Looking for the best view at Zion National Park? Look no further than the Observation Point! In this guide we are sharing tips, route suggestions, and all the need to know information to reach Observation Point, the less scary and less busy alternative to Angels Landing.
During our first visit to Zion National Park (May 2018) we hiked some of the park’s most famous trails and overlooks, including the short and sweet Canyon Overlook for sunrise, the Watchman trail, and walked through the Virgin River as we hiked part of the Narrows, but the best views we found in the park were at Observation Point.
Before going to Zion National Park, we had heard tons about the iconic Angels Landing, which includes 21 steep switchbacks and a section that has chains for you to use, as you walk along the narrow spine, with drop offs on either side. However, heights and drop offs aren’t really for us, so when we learned that Observation Point was a safer alternative with even better views, we knew we had to hike it!
And after completing the trail now twice, from two different trailheads, Observation Point is still our favorite view in the park and in our opinion the best view at Zion National Park!
In this guide we’ll share everything you need to know before hiking to Observation Point, including how the hike compares to Angels Landing, your two trail options, what to bring, our experience, and more!
Looking for more things to do in Southern Utah? Check out our other guides:
Reminder: Leave No Trace
Before starting your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave the places you explore even better than you found them.
- Plan ahead and prepare: Know the regulations, prepare for different weather conditions, and pack the 10 essentials.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces: Travel on designated trails and camp at designated sites at least 200 ft away from water sources.
- Dispose of waste properly: Pack it in, pack it out. Carry ALL trash with you and dig a 6-8″ cat hole for human waste, 200 ft away from water.
- Leave what you find: Take only pictures, leave only footprints.
- Minimize campfire impacts: If fires are allowed, use established fire rings. Keep fires small and put out fires completely.
- Respect wildlife: Do not approach or feed wildlife, keep pets under control, and store your food properly.
- Be considerate of others: Yield to hikers going uphill and keep noises down.
Before starting your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave the places you explore even better than you found them.
- About Observation Point
- Angels Landing vs. Observation Point
- How to get to Observation Point (trail options)
- When to hike to Observation Point
- What to Bring to Observation Point
- Important things to know before hiking to Observation Point
- Our Experience hiking to Observation Point
- Things to do before or after hiking to Observation Point
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About Observation Point
Observation Point is located in the north end of Zion Canyon, near the Narrows and Angels Landing. While you used to be able to access this trail from the canyon, due to a rockslide, which we will discuss in a bit, you now have to go outside of the park to view this iconic and breathtaking view.
At 6,521 feet high, Observation Point gives you a view of nearly every major attraction in Zion Canyon including the super popular Angels Landing, The Organ, Great White Throne, and the lower Zion Canyon with the Virgin River winding through it.
And the best part about this hike? It’s not scary or hard to get to!
Angels Landing vs. Observation Point
Before we go any further, let’s address the big debate among Zion National Park-goers, Angels Landing vs. Observation Point.
Angels Landing tends to get all the love at Zion National Park, but as we mentioned above, we’d argue that Observation Point provides an even better and grander view. Disclaimer: we have not done the Angels Landing Trail, so we are only speaking from our experience talking to people who have done both and doing a ton of research. This is just our opinion. 🙂 At the end of the day, the best way to decide which is the best hike (in your opinion) is to do both!
But if you’re like us and unsure if Angels Landing is right for you, here is how they stack up against each other.
Observation Point does not require the park shuttle
Between March and October, private vehicles are not allowed on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and you must take the free park shuttle (or ride a bike/eBike). While Zion National Park is no longer requiring shuttle tickets (which were VERY hard to get), the park is seeing record breaking visitation and the lines to get on the shuttle are very long (and the crowds on the shuttle-required trails are long as well).
To hike to Angels Landing, you’ll need to ride on the park shuttle, but for Observation Point, you do not need the shuttle and depending on where you’re staying, you may not even need to enter the park!
