The Ultimate Guide to Hiking Angels Landing: Zion’s Most Thrilling Hike
By Kay Rodriguez
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Updated November 1, 2020
If you’ve ever heard anything about Angels Landing, it’s probably one of two things: that it’s the most iconic hike in Zion National Park, or that it’s absolutely terrifying. Both are true: Angels Landing is a stunning, adrenaline-inducing trail that requires some rigorous rock scrambling in very close proximity to 1,000-foot drop-offs.
Needless to say, the Angels Landing hike is NOT for the faint of heart.
Because of its unique terrain and heart-thumping rocky pathways, Angels Landing is one of the most famous trails to go hiking in Zion National Park. In fact, the peak was named, according to the Union Pacific Magazine in 1924, “the summit, in fact, appeared lofty and inaccessible that the legend of the angels seemed wholly credible and some of us timidly deliberated the possibilities of joining their ranks.” Cool, huh?
The trail has a little bit of everything: flat, paved lakeside pathways, strenuous switchbacks, rough-and-tumble rock scrambles, and breathtaking canyon views. If your travels take you to Zion and you’re looking for a true adventure, read on for our very best tips (and a few misadventures) from the Angels Landing hike.
Things to Know Before Hiking Angels Landing
Distance: 5.4 miles
Length of Time: 3-6 hours (we took ~4 hours, including a few traffic jams…more on this later)
Elevation Gain: 1,500 feet
While the Angels Landing hike is one of the most popular hikes in Zion National Park, a walk on this trail shouldn’t be taken lightly. You should have a few difficult hikes under your belt before attempting this one.
Not to scare you, but there have been 8 confirmed deaths on Angels Landing, one which occurred just a week before we hiked there. If you choose to tackle this trail, you are assuming some level of risk. However, if you’re an experienced hiker with the right footwear and hiking gear, you’ll be fine. Hundreds of people do this hike safely every day.
The trail is very exposed, with little shade cover and limited chain railings. So, you’ll want to a) check trail and weather conditions before you hike, b) get there as early as possible, and c) wear sunscreen and sun protection and reapply often.
The second half of the trail to the summit is almost 100% rock scrambles, so be prepared to use your hands and feet. Forget hiking poles, especially for the summit – they’ll just get in the way and add extra weight to your pack.
You also want to make sure you wear appropriate hiking boots (we saw LOTS of people struggling and slipping in normal sneakers, and sandals – even Chacos – are just plain dangerous for this hike) and bring water. Park rangers strongly advise against bringing children under the age of 12 on this hike.
Lastly, get to the park as early as possible. If you do this, the air will be cooler and the crowds will be smaller when you start your hike. You’ll also have more time to visit other spots in Zion in the afternoon!
Got all that? Okay, great! You’re ready to hike Angels Landing!
What to Expect During the Angels Landing Hike
Getting to the Angels Landing Trail
Here’s the thing: the morning we were planning to hike Angels Landing, what was supposed to happen and what actually happened are two different stories.
What was supposed to happen was that we’d wake up at 5:30, get to the park by 6:30 AM, and board the first bus at 7:00 AM to Grotto Canyon (Stop #6), get off, and start hiking.
Well, we are NOT morning people, so what actually happened was that we overslept all 3,984 alarms we set (sorry, neighbors!), woke up around 8:00 AM, and hurriedly threw our stuff into our car and headed to Zion. We arrived in the park around 9:00 AM, drove around forever looking for parking at the Visitor’s Center, and finally got to the trail head around 9:45 AM.
Hmm…I guess we were only, like, 2-ish hours late…
Pro tip: Get to Zion before the first bus if you want to hike Angels Landing with smaller crowds and cooler temperatures. You’ll park at the Visitor’s Center and take the shuttle to Grotto Canyon (Stop #6) to begin the hike.
In the winter, there’s no bus, but you can drive your own car and park at Grotto Canyon. During the shoulder season (March-early May), the first bus is at 7:00 AM, and in the high season (early May-September), the first bus is at 6:00 AM.
Angels Landing Part 1: The Switchbacks
At this time, the trail was already full of people and some early hikers were making their way back down to the trailhead. Everyone we saw heading back looked miserable, which led us to question our own life choices in doing this hike. But, we stuck with it and soon found ourselves wandering on a pretty flat, leisurely riverside trail toward a tall set of switchbacks.
We started up the switchbacks and found ourselves appreciating that we’d gotten there early enough to mostly still be in the shade. After about 20 minutes up the switchbacks, we crossed a small bridge and found ourselves moving through a pathway in a narrow, shady canyon. Apparently, this shady spot is called Refrigerator Canyon, and I totally get why: it’s nice and cool in there!
