Zion National Park is one of the most beautiful and striking National parks in the US, the Rapid Erosion of the soft sandstone has made for a truly unique and stunning landscape as the Virgin River has carved deep jagged gorges out of the Plateau. The number one activity in the park is obviously hiking and the unique landscape makes for a number of interesting hikes, Not least the Infamous Angels Landing. Often Described as the Most Dangerous, or the Scariest Hike in the States this 5.4-mile hike up and across a large sandstone prominence that juts out into the valley really lives up to it Iconic Status. At points, the trail is only a foot wide with plunging drops either side of over 1000ft, and almost no protection save for a chain-rail installed by the park service. It’s not hard to see where it gets its reputation!
Our Survival Guide for Hiking Angels Landing Zion Nation Park is aimed at helping you decide if you should take the time to hike this incredible route and if so how to get up and down safely, Or if it’s just not one for you, There are many other great hikes in the park and risking life and limb is not for everyone. We look at How dangerous Angels Landing can be, how many haven’t made it, and how scary hiking Angels Landing is, How long it takes, what to take with you, and how to get to and from the trailhead. Basically everything you need to know to hike this stunning route, and whether or not you should leave well alone.
Hiking the Angels Landing Trail
Zion National Park – Utah
- Location – Shuttle Bus Stop #6 The Grotto
- Distance – 5.4 Miles Round Trip
- Elevation – 1500ft / 450m
- Duration – 4+Hours
- Difficulty – Strenuous – Level 3 Yosemite Index – Scrambling with High Exposure and Risk of Death!
- Apply for a Permit HERE (free of charge)
Angels Landing is an Out and Back Trail that covers around 5.4 miles Roundtrip and climbs over 1500ft of elevation. The Classification of Level 3 on the Yosemite Index makes it about as tough as it gets without needing ropes. Basically, parts of the trail are not really trail at all. Instead, they are a mild form of climbing routes requiring full-body movements…basically using your hands and upper body to climb/scramble rather than just walking!
There are a series of chains in place to help with the worst of the climbing and to add a bit of protection from the most severe drops. But it’s minimal protection and requires you to hang on rather than acting as guard rails. At times your feet are inches from 1000ft drops! It isn’t a hike to take lightly so this guide gives you EVERYTHING you will need to know to tackle it Safely
How Scary is Angels Landing?
Up until Scouts Landing, there is no exposure and nothing to fear, it is a straightforward if strenuous, hike.
This is a difficult question to answer. It really does depend on your fear of heights. It is fair to say there is a high level of exposure to some really great heights. Shear drops of well over 1000ft to the valley below are sometimes inches away on both sides of you. This can elicit crippling fear in someone with only a modest fear of heights.
I Myself do have a fairly strong fear of heights and found the exposed nature of the hike very nerve-wracking. For the Entire ridge, I was overwhelmed with anxiety and found movement clumsy and awkward, typical of someone beset by fear. I am just someone who will not allow that sort of fear to stop me. Quite the opposite I embrace it as it makes me know I am alive.
There will be some, less affected by a fear of heights, who don’t see what the fuss is about. These should not be your guide as while it’s great for them, it does not lessen your own phobias. The Hike involves a high level of Exposure and if you know this will be a serious concern to you, maybe this is not the hike for you. You will know if past exposure to heights has caused you serious issues or not, can you happily peer over the edge of a building for example, or does that cause your stomach to do loops?
How Dangerous is Angels Landing?
Up until Scouts Landing, there is no exposure and no Danger, it is a straightforward, if strenuous, hike.
Some People like being Scared and some don’t, but let’s get this clear this is not Disneyland. You are not on a Thrilling rollercoaster here, the fear has a good grounding. The 1000ft drops are unprotected and there is nothing other than your actions stopping you from falling.
The National Park Service Recognises 8 Deaths (as of 2019) due to accidental falls on Angels Landing since 2004. The Precise Nature of these is often hard to establish but make no mistake a fall up here will not have a happy ending. While for the most part, the trail is pretty decent, it is un-level, narrow, and highly exposed. The rock is smooth but coasted in a layer of sand so it’s slippy even in the dry, and lethal in the wet.
How Strenuous is Angels Landing?