Observation Point is higher
From Observation Point you are more than 700 feet higher than Angels Landing, which means you have more views of the park! It’s pretty fun to stare down at all of the tiny humans on Angels Landing while you’re at the top of Observation Point.
Observation Point is less sketchy
Angels Landing is famous not only for its views (which look to be amazing!), but also for the adventure to get to the top. At only 4.4 miles and 1,604 feet of gain, it’s definitely a challenging hike. You will go up 21 switchbacks, called Walter’s Wiggles, before reaching Scout’s Lookout, a scenic overlook, which is a great spot to turn around if you’re not comfortable continuing.
For the last 0.5 miles of the trail, you’re going up a narrow spine, with drop offs on either side and chains to hold onto. While some may not think this is scary, for those who do not like narrow spaces and heights, we hear that it can be terrifying. But the worst part is that if it’s busy, you’ll be battling two way traffic on the chains, which can make it even more nerve wracking.
Observation Point on the other hand, is a relatively flat, wide trail, with only drop offs right at the end, which you can stay far away from if desired.
We will say though, the big attraction of Angels Landing is the thrill to get to the top. The hike is definitely more exhilarating, exciting, adventurous, and iconic than Observation Point. For many, getting to say they have hiked Angels Landing is part of the experience of going to Zion, so if you want that classic experience, it may be worth it to you!
But for us, we prefer to not have tons of anxiety while hiking (we hike to reduce our already existing anxiety), so we will choose the safer, slightly less exciting option, which still rewards us with amazing views, but without the extra nerves.
Observation Point is less crowded
Angels Landing is not only one of the most iconic hikes in Zion National Park, but also in the United States (it’s ranked #1 for trails in the US on AllTrails!). However, this recognition comes with the price of crowds. While you can definitely avoid some crowds by hiking early, if you don’t time it right, you may wait in a line to get through the chains portion of the hike.
Observation Point on the other hand, while still somewhat popular, does not have the crowds that Angels Landing has. We started our hike around 7 AM (right when the sun was coming up) and didn’t see anyone until the end, where there were 3 people. We encountered more on the way back, but there was still plenty of parking by the time we finished.
Are you sold on hiking Observation Point instead (or in addition) to Angels Landing? Keep on reading for everything you need to know before you go!
How to get to Observation Point (trail options)
Back in May 2018, when we visited Zion National Park for the first time, we hiked to Observation Point from the Weeping Rock trailhead. This was the main way to do the hike, starting from inside Zion Canyon. You gained over 2,000 feet on your way to the top, which was very difficult, but you had endless canyon views along the way, making the trek worth it.
However, in August 2019, there was a large rockfall near the Weeping Rock shuttle stop that has closed this trail ever since. In fact, you can see the rockslide from the top and it’s pretty crazy!
When we were planning for our most recent visit in March 2021, we were so bummed to learn that this trail was still closed and that we couldn’t do this hike again. However, after a tiny bit of research we discovered that there was an alternate route (two actually!) to Observation Point, the East Mesa Trail and the Stave Spring Trail.
East Mesa Trail
The East Mesa Trail is located on the east side of Zion National Park and is the route we did during our most recent visit.
The trail is 6.7 miles (or 7.7 miles if you park in the further lot) and is mostly flat with only 695 feet of elevation gain, which is a slow and steady gain in the first half of the trail and then has a larger drop in elevation towards the end, as you reach Observation Point.
This trail takes you along a mesa and through a forest for the first 2/3 of the hike, before opening up a little bit more to views of the canyon and surrounding area.
We like to think that some trails are about the journey, some are about the destination, and some are about both. Observation Point via the East Mesa trial is more about the destination, but the journey is still pretty relaxing! While not as scenic as the original trail through the canyon, we enjoyed being surrounded by the tall trees, especially in the early morning light. And the views at the end are still the same!
Note: One big thing to be aware of for this trail is the parking situation. We will cover this more below, but be aware that you may have to park 0.5 miles from the trailhead and walk a little bit extra.
