We ascended Walter’s Wiggles, the 21-switchbacks carefully engineered and reinforced with sandstone blocks and were standing atop Scout Lookout, with awe-inspiring views down into Zion Canyon and over the Virgin River. Looming before us was a slender finger of red sandstone leading to Angels Landing. I have been up Half Dome several times. I’ve sat atop Banner Peak and dangled my feet over Thousand Island Lake. And I’ve climbed to the top of Mt Whitney in the darkness of night. But looking at the “trail” before us I got butterflies. At first glance, the trail up to Angels Landing looks impossibly steep and treacherous.
Angels Landing in Zion National Park is one of the most challenging and rewarding hikes in the park. The slender spine of red sandstone juts into the canyon like a spine, and provides epic views in all directions. Getting to the top requires you to check your acrophobia at the trailhead, and the final push from Scout Landing has sheer drops with little room for errors.
We arrived at Zion National Park early in the morning, and got parking at the visitor center parking lot near the entrance. During the summer months, Zion does not allow cars in the canyon. Instead, you park at the visitor center or in neighboring Springdale and take a shuttle into the valley.
Angels Landing Trail Description
We took the shuttle to the Grotto Trailhead — the sixth stop in Zion’s main canyon. There are restrooms and picnic tables near the shuttle stop. We checked our water and headed over the bridge across the Virgin River and up the West Rim Trail.
The trail is actually paved as it slogs uphill winding close to the canyon wall.
At 1.5 miles you reach beautiful Refrigerator Canyon.
This deep, narrow side canyon is shady and stays cool even in the summer. This section climbs more gently, giving you a bit of a breather until you reach Walter’s Wiggles.
These 21 switchbacks are steep and short, and an amazing bit of 1930’s trail engineering. Our legs felt good, but the climb really gets your heart pumping.
At the top of the wiggles we reached Scout Landing. Many people reach this point and go no further, intimidated by the path ahead that seems more like a trial than a trail. This is a good spot to take a break, eat a snack, drink some water and consider… are your papers in order?
The sign to Angels Landing declares ominously: “Since 2004, six people have died falling from the cliffs on this route. The 1.1 mile round-trip from Scout Landing to Angels Landing is a strenuous climb on a narrow ridge over 1,400 feet above the canyon floor. This route is not recommended during high winds, storms or if snow or ice is present.”
I was determined to go to the top. Many people do every day. I wasn’t sure if Joan would be as enthusiastic. But when I saw the narrow spine that we would be climbing to reach Angels Landing, I felt my pulse quicken. A little voice in my head said “Really? No way!”
We caught our breath and decided to give it a go.
The Angels Landing trail traverses solid sandstone with sheer drops of hundreds of feet possible. People have died on this trail, as the signs warn. In most places, the trail involves following a well-worn route over the steep sandstone while holding a chain on one side. And it’s not that bad. With proper shoes, a decent sense of balance and a rational fear of death (keeping you from behaving foolishly), you can hike this trail. You will gain another 500 vertical feet in a very short distance, but take your time. Breathe.
Reaching the top is exhilarating, and the views are magnificent.
Angels Landing plenty of area to spread out and enjoy the views. We took time to soak it all in and recorded a short time-lapse video of the view down the canyon.
Heading down was complicated. When we got to Angels Landing, it was early enough in the morning that not many people were coming down yet. As we descended, there was a steady stream of hikers making their way up the narrow spine. With only one chain, passing is best done with extreme caution.
Once we were back at Scout Landing, the rest of the hike down was easy.
Angels Landing Trail Map
Angels Landing Photo Gallery
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Angels Landing Tips
- Start early. Not only will you find fewer people, you’ll also have cooler temperatures — and important consideration in the summer.
- Take plenty of water. This is not a trail where you want to skimp on water. Bring 1-2 liters and stay hydrated.
- This trail has a lot of sun exposure. Use sun protection and a hat.
- Don’t take unnecessary risks. Be aware of the people around you. One accidental bump could be tragic.
More Zion National Park Resources
- Zion National Park website
- Lunch at the Lodge — but upstairs (on the patio if the weather permits). It is quieter and much more relaxed.