Climbing Zion’s Treacherous Angel’s Landing
Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park is famous for it’s steep drop offs and exposed trails. There are sections of the path that are as narrow as 2 feet with drop offs of 800 and 1200 feet on each side! It’s certainly not for those with a fear of heights, but it is also Zion’s most exciting hike and one of my favorite hikes in Utah’s National Parks. It may even be one of my favorite hikes in the world!
Get An Early Start
Angel’s Landing is one of Zion’s most popular hikes, so it’s best to beat the crowds. As a bonus, if you start early in the morning, you won’t have the sun beating down on you during your entire hike!
Drive in to the Zion Visitor center half an hour before the first shuttle leaves into the park, which is at 6 or 7 am depending on the time of the year. Mercifully, you should have no problem finding parking thanks to your early arrival. Head straight to the bus lines just north of the Visitor Center, snag your spot in line as soon as you get there and patiently wait for the bus to arrive. When the bus pulls in to the stop, hop aboard and head to your hike! For Angel’s Landing, you’ll be getting off at The Grotto, and on the first bus of the day the driver might even take you directly there without stopping anywhere else.
The Angel’s Landing Trailhead
When you get off at The Grotto, head straight for the Virgin River to your west. From there, you’ll cross the bridge and head north on the Angel’s Landing trail. As you head down the trail, you’ll be able to see Angel’s Landing looming in front of you, ready to show you a good time.
Things will start off easily, with a slow ascent up the path. Soon, however, things will get very steep and you’ll be feeling the burn in your legs as the climb gets tougher. Thankfully it’s not to long before you receive some welcome respite when you enter Refrigerator Canyon.
You won’t need the temperature relief if you’ve gotten an early start, but you’ll still appreciate the level path through high-rising canyon walls. This is the only part of Angel’s Landing that offers sun protection, so enjoy it while you have it!
Once you exit Refrigerator Canyon, your next stop on the way to Angel’s Landing will be Walter’s Wiggles. The Wiggles are a set of 21 tight switchbacks that gain lots of elevation in not much time. Hope you enjoyed your rest through Refrigerator Canyon because you need your energy now!
Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
At the top of Walter’s Wiggles you’ll traverse some treacherous trails. This is your first taste of the real attraction of Angel’s Landing – the steep cliffs. If anyone in your group has trouble here, they may not make it to the top. Thankfully, anyone who isn’t quite up for the challenge has some relief coming up soon.
Soon you’ll reach a clearing formally known as Scout’s Lookout. It’s also known as “Chicken-Out Point,” since it’s the last stop for those too afraid to climb the ridge of Angel’s Landing. Anyone too afraid to continue shouldn’t feel bad, it’s a tough climb and they’ll have PLENTY of company at Scout’s Lookout.
It’s time for the last push to the top of Angel’s Landing. This is the most exhilarating part of the hike and full of great views. You’re sure to get an adrenaline rush on the narrower sections, so be ready to channel your inner mountain goat.
Be sure to take your time on this section and be sure of your footing, because it can be tricky at times. I always kept a policy of not relying on the chains for balance and making sure I had stable footing at all times. If you rely too much on the chains you could lose your grip and fall, and there’s always the risk of mechanical failure.
This final section of the ridge is only a half mile, but it is a constant, steep climb. Eventually you will make it to the top and you will reap your rewards. In my opinion, the experience of the hike itself tops the views you get from the top, but everything about Angel’s Landing is fantastic.
You’re certain to have a huge sense of accomplishment when you reach the end of the trail. Take some time to soak in the view, look down, and appreciate what you’ve just done. You’ve just ascended 1500 ft from the bottom of the trailhead with dizzying drop offs all along the way. After you have explored the top of Angel’s Landing, drink some water and head back to where you came from. It’ll be a lot easier going down!