Stave Spring Trail
The second option to get to Observation Point, now that the main trail in the canyon is closed, is to hike from the Stave Spring trailhead, which connects to the East Rim trail. This option is a good bit longer and harder than the East Mesa trail, at 11.2 miles and 2,306 ft of elevation gain.
However, we hear this is the least busy of the two options (many folks report not seeing anyone until they meet up with East Mesa) and while it is harder, you will have more views as you hike along the East Rim than you do on the East Mesa.
We have not personally hiked this trail, so we cannot speak to the experience, but we have read that similar to East Mesa, you may need to park a little bit from the trailhead if you do not have 4×4, as the road can get a bit muddy. Make sure to read signs to ensure that you’re not parking in a “no parking” zone!
For this guide we will focus on the East Mesa route, as it’s the trail we did this past visit and can provide the most information on. But if you’re looking for an even more secluded experience and harder trek, check out the Stave Spring Trail!
When to hike to Observation Point
Zion National Park is open year round, but there are a few things to consider when choosing when to visit the park and hike to Observation Point:
- School holidays, including Spring Break (March-April) and Memorial Day, as well as the summer are very busy. We did this hike during the Spring Break timeframe, on a weekday, and while it wasn’t bad in terms of crowds, the rest of the park was insane.
- The winter is the least busy time in the park, but it can snow at higher elevations, so make sure you bring microspikes just to ensure you have solid footing. The drive to this trailhead can also be snowy and icy and it’s not recommended to drive all the way to the trailhead during this time.
- Early spring (before Spring Break) and late fall are great times to avoid most of the crowds and have nice, cool weather!
- If it has recently rained, the trail can be VERY muddy and many reports said that it was like a slip and slide trying to hike on the slick trail. So we’d suggest avoiding going after rain or snow melt.
- While this hike is less busy than some others in the park, we still recommend starting as early as possible, or going close to sunset, so you can enjoy the views without many others around.
What to Bring to Observation Point
As always, we recommend having the 10 essentials on you when doing any hike, but here are a few key items we want to point out that will especially help you during this hike!
We love our Camelbak bladder for hikes because it stores a ton of water and it’s easy to drink from while moving. You’ll want to bring lots of water on this hike. It’s a good amount of miles and there is not a ton of shade.
While there are some trees on the trail, overall the trail is very exposed, so sunscreen would be a solid idea.
We hiked here just after sunrise so if you do the same or any earlier you will want to bring your headlamp.
Depending on the time of year you come you might experience some snow or ice on the trail. These microspikes have saved our butts on many occasions!
We’d highly recommend downloading the AllTrails map before you go. While the trail is pretty straight forward, there is not much cell service in the area and it’s helpful to track your progress on the trail. You will need an AllTrails Pro membership to download maps, which is $30 a year and so worth it!
Important things to know before hiking to Observation Point
For the East Mesa Trailhead there are two parking options. You can either park right at the trailhead, which has a handful of spots, or you can hike 0.5 miles from the trailhead in a big open lot.
To get to the actual trailhead, we suggest having high clearance and possibly 4×4. There were some deep ruts and towards the end some muddy sections and we hear that many cars have gotten stuck. While we saw a variety of cars that made it to the trailhead the day we went, we hear that you should not attempt it if it has rained recently or if snow has just melted.
We didn’t want to risk the road in our van, so we parked in the dirt lot 0.5 miles away and then walked the road to the trailhead. While not an exciting part of the trail and it added 1 extra mile, it was a nice warm up for the real trail. This dirt lot can fit probably close to 30 cars and when we finished the hike it was maybe 40% full.
No shuttle required
As we mentioned above, for the current two ways to access Observation Point, you do not need to take the shuttle, which is a huge win!
There is a $35 fee to enter Zion National Park, but accessing Observation Point via the East Mesa trail is free! But since we assume you’ll also be visiting other areas of Zion, we highly recommend the America the Beautiful Pass, which gets you into all US National Parks for free for a year!
There are no restrooms at this trailhead, so make sure to plan accordingly and also follow Leave No Trace principles if you need to do your business on the hike.
