Look down at Angels Landing and all the silly people there! The hike to Observation Point is less crowded, more rewarding, and features one of Zion’s best views.
Observation Point Trail Guide
MAP: Trails Illustrated
DESIGNATION: Zion National Park (entrance fee required)
BEST SEASONS: spring and fall
DISTANCE: 8 miles round trip
ELEVATION: gain 2,148ft / trailhead ~4,400ft / summit 6,508ft
ACCESS: shuttle bus only throughout most of the season (Generally early February through late November)
DIRECTIONS: When shuttle buses are running, board at the visitor center and exit at the stop for Weeping Rock. Follow the East Rim Trail and East Mesa Trail to a final junction that leads to Observation Point.
Drive up the main canyon to Weeping Rock when buses are not in operation.
ROUTE: well maintained, busy trail, signed junctions
GUIDEBOOK: Favorite Hikes in & around Zion
This page is primarily all about the hike to Observation Point, with details on how it compares to Angels Landing.
For the full scoop on Angels Landing, go here.
For in-depth details on the optional side trip to Hidden Canyon, go here.
Observation Point versus Angels Landing
If you have to choose between these two hikes, which one should you do? These FAQs will help you decide.
Which one is more scenic?
Observation Point. The view at the top is at a higher elevation and looks down on Angels Landing.
Observation Point climbs to the upper, white layers of Navajo Sandstone, whereas Angels Landing stays down in the red rock.
On the way to Observation Point you’ll also hike through the scenic Echo Canyon – I think Echo Canyon is prettier than Angels Landing’s refrigerator canyon… and it has a better name, too 🙂
Which is more strenuous?
Observation Point. Angels Landing is shorter (5.5 miles versus 8 miles), and has less elevation gain (1,488 versus 2,148 feet). However, the toxic combination of thicker crowds and exposure to cliffs on Angels Landing can lead to a different sort of strain – mental anxiety.
Which is more crowded?
Angels Landing. Don’t be fooled into thinking Observation Point is a blissful exercise in desert solitude, either… this one gets really crowded too! It’s increasingly difficult to beat the crowds in Zion’s main valley. Try to be on an early morning shuttle bus.
Which one has more exposure to cliffs?
Angels Landing. Observation Point has plenty of cliffs of its own, but none that require you to hold on to chains drilled into the rock. If you do seek this sort of a thrill, another item in Observation Point’s favor is its proximity to Hidden Canyon, a side trip that does involve chains and heights.
Which one takes more time to hike?
Observation Point. The Park Service recommends 6 hours to hike Observation Point and 4 hours to do Angels Landing. Keep in mind that on Angels Landing you’ll spend a lot of time waiting for others on the chains, whereas on Observation Point you can go significantly faster if you’re in great shape.
So which is it? Observation Point or Angels Landing?
Clearly my choice is Observation Point. It’s simply more relaxed and enjoyable. Angels Landing is more of destination hike for thrill seekers. Everyone seems to be in a mad rush to get to the top, to be able to say that they did it. Observation Point is more of an excursion for those who like to take their time and enjoy the outdoors.
Here’s the 3 Main Reasons I like it Better Than Angels Landing:
- It’s less crowded.
- There’s a better view from the top.
- The overall terrain and scenery along the way is more diverse.
5 Ways to Have a Great Day Out There!
Here’s how to make the most of your time hiking Observation Point.
1) Start Early
Arrive a day before the hike and find out when the first bus leaves the visitor center. It should be at six or seven in the morning. Then arrive at least half an hour before the first scheduled departure.
There will often be a line that forms for the first bus. But remember, it’s better to wait in line here than for it to be crowded on the trail! It’s difficult to properly enjoy the view from the summit when there’s literally a line of people waiting their turn for pictures.
2) Start Late
Time your hike so you’ll return to the shuttle stop 30 minutes after sunset. The crowds tend to dissipate in the late afternoon since most people are afraid of begin caught out in the dark. This option is only for more experienced hikers.
Check the shuttle schedule before you go to ensure that you won’t miss the last bus. Pack a headlamp and an extra layer. If you can’t figure out how to time this properly, than this option probably isn’t for you anyway.
3) Don’t be afraid to seek solitude.
Even if you time everything just right, you’re still likely to have some company at Observation Point’s main overlook. Don’t be afraid to go a short way off the designated trail and find your own view up there.
4) Use trekking poles.
The return descent on the trail is especially hard on the knees. You’re basically hiking on a concrete sidewalk, downhill for 2,000 feet. Ouch. Take it easy and have Ibuprofen ready.
5) Consider hiking Observation Point in the winter.
Unfortunately Zion doesn’t have a very long off-season anymore, but going in December, January, and February is the best way to beat the crowds. Early December should be particularly quiet.
You’re more likely to encounter snow and ice in winter, especially with the higher elevations found at Observation Point. Inquire about local weather – you may luck out when Zion experiences a dry winter.
Snow isn’t necessarily such a bad thing. Imagine the extra contrast you can get in your photos. Few people see Zion like this, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a unique experience in the busiest areas of our National Parks. If you’re looking for the best secret tip on how to hike Observation Point, this is it.
But remember, exposure to cliffs on this trail makes snow and ice especially dangerous!
Still, hikers with prior experience in this sort thing (And a good dose of courage) can still get to the top in poor conditions. Hiking poles and traction devices are a must when there’s snow and ice on the trail.
Observation Point Trail Description
You’ll exit Zion’s free shuttle bus at the stop for Weeping Rock.
Weeping Rock isn’t very exciting, but often jammed with people. You can access it on a 1/5 mile (round trip) hike to the left. Water drips over you from below an overhang.
You’ll be following the East Rim Trail. Soon it begins to make steep switchbacks, and you’ll gain about 800ft in elevation to access the mouth of Echo Canyon.
Along the way you’ll pass a junction for the trail that leads to Hidden Canyon. This is a great addition to your day hike if time allows, but save it for the end if Observation Point is your priority. Hidden Canyon will add at least a mile or two to your day, and an extra one to four hours.
Echo Canyon is one of the best parts of the hike. The steep character of the trail eases up a bit, and there’s usually lots of shade and a significant drop in air temperature. You’ll contour along the canyon’s north side for about a mile.
Leaving Echo Canyon, you’ll technically bear left off of the East Rim Trail to join the main East Mesa Trail to Observation Point. The East Rim trail rapidly deteriorates after this junction, so just stay the main course on the paved walkway.
The trail follows steep switchbacks for a half mile, gaining another quick 800ft of elevation. Whew! Soon you’re almost all the way on top Zion’s main canyon!
Contour for about another 1.5 miles to Observation Point.
My Trip Note and Photos
I hiked Observation Point on October 3, 2009. I was able to include Hidden Canyon on a 6-hour day hike. I was 29 years old, and in excellent shape after recently finishing a thru-hike of the John Muir Trail.
My favorite part of the day was Echo Canyon. It was simply a pleasant surprise since I hadn’t done much research on the hike. I also really liked to get up close with the White Cliffs, an upper rock layer of Zion’s main valley.
Finally, we all hear so much about Angels Landing and the Narrows, so it was great to do something slightly less popular. Even in 2009 there were significantly less crowds in Zion, and that was especially the case for Observation Point.
Have you hiked both Observation Point and Angels Landing? Which do you prefer? Any more questions about this hike? Let me know!