21 Jan Hiking Angels Landing in Zion National Park
The higher we climbed the more nervous I got. I held the chain as I peered over the edge and thought to myself, “What in the world did we get ourselves into?!”
Our path was narrow and rocky, the drop offs on both sides were more than 1,000 feet and the only thing we had to hold onto was a chain that emerged every so often. I tried to stay steady as we scurried up and over the uneven rocks. I’ve been known to fall on flat surfaces, so a tumble here wouldn’t have been all that surprising, especially since my shoes had horrible traction.
We were climbing the Angels Landing trail in Zion National Park—a hike that has been rated one of the most dangerous hikes in the world. I had seen pictures and heard stories of this trail, but never really thought much more about it until I was clinging on to the chains with sweaty palms. Part of the trail follows the ridge of the rock formation in the photos above–if you look close you can see people making their way up the trail! So this is why people say that the hike isn’t for those afraid of heights—I get it now. Thankfully, I’m not afraid of heights, so I kept on moving one foot in front of the other.
The Angels Landing hike starts out at the bottom of the canyon at the Grotto Tailhead. The hike is 2.5 miles each way and while it is strenuous in parts, it’s not an incredibly difficult hike. It’s short but the real challenge is more of a mental one due to all the exposed drop offs along the path. If you can, arrive early to beat the crowds as you don’t want to get stuck in a line of people towards the end of the hike. Micah and I were hiking with a couple of friends and ended up doing the hike in the late afternoon, which was also a great way to avoid the crowds, but it was also much hotter than it would have been in the morning. You can see the summit of Angels Landing in the photo below–it’s the tip of the rock formation in the center of the photo!
Initially, the path is an easy walk with only a gradual incline, and then you get to the switchback section. This is the section that will have your legs on fire in no time. The two sets of switchbacks twist their way up the canyon wall at a sharp incline.
After conquering the last set of switchbacks, you will find yourself at Scout Lookout. The views overlooking the canyon from here are fantastic. This is also the spot where you might want to turn around if you are scared of heights as shortly after Scout Lookout is where the craziness begins.
The last 1/2 mile of the hike is what earns this trail its place on many people’s bucket lists. The trail follows the ridge and this is where the narrow path and exposure to steep drop offs come into play. Along this portion of the hike, there are chains bolted into the rocks that you can hold onto for support. The chain handholds don’t cover the entirety of the trail though, so be prepared for areas without the chain to hold onto. You will find yourself scurrying up and over uneven rock surfaces, so make sure you are wearing good shoes! I learned that mistake the hard way.
Once you make it past the hair raising climb and find yourself at the summit of Angels Landing, you will be rewarded with views that span the entire canyon below. We were in awe with the landscape in all directions, and we had a hard time pulling ourselves away.
When you do eventually pull yourself away, then it’s time to head back the same way you came. Going down might be easier than going up, but it was definitely more terrifying! I may have slid down some of the steep portions of the hike on my bum, but either way, heading down required steady feet and a lot of patience.
Thankfully, we all made it back to the trailhead safe and sound, and we couldn’t resist cooling off by putting our feet in the river while waiting for the bus to arrive. It was a great reward for a toasty day hiking through Zion National Park—hopefully we have time to hike even more trails on our next visit!
Trail Information & Tips:
Elevation Gain: 1,488 feet
Distance: 5 miles roundtrip; 2.5 miles each way
Starting Point: Grotto Trailhead in Zion National Park
- One of the easiest ways to reach the trailhead is to hop on the park bus and ride to the Grotto Trailhead.
- Start the hike early in the morning to avoid crowds and the afternoon heat. If you start the hike in the afternoon, make sure to plan enough time in so you make it back before dark.
- Make sure to bring enough water to last the entire hike. There are water stations at the trailhead but nowhere else on the trail.
- Restrooms are available at the trailhead and at Scout Lookout, which is around 2 miles down the trail.
- If you are afraid of heights you might want to stop at Scout Lookout as the last 1/2 mile of the trail runs along a ridge with steep exposed drop offs on both sides.
- Wear shoes with good traction as the trail can be slippery.
- Don’t attempt this hike if it is raining and beware of ice in the winter—it can get dangerous in inclement weather!