Angels Landing: One of Utah's Most Dangerous Hikes
Zion National Park in Utah attracts millions of people every year. The canyon rock face is a climber’s dream, the hikes for any age and ability means the park is family friendly and accessible to everyone and the drive through the park is simply mesmerizing with the contrast of red cliffs, green trees and brilliant blue sky. One of the most popular hikes in Zion is Angels Landing which along with hiking The Narrows seems to be THE thing to do.
While thousands of people attempt and successfully complete the Angels Landing hike every year there are thousands more who have no business even attempting it. We decided to do this hike not based on careful research and an honest assessment of our ability, but based purely on pictures we had seen and the number of t-shirts saying ‘I survived Angels Landing’ in the gift shops. I would not recommend choosing to do this hike with the same assessment criteria.
Had we known anything about the hike we may not have been so surprised or nervous about seeing a sign at the trail head advising caution and that there had been deaths from people falling. Unlike many of our fellow hikers we actually stopped to read and digest this sign before continuing; however, we soon saw numerous people who would have benefited from reading this sign and knowing more about the hike. In credit to the National Park Service, they are continuously trying to make the hike more accessible and safer for everyone so there are no more deaths. This included installing the sign at the trail head, carving more steps into the rock face and installing more chains that hikers can hold onto like a railing as they climb. While this has undoubtedly made the hike safer for those attempting to climb it, it has also increased its popularity and made it accessible for people who should not be attempting it in the first place.
Anyone with a moderate level of fitness can do the start of the walk which involves following a dirt track alongside the Virgin River before continuing on the concrete footpath zig zagging its way up the side of the Canyon. The trail is well marked and as it’s on concrete you won’t need the trekking poles – just a camera and some water. Once you think you’re at the top you move into a smaller slot canyon where the shade and freshness of green trees brings a welcome break from the sun and the gradient levels off. Enjoy this while you can as once at the other end there is a series of tight and steep switch backs to navigate called Walter’s Wiggles which tests even the most dedicated person’s cardiac fitness.
If you make it to the top of these wiggles you will arrive at Scout Lookout which is a natural rest area where the path flattens out and many people stop to rest on their way up or down. Here you have a commanding view of not only the canyon but also the second part of the hike and is where most people should call it quits and hang out with the thieving Chipmunks instead of pushing further.
It’s not such a bad thing to stop your hike here as, if the chipmunks don’t keep you entertained, the people watching will. Sitting quietly on a shady rock you will be able to observe partners and friends trying to give encouragement to keep going even though they are in obvious distress about the height and risk of falling.
You will be able to watch partners and friends yell at their better halves for slowing them down, making them wait or not going further. You will see people freeze and be unable to go forward or back despite the encouragement, coaching and abuse they get from people around them. You will see impatient people take scary and unnecessary risks as they try to climb around those who are stuck or slower than them or as they try to push past those coming the other way. You will see people on all fours and close to tears attempting to return to Scout Lookout after realising too late they should not have gone further. You will see people of all shapes, sizes and ages attempt the slippery hike in Flip flops or crocs, trying to climb with one hand as they try not to let go of their expensive camera or phone with the other and most terrifying of all, people with small children and babies in backpacks. You will also see the huge relief and sense of satisfaction on the faces of those that made it to the top and back.
Simply by spending time sitting at Scout Lookout and observing both the climb and the people attempting it you should quickly form an assessment on if this is the hike for you. By pushing further you are committing to the exposed and strenuous climb along a knife edge with 1000ft drops on either side. While there are chains to hold on to there is also slippery footing on the uneven surface of dry rock worn smooth by countless thousands of feet and even in runners with good grip we occasionally slid or felt insecure. Once committed to the hike people were mostly encouraging and everyone was generally ready to give strangers the right of way or an extra moment to catch their breath before continuing.
If you do decide this section of the hike is for you expect bottle necks and long waits as the climb is only wide enough for one person at a time however we saw it as a positive as it was a good excuse to catch our breath. Also due to the popularity of the hike expect Angels Landing itself to be crowded and to get to the very end of the point we had to literally step over people to get there.
BUT – if you do make it you will be rewarded with incredible 360 degree views of Zion Canyon that will take your breath away if the climb up there hadn’t already. For those capable and prepared this is an incredibly rewarding hike that you will talk about for years to come and is definitely worth the climb.
Anyone with a moderate level of fitness could complete this climb, however, those with fear of heights, a lack of patience, mobility or balance issues should stay down at the half way point – unfortunately some people found this out too late and I’m sure they will be talking about the hike for years to come for all the wrong reasons.
THINGS TO KNOW
- Angels Landing takes about 4hrs and is 5.4miles/8.7kms long.
- Access to Angels Landing starts at the Grotto Trailhead (the 6th stop for the Zion Canyon Shuttle in Zion's main canyon).
- The elevation reaches steep heights of 1500 feet.
- Angels Landing can be hiked all year-round. Spring and fall are most pleasant; while summer can be very hot. The trail is also accessible in winter, but conditions could be risky.
- Drinking water and restrooms are available at the Grotto. Carry water and snacks. Use a small backpack so your hands are free to hold the chains.
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About The Author
Anna is an Australian who loves to see what’s around the next corner or over that next hill. She has spent her entire adult life either traveling or acquiring the means to travel and has been fortunate enough to visit all 7 continents. She now lives in Costa Rica, currently trying to learn Spanish while adopting the Pura Vida lifestyle and developing her business as a Travel and Adventure Coach. To learn more about Anna, simply visit her Instagram or Facebook.