The path through Refrigerator Canyon was really flat and we loved the shade…but this break didn’t last long. We basically ran face-first into a SECOND set of switchbacks, which were much shorter in length.
Apparently, these latter switchbacks are named “Walter’s Wiggles” after the guy who blazed the trail. According to the lovely automated voice guide on the buses, Walter Ruesch was the first superintendent of Zion National Park and built the trail himself.
(Side note: as a self-proclaimed switchback critic, I actually loved Walter’s Wiggles. They were so cute!)
Finally, we made it up to Scout Lookout. Here, there’s a small bathroom building (presumably so you don’t pee yourself out of fear of heights on the second half), as well as the trailhead for the West Rim trail to the left. Don’t take that if you’re hiking Angels Landing – instead, head straight to the terrifying looking rock mounds ahead.
Pro tip: If you’re feeling nervous or tired and don’t want to continue to the summit, it’s totally fine to stop here at Scout Lookout! There are still some pretty awesome views and the people watching is prime. Plus, there are some shady rocks you can sit on.
Angels Landing Part 2: The Scramble
Here’s where we were hitting ourselves for not getting up earlier: the rock scrambles were one quickly-growing traffic jam, with people moving up and down the trails in a chaotic mess. But, as we scrambled up the rocks (using the chains for balance), the crowds kind of came and went.
After the first section, we arrived at the famous part: the trail ledge with two 1,000-foot dropoffs on either side. Not gonna lie, it didn’t affect me that much (I think my fear sensors are forever dulled since my near death experience), but Raf was TERRIFIED. White-knuckled, grasping the chains, crouching down while he walked, it was miserable for him…and I know exactly why: Raf has a ridiculous fear of heights.
Pro tip: If you’re even remotely afraid of heights, don’t look down during this part. Also, if you brought trekking poles, put them away. They will distract you and take up precious space on the crowded, narrow trial.
But once we got past that one infamous part, it was pretty fun. We got held up at approximately 100 traffic jams, with people coming down as we were going up the narrow trail areas. Overall, it was really fun and challenging to scramble up the rocks, all while soaking in some seriously awesome Zion views. There are chains the entire way up for you to use to stabilize yourself and pull yourself up the rocks – USE THEM. They help a lot.
As we made our way to the top, we could see the views starting to become more and more expansive. On one side, you’ve got the entrance to Zion Canyon. The other side boasts views of the Virgin River all the way to the Narrows. As you can imagine, it’s pretty breathtaking…but don’t let the views distract you too much; the focus should be on where you put your feet and getting up the rocks.
Arriving at the Angels Landing Summit
Once we got to the top, there was a long pathway across the summit to see various different views of the canyon below. One side had views in the direction of the Watchmen, while the other looked over towards the Narrows and Big Bend. Super stunning and picturesque.
We sat up there for 20-30 minutes just admiring the views and congratulating ourselves for surviving the tricky scrambles and narrow trails. It was Raf’s first “summit” hike, so that was pretty cool, too.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to walk all the way to the end! The views are different depending on where you’re standing at the summit.
The way down is exactly the way you came up. Descending, the scrambles can be a bit more tricky (darn gravity), so be sure to hold on to the chains or nearby rocks for extra support. Also, you may need to wait several minutes for people to pass by during traffic jams.
Finally, the switchbacks down to the bus stop are much easier on the downhill, though do try to take them slowly if you have knee problems or pain.
Our Thoughts – Was it Worth It?
All in all, the Angels Landing hike took us just under 4 hours, including several traffic jams in the second half and a few photo breaks.
Despite what we’d read and head, neither of us thought it was that bad. A lot of people portray Angels Landing as a death-defying, treacherous hike, and we didn’t really get that vibe. As long as you play it safe, stay close to the rock walls/chains, and don’t get too close to the ledges, you should be fine! (Though if you’re severely afraid of heights, I’d suggest reconsidering.)
Overall, I’d say the hike up to the top of Angels Landing was arguably cooler than the summit itself.
Don’t get me wrong, the top was beautiful, but I really loved scrambling up the rocks and getting to traverse a variety of terrain. It was a really unique kind of hiking challenge that I’ve only had a handful of times before.
Although I was with my boyfriend on this hike, I would hike it solo, too. There were enough people up there for me to feel comfortable, and I saw several solo hikers around. Although the trails were crowded, there was a certain level of camaraderie that most other hikers displayed, helping people up when they needed it, moving aside so people could use the chains, and more.
