I Hiked to Angels Landing and Didn’t Die!

Hiking to Angels Landing in Zion National Park

The park rangers at the Zion National Park visitor center told us not to go.

A storm might be headed towards Zion, they said. And the last place you want to be stuck during a storm is hanging onto a chain 1500 feet above the ground on the skinny spine of rock that leads to Angels Landing.

Part of me was relieved – I'm not *really* a hiker, and the toughness of the 5.2-mile Angels Landing hike was secretly psyching me out. But a larger part of me was really bummed. I had been prepping for this hike – with its 1500-foot elevation gain, steep switchbacks, and narrow path with 1000-foot dropoffs on each side – for months, and had even switched up our itinerary at the last minute in hopes of catching good weather.

But if the Rangers said we shouldn't go, we probably shouldn't go. After all, people have DIED hiking to Angels Landing.

Chain on the Angels Landing Trail

You fall, you die.

Elliot and I filled up our CamelBak and water bottles anyway, and hopped on a park shuttle. We decided we would hit up some of the shorter hikes in the park instead and try to make the best of it.

But, by the time we had taken some photos at Big Bend (with perfectly clear blue sky, I might add), we both looked at each other and said “Let's just do it.”

On the shuttle back to the hike's starting point at The Grotto, we came up with a plan: the dangerous part of the Angels Landing trail doesn't come until the final half-mile at the top. IF clouds began to roll in by the time we finished the West Rim Trail, we would simply turn back. But we both agreed we would regret it if we didn't at least try.

West Rim Trail to Angels Landing

The valley floor was still cloaked in morning shadow when we got to the trailhead, even though we were starting our hike around 9:30 a.m.

We set out on the West Rim Trail, which follows the Virgin River briefly before starting to climb steadily along a series of switchbacks. The sun was shining, the trail was blissfully not crowded, and we exclaimed all the way that, yes, we were crazy enough to be headed for the fin-shaped rock towering more than a thousand feet above our heads.

Angels Landing in Zion National Park

Angels Landing is the fin-shaped rock on the left.

The first 1.3 miles wasn't too bad, though the altitude (more than 4,000 feet up) definitely made itself known.

After the first set of switchbacks, we entered into Refrigerator Canyon, which is a relatively flat stretch of trail through a cool and shady canyon – perfect after the first semi-steep portion of the trail (what can I say? I'm a sweat monster when I'm being active).

Refrigerator Canyon on the Angels Landing Trail

After the respite of the canyon, we made our way to Walter's Wiggles. These “wiggles” are a series of 21 steep (but thankfully short) switchbacks that go up the back of the mountain leading up to Scout Lookout. Zion National Park's first superintendent, Walter Ruesch, constructed this part of the trail in order to make Angels Landing more accessible for visitors. He must have been a bit of a masochist with how steep these switchbacks are, though – my legs (and lungs) were burning by the time we got to the top.

Walter's Wiggles on the Angels Landing Trail

The Wiggles from above

Scout Lookout is 2.1 miles into the Angels Landing hike and sits more than 1000 feet above the starting point of the trail. From here, you get great views out over the valley below, and you can see the looming spine of Angels Landing itself ahead.

Angels Landing in Zion National Park

There's the spine – ahhhhh!

Scout Lookout in Zion National Park

Everyone wants a good view.

This is where the really challenging part of the hike begins – from here on out, you'll be hanging on to fixed chains, clambering over slippery sandstone, and traversing steep and exposed sections of trail. Oh, and did I mention that if you fall you'll probably die?

People HAVE died on this trail – at least 6 of them, according to the National Park Service. This isn't a trail for everyone. Elliot and I briefly wondered if it was even a trail for us.

Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park

Wondering if we're crazy or not.

We spent some time at Scout Lookout taking photos and mentally preparing ourselves for the challenging climb ahead. If you're afraid of heights or not particularly confident in your fitness level, I would suggest ending your hike at Scout Lookout. Climbing the spine of Angels Landing is taxing on your legs, your arms – and your nerves.

Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park

I've written before about how much of a non-hiker I am. But, leading up to this trip to the American Southwest, I knew that I wanted to challenge myself (and, let's be honest, see some amazing views). Angels Landing is one of the most iconic hikes in the national parks system (and certainly in Zion), and I knew I could do it if I prepared properly. I spent months going to cardio kickboxing classes regularly and worked on strengthening long-unused muscles at an adult gymnastics class.

