Angels Landing

SA Guide: Angels Landing

Angels Landing is not just a great hike, it's a seminal hike. It's a Zion icon. It's a Zicon! (Okay, I'll stop.) Angels Landing is breathtaking, exciting, dangerous - there are few superlatives too super to use in describing this beautiful five and a half miles of red rock wonder. But perhaps the most amazing thing about the Angels Landing experience, at least to me, is how many people opt to go ahead and experience it.

This is one of those adventures, like Half Dome in Yosemite, that, despite the relatively frequent loss of lives (six in the last ten years) has gained a reputation and become a must-do. And it is certainly much done. So when we planned for our three day weekend in the park, Angels Landing was at the top of our list of prospective hikes, but with a qualifier - something along the lines of: "Let's just see how it goes..."

I wouldn't say we were fearful of the climb. We'd been on too many hikes listed as precipitous or dangerous or too strenuous that turned out to be quite manageable. But we had looked at a number of videos, and read a few accounts. The visuals were staggering (and the reality is no less impressive) but the subject of fatal falls cropped up often. So it was with a niggling bit of trepidation mixed into the excitement that we hopped on the Zion shuttle bus and headed out for the early morning hike.

The trek begins innocuously enough. After passing over the bridge across from shuttle stop #6 (The Grotto), the trail veers north. It parallels the Virgin River for a mile or so before turning west and heading toward the rock walls. Here you begin the first section of switchbacks. These are of a bit more challenging gradient than most we've encountered, but the demands are well rewarded by the increasingly spectacular views across the canyon and to the south. This section is cut into the sheer rock face (it's that spot you were looking at wide-eyed while on the shuttle when you whispered to your partner, "Well, at least we know it doesn't go up that way!"). At a little over a mile you level out into a little cleft between the Angels Landing fin and the walls to it's south. This beautiful, narrow hallway of a ravine is called Refrigerator Canyon, and, as the name suggests, I'd expect it's a good spot to cool off on warmer days. Take advantage of the relief, for at the end of your half-mile walk west through the canyon you begin Walter's Wiggles.

Walter's Wiggles is the name for a series of twenty-one paved, fairly steep switchbacks that ascend the southwestern flank of the monolith. They were built in 1926 by the first superintendent of the park so as to allow horses to get up onto the rim of the canyon. And at Scout's Lookout, where the Wiggles top out, this also allows access to the final section of the climb to Angels Landing. Scout's Lookout is a spectacular spot in its own right. There are amazing views south and north, as well as of the trippy-looking spine of your destination directly to the east. From here, the pavement ends and the layered slickrock, chains, and carved footfalls begin. This is also where you may experience your first bit of anxiety at the sight of the seemingly too-narrow ridge you're going to cross and climb - and this is where you should listen to those misgivings. If you're afraid of heights, this is not a hike you should insist on finishing. If you're already pretty pooped, this is not the time to press the conditioning issue. The better part of valor comes in handy on this hike, and we saw many people who chose to listen to their wiser instincts.

Laura is fine with heights, and although I'm not fearful of them they can give me pause. I chose to see this idiosyncrasy as an instructive, protective, well-adjusted sibling of acrophobia, and we struck out across the ridge (also, I'm really bad at listening to my wiser instincts). The climb is steep, and requires a good bit of scrambling, though due to the chains and steps not a particularly high skill level. Once undertaken, this part of the hike ends up being much more about concentration on the climb than worry about the drop-offs on each side. This is not to say that a glance to either side isn't a feast for the eyes, but one realizes the views will only be that much better at the top, so focusing on getting there seems to take priority. The going may be slow at times, but our experience was that this is more often the result of lingering than fatigue. We tried to get an early start but still ended up constantly passing other hikers going both ways, and the bulk of our waiting was for certain chained or narrow areas to clear enough for us to move on.

After a last stretch of chain-assisted steps, the ascent tops out on a white sandstone rounded ridge running to the east. The area for passage broadens a good bit, though there are still jaw-dropping cliffs on either side, and there are small trees here and there that have found a foothold in the rock. But passing others is no longer an issue requiring elaborate concern. The last few yards leads out onto a knob of stone, where many people gather. The views from all along this ridge are straight out of The Lord of the Rings, or some kind of fairytale. It is all a marvel to behold, and you are left with not the slightest doubt that your efforts have been payed back many times over.

If you are in good shape, are not deterred by heights, and are not bringing along small children, then treat yourself to a genuinely epic hike. Angels Landing lives up to its rep.


Info: Distance - 5.6 miles, Elevation range - 4288'-5808', Rating - Difficult-Strenuous

More photos:

  • 01 Trailhead
  • 02 View of our destination
  • 03 Refrigerator Canyon
  • 04 The last section
  • 05 Looking back to Scouts Lookout
  • 06 Crossing the fin
  • 07 Plenty of company
  • 08 Bend in the river
  • 09 Ridiculous view from the top 1
  • 10 Ridiculous view from the top 2
  • 11 Ridiculous view from the top 3
  • 12 Ridiculous view from the top 4
Even more photos: Flickr



All photos and video by Laura or Bob Camp unless otherwise indicated. Use without permission is not cool.