So…would I recommend Angels Landing? It depends.
If you’re SUPER afraid of heights – hard no. You’ll have a tough time. If you’re looking for a family hike, probably not, unless your kids are a bit older.
However, if you’re a reasonably fit, experienced hiker, I would wholeheartedly recommend tackling Angels Landing. It’s a fun, challenging, and unique hike, and I definitely understand why this trail is one of Zion’s most special places.
A Hangry Hiker’s Guide to Where to Eat After Angels Landing
If you’re anything like me and get hangry AF after you hike, I recommend two options. For the nearest food option, head to the Zion Lodge and eat at either their snack bar (reasonable prices) or their restaurant (expensive).
Or, if you can spare some time, take the bus back to your car and drive over to the Zion Brewery in nearby Springdale, which has delicious craft beers and yummy dishes, with a nice view, too. Raf and I ordered a hummus and a quinoa burger between the two of us and washed it down with a Burnt Mountain Brown Ale. We couldn’t finish our food and had to take some home.
Know Before You Go: Zion Hiking & Travel Tips
When to Visit Zion National Park
Zion is a year-round destination and is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can hike Angels Landing at any time of year.
We visited Zion in the spring and had a blast, but lots of trails were closed for maintenance or due to snow melt/landslides. If we were to come again, we’d probably opt to visit Zion National Park in the early fall, when the weather begins to cool down and the summer crowds subside.
What to Bring for Angels Landing
We recommend bringing the following for Angels Landing:
Breathable hiking clothes – For warmer hikes, you’ll want to wear a sweat-wicking shirt and breathable pants, like these Patagonia hiking shorts for men and women. For cold-weather hikes, we recommend dressing in layers, including merino wool baselayers for men and women, a down puffer jacket for men and women, and a Northface waterproof outer shell for men and women (a must for hiking in Seattle). And don’t forget a pair of the best women’s and men’s hiking socks!
Trekking poles – You won’t need these for every single hike, but we suggest throwing them in your car just in case. We recommend the Black Diamond Trail Ergo cork trekking poles, which are lightweight, easy to transport, and durable.
Water bottle – Having water available at all times is a huge must. To limit disposable plastic, we recommend bringing your own refillable water bottle. We’re obsessed with Hydro Flask water bottles because they keep water cold for hours.
Sunscreen and bug spray – Sweatproof sunscreen and DEET bug spray can help you avoid sunburn and bug bites, two of hiking’s most annoying after-effects. Our favorite kind of sunscreen is Sun Bum, as it is free of harsh chemicals and safe for marine life, including coral reefs.
A brimmed hat or cap – The sun can be brutal in open hikes, so always pack a brimmed hat or capfor day hikes in the sunshine.
Emergency blanket and first aid kit – We’d strongly recommend bringing a first aid kit and a lightweight emergency blanket on every hike. Why? Because the unfathomable can happen, and it’s always best to play it safe.
Durable day pack – A durable day pack is the perfect spot to stash all your hiking gear. While any backpack will do, we recommend the Osprey Tempest 20 or the Talon 22 day packs because they’re comfortable and breathable for long hikes. For more information, check out our best day packs for any terrain guide.
Trekking poles: These could be nice for the switchbacks, but honestly, they will be completely useless on the rock scramble. You need your hands for it, and if they’re tangled in trekking poles, you’re putting yourself at risk. If you HAVE to use poles for the earlier switchbacks, get a foldable and compact pair, like the LEKI Micro Vario, so you can stuff it in your daypack before the scramble.
Sandals or sneakers: Just don’t, guys. Wear proper hiking footwear with soles that can grip the rocks properly.
Children under 12: The park rangers mentioned that children under 12 should not hike this trail. There are tons of other trails to hike with the little ones.
Heavy things: You are going to be throwing yourself over rocks. Don’t weigh yourself down with a heavy, bulky bag full of stuff you don’t need.
Where to Stay in Zion National Park
To save money, we stayed in an Airbnb in nearby Hurricane. Hurricane is just 40 minutes from Zion by car, and it has everything you need — a grocery store, restaurants, pharmacy, gas stations, etc.
However, if you’d like to be right next to the park, there are tons of hotels and lodges in Springdale, which is just outside of the park entrance. Fellow travelers really love the Cable Mountain Lodge, stating that the rooms are spacious and clean, and it’s super easy to get into the park.
Heading to Zion National Park? You might find these other posts helpful:
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