By the time we stood on Scout Lookout eyeing those chains ahead of us, I knew I could do it. (I'm also not afraid of heights, though, so I suppose that probably helped, too.)

Plus, the spine section of the trail is only about half a mile – how difficult could it possibly be?

Trail to Angels Landing

Doesn't look so bad, right? RIGHT?

Well, let me tell you that it's difficult. And kind of terrifying.

Not only do you have to scramble up rough sandstone “steps,” but if you're short like me you'll also have to pull yourself up onto ledges using the fixed chain, and probably slide down some exposed sections on your butt. All with 1000+-foot dropoffs, sometimes on both sides of the narrow trail.

Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park

Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park

Oh, and sometimes there aren't any chains.

Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park

This trail is NOT suitable for anyone with even a mild fear of heights, and I also wouldn't recommend it to anyone who's very out of shape. It's technically only a half-mile-long portion of trail, but it feels much longer thanks to the fact that you're climbing nearly straight up and expending a lot of energy to do so.

By the time we finally left the last section of fixed chain behind, my legs were feeling a bit shaky and I was once again drenched in sweat.

Chains on the Angels Landing Trail

But we did it. We made it to the top of Angels Landing.

And damn did it feel good.

Angels Landing in Zion National Park

The view from Angels Landing

At the top of Angels Landing

Me in all my sweaty glory.

Angels Landing got its name in 1916 when a man named Frederick Fisher was out exploring Zion with friends. Upon seeing the fin of rock rising up out of the canyon, Fisher apparently stated that “Only an angel could land on it!” 

Well, call us angels then.

At the top of Angels Landing

We did it!

We spent the next 20 minutes or so perched at the top of Angels Landing, munching on snacks (and trying to keep them safe from a band of fearless chipmunks), and congratulating ourselves. Thankfully the weather had remained perfect all morning – the Rangers are right that the top of this trail is NOT somewhere you'd want to be in a storm.

After a few proof-that-we-did-it photos, we decided to head back down. It had taken us more than two hours to reach Angels Landing from the start of the trail (a little over an hour to Scout Lookout, and then about an hour to get up the spine), and we wanted to get down before the afternoon crowd of hikers arrived.

Not starting the hike as soon as we got into Zion had been a minor mistake – by the time we were heading down the chain around noon, there were large groups of hikers making their way up. This caused bottle-necks on the trail, since most sections on the spine are too narrow for two people to pass each other comfortably. It meant having some patience and taking turns letting groups pass when you reached a section of trail where you could safely wait off to the side for a few minutes.

Spine of the Angels Landing Trail

Can you see all the ant-sized people on the trail?

Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park

Waiting my turn.

It was also on the way down that we encountered quite a few people that should NOT have been attempting this trail – like a dad with a baby strapped to his back who was clearly not comfortable gripping the chain, and a college-aged girl in hot pink Sketchers who was literally sliding, skiing-style, down portions of the trail and squealing the entire way.

I actually found myself thinking that only 6 deaths on this trail was actually impressive.

Going down was a lot easier than climbing up, but our legs were definitely shaking as we made our way back down Walter's Wiggles and the switchbacks on the West Rim Trail section. I found myself saying more than once that “I don't remember this being so steep on the way up!” My thighs and calves would be sore for the next two days.

The sun was still shining when we made it back to the Zion shuttle stop at The Grotto, and Elliot and I exchanged a high-five as we sat down to wait for a ride. I'm usually a strict rule-follower and listener-to-authority, but in this case I was really glad that we went with our gut (and the weather forecast on my phone) and tackled the hike anyway.

Hiking to Angels Landing is definitely an experience I'll never forget, and I'm so proud of both of us for making it to the top!

