There is no view more dramatic than the view you see when you are hanging onto a chain bolted into the side of a cliff with sheer 1500 feet drop-offs on either side of you.
If you’ve done any research about Zion National Park, you’ve no doubt heard of the famous Angel’s Landing hike. Heck, even if you’ve never heard of Zion, you’ve probably seen photos of Angel’s Landing on Instagram.
Angels Landing, earlier known as the Temple of Aeolus, is a tall fin-like rock formation that juts out from the centre of Zion Canyon. This rock formation looks magnificent from the ground below, and the 360-degree view from the top is like no other. If you make it to the top of the cliff at 5,790 feet (1,760 m), you’ll be rewarded with scenery that you will never forget.
The entire hike is just a short (but unforgettable) 5-mile round trip with about 1500 feet of elevation gain.
But if you’re afraid of heights, this might not be the best hike for you. The large signs posted around the park have no problem reminding you about this!
As I mentioned in my last blog post, our decision to begin at Zion National Park on our Utah road trip was a spontaneous one. Our original starting location (Arches National Park) was looking forward to a rainy cold front, so we decided to wait it out by bypassing Arches and making the slog down South all the way to Zion.
As soon as I started researching Zion photos and hikes and stumbled across Angel’s Landing, it was a done deal – we were heading to Zion and this was to be the highlight of our time in the park!
I wasn’t lying when I said that Zion National Park is a busy place! A shuttle system was established by the park to eliminate traffic and parking problems, and protect vegetation. If you are visiting the park anytime from early spring to late fall, the main road is closed and you are required to take a shuttle to the trailhead for this hike. We had originally intended to hike Angel’s Landing in the dark and be at the summit in time for sunrise – but the park’s mandatory shuttle system changed our plans, as the first bus wasn’t until 8 am, well after sunrise.
The starting point for Angel’s Landing is at the Grotto Trailhead and picnic area – the 6th stop on the Zion Canyon Shuttle. Hop on the shuttle as early as you can – parking is limited inside Zion, and parking lots at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center (where you can catch the shuttle) are typically full by mid-morning. (You can also park in Springdale and take another free shuttle into Zion).
The hike begins across the road from the Grotto picnic area, where you cross a bridge and follow the West Rim Trail (all clearly marked). Even if it wasn’t, you’d have no problem finding your way – just follow the hordes of people eager to cross this hike off their bucket list!
The trail is wide and very well maintained. This first section is fairly level and crosses the river and runs across the canyon bottom. You will begin a chill climb up multiple switchbacks until you reach an area known as Refrigerator Canyon – a portion of the hike that is pleasantly cool, beautiful and easy to hike.
After this break from the hot Utah sun, you’ll begin ascending another series of 21 switchbacks, affectionately known as Walter’s Wiggles. This section is a steady climb and the switchbacks are tight; you’ll gain elevation quickly here, but not to fear – this section is fairly short.
Once you complete these switchbacks, you’re at Scout Lookout! And the view is gorgeous. From here, you can see the Angel’s Landing ridge to the south of you, and get an idea of what you’re in for, for the rest of the hike to the summit.
This is the area where most people turn around if they’re afraid of heights and do not wish to attempt the chain section.
Yep – that’s what you’re about to climb! Don’t worry – there are chains bolted into the rock up the steep and narrow parts.
Even if it looks intimidating, I urge you to carry on. The views from the top are totally worth it!
For the final half mile, the trail will follow the fin-shaped ridge across a saddle and basically climbs straight up and up, almost 500 more feet in elevation.
You’ll be thankful for the chains here!
Things get steep and exhilarating.
If you become overwhelmed with panic at the first section of chains here and don’t feel that you can be sure-footed or balanced on the exposed portions, don’t continue on – just enjoy the view from Scouts Lookout, because the trail stays this way for the remainder of the hike.
The major danger that we identified here was the sheer number of hikers using the chains at any given moment.
Hikers going both up and down often share the same chain, so half the time you’re weaving yourself in and out of people.
We experienced a few people getting “stuck” on the chains – freezing up and not wanting to go any further, but also not wanting to turn around and climb back down. The chains are sturdy, but watch out for the multiple people grabbing for the same spot of chain at any given time!
After a fair bit of scrambling, you’ll make it up to the top and be rewarded with an absolutely stunning 360-degree view of the sprawling canyon below. All of your hard work will definitely be worth it!
This is a great spot to finish your lunch, take a break, and take a few (careful) photos from the top of the mountain.
Make sure you check out the giant cairn cliff and add your own cairn to the growing collection!
Continue (carefully!) back down the way you came up and mark this once in a lifetime hike off your bucket list!
Keep an eye out for my next blog post where I’ll talk about a great family-friendly little hike in Zion National Park with great views – Canyon Overlook Trail. Better yet, sign up for my mailing list, to be notified by email when a new blog post goes live!