As of this writing, Zion National Park is partially open. Wear a mask and check the website before you go. If you’re researching for your next visit, whenever that might be, one of the spots not to miss is the Angels Landing hike. That is, if you’re fit enough for it. A friend and I were able to visit early this year, and amazingly (to me, anyway), I was able to complete this epic, challenging, and dangerous hike.
Here’s what it’s like, with a few tips to keep in mind if you’re considering taking on this particular adventure.
In addition to the video below, I also did an extensive Instagram Story of the entire hike.
The pictures don’t exactly follow the timeline of the tips, but hopefully that annoys me more than it annoys you.
For most of the year there’s no vehicle access to the park. Instead, there are trams that run throughout. If you’re staying in Springdale, there’s also a tram to get you to the park entrance. So it’s best to just leave your car at your hotel. Right now, advance tickets are required for the trams, so plan accordingly.
You’ll alight from the tram at the Grotto, a picnic area with toilets. I highly recommend you go before you go. There are porta potties part of the way to the top, but they smell like, well they smell like porta potties.
Make sure you have a lot of water. This is an extremely long and strenuous hike. There’s no water available after you start. Though the hike is “only” 5 miles, and the top is “only” at 1,488 feet, there’s a lot of up and down to get there. Zion claims it will take 4 hours. It took me 6.5. Part of that was my friend and I taking our time, but most of that was me being in pretty mediocre shape.
Snacks are a good idea too, or maybe even a full lunch. There are some fantastic places to stop, rest, and eat.
Cross the road, cross a small bridge, and head right. You’ll walk along the Virgin River. However, definitely don’t go in right now. This part of the hike is fairly flat and easy, though sandy. You’ll get a great view of the Angels Landing itself, which doesn’t seem too high from here.
The first challenge is a series of seemingly endless switchbacks. It’s almost entirely paved ramps for this section. This makes the hike seem deceptively simple. And in fact, you can get most of the way to the top without any scrambling over rocks.
There are no railings, here or anywhere else on the hike. This part, at least, doesn’t have any places where you’ll feel like you’ll die if you trip. That’s later.
6) Rock Cutaways
The switchbacks get shorter and steeper as you approach the rock face. Paths have been carved into the stone itself. The views start getting really good here. Might as well pace yourself as it only gets harder the farther up you go.
7) Walter’s Wiggles
Once you reach the top of the switchbacks, there’s a short, semi-shaded, undulating walk at the base of a sheer cliff face. This brief respite from vertical travel is only temporary. At the end you reach Walter’s Wiggles. These are more paved switchbacks, but far steeper. While they’re fairly narrow, it’s easy to pause at each of the turns, which will let you stay out of the way of faster hikers (which in my case was most of them).
8) Scout Lookout
After Water’s Wiggles you arrive at Scout Lookout, a flat(-ish) area that’s a great spot to stop and rest. Or just stop. It gets significantly more difficult from here.
The view is fantastic, with panoramas of the rest of the canyon, Angels Landing itself, plus the added bonus of terrifyingly sheer drops hundreds of feet to the floor below. If this part gives you anxiety, you should probably end your hike here. Check out my video at the top for some views straight down.
Also, there are porta potties here, the only ones on the hike.
9) Chains and cliffs
Technically, it’s only half a mile to the summit from Scout Lookout. Technically. The hike gets significantly more difficult after Scout Lookout. No more paved walkways and easy switchbacks. From here on there are just sheer cliffs, rocks to climb over and around, and occasionally, completely necessary chains to grab so you don’t slide off into the abyss.
Since 2004, 10 people have died on this hike.
10) Flipflops and parkour
I’ll freely admit I’m not in the best of shape. I have, however, hiked all my life. Solid sneakers or boots are quite important. Not least for grip, but also to help minimize the chance you’ll roll an ankle or worse. So imagine my shock at seeing people scrambling over rocks, roots, jumping from boulder to boulder, with just flip-flops. I don’t get it.
What I also don’t get was the guy speed running to the summit and back, leaping past people who were just trying to hold on and not die. If someone wants to be that careless with their life, fine. Putting the rest of us at risk, while giving us dirty looks because we’re in “his” way, that’s a whole other level. Why he felt the need to do this in the middle of the afternoon when the hike is its busiest will remain a mystery.
11) Bluetooth speakers are rude
Can you imagine being so rude as to think everyone on a hike through nature wants to hear your crappy music? Headphones or nothing. Don’t use Bluetooth speakers. We heard one couple coming for 10 minutes. And it wasn’t even a good Bluetooth speaker, so extra judgement from this tech writer.
The majority of the hike to the summit involves a lot of up. Like actual climbing. You don’t need ropes and gear as there are chains and hand/footholds, but it’s significant change from “strenuous walk” of the previous portion to “actual hike” of this part.
Take it slow. The majority of the people my friend and I came across were quite understanding, with slower people letting others pass, and those going up making way for those coming down.
After several “oh, this must be the top” moments, you’ll finally arrive at the summit. It’s not a peak, but more of a high saddleback with long sloping sides that disappear, revealing the canyon floor far below. At the top you’re well over a mile above sea level. So in addition to the strenuous hike itself, there’s also a lot less oxygen for your weary muscles.
However, the view here is absolutely fantastic. Definitely take time to explore around.
Heading back down is just retracing your path. Hope your knees can take it.
14) Best time to go?
Well, this is certainly the question. A lot of it will depend on the time of year. In the summer, the morning might be better since it will be cooler. We timed our hike to be at the summit near when the sun dipped below the walls of the canyon. This is well before sunset. I was pleased with the photos I took with this lighting, though like any photographer, I wish it could have been better. It’s worth talking to a park ranger when they think the light will be best for when you’re there.
It’s hard to say how long it will take you to get to the top. For our hike it was about half our total time, but we stopped a lot.
I wouldn’t want to start too late in the day, however, as I would definitely not want to do any of this hike in the dark. Also, the trams stop running after 9pm (check the schedule before you go).