Angel's Landing Trail
Zion National Park, UT
Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park is iconic for being one of the most unique and dangerous hikes in the USA. To get to the top you must scramble along a narrow ridge of rock over one-thousand feet above the canyon floor. In parts, the trail is just a couple feet wide with a sheer drop on either side. That being said, I think this trail looks scarier in pictures and videos than it actually is in person. If you are reasonably fit, have the right gear, and can manage your fear, you can do this trail.
The trailhead is located opposite the Grotto picnic area on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. During peak times the scenic drive is only accessible using the park’s shuttle system. See the national park official website for dates and ticket information. The rest of the year, you can drive the road yourself. When we got to the trailhead at 8 am on a Sunday in December, the parking lot at the trailhead was full. We were able to find a spot in a turnout half a mile south and walked along the river back to the trailhead. This turned out to be a really nice walk in itself. Lots of deer live in these grassy flat areas along the river.
The hike consists of four main parts: the first set of switchbacks, Refrigerator Canyon, the second set of switchbacks, and the chain section.
The first half-mile of the trail follows the Virgin River and is relatively flat. After that you will start to quickly gain elevation on the first set of switchbacks. The climb to Refrigerator Canyon is about ¾ of a mile and 500 feet elevation gain. This section of the trail has great views over the river and valley.
The next section of the trail takes you through Refrigerator Canyon. The narrow canyon is shaded by high walls on both sides. This part of the trail is a much easier grade, climbing about 200 feet in half a mile.
I would say the second set of switchbacks, also known as “Walter’s Wiggles” is the most physically demanding part of the trail. It consists of 21 tight and steep switchbacks. When we hiked in December, this part of the trail was very icy. The viewpoint at the end of this section is called Scout Lookout. Here you will find restrooms and lots of people hanging out. This is the point where you have to make the decision: continue on to Angel’s Landing or turn around. Up until this point the trail is paved, beyond this point you will need to scramble along narrow sections of rock. There is also another trail that goes north from Scout’s Lookout called the West Rim Trail.
The final section of the trail known as the chain section is the most mentally demanding part of the trail. Because the trail is so narrow and the drop offs are so steep, metal chains have been anchored into the rock for you to hold as you climb. If heights make you nervous, fight the urge to look over the side and focus on your steps. This section of the trail is just half a mile but it will be slow going. The path often only has room for one person, so you will frequently have to step out of the way to wait for people coming down to pass. Everyone on the trail is patient and understanding, so take your time and be safe. When you make it to the top, there is plenty of room to relax and enjoy the fantastic panoramic views!
Please only do this hike if you are prepared. You must have hiking boots with good grip. Do not be one of the crazy people attempting the chain section in casual or running shoes. In the summer, it will be very hot so you will need to pack more water and bring sun protection. In the winter, the higher elevation parts of the trail can be icy so bring traction for your boots. When I did this trail in December, I was so grateful for my microspikes.
I completed this hike in mid-December, 2020. At 8 am the temperature was just 7 degrees Fahrenheit but rose to about 35 degrees by midday. There had been snow the day before and the trail was icy, especially on the switchbacks and chain sections.
Click on the camera icons on the map below to see pictures along the route.
Photo Gallery (Click to Enlarge)
About the Author
Lauren K. www.wayscaped.com
Lauren works a regular 9-5 day job, but traveling and sharing her experiences is her passion. She prefers nature to the cities and her favorite vacations are ones that involve hiking in the mountains.