The Hike is quite short, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in Elevation. 1500 feet of elevation over a very short distance means you are heading uphill a lot. The Gradients are steep and while some of the Zig Zags flatten a little of the worst bits you can still expect a hard slog uphill. But it’s nothing out of the ordinary. With the odd break to catch your breath and take in the views, it’s an achievable hike for most people as far as scouts. We have seen some very unlikely people make it that far.
The Ridge is fairly easy in terms of effort, it’s more just careful footing and courage to get across. The final push is a bit of a different beast. This is an all-body scramble to haul yourself up the rock face. You will need good balance and enough upper body strength to pull yourself up the chains. It is nothing crazy though and any reasonably fit person in good condition with no health issues will be fine.
Strenuous is the right word. It’s a good workout and left us stiff for a few days but it is not extraordinarily tough, the challenge is overcoming the fear of falling!
So it’s Scary, Dangerous, And, exhausting…Exactly why should we hike it?
You Shouldn’t. If these are the overriding thoughts then this is not the Hike for you. The Fact it is hard, scary, and dangerous are the exact reasons people DO want to Hike it. It’s an achievement, A triumph over Nature. Testing yourself against the elements and the best the Park has to through at us. So when we stand aloft at the summit we can feel proud, accomplished, and triumphant.
The Problem with Angels is too many people hike it because the guidebook says you should, or it’s listed in the Zion Must-do Hikes List. Really it’s not that kind of hike. It isn’t for everyone and it has a very real and present threat to your life. Respect it and only tackle it if you are fit, confident, have good balance, and are physically able.
Ok that’s it We have done our best to dissuade you. If you are not going to listen, just like we didn’t then let us get you up and down as safely and as easily as possible.
Getting in the Park and When To go
Entry to the Park is $35 per vehicle, valid for 7 Days, or if you plan on visiting a few National Parks the $80 America the Beautiful Pass is fantastic Value. It is one of the most visited parks in the United States only behind The Great Smokey Mountain, the Grand Canyon, and The Rocky Mountains. However in terms of landmass per Person, it’s easily the most visited, the other parks all cover huge areas and have many entry points and places to visit. With Zion, nearly all of its 4.3million annual visitors head for Springdale and the main canyon valley. It can get messy.
The Single road in and out of the valley cannot possibly cope with those kinds of numbers so during the busy months it is closed and the Park Service operates a shuttle bus in and out of the Park. However, even this is not good enough. The Main Parking area can be full by 9 am and then visitors will need to park privately in Springdale, this will be charged at $20 and you will need to catch a second shuttle bus into the park or walk-in. Illegal parking is not treated lightly either so we wouldn’t try street parking. Your best bet is visiting at quiet times or getting there super early.
Mid-week during term times is the best. And even then an early start will be needed to avoid the queues and get a spot in the main parking lot. The best plan is to Stay over the night before so you can get a jump on the people driving in from Vegas.
Off-Season is a good time to visit the Park but be warned, conditions and weather can be unpredictable, and do not even think of hiking Angels in the winter unless you know what you are doing. If you are reading this…you don’t!
Hitting the Trail at 8 am should ensure you the best hiking experience. This time the Valley floor is in shade and cool for the most strenuous part of the hike and you will be up on the ridge as the light begins filling the valley. You will not be alone as other solitude seekers will have got up early too but it will not feel anything like as crowded. Staying in the park gives you the opportunity to be up seriously early. Even before light. While the first part of the trail is fine in the dark DO NOT hike the ridge until the Sun is up fully. Scouts landing is one hell of a place to see the sun come up though.
The other alternative is to Hike late. By around 3 pm most people have done their hike and are heading off either to other locations or back to their overnights. This leaves the trial clear for you. However, be sure to know when Sunset is and be off the Ridge WELL before dark. Make sure you have a torch and factor in some leeway. You do not want to be on Angels landing after dark. You will be fine on the trail down from scouts but not the ridge.
Angels Landing is one of the most popular Hikes in the Park, despite the warnings, or perhaps because of them. The Number of people hiking the trail can be incredible. You do not come up here for solitude. The Narrow single-file nature of part of the trail means when numbers are high you will need to queue! We have never queued to hike a trail before and it can be quite an incredulous thing to do. We said above this is not Disneyland, but boy it can feel like it at times. Queueing can add up to an extra hour onto your hike time, and if it’s hot you need to make sure you have enough food and fluid to cover that sort of delay. And remember this is a wilderness hike there are NO facilities anywhere after the Grotto.
