A few years ago, when I was at my former job, I saw a video that someone had made of him hiking at Zion National Park. The video was done with a GoPro and had been sped up, so you could watch the whole hike in minutes. The only thing I clearly remember from that video is the view at the end of the hike and thinking to myself, “I want to go to there.”
In fact, I added it as one of the top places on my travel bucket list. The more I looked into Zion, the more I knew I had to get there one day.
Well, that day came this past week.
After my work trip to San Diego, I booked a flight to Vegas then made my way to Zion National Park, located three hours from Vegas in the good ol’ state of Utah.
I only had a day, so I could either do a bunch of short hikes in the park or do a longer one. I chose the latter.
Before going, I knew I had to be very strategic and thoughtful about what I was going to do once I got to Zion because I had very limited time. Unlike many others who visit the area and spend days exploring all the national parks in Utah (or at the very least several days in Zion and several days in nearby Bryce Canyon), I only had a day, so I could either do a bunch of short hikes in the park or do a longer one. I chose the latter.
Back to that GoPro video that planted the Zion seed in my head several years ago - the hike featured in the video is the infamous Angels Landing. Known for its stunning views and scary steep drop-offs on both sides, this hike isn’t for those who are afraid of heights. At the end of the hike, you literally hold on to chains while you climb in elevation and the rock under your feet gets narrower as you continue. Before going, I briefly thought maybe I can do this hike, but then I watched a full-length video on YouTube and said “no, nope, never” to that one. Next!
One in particular was favored as being even better than Angels Landing and had an equally if not more stunning view.
While doing my research, I saw there were a few other hikes that kept coming up, and one in particular was favored as being even better than Angels Landing and had an equal if not more stunning view, and that hike is Observation Point.
Now when you look at the list of hikes available on the Zion National Park website, both Angels Landing and Observation Point are listed as “strenuous.” While the latter doesn’t have the crazy, dizzying hike on the spine of a mountain like the former, the latter hike is longer and includes two sections of steep climbs up switchback trails with some occasional steep drop-offs. I looked into the latter some more (and also watched a YouTube video on that one) and decided that was it: I was going to go to Zion National Park and do the Observation Point hike.
Now on to the hike itself: the time it takes the average hiker is around five hours round trip. I’m not sure if it’s because I had a very relaxing day the day before my hike or the vitamins I took that morning kicked in, but I got up to the top in a little less than two hours. I hung out and ate some snacks for about 30 minutes while at Observation Point then I hightailed it back down in about one hour and forty minutes. So total actual hiking time: roughly three hours and forty minutes.
In full disclosure I was also concerned about missing my shuttle back to Vegas, and I couldn’t tell at first if I was slow or fast or in between, so I just kept going. I realized about 75% of the way up that I was going faster than average but I also felt like if I stopped, it was going to be much harder for me to start again so I powered through to the very top, and reaching that end point was nothing short of glorious.
Before I did the hike, someone on TripAdvisor told me she thought of the hike as hard/easy/hard/easy, and I think this sums it up well. Immediately, when you start the hike, you go up steep switchback trails for maybe a mile (hard) until it levels off and almost feels luxurious as you hike through the stunning Echo Canyon (easy) then it climbs uphill again with even longer switchback trails (hard/that was around the time I kept asking myself why I was doing this) before leveling off at the very top (so easy I almost cried).
Going up was a challenge but it felt unbelievable to get to the top. Coming down...well, let’s just say my knees will hate me forever. They were suffering, despite my knee braces and my makeshift walking stick. But it was all worth it, and I feel very accomplished having crossed this hike off my bucket list.
I’m not sure when, but I know I’ll certainly go back to Zion. There are so many other great hikes in the park (still going to pass on Angels Landing), plus I know I need to see the other parks of Utah as well, like Bryce and Arches. One day I’ll be back, Utah, one day.
Lastly, a few tips for anyone doing the Observation Point hike:
Bring lots of snacks and water. I read somewhere that you should have one liter of water per two hours (no idea if that’s true), so I brought two massive bottles of water with me that I refilled as needed, which worked for me but ultimately you do what’s best for you. I also stocked up on granola bars, nuts and a Slim Jim, and I ate a pretty filling breakfast the morning of my hike.
If you’re doing some major hiking, then get hiking shoes but I don’t think you need them if you’re just doing Observation Point. My ASICS were completely sufficient, and at no point did I feel any pain in my feet.
If you have bad knees, BRING HIKING POLES! I wavered on this and got some knee braces for my hike, but I definitely should have just gotten some hiking poles as well (or instead of the knee braces). I passed many people with hiking poles and was envious every time, especially on my way down. My knees literally felt like they were going to snap at some points, and those knee braces weren’t helping as much as I wanted them to. I ended up finding a sturdy branch that very much came in handy on my way down.
Start your hike in the morning, if possible. I didn’t start my hike until 11:30 but it was in October, so the temperatures were actually pretty chilly. I did not take off my jacket until maybe about 3/4 of the way up when I was in exposed sun, but most of my hike going both up and down was in the shade, fortunately. I saw some people just starting up as I was returning, and they were getting the full brunt of the sun by that point.
You don’t need a car to get to Zion but it certainly is handy. I’m one of America’s worst drivers, and it never even crossed my mind to get a car. The people on TripAdvisor kept telling me to rent one, but I said, “No way, Jose.” Instead I took the St George shuttle between Vegas and Springdale, and it was easy peasy. Not having a car does severely limit you in terms of getting around, but if your goal is to only do Zion National Park and you have a place to stay in Springdale where they have free shuttles going to and from the park entrance, then you’re set.
That’s all for now. Thanks for being so incredibly stunning, Zion. Can’t wait to return one day.