Zion National Park: Angel’s Landing Hike

Zion National Park in Utah is a beautiful park that features some of the best hiking trails in North America.  The park’s most famous hike is Angel’s Landing, which offers some of the most breathtaking views you may ever experience on a hike.  Angel’s Landing takes you up the narrow spine of a fin-like mountain that sticks out in the middle of the main canyon of the park.  Although the climb is strenuous and a bit scary, the panoramic view of the park canyon from the summit is spectacular.

Photo above: The summit is at the top of the mountain left of me.

Facts about the hike:

  • 5 miles round-trip – not very long at all.  I think it took us about 4 hours.  I’d consider a medium-length day hike.
  • 1500 foot elevation gain.  It’s a steep gain – lots of switchback trails, plus the final climb up the spine of the mountain.
  • Most of the hike is exposed.  Wear sunscreen and a big hat once you’re on high ground.  There’s less sun in the morning; the afternoon can be scorching hot.
  • The last portion of the hike is a bit technical.  You’ll hike up the narrow spine of a mountain, using chain rails to help.  Not good for children or people who are afraid of heights.
  • I think most would consider this a “strenuous” hike.  You’ll need to be in reasonable shape (but if I can do it, it’s not that bad hehe) and ok with the technical and heights aspects.

Starting off the hike

Most people start the hike by taking the park shuttle to The Grotto trailhead.  Cross the river and go along the West Rim Trail.  This initial park of the hike is easy and flat, taking you along the Virgin River.  Here’s a video of the view:

After about half of a mile, you will start on your first series of switchbacks and gain some elevation.  The trail is wide and is paved very well, so no worries.  It’s a decent climb, though, so expect to get a little winded.  I just think of the time to catch my breath as opportunities to take photos 🙂  The photo below is a cool view of these switchbacks, from above.

The main canyon of Zion park looks pretty awesome from here as well.  Just imagine – the view gets even better later on!

Refrigerator Canyon

The next portion of the hike takes you through Refrigerator Canyon. It’s a narrow canyon to extrudes out the side of the main canyon. Since it’s so narrow, it’s usually in the shade and cool – hence the name. And the canyon is flat.

Refrigerator Canyon

At the end of Refrigerator Canyon, we have to go up again. There isn’t much room in this canyon though, so we have to go up 21 short but steep switchbacks called Walter’s Wiggles. They are so short that they almost look like a staircase in a big building.

Here’s a video of Walter’s Wiggles:

Scout Lookout

Once you hike up Walter’s Wiggles, you are now on the top level of Zion National Park. The amazing views start here. This spot is called Scout Lookout. It’s a good resting spot (with a couple outhouses) and a great place to take some photos. The two photos at the top of this post were taken from Scout Lookout. In the photo below, you can get a good view of the Virgin River at Big Bend.

A little further up, you can get a glimpse of the final stretch of the hike: up the spine of the mountain to the summit of Angel’s landing. The mountain, from the photo below, looks pretty scary eh? It is very narrow, and the left side of the mountain is a sheer cliff. This is where the fear of heights thing can get to you. If you are afraid of heights, or if you don’t have decent balance, or if you have young kids who run off on their own, you should stop here. A fall could result in serious injury or death. The first time I did this hike, we stopped here and went back (we were running out of time/daylight).

The Climb to the Summit

The final climb is only a half mile in length, but it takes you up another 500 feet of elevation.  There really isn’t a trail here; it’s more like a path up a bunch of rocks.  Most of the path is marked by metal chains on poles that you’ll need to grab on to.  You don’t have to pull your entire weight with the chains, but you do need to pull on the chains to help you go up, down, and over. My quads felt a good burn by the time I arrived at the top. The path can get busy too, so you may have to wait for groups of travelers going the other way to use the chains before you can use them.

Once I arrived at the summit, my body was tired, but my spirit was free. It was amazing up there! You have a full panoramic view of the park from the summit. There is lots of room up there, so sit back, grab some food, and enjoy the view. I probably could have spent a few hours just hanging out at the summit.

Here’s a video of the panoramic view. Aaaaaaaaaah.

Summary

Angel’s Landing is a spectacular hike. It’s hard, it can be scary, but it is exhilarating. It is certainly one of the best hikes I’ve ever done. Considering Zion National Park is only 2.5 hours from Las Vegas, and there’s a shuttle bus that drops you off right at the trailhead, Angel’s Landing is a very accessible hike. You all should do it!!!!

I found this excellent YouTube video of this hike, filmed by Yongsung Kim with his GoPro camera. It probably captures the experience more vividly than my writing does. Enjoy!

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