Due to its popularity, you must apply for a hikers permit in advance before your trip. You can apply for your permit HERE
Our advice is to BOOK EARLY! The permits regularly sell out. We also advise really not to go on public holidays and busy weekends throughout the summer. It’s just no fun hiking in the wild with that amount of people and this is the time of year when permits sell fast!
Shuttle Bus to the Grotto
If you got into the main parking lot then you just need to jump on the shuttle bus and head over to Stop #6 – the Grotto. Don’t worry about this too much it is all very self-explanatory once in the park and the driver will be sure to point out all the stops and let you know what you can do there. As you approach #6 they will tell you this is the stop for the Angels Landing Hike.
If you had to park in Springdale you need a second shuttle into the visitor’s area to catch the main shuttle. This is all a bit of a faff and much better to get in early and bag a spot in the parking lot. If you are staying in Springdale it’s probably best to use the Springdale shuttle or just walk into the park.
If you are staying in the lodge you will have the luxury of being able to comfortably stroll to the Grotto whenever the heck you like. But plan on booking this, months, even years in advance
Hiking the Trail
Ok, you are at the Trailhead and have beaten the crowds, here is what it is actually like to Hike the Trial, Section by Section.
The Trail breaks down into a number of different sections, we get these to about 6 Sections all different and of varying abilities. It should be noted that up until Scouts Landing the tail condition is fantastic. It is smooth and well-paved, hard-packed gravel. Anyone with a good degree of fitness can hike up to Scout’s Lookout so anyone not wanting to make the final push can hike this far and let the braver hikers forge ahead. It is an out-and-back trip so you can wait here or start to hike back to the grotto, just make sure everyone knows the plan.
Trail finding is easy. On the opening sections, it’s all waymarked and besides, there is only one decision to make at the top of the wiggles do you continue up the West Rim Trail or head out over Angels Landing. You really can’t go wrong.
Section 1 – Easy Street
As you leave the Grotto, you first come to a bridge across the Virgin River. From here you get a great view of the stunning rock formation you are heading. The first part of the trail is a gentle stroll along the river and then up a gentle slope to the base of the rock wall. This is just a nice warm-up to get you started.
Section 2 – The Climb
After the initial trial, things start getting steep as you work your way up a number of switchbacks that meander up the rock walls of the canyon. The only worry here is the gradient. This part is along a steep climb that is fairly unrelenting. Look out for squirrels and Chipmunks looking for scraps of food on the trials. By the top of this trail, you will have gained a lot of height. There is a wonderful lookout point back down the valley that reveals the extent of the trial you have just hiked.
Section 3 – Refrigerator Canyon
By now, you will have likely worked a bit of a sweat up, it can be really hot at the bottom of the canyon and the climb is quite strenuous. Refrigerator canyon is the perfect place to cool off and recover. The canyon walls close in and the tree-lined valley follows a cool stream up to the foot of the Wiggles. The sun only hits the canyon for a short period each day and it remains nice and cool. The path is pretty flat and allows you time to recover from the hard accent.
Section 4 – Walters Wiggles
At the end of Refrigerator canyon, the path goes straight up a near-vertical rock face. To facilitate this safely the path takes on a long series of hairpin switchbacks as it wiggles up the face. Due to the efforts of Walter Ruesch who oversaw the construction of the switchbacks (hence the name), the path is very easy-going in terms of technicality. It’s more of the same smooth paved trail you have had up to now. However it takes in a lot of height in very little space, so expect a lot of exertion. Frequent stop and repeating the fact you’re almost there should see just about any reasonably fit and healthy up to the top of these and safely at the awe-inspiring Scouts Lookout.
“Wow”. Spend any time at Scout’s lookout and you will hear this over and over as people arrive at the top and first glimpse that view! It really is wonderful. Here you have a choice to make. Up until now, the trial is level and in excellent condition. Exposure has been minimal and while you likely got yourself breathing pretty hard on the climbs it’s not been too bad. All that changes NOW.
From here on there is no path. You are scrambling on the smooth worn-off rocks of the ridge. The roue has been partially worn away by the 100’s of thousands of hikers before you but it’s not a path, just exposed rock. At times the loose exposed rock gives way to over 1000ft of exposure, with little to hold onto.
