Zion National Park – Angel’s Landing
There are so many amazing sights to see in Zion National Park, but none that will take your breath away more so than Angel’s Landing. The Angel’s Landing Trail is one of the iconic trails in the American National Park System. It is as much known for its spectacular views as it is for its treacherous ascent to the summit, with the last half mile being a knee shaking climb along a narrow path with 1,000 foot drop offs on either side.
The trail starts at the Grotto Trailhead, just across the bridge from the Grotto Picnic Area. This is the sixth stop along the Zion Canyon Shuttle route. The first section of the trail is a leisurely stroll along the West Rim Trail, which runs along the bank of the Virgin River. The ascent begins with a series of switchbacks on a well maintained paved path that leads up to Refrigerator Canyon. This portion of the ascent is not too difficult and there is plenty of room for people to pass by on the way up or down.
The scenic hike through Refrigerator Canyon is nice break from the switchbacks and the heat as well. Once you get around to the back of the canyon you will start to ascend Walter’s Wiggles. Walter’s Wiggles is a series of 21 rapidly ascending switchbacks that bring you up to Scout’s Lookout. The switchbacks are steep, but well maintained and not overly difficult.
Scout’s Lookout is a good place to take a break and use the pit toilets before continuing on. It’s 1,070 feet up from where you started and has some very impressive views of the canyon. The giant shark fin shaped ridge to the south is the trail up to Angel’s Landing. If you think it looks intimidating from here, just wait until you get up close and personal with it. The rest of the trail to Angel’s Landing is not for the timid.
The National Park Service has posted a warning sign along the trail here, and for good reason. There have been several fatalities on the Angel’s Landing trail over the last decade due to falls. The last half mile from Scout’s Lookout is a nerve wracking ascent along a narrow path with vertical drops that are sure to bring nightmares to even those with the most mild form of acrophobia. There are chain railings embedded into the rock that are used for handholds along the route. But even the chains are not always enough to keep your stomach from turning completely over as you look down the sheer cliff face beside you. If you are not confident in your ability to navigate this stretch, there’s no shame in stopping at Scout’s Lookout.
This section of trail is slow going and tense, and can be completely terrifying for some. There are places where the trail is barely wide enough for your feet and you have a deadly drop to one side and the cliff face and chain railing to the other. You can easily get stuck behind someone who’s having a rough time of it, or end up being that person yourself. And the traffic is two ways, so you need to be aware of who’s coming towards you and try to find room to allow them to pass when you have the opportunity to do so. It’s easy to get caught up in just trying to get through this portion of the hike and to forget to appreciate the amazing scenery that is all around you. Take your time going up and look around when you can. You won’t be disappointed.
Once at the top it widens and flattens out a bit before you arrive at Angel’s Landing. And when you see the view from here you’ll completely understand why it has been so aptly named. Take a nice break here and enjoy one of the most spectacular views this country has to offer. Just don’t leave your pack unattended if there’s food in it. The squirrels up here are fearless and are notorious for getting into people’s things.
“I saw the tracks of angels in the earth: the beauty of heaven walking by itself on the world.” – Petrarch
The hike back down is not quite as bad, now that you’ve gotten used to being up here. It’s still pretty treacherous, so take your time navigating the chains back down to Scout’s Lookout. Once there, it’s a pretty easy downhill hike, or you can even jog it if you’d like. When you’re all done, hop on the shuttle and head on over to the Castle Dome Café, which is adjacent to the Zion Canyon Lodge, and treat yourself to some ice cream or a nice cold beer. You’ve earned it.
Pros: Breathtaking Views, Exhilarating Experience, Bucket List Adventure.
Cons: Steep, Potentially Dangerous, Crowds.
Overall: One of America’s truly remarkable hikes. The Angel’s Landing Trail is a must see if you are going to be hiking in Zion National Park.
Angel’s Landing is definitely one for your bucket list. I was fortunate enough to cross it off of mine, but that certainly doesn’t mean I won’t be visiting it again, and soon. Until next time. Namaste!
Here’s some more pictures from my Angel’s Landing adventure in Zion National Park