The toughest hike of our Southwestern excursion occurred June 28, 2015, three days in to our 10-day adventure.
The location: Zion National Park, Utah. The trail: Observation Point, a full-sun, zigzagging path totaling 8 miles roundtrip that cuts through water-filled gorges and snakes around steep mountainsides.
For two 40-something parents and three teens who hadn’t quite adjusted to the Southwest’s higher altitude and reduced oxygen levels, this already-strenuous experience became more challenging — but also more beautiful — as, over the course of three hours, we ascended 2,300-plus feet through Navajo sandstone, richly colored canyons, vibrant sedimentation and harrowing switchbacks that appeared to be literally carved into Mount Baldy.
A note about the switchbacks: They’re wide enough to safely hike, but in several places they become extremely narrow. One step in the wrong direction could send you down the mountain to the canyon floor. Two members of our group (I won’t expose who!) actually clung to the mountainside as we hiked this section of the trail.
We took frequent breaks — and videos, much to my children’s annoyance (see the end of this post). We rationed our water supply to ensure we would have enough for the hike down. As we approached the top, the trail plateaued and lush greenery surrounded us.
We forged through blooming bushes and trees to the trail’s end, where a magnificent vista of Zion Canyon awaited us. The peak sits 6,507 feet above sea level. That’s pretty awesome. At that moment, you realize every step was worth climbing.
The hike down took about two hours and resulted in some serious quadricep action. But the entire time we couldn’t stop talking about the beauty we had gazed upon at the top of Mount Baldy. Here’s a video of our time at Zion National Park, which includes this unforgettable hike.
If You Go:
- There are no water sources — or bathrooms — on this trail. Bring at least 2-3 liters of water per person and scout out a good “pee tree” as we did. We stopped there on the way up, and again on the way down.
- Pack salt tablets. You’ll sweat a lot so you may need to replenish your natural salt reserves once or twice during this hike.
- Wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. There are very few shady spots on this trail.
- Wear good quality hiking shoes and thick hiking socks for this hike. Tie laces tightly for the trek down to help keep your toes from sliding. The hike down can also be hard on your knees.
- If you’re traveling with very young children, skip this hike and come back when they are at least 13 years old. Our youngest child was 13 when we hiked this trail. While she was quite possibly the fittest of all five of us, she also experienced the most fatigue.