If you have read the above questions, How Dangerous, How Scary, etc… This is where the trail gets real. This is where people have fallen to their deaths. Thousands of people hike the remaining part of the trail each year and very few get into trouble, but if you are nervous and anxious at this point continuing is a bad idea. We hear quite a few people urging others on at this point. They want to get to the end but their companions are not confident. You should not put pressure on people to push on. The danger is real and the fear is justified. Only if you are fully aware and happy with the risks and dangers should you push on? Only if you are filled with confidence and eager to tackle the beast should you head out over the ridge?
The Decision is yours, but there is no shame in calling it here, you will not be alone and the view is staggering, just look at it!
Section 5 – The Ridge
The first part of the ridge actually has some of the scariest parts. They are not the most exposed or have the biggest drops, but the surface is loose and uneven and the 200-300ft drops into Refrigerator canyon will still probably kill you, so who cares if they are not 1000ft+.
The Fact the worst of it comes so soon is a good thing. It’s a final check. Am I ok with this? Can I cope with scrambling up a 50-70° angled slope with severe drops? Can I handle the loose uneven surface, covered in sand? Or have I bitten off more than I can Chew?
The Good news is if you can handle this you are good to the top, if not, no biggy just head back to Scouts and just be glad you gave it a go. By this point, you will KNOW if you can handle it rather than guessing.
As you move along the ridge thing start getting very serious. The Ridge narrows and the path gets closer and closer to the edge. At points, it’s a foot, maybe two, wide with just sheer drops on either side. In videos, these are the points that look horrific and in truth they are. But as we said they are not as challenging as the earlier parts of the ridge. But here the Central governor can take over. Any fear of heights is going to be exposed seriously. The exposure is HUGE. No one is scared of heights, it’s a misnomer, you are scared of exposure to height. And there is a lot of that here.
However, if you can hold your nerve the trail is actually quite easy if it were not for the drops it would be no problem at all. We do hear people on Travel forums saying how they thought Angels was easy and no problem at all, how they do not see what the fuss is about. Good for them. They are either showing off or simply do not have the same fear of exposure other people do. Their bravado brings people up here who should not be! If you are even a little troubled by heights this is going to test you in a big way.
Section 6 – Final Push
Once through the last section of very narrow ridges, the path widens out again and the exposure drops away. That is the good news. The Bad News is the climb now gets pretty hard. The fear factor has gone but the technical scramble up the ridge to the summit is a very strenuous all-body haul up the guide chains.
While the fear of 1000ft drops has diminished a lot of care is still needed. The final scramble is Yosemite Grade 3 which is about as tough as it gets without needing a rope. Good hands and footholds are essential and you just haul yourself up the chains. It’s hard work and technical, but great fun. A fall here would hurt and would probably result in injury, but you would likely stay on the ridge so not fatal, but we still don’t advise it!
The Final ascent is unrelenting but quite short, it can take a while as congestion is bad and you will need to let groups down as well as up, but these breaks give you a rest bite to ready yourself for the next haul. Before long you will top out and be on top of the world.
The Summit – Angels Landing
Angels Landing gets its name as it’s so high Angels land up here and it’s very apparent once you are up there. It is one o the best views in the park. The beauty of it is the fact it juts out into the valley giving ner 360° views in all directions. There are much higher observation points, but none as stunning. You feel Airborne as if you are flying through the canyon as opposed to just above it.
Take time out here to enjoy some food, and some rest, take in the wondrous vistas that are laying out before you, and wallow in the satisfaction that you made it! Basking in your own glory and that provided by nature in the wonderful warm Utah Sun is pretty glorious!
However, Be Wary. YOU ARE ONLY HALFWAY
Don’t fall for the mountaineer’s Fallacy that the Summit is the finishing point. It’s the halfway point and often the easy half. From now on you are gravity-assisted, but that assistance is not all it’s cracked up to be. Let it assist too much and you will be at the bottom WAY faster than you planned!
Is Angels Landing Worth it?
We get asked this a lot. And it’s not a simple answer. Yes and No.
Is it worth it for the view, the payoff? No. There are other easier views in Zion and other National parks as good even better than Angels. Yes, it’s a fantastic view and one We happily replay in our minds but is it worth all that effort, fear, exertion? Not really. The Canyon Overlook is nearly as good and you won’t nearly die on that short hike!
