Friday, September 29, 2017

Zion Observation Point

Observation Point Trail
Zion National Park
Trailhead Elevation: 4,372 ft.
Observation Point: 6,532 ft.
Distance: 7.48 mi. (my Forerunner 230)
Elevation Gain: 2400 ft. (rough estimate)
Start Time: 11:15am
End Time: 2:37pm

Trip Report:
As an encore to our morning of hiking on the Emerald Pools Trails my friend Matt and I set our sights on the Observation Point Trail. Actually, this is really better described as the main event than an encore. When our itinerary allowed us a free day on Friday this trail quickly rose to the top of the list. We had also given eye to the East Rim Trail and the thought of completing our Zion Traverse but in the end decided to give this one a go. And we weren't disappointed.

We finished up the Kayenta Trail and were on the shuttle by about 11:00am, and we immediately headed up to the Weeping Rock stop not far away. We bid our friend Ken farewell as he decided to head back to camp while we hiked. At the shuttle stop we had a brief walk through the parking lot to the trailhead. And then it was up, up, up. The very initial stretch was dirt trail which made its way east to the long series of switchbacks that climb up the canyon wall. We looked at the specs for the day (almost 8 miles, 2500 ft) and realized this wasn't far off from some of the 14er hikes that we had shared together like Quandary Peak, just at lower elevation.

We were passing a number of people as we motored our way up through the paved switchbacks. There was this one couple though who just continued to keep pace with us. We even finally let them pass when it was evident we weren't losing them. I was impressed they really moved well. We were mostly just happy to be carrying light daypacks and not our big backpacks anymore. What a delightful difference.

The junction for Hidden Canyon was easily noted. This is reportedly a very interesting and worthwhile hike and I definitely want it on my list for another day. We breezed on past it today as we made our way through the remaining switchbacks. It was about a mile and 800 or so feet of elevation that we gained to get through this opening section. Then things finally leveled out.

We began the hike into Echo canyon which had a deep pit to our left as we came in, but very quickly began to mellow out until it was essentially a small stream bed (dry) next to the trail. The canyon walls quickly moved in on us and became near vertical. We were finally in a slot canyon. Its an intriguing place to be and I was loving the imposing feeling of it. The base of the canyon finally narrowed into polished rock that was leaving a gap perhaps only 5 feet wide with a pool of water at the base. We wondered how quickly, if at all, the water deepened. A number of other hike were stopping here for pictures.

The trail moved along an undercut area of this narrow slot and then things began to widen up again. We worked our way eastward gradually gaining elevation again moving back and forth along the base of the canyon. At just before 2 miles in we were working our way upwards and finally encountered the junction with the East Rim Trail. It had a sign but that trail itself was hardly noticeable. We were curious if that trail sees much less traffic and is less well kept.

After the junction we moved into some pretty impressive terrain. The trail worked its way through constant switchbacks up a very steep ridge. It was amazing how they carved this into the slope. We were enjoying quick chats with other hikers on the trail. Many had noted my friend Matt's Michigan hat and we enjoyed a number of "Go Blue" greetings. Things were also warming up for us in here. Tempe sensor was hovering around 80 degrees and we were mostly out in the sun. This may have been the warmest we hit during our whole week in Zion which when you think about it ain't that bad.

The final switchback of this ridge brought us back into what I would best describe as a corner. Cliff walls were high above us. Beyond here the exposure really opened up for a bit. We were basically hugging the edge of the rock slope as the trail traversed its way around the south face. The trail was paved in here and the views were expansive as there was nothing to be getting in the way. After two long switchbacks out in the open we finally topped out. It wasn't at the very top of the plateau but we continued onward on a bench-like trail that contoured at the edge between the white rock cliffs and the open tree-filled plateau. It was another marvel of trail-building to keep this mostly flat bench trail going in such a place. It saves the hiker from going completely up and over the top of the plateau. It also offers wonderful views back into Zion Canyon and of Observation Point itself.
Things are a bit airy up here

Eventually the plateau top lowered until we were out in the open on top just us and the vegetation. We soon passed the junction for the East Mesa Trail. We were surprised ahead of us when we bumped into a family pushing a stroller. The little one was actually in a backpack carrier with the father, but we were impressed that they had gotten such a device all the way up here. To their credit it looked like one of those running strollers with the bigger spoked wheels which undoubtedly would have helped.
USGS Marker on Observation Point

Panoramic view from Observation Point

We followed the remaining trail as it wound south through mostly flat and easy terrain out to Observation Point. To our right (west) we could quickly see the exposure down into the Canyon. We were at this point south of where the Narrows are, so views would be to the canyon walls by the Temple of Sinawava and just south of there. Out at Observation Point we probably ran into 20+ people, quite a gathering. It was beautiful. We made the ascent in 1:47. We spent only 10 minutes up top gathering pictures and a snack and then decided to head down.

Angel's Landing

To the west

Down to the Virgin River and Angel's Landing

We breezed through the upper trail going for almost a speed walk or a slow trot. When we hit the open exposed switchbacks we dialed things down and focused on good steps. In the switchbacks down the ridge we moved a little quicker passing a number of groups as we went. We were even passed by a pair of trail-runners who really looked like they knew what they were doing.

As things flattened out into the beginnings of Echo Canyon we continued our quick pace until we got back to the extremely narrow slot area. We grabbed a few more pics and took a minute to cool off and dry our shirts a bit. We enjoyed checking out Echo Canyon once more and as we followed it out to the edges of Zion Canyon it was amazing to see just how quickly the bottom of Echo Canyon dropped out.

In the remaining switchbacks we started cruising again. It was in here I realized my flight check-in on Southwest was in about 30 minutes and we were a long ways from cell signal. We quickened up the pace on the lower stretches to a modest run and made our way out to the trailhead just missing a shuttle. The descent was about 1:25.

This was a fantastic trail and would definitely recommend for any well conditioned visitors who love great views and a trail worth the hard work. I would definitely do this again if I am fortunate enough to make it back to the canyon walls of Zion.


I have a track and waypoints from the hike all contained in a KML file that you are welcome to download and use (at your own risk).  

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