The days when everything starts out wrong almost always wind up being the best, at least in my experience. Such was the case on my recent trip to St. George.
After flying in very early on a Friday morning, getting swooped up at the Vegas airport by Jade, Bob and Augustine, and continuing the two hours by car north to southern Utah, our first day was spent settling into our condo rental before meeting up with the iExplore InstaMeet group at the entrance to Red Cliffs Desert Reserve.
And even that almost got waylaid after one photographer’s flight was delayed and another’s car broke down en route. Still, the half of our group who made it met up at the trailhead just north of St. George, but then half of that half got lost in the desert, almost not reaching Babylon Arch.
It was a comical start to a weekend of adventure, and the good news is that we did all make it back to the Red Cliff trailhead that night in time for s’mores and to make a game plan for Zion National Park the next morning.
But the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry—isn’t that how the saying goes?—especially if you’re traveling with me.
Our morning hike through the Narrows was canceled after the slot canyon was closed for flooding (FYI, it closes if the flow rate is over 150 cubic feet per second). So instead, we opted to drive to the top (read: flat) trail that would take us out to Observation Point. From there, the group of 30 would meet at the overlook, then head to the bottom for an afternoon with the gang at a brewery.
Only we woke up on Saturday to find that a rock slide had closed the road within Zion that leads to the parking lot for the easy Observation Point hike, so the only option left was the difficult hike—all the way up.
Pro tip #1: If planning a vacation to a national park, be sure and have a back-up plan (and a back-up plan to the back-up plan) as there’s no telling Mother Nature what she can and cannot do.
We had heard tales of the challenges of the hard way up Observation Point—an eight-mile round trip with a pretty quick 2,100-feet elevation gain that tops out at 6,508 feet—so some took that as a sign that they were meant to do Emerald Pools and a few of the more leisurely walks instead. “Leisure” has never been a word in my vocabulary, so I enlisted my long-time blog friend Harriet and her husband, who had driven up from Arizona for the weekend, to go straight up to the top. Lucky for me, they were both willing and enthusiastic participants.
Jade and Bob also started the hike up with us, Augustine in her baby carrier on Bob’s back, but it was pretty evident based on her screams and the fact that the trail seemed to be a near vertical ascent that four miles to the top (then four miles back down again) with a squirmy toddler in tow would not a pleasant morning make. Instead, they reached the slot canyon about halfway to the top, then headed back down from there.
Meanwhile, Harriet, Mr. Harriet and I put on our turbo-speed boosters and high-tailed it to the top.
The trail said it would take us five hours, but we were on a time crunch—we had a brewery to make, obviously—and it was already nearing the hottest time of the day, so we figured we’d be up and back down in three-and-a-half hours flat. Famous last words.
Our biggest mistake was waiting so long to get into the park itself. We left our St. George condo at 9am, and factoring in a quick stop for coffee and pastries in Hurricane, it took us about an hour to reach Springdale, the jumping off point for Zion National Park.
Once there, we parked near the main shuttle pick-up at the park’s visitor center—something Jade, Bob and I learned after our last visit of not being able to catch a shuttle in at any of the subsequent points because they were all full—and waited around 45 minutes for the shuttle.
The drop-off for Observation Point is stop number 7 for Weeping Rock, which was another half an hour and change into the park itself. So all said and done, it was 11:30am before we reached the trailhead, took a quick bathroom break and hit the trail.
I wouldn’t have wanted to wait much longer, as we had nice shadow coverage on the way up, but coming back down a few hours later, the hikers just beginning their ascent were in full sun exposure.
Pro tip #2: Don’t start the hike up Observation Point any later than 11am if you can help it.
The next thing we learned is that we are what the NPS service would consider “average”—at least, among the paths marked “strenuous”—as it took us five hours nearly to the minute to go up and back down again.
Granted, we stopped every so often for photos—the scenery just kept getting better and better the higher we climbed—but never for any significant amount of time.
It took about three hours to get to the top, where we paused for 20 minutes or so for photos—it’s not every day you spy a pirate so far from open water, after all—and then headed back down again, a nearly two-hour pursuit.
We hit Utah at the perfect time, too, as while the sun was beating down on us hard that day, it was just 70 degrees. The higher we climbed, the breezier it was.
Pro tip #3: Pack a walking stick and hiking boots if your ankles are prone to injury. The trek up was steep, y’all. All that talk of how challenging this trail was, it turns out, fully justified.
Once at the tip top of Observation Point, the views were downright magical. I wish we’d had more time to linger, as I would have loved to have a picnic there and soak up the scenery for as long as possible.
I had read that this particular hike was not suited for those with fear of heights and half-expected the trail to be a bit sketchy in parts. This was not the case. It was always a solid six feet wide, if not more, and I never felt the slightest bit nervous, like I did at the nearby Angel’s Landing where you hang on to a chain as you pull yourself to the top.
We also saw elementary school-aged children make the trip—and not on their parents’ backs either—so if they can do it with no problem, so can you. The views from the top were 1000 percent worth the five-hour hike, and the varied terrain lent itself well to photos, so bring a versatile lens (my go-to is a 24-105mm), as well as a portrait lens (such as my beloved 50mm) if you have one.
We hiked through desert and slot canyons, up cliffs and through valleys. It was one of the most spectacular hikes I’ve ever been on and one that I’d rank higher than more popular routes like Angel’s Landing (which you actually look down on once you reach the top).
While the morning may have started out on an iffy note, our day in Zion wound up being one of my favorite travel memories to date.
SHOP MY HIKING GEAR