But that completely misses the point. You are not hiking this for a view, you are doing it for the hike. The Journey is the Destination and the payoff! In that sense, it is totally worth it. This is a bucket list hike and one you simply have to do. The joy of playing the Youtube clips to friends and family and watching their stomachs turn as we hike the narrow ledges with 1000ft drops is priceless.
However on the other hand. We struggle to see this as worth doing at busy times. We don’t want to Queue to hike, if we want to fight crowds we will go to Disneyland. Coming out into nature is about getting away from people. There is something perverse about a National Park So Remote, so Wild and So utterly filled with people. Everyone has the right to enjoy these places so we have no idea what the answer is, and it’s great to see people out of their houses and off their iPhones, but we just make sure we visit when numbers are quieter. To stand in line for an hour to start a hike…Pass.
What to Wear?
In Spring and Autumn wear light clothing. It’s a big effort and the fact you keep moving means you will stay warm. We have a couple of layers, all breathable, and of technical fabric to aid sweat. If Bad weather is around, then pack a waterproof/windbreaker. While you will be perfectly warm should you keep moving if a storm of bad weather means you have to stop you can get cold very quickly if you get in the wind or soaking wet.
In summer, wear as little as possible. It can get sweltering in the canyon. Again if there are storms you can consider waterproof but the reality is if the storms are bad enough you would need one in the summer you shouldn’t really be going up.
Winter, you need to think carefully, but the honest truth is if you are getting tips for what to wear from an internet blog you are probably not really at the experience level to be tackling Angels in the winter.
The most important clothing item is your shoes. It can be very slippy up top. The Rock is soft sandstone so the top layer rubs off creating sand meaning everything is covered in sand. This makes things really slippy even in the dry. Good Hiking boots are best, or trail running shoes, but any soft-soled sports shoe would do. We don’t recommend wearing any fashion or street shoes up here, you really need some proper grip.
The sun can be very strong up here too so a hat is always a great idea.
What to Pack?
Pack Light. You barely need anything for the hike. Some Snacks, anything Carby so cakes, cookies, flapjacks, Cliffbars, etc. And some water, a lot of water in the summer. There are no facilities up here whatsoever so remember that.
And really that’s about it. Apart from a Camera obviously but we all take cameras EVERYWHERE now so that is a no-brainer. If you want to Video it, take a Chest or Head mount, as there are plenty of places where two hands are required, as you can see from our video where I thought I could get away with handheld!
Oh and in the immortal words of Baz Luhrmann, “wear Sunscreen!” It really can be strong and you will be out in it for quite a while with no shade at all.
Should we take our Kids?
Only you know your kids. People will weigh in all the time on this question but we like to leave it well alone. All kids are different. Some are Fearless and will have no issues at all. Some will find the plummeting drops terrifying and need to turn back. Some are nimble, confident, well-balanced mountain goats, others clumsy city slickers who could fall off a curb. We don’t know your kids, but you do. You know if they can manage 4 hours of strenuous hiking. If 1000ft drops will terrify or inspire them. If they can be trusted to navigate near sheer drops safely, and if YOU can be trusted to watch them do this?
Many kids will have far less of an issue with this hike than most adults but only their parents or close family or friends can really know if it is suited to them individually.
How Long Will it Take Really?
The Park Service says it should take around 4 hours plus any queueing. We hear people claim to have knocked it off in 3hours. My Strava shows a time of 2 hours 15 mins (Not including Summit time) but I ran a large portion (not the ridge) and a really fit runner could go well under 2 hours. The reality is hiking it in 3 hours is good going. It is probably a 3-hour hike if you don’t stop. But most people will need breaks. The uphill sections are long and unrelenting so pauses to catch your breath and recuperate are required. You will also require water stops and maybe food breaks, although most people can probably manage by just having a snack at the top. 4 Hours is a good bet for average people, and the fitter and more experienced hiker you are the closer to 3 hours you can get.
Have Your Say?
Have you Hiked Angels Landing? How did you find it? Terrifying? Overrated? Or life-affirming? We have heard them all. Let us know in the comments below and let us know how your hike went. If you have any questions about the hike, feel free to drop us a question in the comments we would love to help out and help get the best out of your hike.