Dogs are not allowed
Although the hike technically does not start in park boundaries, 99% of the trail is inside of the park and dogs are not allowed on the trail, just like the majority of the trails in the park.
Our Experience hiking to Observation Point
While we have shared quite a bit above to hopefully help you prepare for this hike, here’s a little bit more about our experience on the trail.
We arrived at the overflow parking lot for Observation Point around 7 AM, right before sunrise, and were the only car in the medium sized dirt lot. We packed up our gear and hit the trail a few minutes later, with our first task being the 0.5 mile hike to the trailhead, along a very rutted, dirt road. We were very thankful we didn’t drive this road in our van, but it would be doable with the right vehicle
As we got closer to the trailhead, we saw a couple cars parked, who had made the rutted drive and we assumed were ahead of us on the trail. But despite seeing these two cars and letting someone pass us early on (they arrived right after us), there was no one else around (our favorite!).
The first two thirds of the hike are rather uneventful to be honest. You’re going through a forest, with ponderosa pines all around you. While compared to the hike from inside the canyon, or Angels Landing, this may not be as exciting of a view, we thought it was super serene and beautiful, especially with the morning light.
As you get closer to the end of the trail, things start to open up a bit and you’ll get glimpses of the surrounding canyon. Make sure to look for a couple quick offshoot trails so you can get a better view!
When we got to the end of the hike, there were only 3 people at the viewpoint with us. While this hike is less crowded than Angels Landing, starting early is still definitely the way to go to have more solitude at the top.
We stayed at the top for almost an hour, just soaking up the AMAZING views! There are a couple different open rock areas to admire the view from, but unlike the rest of the trail, which isn’t scary, this overlook can be a bit unnerving, as there is nothing on the other side of the rock to catch you, except a 2,200 foot drop!
Besides the main overlook, facing straight into the canyon, make sure to check out the views from each side of Observation Point as well, including seeing where the original trail from the canyon was (left side) and the rocks that have covered part of it.
From a photography perspective, the morning light was a bit harsh and shadowy, so in the future, we’d love to do this hike close to sunset and hike back in the dark. With a wide trail and no sketchy drop offs, this hike would be doable in the dark. Just make sure to bring a headlamp!
The hike back was quick and easy, with a bit more traffic, including a coyote that darted across the trail in front of us, but we still had a good chunk of the trail to ourselves. When we got back to the trailhead, there were a lot more cars that had conquered the rutted drive, including some mini vans and sedans. Note: this parking area is not large and turning around could be tricky if there are a lot of people parked or waiting for spots.
We made the 0.5 mile trek down the rutted road back to the overflow parking area, which was only about 30% full and then headed back through Zion Canyon for a delicious post-hike meal at Oscar’s Cafe (the burritos and enchiladas are AWESOME!).
Things to do before or after hiking to Observation Point
Looking for things to do before or after your hike? Here are some spots nearby to check out!
Coffee and Sweets
- Explore more of Zion National Park. Be sure to read our 3 Days in Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks Guide for more hikes, as well as places to stay.
- Visit Kolob Canyons (Zion): This area is GORGEOUS and way less busy than the main canyon. The only downside is that it does have less hikes to choose from, but we recommend looking into: Middle Fork Taylor Creek (4.9 miles), Timber Creek Overlook (1.1 mile), and Kolob Arch (13.7 miles).
- Visit Kolob Terrace (Zion): We LOVED this area! Similar to Kolob Canyons, it is way less busy than Zion Canyon and still has great views! The Northgate Peaks trail was easy and had an awesome payoff at the end.
- Walk through water and a slot canyon to Kanarra Falls! This is a mini version of the Narrows hike, but with the bonus of having capacity limits (150 people a day) and a fun ladder and waterfall! Permits cost $12 per person and dogs are not allowed. This is a great hike to combine with Kolob Canyons! Read our guide for Kanarra Falls
Ready to hike to Observation Point?
Pin this Observation Point hiking guide to help plan your trip!