IF YOU GO

If you're going to attempt the Angels Landing trail at Zion National Park, there are a few things you should know before you go:

  1. Know your limits. As I've stressed already in this post, this is a tough hike. It's 5.4-miles round-trip, and takes anywhere from 3 to 5 hours to complete (it took Elliot and I 4 hours, which included a snack break at the top). It includes steep switchbacks, an elevation gain of 1488 feet, and vertigo-induding dropoffs on the last section of the trail (which requires you to often pull yourself along on a fixed chain). Know your limits, and don't attempt this hike if you're not up to it.
  2. Check the weather. You really don't want to get caught in a storm on the spine of Angels Landing. Keep an eye on the weather, and the sky as you hike – turning around is a much better option than getting caught up there with nowhere to shelter.
  3. Start early. Angels Landing is the most popular hike in Zion National Park – which means the trails CAN get crowded. The earlier in the day that you start, the less likely that you'll run into bottlenecks on the trail on your way down. We started at 9:30 a.m., but ideally we would have started by 8 or 8:30 a.m. In the summer, this is extra important so that you're not hiking up at the hottest point of the day. Also note that from May to October you HAVE to use the Zion park shuttles to get around, and that travel time from the visitor center to the trailhead at The Grotto takes at least 30 minutes.
  4. Bring enough water. This is a tough half-day hike – make sure you have enough water! Even if it's not particularly hot out, you WILL need to drink a lot. Be sure to fill up for free at the visitor's center before you hop a shuttle out to The Grotto, and to drink frequently. I recommend getting a daypack with at a built-in reservoir rather than carrying just one water bottle – way easier to drink as you climb! I like the CamelBak Aurora (70 oz), the CamelBak Aventura (100 oz), and the Osprey Raven (100 oz).
  5. Wear good shoes. For this hike, you really do need proper footwear. And I don’t just mean your favorite pair of hot pink Vans – you need hiking boots. I saw people with Converse and Sketchers on the Angels Landing trail, and they were slipping and sliding all over the place. I love my Merrell Moab hiking boots – I only slipped once with them on the trail!
  6. Beware the sun. Getting sunburnt is the worst – avoid it by applying (and re-applying) sunscreen, and wearing a hat when possible.
  7. Bring your patience along. Remember, this is a very popular hike, and there will undoubtedly be plenty of people on the trail who really aren't prepared for it. It's easy to pass people during the first 2 miles of the hike, but it's not so easy once you're on the chains on the spine. Prepare to take turns letting people pass on the narrow trail, and don't be surprised if you're forced to move slower than you'd like. Don't get frustrated, though – remember that everyone is trying to achieve the same goal and make it to the top!

And, of course, don't forget to take some time at the top to appreciate your accomplishment – it really IS something to be proud of!

So what do you think? Would YOU tackle Angels Landing?

 

Hiking to Angels Landing in Zion National Park

 

47 Comments

  • Ty says:

    Being that I have done it already. I’ll answer by saying that YES I would totally do it again!

  • Rachel says:

    Angel’s Landing looks gorgeous! Good for you hiking it! I was actually just talking to my coworker about it last week. I don’t think I could do it.. yikes! Too many narrow paths!
    Rachel recently posted..The Huntsman: Winter’s War

    • Amanda says:

      It’s kind of a scary hike! For me, the worst parts weren’t the narrow ones – I hated the bits of exposed trail where there was no chain to hang on to!

      • fufufu says:

        Hi Amana,

        I’m planning to hike Angel’s Landing during the Memorial Day weekend. I see you commented on the fact that some parts did not have chains. Were those parts narrow? I am afraid of heights, but I know I will be ok if there were chains. But, if there aren’t chains in some of the sections that are narrow or exposed, I may need to reconsider if I want to do the hike. Also, you mentioned that some parts require sliding down expose sections. I am only 5 feet tall. Would it be challenging? Thanks.

        • Amanda says:

          Most of the exposed sections without chains are pretty wide and not too steep. I’m only 5’4, and I didn’t have any real problems – but you’ll definitely need strong legs and arms to pull yourself up some of the bigger “steps” in the rock!

      • Ryan says:

        Hi!
        I plan on visiting 5 National Parks during my road trip/move to Los Angeles this June. Zion and Yosemite are the ones I’m most excited for.

        I’ve only hiked at the Grand Canyon and simpler hikes in Los Angeles and other places, so tackling this one is really exhilarating to think about. I’m a photographer so my determination to get that stunning shot at the top is all I can think about. Fortunately a close friend is doing it with me too.

        Your post had really great information and I wanted to say thanks for sharing it!

