Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Zion National Park's Obervation Point Trail / East Rim Trail

The Observation Point / East Rim Trail (7 miles round-trip) is one of Zion's most spectacular (and strenuous) hikes. Built in the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps, this trail is literally carved out of the rock walls of the canyon. It climbs steeply from the canyon floor up through the enchanting Echo Canyon before joining the East Rim Trail up high on the desert rim. The route offers hikers outstanding views back down Zion Canyon from Observation Point, a vista you won't soon forget. Though similar in length, Observation Point is higher than Angel's Landing, and is far less busy.

The trail is easily accessible via the park service shuttle bus service running through the park. If you're camping at South or Watchman Campgrounds near the park entrance, just hop on the bus and ride it up canyon to the Weeping Rock stop. That's where the real work (and fun) begins. Expect to get some serious exercise in the first three miles, as the trail gains about 2,000 vertical feet. The paved track winds through wildly striated sandstone formations carved by the erosive power of water and wind. You'll see sagebrush lizards, Indian Paintbrush wildflowers, and short, dramatic slot canyons on your way to the top. After three miles of climbing the trail joins the East Rim trail for a half mile to Observation Point. This flat rim-edge section offers stellar views down into the Zion Canyon. Enjoy the vistas and rest your knees for the jarring descent back to the canyon floor.

Bring plenty of water and food for this day hike. It can be hot this time of year, and cold if there are thundershowers. You'll also be happy if you take a camera with you, in my opinion there isn't a better spot to capture Zion Canyon in the park. Expect to spend at least five hours on the trail, if not more.

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