As soon as I finished planning our trip to Yosemite, I immediately set my sights on Zion National Park. The bright red walls and the narrow canyons looked like they were from a different world….one that I wanted to explore!
We booked flights to Las Vegas for early September and started researching hikes. We would get to spend three full days in Zion, so I wanted to do one day hike, and one overnight backpacking trip. Angels Landing is probably the first day hike that comes to mind when thinking of Zion, but we planned to avoid that one (Josh is not quite the thrill seeker that I am), and go for Observation Point instead. For our backpacking trail we couldn’t decide between La Verkin Creek to Hop Valley or the West Rim Trail. Both looked promising, but with my chronic indecisiveness, I couldn’t pick one over the other. I knew that either way we would be required to get a backcountry permit, so I went ahead and requested one for the La Verkin Creek/Hop Valley Trail. I figured we could just ask them to change it when we got there if we had changed our minds over the next few months. I also knew that we would need transportation to the trailhead so we could hike back to our rental car since both hikes were ‘point to point’ hikes. Because we would be there during busy season, I pre-booked transportation through Zion Adventure Company. We were also going to need a campsite for our first and last night in the park, so I booked that ahead of time as well.
September finally came and we were on our way! We had invited our friends Ross and Ashley to come on the trip with us, so we met them at the airport and shared a rental car from Las Vegas to Zion. The drive from Vegas to the park was about 3 hours. We arrived at our campsite at Watchman Campground sometime around noon and got set up. We then went to the backcountry desk at the visitor center to ask for a recommendation on the backpacking trails and pick up our permit . The lady at the desk did not have any interest in swaying us one way or the other, but she did let us know that there was very little water flowing on the West Rim Trail. That was all it took for us to decide to stick with La Verkin Creek to Hop Valley. We got our permit, picked up a bus schedule, and went back to the campsite to grab our gear for the day hike to Observation Point. After a short bus ride we arrived at the Observation Point Trailhead.
- Observation Point
- Difficulty: Strenuous
- Distance: 8 miles round trip
- Elevation Change: approx. 2100ft
- Time: 4-6 hours round trip
We started up the trail and it was instantly a challenge. The trail is pretty much a steady climb the whole way. There are some parts where you aren’t going uphill, but they are few and far between. To make matters worse, the trail is fully exposed, so it got really hot! Since we were concerned with making it back down before dark we were going at a pretty quick pace, which added to the difficulty. About 2 miles into the hike I got a terrible headache from all of the sun, and wasn’t able get rid of it until the next morning. Luckily there was beautiful scenery all around to distract me.
It was a struggle, but we finally made it to the top!
After a short rest at the top we quickly tried to make our way back down to the bottom before dark. In hindsight we could have taken our time and enjoyed more of the shade as the sun was setting and then maybe we wouldn’t have been so worn out.
All in all, it was a tough day, but I was glad we did it!
To see how the rest of our Zion adventure went, check out Part 2
Zion Tips and Recommendations
- If you can fly Southwest, I would suggest flying into Las Vegas because flights to Vegas can be relatively inexpensive, and 3 hours is not a bad drive.
- If you do fly, remember to HYDRATE! Flying makes you dehydrated, and you don’t want to show up in Zion already lacking fluids!
- Don’t underestimate the heat in Zion. We watched the weather leading up to our trip and were expecting 70-80 degree highs. About a week before we left, the forecasted temp went up, and it was closer to 100 degrees while we were there.
- Observation Point is a strenuous trail not only because of the elevation gain, but also because of sun exposure! There is very little shade on the trail, so if you’re hiking in summer try to get an early start, and make sure to stay very hydrated. You’ll loose a lot more fluids on this sunny trail than you would hiking in the forest.
- Don’t forget your hat, sunglasses and sunscreen! It’s really important in the whole park, but especially on those exposed trails like Observation Point and Hop Valley!
- Hop Valley is LONG…this was the toughest part of our trip because we felt like it was never ending. Make sure you’re well hydrated, have lots of snacks, and are prepared for a long uphill hike in the sand. Hiking uphill in sand is demoralizing because every step you take, you slide backwards a little bit.
- If you plan to backpack in Zion, you can pick up fuel canisters right outside of the park. There are tons of little shops, restaurants and gear outfitters where you can pick up last minute needs, or things you can’t fly with, like fuel canisters.
What are your favorite day hikes in Zion?