red Arch Mountain.
Rest your weary legs and take an hour or so to take in the views before retracing your steps down to the trailhead at Weeping Rock. Head back to your campsite—camping in Zion National Park is a “must”—, crack open a beer and spend the rest of the evening around a crackling campfire, sharing a well-deserved meal and telling stories well into the star-filled night.
Observation Point Hike Details
- Distance: 8 miles (13 kilometers) roundtrip
- Hiking time: 4-5 hours
- Outing time: 5-6 hours
- Trailhead: Weeping Rock shuttle bus stop in Zion Canyon (Observation Point Trail via East Rim Trail)
- Difficulty: Strenuous
- Elevation change: 2,150 feet (655 meters)
Observation Point Trail Map