Zion National Park Day 3: Angels Landing
Updated: May 9
Yesterday was an amazing day in Zion National Park, especially when we got word that our friend Shannon's permit request was accepted and we were going to get to hike to Angels Landing today!
Admittedly, I did not do much research on Angels Landing prior to our trip, especially once I learned we didn't win permits in the advanced lottery. And call me pessimistic, but I didn't think the odds were in our favor to get last-minute permits.
I knew, generally, getting to the top of Angels Landing involved chain rails and it was a nerve-wracking experience for many people who attempt it because of the narrowness of the trail and the sheer drop-offs on both sides. I knew some people call it a scary and even treacherous hike. I knew that, due to its difficulty, the trail would be closed for ice and snow conditions and possibly other inclement reasons. I heard a few stories of people freaking out while on the trail and some resorting to crawling on all fours.
I also knew Angels Landing grew to be the most popular hike in Zion National Park. In fact, it was such a popular hike that they had to institute a permitting system to temper the volume of hikers on the trail.
Many national parks have gone to a permitting system for park entry and/or for access to a particular trail to control congestion. While this can be an annoyance, especially if you aren't one of the lucky ones who is awarded a permit, I can definitely see why they felt the need to institute this for the Angels Landing hike.
One of the most challenging aspects of the hike, in my opinion, is sharing the trail with other hikers – finding safe ways to negotiate very little space on the trail to allow descending hikers the space they need, or to get past other hikers who needed to take a break or talk themselves into continuing. At one particularly steep boulder section near the top, I gave the hiker in front of me a literal foothold on this tougher climbing section. She thanked me and said she'd recently gotten a hip replacement.
I did not know until after we completed the hike, however, that since 2000, more than a dozen people (possibly closer to 20) have died while on the Angels Landing hike.
Fun facts: The Angels Landing hike has been described in such terms as these:
"Zion National Park's most deadly hike"
"breathtaking but deadly"
"Terrifying Angels Landing hike! Death on both sides!"
"one of the most dangerous hikes in the United States"
Sign me up!
I also did not expect the trail to be as physically demanding and strenuous as it was. I thought the hardest part would be the technical maneuvering and the treacherous terrain. Many hikers make it to Scout Lookout, look over at the remaining route to Angels Landing, lined with chains, and then change their minds about finishing the trek to the top.
I had mentally prepared myself for the heights thing: Don't think about how high. Don't think about falling. Focus on your feet and your hands. Truth be told, the technical aspects were actually a welcomed distraction. The terrain not only demanded agility from your feet, but also your upper body strength.
I also told myself I would limit my photo- and video-taking during the hike, and keep my eyes and mind on the task at hand, not looking around or down until I reached the top. I didn't want to chance being struck by a bout of vertigo while up there. And I told myself that diverting my focus to getting photos or video during this part of the hike wasn't worth the risk.
But let me just sum this all up: Angels Landing was, by far, my favorite hike we did in Zion, my favorite hike of this entire trip, and possibly one of my favorite hikes of all time. In fact, if our trip had concluded after completing Angels Landing, that would have been just fine. Angels Landing is neck and neck with Cloud's Rest in Yosemite for my favorite, for sure, except for the fact that the roundtrip hike to Angels Landing was only 5.2 miles and the roundtrip hike to Cloud's Rest is nearly 13 miles. So, it's hardly an apples-to-apples comparison from that regard.
Our permit for Angels Landing was for the last window of time for the day, which is a start time of after 12:00 p.m. So, we knew it was going to be sunny and hot. We parked in the same overflow lot in Zion as we had the day prior and hopped on the shuttle bus to The Grotto stop. We sat at a picnic table and had a few energizing snacks before we headed over to the Angels Landing trailhead across the street.
A short distance up the trail, a friendly uniformed park worker was posted along the route and requested to see our permit. Shannon showed her the necessary proof, and then we stepped aside to remove a layer (it was already feeling hot) and then we were on our way.
I did not expect the trail up to Scout Lookout to be paved. That was kind of disappointing for someone like me who prefers hiking dirt trails, but it's understandable why it needs to be paved.
At noon, about 95% of the route to Scout Lookout is full sun exposure and it's all uphill, so it's hot, sweaty, and strenuous. I decided I was going to "race" myself up to the Lookout, so I took off and told the others I'd see them at the top where we'd regroup before finishing the rest of the hike up to Angels Landing.
If you look closely, you can see other hikers on the start of the switchbacks.
Looking back through the canyon towards the trailhead.
The notorious "Walter's Wiggles," a series of 21 steep switchbacks on the way up to Scout Lookout, is no joke. And apparently, it is not uncommon for visitors to Zion to underestimate and suffer medical emergencies while on this section of the trail – before they even get to the treacherous Angels Landing section.
Looking down at some of Walter's Wiggles switchbacks.
Looking down at hikers on Walter's Wiggles.
Looking up at a stacked series of some of the switchbacks.
After a great deal of pushing myself, I made it from the trailhead to Scout Lookout in 51 minutes, which entails 1,000 vertical feet of climbing in 2 miles. I sat on a rock and had a snack while I waited for the others to join me.
The views from Scout Lookout were amazing.
And directly in front of us... our next conquest: Angels Landing and the start of the infamous chains.
And here she is in all her glory. With her 1400-foot cliff drop-offs and all.
If you look closely, you can spot some hikers on the spine, in the far right of the photo, climbing the trail to Angels Landing. (They look tiny.)
Once we all gathered, we took a deep breath, grabbed ahold of the chains, and started climbing.
The canyon below is breathtaking, but you certainly don't want to fall into it.
Shortly in, we reached a sort of small "platform" that ends up being a final "point of no return" for many hikers. The preceding chained climbing section, in my opinion, is probably the most treacherous section of the entire hike and I think it naturally "thins the herd" because a few hikers, including our own Shannon, get past that initial freaky part and decide they don't care to go any farther, so they stay back and wait for the rest of their group to summit and return. The three of us forged ahead.
The guy sitting there next to us was contemplating the meaning of life. Possibly also trying not to lose the contents of his stomach. He chose not to proceed to the top.
I took very few photos on the ascent. In fact, I actually stopped to remove my phone from my back pocket and stow it safely inside my hiking pack for the rest of the trek. In addition to committing to not taking photos until I got to the top, I didn't want to chance it falling out of my pocket while climbing. So, I'm including a mixture of photos from multiple people in our group.
After climbing 600 vertical feet in 0.5 miles, we summited Angels Landing and it was amazing and exhilarating and almost unbelievable. In total, from trailhead to the top of Angels Landing, it took 1:45.
Everyone up there was taking each other's photos and offering celebratory congratulations.
Again, the views of Zion Canyon from Angels Landing were incredible.
We could even see Weeping Rock from the top.
It's an incredible amount of climbing from the start to the top of Angels Landing. Then you have to make your way back down safely.
Shannon got an awesome shot of us on top of the Angels Landing ridge from afar, beginning our descent.
We reconnected with Shannon and began the descent together from Scout Lookout through Walter's 21 Wiggles.
This was such an amazing hike in every way. I would hike Angels Landing again in a heartbeat. It was strenuous and a lot of work, but also extremely rewarding. And to think we almost didn't get our permits to do it!
Angels Landing Hike