Zion National Park, Utah
Date: October 5, 2009
Distance: 5.4 mi. (round trip)
Total elevation gain: 1,488 ft.
Highlights: One-of-a-kind hiking experience, amazing view of Zion Canyon
Angels Landing is one of the highlights of Zion National Park due to its unique feature and easy accessibility. To say that it’s a popular hiking destination with park visitors is an understatement. Unlike Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, a permit is not required (yet) to hike Angels Landing Trail. This hike offers amazing views of Zion Canyon and the Virgin River, which flows through it. The last section of the trail is on a steep and narrow ridge with long drop-offs to the canyon below. It’s certainly not for those who have fear of heights – or for children. The view at the top of Angels Landing and the exhilarating experience of the hike itself made this hike one of our most memorable.
Getting to the Trailhead: Except during winter season, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible only by shuttle bus to reduce traffic congestion in the canyon. I found that the shuttle system at Zion worked very well. The hike starts from the Grotto Trailhead. To get to the trailhead, take the shuttle to the Grotto stop.
After crossing a footbridge, turn left and follow West Rim Trail to Scout Lookout. The trail to Scout Lookout is well paved and heavily used. The first section along the Virgin River is relatively level with nice view of Angels Landing and canyon walls. The trail soon climbs quickly up the canyon rim through a series of switchbacks. This slog up the cliffside would be much more challenging in hot weather. Fortunately for us, it was a relatively cool day in the fall when we did the hike.
About 1.5 miles in, the trail enters Refrigerator Canyon, a nice respite from the heat on a hot day. At the end of the Refrigerator Canyon section, before arriving at Scout Lookout, you face a series of 21 steep and tight switchbacks known as Walter’s Wiggles. (For an amazing view of Walter’s Wiggles, follow a link here.) At the top is Scout Lookout. The last opportunity to use a toilet is here as there are none beyond this point. For those who do not wish to climb the last half mile to Angels Landing, Scout Lookout is a good place for a lunch break before returning. The view of the Virgin River’s bend and surrounding canyon walls from the Lookout is beautiful in its own right.
After catching your breath it’s time to continue. From this point on, many of the trail sections have chains anchored to the rock for hikers to hang on to – and you’ll definitely need them. From Scout Lookout you can’t really see Angels Landing clearly as there is a hump between you and Angels Landing. As you leave the Lookout, you face the hump with chains going along its right side. A climb over and around this hump, though not the highest point in elevation, is probably the most challenging of the trail as it’s the first time you face steep drop-offs, test your footwear where any slippage would be bad, and have to negotiate traffic coming from the other direction. Be patient.
Once you are on the other side of the hump, Angels Landing will come into full view. It’s an amazing view and daunting at the same time. I found that the climb up Angels Landing from this point was not too difficult as long as you are fully aware of your surroundings and watch your step. The chains certainly provided security and assurance. You’ll notice the color of the sandstone changing from red to yellowish white signaling that you are near the top. Before you know it, you’re at the top of Angels Landing.
As you must have heard or read elsewhere, the view of Zion Canyon from the top of Angels Landing is awesome. The incredible, high payoff view is enhanced by the sense of accomplishment you feel after the climb. Most hikes don’t involve hanging by chains on the steep sides of perilous cliffs. Though you’re never really in danger, it’s a unique experience. Please be courteous and share your viewing spots with your fellow hikers so that everyone gets to enjoy this amazing place.
Ground squirrels are quite active trying to get to food or crumbs left behind by hikers. After soaking it all in and having a snack, it’s time to head back. As I’ve read in several discussion forums – the hike down isn’t as scary as going up – that was my experience as well. Maybe it’s because it’s easier to plot your route when you’re looking down, as you can see far ahead of where you are. I’m not sure. Once you’re back to Scout Lookout, the rest of the hike down is a piece of cake.
Hiking Considerations: If you take this hike on a hot, sunny day, be mindful that the trail section between Scout Lookout and Angels Landing is exposed with very little shade. Bring extra water and sun protection. The Angels Landing hike is more about the experience than anything else. If solitude and a great view is your objective, then there are other hikes that are much less crowded. You might like Observation Point better. It’s a longer hike, with more elevation. but it has a great view from what I’ve read. We’ve not done that hike yet.
Have you taken the Angels Landing hike or considered it? Please share your experience or your plan.