Hiking the Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park, Utah

There are a lot of challenging trails in Zion National Park, which makes it a popular destination for seasoned hikers. While the Angels Landing is the most popular hike within Zion, it is also the most challenging. Many beginning hikers are fooled by its short 5-mile roundtrip length, but it hosts a whopping 1,500 foot elevation gain along its path riddled with disconcerting heights and narrow pathways. It is recommended that those with a fear of heights think twice before taking on the hike to Angels Landing; however the reward for the unavoidable burn in your legs, shake in your knees and sweat on your brow is a view that will take your breath away.

Quick Stats:

Trail Length: 5 miles City/State: Springdale, Utah Bikes Allowed: No
Elevation: 1,500 Feet County: Washington, Kane, Iron Dogs Allowed: No

Getting There: Zion National Park is a pretty big attraction not just in Utah but also in Arizona and Nevada as it is so close to their borders. Since it is so popular, it is not hard to get to. From the south in Arizona, I-15 connects to SR-9 that leads right into the park; it is the same with US-89 in the east. From Nevada it is a straight shot down US-6. There are also more than a few shuttles and tour groups that regularly lead trips in the park from cities like Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Phoenix.

The Hike: The trail is open all year long, but the best times to hike it are in the spring and fall seasons, as they have the best temperatures. Summer gets quite hot, but with enough water the trail is doable. While the Angels Landing Trail is open in the winter, it is strongly advised to check weather and trail conditions before hiking as it can get quite slick and dangerous. The hike to Angels Landing officially begins at the Grotto Trailhead and it is a beautiful, but deceptively easy hiking at first. Visitors stroll down a paved path headed north and across the Virgin River. Eventually the trail begins to head up the west side of the canyon and it quickly turns into a more challenging trek as well as transforming into a rough dirt path. Hikers slog through a strenuous and uphill stretch of trail until they reach the ridge of Refrigerator Canyon. This deep hanging side canyon is always cool, thus its name. The steep bit of the trail flattens, but only for a short while until it reaches an oddly named feat of engineering called Walter’s Wiggles. This humorous name is used to describe the series of compact switchbacks that comprise the trail up to the top of the ridge of Refrigerator Canyon.

Walter's Wiggleshttp://www.flickr.com/photos/18202311@N00/719355189/

For those that finally scramble up the top of Walter’s Wiggles, they are rewarded with the Scout’s Lookout overlook. This is where visitors can not only see the canyon below, but get their first peek at the destination of the trail and its namesake–Angels Landing. Angels Landing is a fin-like mountain formation that juts out from the center of the main canyon in Zion National Park.

Previously, hikers had not just been hiking the Angels Landing Trail, but it was also a portion in which the trail combined with the West Rim Trail. After Scout’s Lookout, the trail finally splits from the West Rim Trail and prepares for the final hike to the Angels Landing viewpoint. The hike up until this overlook was difficult, but the final portion is where it gets absolutely exhilarating.

As hikers set out again, they will be walking on a narrow spine of mountain with nothing but ledge and open air in front of them. Making things only more interesting is that the trail gains 500 more feet in elevation, making the trail both steep and narrow. Occasionally, hikers will cross a number of exposed sections in which they can look down on both sides at the canyon below. However, don’t fret too much about missteps; those exposed sections have guard rails. Other sections will have steps carved in the rock and chains on the walls of the canyons just to help ease the mind of hikers who may be regretting their choice of trails at that particular time. If hikers have not overcome their panic by the time they get to their first set of wall chains, it may be a good time to go back as the hike does not get any less terrifying. Over the past few decades a handful of people have fallen from this trail to their deaths, so those who feel unbalanced on their feet or have children that like to run around and are not paralyzed by the heights should definitely avoid this trail.

Zion National Parkhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/48355364@N08/4424013020/

For those that get tired during this section of the hiker, there are a few wider portions of the ledge where some choose to rest, however the park service urges those taking a rest to be considerate of those passing them by not obstructing their path with packs, legs or other trip hazards.

After a mixture of hiking, scrambling and what feels like mountain climbing, it is finally time to reap the rewards of this stressful and difficult hike. The final destination of the hike is Angels Landing which is a lower destination that the previous narrow ridge portion of the hike, but no less stunning. Hikers get a 360-degree view around the canyon that will spoil you for viewpoints on other hikes. This beautiful peak isn’t exactly like sitting on the top of Mount Everest, but it certainly has all the beautiful perks of sitting on a mountain including cool breezes which, in the warmer months, feel like heaven. Since the hike is so short, this is where most trail trekkers choose to have a snack or a meal. It is a great place to sit and relax, though there are some pretty aggressive, but friendly chipmunks that enjoy handouts, even if it means stealing them.

Zion National Parkhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/34120957@N04/3443198799/

After a well deserved rest, it is time to turn back around and head back they way you came. There is no loop, so it is all sights that hikers saw on the way there, but reverse provides a unique look at the same scenery. The return hike always seems a little less scary because it is nothing new, but it is also definitely less strenuous on the body since instead of climbing up a mountain, hikers are heading down one. Once back at the Scout’s Lookout viewpoint, hikers with energy to spare can consider heading up the West Rim Trail a bit more which also hosts some good views of the canyon. However, most choose to continue back to the Grotto.