Hiking Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park

Angels Landing in Zion National Park

On November 1st 2017 I hiked the infamous Angel’s Landing Trail in Zion National Park in Utah (Yeah, I know, I’m a bit behind on writing blog posts!). It was an absolutely beautiful day, and I fully expected to be stuck in a huge line of people making their way to the top of the trail, but I lucked out and only saw 8 people on the upper section of the trail above Scout Lookout. Somehow I always really luck out with crowds in National Parks, and find myself nearly alone on most trails (the major exception being Arches National Park, which was a zoo, until I found the most remote part of the park and camped out there for the rest of the week!).

I rarely research my hikes before doing them; I really thrive on the adventure of not knowing what to expect, and Angels Landing was no different. I’d heard of it, and I’d been told that it was so popular with tourists that you usually have to wait in a very long queue to get to the top, but I didn’t research anything about the trail in advance. I really love making my way around every turn in a trail and experiencing new views, new sounds, new plants and animals, new difficulties, and every other surprise that comes along.

Angels Landing is the most iconic hike in Zion National Park and is one of the most famous hikes in the world. The views of Zion Canyon from the summit of this trail are easily some of the best on Earth, but if you have even a minor fear of heights, this trail is definitely not one that you’d want to attempt. It’s not a difficult hike, but it’s definitely a dangerous one; since 2007, seven people have died while hiking Angels Landing.

Trail Sign at Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Pak

The hike is 5 miles round-trip with a 1,500 foot elevation gain and is essentially broken into two sections. The first section is easily done by most tourists who are in decent shape; the second section is best reserved for those in good shape with no fear of heights.

Grotto Trailhead - Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park
The West Rim Trail and the Virgin River

The trail begins in the valley at the Grotto Trailhead and follows the path of the Virgin River along the West Rim Trail (above).

Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park
The beginning of the trail leading up from the valley.

The trail slowly starts to gain elevation until it eventually becomes so steep that they actually paved it. Once you reach the paved section of the trail, you will encounter long, winding switchbacks that feel like they go on forever. The photos below give you a pretty good indication of how steep this section of the trail is, and how long it is from the valley floor below.

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Once you complete the paved section of the trail you will reach a level section where the trail goes between Angels Landing and Zion Canyon that’s called Refrigerator Canyon (below).

Refrigerator Canyon on Angels Landing Trail
Refrigerator Canyon on Angels Landing Trail

After a nice (and chilly) stroll through the woods in Refrigerator Canyon, you reach “Walter’s Wiggles”, a series of 21 very steep switchbacks that lead up to Scout Lookout. The switchbacks are named after Walter Ruesch who constructed the switchbacks in 1926. He was the first superintendent of Zion National Park.

Walters Wiggles on Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park
Walters Wiggles on Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park

Once you complete Walters Wiggles you will reach Scout Lookout. This is generally the turnaround point for those who are unable to make the risky push to the summit of Angels Landing.

View from Scout Lookout
The view from Scout Lookout is OK, but doesn’t even come close to the view from the summit.

From Scout Lookout, you cross the Saddle and then climb the steep and narrow Hogsback, using chains that are bolted into the stone (below).

Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park-30
Here’s a shot of the Angels Landing saddle, and the summit in the distance, taken from Scout Lookout

This 1.1 mile round-trip route from Scout Lookout to the summit is a strenuous climb on a very narrow ridge that rises sharply over 1400 feet above the valley floor. This section is lined sharp drop offs and narrow foot paths, and chains are embedded in the rock to assist with the steepest and most dangerous sections.

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Once you reach the summit at 5,790 feet, the views of Zion Canyon in every direction are nothing less than mind-blowing (below).

If you aren’t intimidated by heights, get out there and do this hike! Angels Landing is one of the most unique hikes, and most spectacular viewpoints, on Earth.

 

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