  • Kelly says:

    Hey Amanda I just stumbled across your blog because I was on Instagram hashtag-ing “ZionNationalPark” since I will be heading there in less than a month 🙂 I found this page extremely informative! I was wondering if you had any recommendations on where to eat after the day is done and what other things that you think is worth checking out. Thanks a ton! Also, OH! I noticed you’re also from the Midwest like me 🙂

    • Amanda says:

      Hey Kelly! Zion is really near to the little town of Springdale, and there are lots of great places to eat there. Two of my favorites were Oscar’s (good atmosphere and Mexican food) and Zion Pizza & Noodle Co for pizza.

  • Michelle says:

    Beautiful photos! This is a hike that I’ve been dying to do!
    Michelle recently posted..My March 2016 Blog Income Report – $72,196

  • Irene says:

    We recently visited Zion (no hiking for us) and I love how clearly the canyon is visible on your pictures (yes, its wall look huge from below, but the shape of the canyon is not as clear). So thanks guys for climbing all the way up there! 🙂

  • Ijana says:

    I would love to do this hike! Both this one and the Narrows, despite the popularity of both. Obviously they’re popular for a reason! Did you do the Narrows?

    • Amanda says:

      The Narrows weren’t open yet when we were there. So we’ll have to save that one for next time! (Angel’s Landing was always higher on my list, though – I prefer my hikes to be 5 hours or less! Haha.)

  • Our Wanders says:

    This is one of the most impressive hikes we’ve ever done! And for us the most terrifying thing on this trail were impatient people – so totally agree with you that it’s the best to do this hike as early as one can.
    Our Wanders recently posted..How NOT To Quit Your Job And Travel?

    • Amanda says:

      Definitely one of the most epic I’ve ever done, too! Luckily we didn’t run into anyone too impatient, but I can only imagine how that trail gets in the summer when there are lots more people on it!

  • Julian says:

    Wow, looks like a great workout with some spectacular views. Fantastic! Great shots of the canyon. Thanks for the inspirations
    Julian recently posted..Looping the Loop – Pakse & The Bolaven Plateau

  • RJ says:

    I’m so glad that you decided to hike AL! My friend convinced me to go do it, but didn’t really tell me anything about it before we were actually on the trail. I’m not the best hiker either, but now we both have those “I did it” pictures from the top…and never have to do it again!

    • Amanda says:

      Oh geez. I’m glad I knew what was coming, as I at least felt prepared for it! But congrats to you, too – it definitely is an accomplishment!

  • Congrats! It took me 2 attempts to finally get to the top – on my first trip, we didn’t start early and it was just way too crowded – I wasn’t scared of the heights, but the people who didn’t respect the right of way on the scariest parts. I went back last year, and was on the first shuttle bus at 6:30am, at the trailhead by 7am which meant I missed the crowds both up and down the chains, which was such a relief. Great park – I know I’ll go back many times!
    Leigh | Campfires & Concierges recently posted..Overnight in Hong Kong

    • Amanda says:

      Congrats!! I can’t imagine being on that trail at mid-day in the summer when it’s REALLY crowded! I’m actually surprised they haven’t introduced a permit program or something to limit how many people are on the trail at the busiest times.

  • Tricia says:

    So excited to read this post! We are visiting Zion on our upcoming summer road trip and this hike is on our to-do list. You’ve made me even more ready to hit the trail!
    Tricia recently posted..Introducing Our Adventure Van Bessie!

    • Amanda says:

      Awesome! I wish you the best of luck, Tricia! It’s such an epic hike. I would suggest spending at least two days in Zion in case you get bad weather on the day you’re planning to do the hike.

  • Katie says:

    So many amazing views, but so much danger … seems like my kind of place!
    Katie recently posted..Important things to know before traveling to the USA

  • Tina says:

    I have a terrible fear of heights but I also have a fierce determination to overcome obstacles. When I was in my twenties (I’m in my forties now), my uncle took me here to help me overcome that fear. I remember my legs shaking from the start but my stubbornness would not let me turn around. It also took us 4 hours but I did it!

    Angel’s Landing is no joke. I’m so glad you kept making that point in your post. People don’t realize the very real dangers involved. It looks like you had a great time enjoying our beautiful southwest. Your post will inspire many to see this amazing country we are so blessed to live in.

