Angels Landing. A mere mention of its name puts a twinkle in a hiker’s eye. It’s Zion National Park’s most famous hike, renowned for its dramatic location, jutting up in the middle of Zion Canyon, its views and the lore of its name. Almost one hundred years ago, a minister remarked that only an angel could land on top of the rock. With a story like that, who wouldn’t want to tackle the challenge?
I was torn. Many people seem to agree that Angels Landing is NOT the best viewpoint at Zion, saying instead that Observation Point holds that distinction. Which strenuous hike to take? Better view or better challenge (which is both physical and mental)? Would I be able to make it up the last half mile, which is famous for its chain-assisted sections (“those with a fear of heights” should not attempt the hike, all the literature states)? I used to be scared of heights but I mostly got over it.
After trying the Hidden Canyon Trail to test my comfort level on chain-assisted hiking sections, I decided to go for Angels Landing! Check out the video below for an overview of what the hike was like!
The Hike to Scouts Lookout
From The Grotto, you cross a bridge over the calm Virgin River, which carved Zion Canyon, and begin the walk towards Angels Landing, which looms ahead of you. It was on this easy section of the trail that I had a very rare sighting… A California King Snake slinking its way around a tree right along the trail! I may have just taken off running (you can see my reaction in my video of the hike below)…
Finally, you start to climb, the first of many switchbacks you encounter on this hike as you slowly gain elevation. I have good news though. After your first exhausting set of switchbacks you get a nice break to cool off in the aptly named Refrigerator Canyon, which is thankfully flat!
As the canyon comes to an end, the trail sets upon one of the true engineering marvels at Zion. Wally’s Wiggles is a surprisingly easy series of 21 steep yet short switchbacks that get you up to the impressive Scouts Lookout!
The mere notion that a trail could even lead to this place is impressive by itself, as a steep trail leads its way up to Scouts Lookout, 2 miles (3.2 km) away from the start of the hike. This is where many who attempt this hike stop and it has a nice viewpoint and some fascinating rock formations. You can also join the West Rim Trail from here.
Hiking to Angels Landing
From Scouts Lookout, a seemingly short half-mile (0.8 km) trail leads to Angels Landing, but this is where the mental challenge comes in. For nearly all of that half mile, chains accompany the steep and rocky path so you can hold on for dear life. I’m not kidding here. There are sections where the path is about 3 feet (0.91 m) wide with a 1,500-foot (457 m) drop on either side of you.
A sign at the base of the chains warns you of the imminent danger. “Since 2004, six people have died falling from the cliffs on this route.” After completing the hike, it’s not hard to see why. I’m a bit of an experienced hiker (See my hiking guide to Petra) and it was the hardest hike I’ve ever done. Parts of the chains are really terrifying as very frequently you are on a short ledge with a massive drop right next to you! I kept thinking to myself, “this is some cruel joke and these chains never end,” as it was the longest half-mile of my life!
But finally, the chains did end at the summit and the view will make your jaw drop as it is simply unbelievable and totally worth the extreme effort you put in to get here! The advantage of being in the middle of the canyon is that you have a full 360-degree view of the outstanding scenery around you. The shuttles that ferry visitors up and down the scenic drive looked like a miniscule toy car!
Going down the chains was also rather terrifying. I spent a lot of time scooting down on my butt and was relieved to make it back on stable ground, my knees killing me from those rocks. But I could not believe what I had just accomplished. Still sore the next day, I bought an addition to my pin collection with bragging rights: “I Hiked Angels Landing!”
A Few Words on Safety
I do want to emphasize though, this hike is really NOT for everyone. Know your skills and your limits! And be aware that even in dry weather, sand can still make the rocks slippery so make sure you make use of the chains!
Finally, a note about time of day. Most people suggest that you attempt the hike as early as possible in order to avoid the crowds and while this is a legitimate concern, do be aware that the side of the canyon opposite Angels Landing is in shadow early in the morning, which may make for some less than stellar photos…
What About You?
Have you hiked Angels Landing? What was your experience?