    • Amanda says:

      I definitely hope that posts like this will inspire people to see more of the Southwest, but I’m glad it came across that I think people should take this hike seriously! It’s not one I would recommend for everyone, even though it’s so amazing. Good on your for completing it!

  • Domnique says:

    The fact that you managed that hike is insanely impressive! My legs started shaking just looking at that spine! Up is usually only taxing for me, down is the issue because I start doubting every step I’m about to take. It would take me hours to get down that hill 🙂

  • Congrats! We were in Zion this past November and I chickened out on Angels Landing. I saw some amazing photos but then the with the height and everything…I think I would panic. Def looks like it was worth the hike though.
    Hannah @GettingStamped recently posted..Ubud Monkey Forest Bali

    • Amanda says:

      Ah it was SO worth the hike! At one point Elliot was really unsure about tackling the spine, but I’m really glad we decided to go for it. SO worth it!

    • Kate Storm says:

      Glad to see I wasn’t the only chicken! I’m an avid hiker, but when I got to the spine of Angel’s Landing this December–it was just not happening. One of the scariest moments of my life, and I don’t even consider myself to be scared of heights in general–this was on another level.

      Major props to you, Amanda!

      • Amanda says:

        Elliot isn’t afraid of heights either, but that chained section definitely gave him pause, too! (I must just be crazy, because I didn’t think twice about it!)

  • Natalie says:

    It’s not very often that I come across a travel adventure and think, “No thanks” but this is definitely one thing that I’m not going to put on my bucket list anytime soon! I’m not afraid of heights, but I’m also not super comfortable climbing things with such crazy drop offs. I can be a little clumsy sometimes and those things make me think that I might be the 7th person to die up there!
    Natalie recently posted..How I Paid for My 3 Month Europe Trip & Budget:

  • Michelle says:

    I love this post! What an incredibly beautiful, dangerous, slightly unpredictable hike – the Mata Hari of hiking! Or maybe James Bond, as he would no doubt parachute onto that rock and rollerskate off it again without breaking a sweat.
    While I’ve climbed a higher day walk – the Mt Gower walk on Lord Howe Island is 2,870 feet up and back – but there’s only one hairy bit where you use ropes to help get up a near vertical face and there’s no massive death drops. The view at that point is very high and stunning, but not dangerous at all and it still gave me the slight willies. Your photos gave me goosebumps, it looked absolutely bloody terrifying… while also stunning and beautifully exposed with gorgeous colours:) You did well to get the camera out in such precarious situations and I’m sure it wasn’t easy but IT WAS SO WORTH IT. Was it an SLR or a point and shoot? I would’ve gone the one handed option I think; ‘ain’t no way I’m letting go of this chain!!’
    Great walk, great gumption, great post, great job! Just… great!

    • Amanda says:

      Terrifying yet beautiful – that pretty much sums up this hike!

      I had my mirrorless camera with me, and just had it slung across me cross-body-style. That way I could easily take photos one-handed on the chain. 🙂

  • Denise says:

    Yes, I did it today! I’m 63 & it was my completion challenge/exercise for my 200 hour yoga instructor certification. It was extremely challenging & exhausting, but the feeling I had when I reached the top was unbelievable! Especially when a young man turned to me & said “you are my hero, may I take your picture?” ?

  • Ella says:

    Love your blog- photos, advice and all. I found it while planning a family hiking trip to Utah- we live in flatland Florida- and was wondering how challenging Angels Landing really was. This past summer we were on the Inca Trail hiking up to Macchu Pichu. While I am in decent physical condition, I am fearful of heights and had to overcome looking at vertiginous sights- sometimes by not looking, especially downward. So I’m still not sure how I’ll feel when hopefully we are in Zion next week. Coming down the spine might be just too terrifying for me, so I might have to skip that part, but you are definitely an inspiration. Thanks for sharing.

    • Amanda says:

      Thanks, Ella! You should definitely still do the hike up to Scout Lookout at the very least. That first part of the hike is a little steep, but not scary height-wise. Once you get there you can see the Spine for yourself and decide!

  • Micah Bowen says:

    Nice post! We had a great time at Angel’s Landing! Our favorite hike to date I think.
    It was the first time we had ever been to Zion but we will be going back soon hopefully! Had an amazing time. You can see out hike here – jetlaggedinparadise.com/the-blog/top-10-hikes-angels-landing

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