I Hiked to Angels Landing and Didn’t Die! (And Here’s How You Can Survive It, Too)

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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 got to Scout Lookout, 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
West Rim Trail

Hiking 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. in April.

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 hike to Scout Lookout

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
The shady Refrigerator Canyon

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 11 of them since 2004, according to the National Park Service.

This isn't a trail for everyone. And as we stood atop Scout Lookout, 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 debating whether to continue on. The weather was still fine, and we eventually decided to go for it – after another short break to mentally prepare 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?

Climbing the spine of Angels Landing

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.

Angels Landing in Zion National Park
Angel's Landing in Zion National Park

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 15 deaths on this trail was actually impressive.

Hiking to Angels Landing in Zion National Park

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.

Trail to Angels Landing in Zion National Park
Heading back down the West Rim Trail

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.

Angels Landing in Zion National Park
One more look at Angels Landing

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!

Tips for hiking Angels Landing

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-inducing 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.

This trail IS open during the winter months, but I also would not recommend tackling the spine portion if there's any ice or snow on the trail.

RELATED: Everything You Need to Know About Visiting Zion National Park in Winter

3. Start your hike 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. on a spring day, 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 late March through 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.

Hiking to Angels Landing
Start early for emptier trails!

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!

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!

Don't think this hike is for you? Then check out 5 Things to Do in Zion National Park That Don't Involve Hiking.

So what do you think? Would YOU tackle the hike to Angels Landing?

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"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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67 Comments on “I Hiked to Angels Landing and Didn’t Die! (And Here’s How You Can Survive It, Too)

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  1. Great article! I am heading to Zion the first week of October with friends and we are definitely planning to attempt to hike to the top of Angel’s Landing! Question: Are there sections of the spine that do not have any chains? It appears that way from some YouTube videos that I have seen and was just wondering.

      Yes, there are some sections that don’t have chains, but if I remember correctly, these are sections where the ground is a bit flatter and there aren’t huge dropoffs immediately to either side.

        Good to know, thank you!

    Great article. My husband and I fearlessly hiked all the way to angels landing in 2010. My husband even shot a video of me hanging onto the last set of chains before the landing. We attempted to hike it again last week (April 13th, 2021) I am short at 4’11″, so the hike was a little more challenging. I made it past Scouts Lookout to the 3rd set of chains this time and had to head back when I had to step over an open crevasse there. I was 11 years older, 15 pounds heavier and much more fearful this time around. With my legs beginning to shake, I just couldn’t finish. There were so many other hikers on the dangerous trail, too many, it was even more difficult to get back to Scouts Landing. I’m was satisfied that we made Angels Landing safely 11 years ago. The feeling is just as you described and really something that adventurously active people should carefully attempt.
    Please continue to share your adventures,
    Sheila B.
    Eagle Idaho

      I’m glad I did this hike years ago – I know it’s only gotten more popular since then!

    Hi Amanda, I hiked Angel’s 3 times, all in my 70s. My latest was 2 days ago at age 77. The first 2 times I went to the top. The latest time it was too windy. I am an 11 year full time RVer and have been to Zion 4 times. I have a blog, harleyhawk43.wordpress.com , and am on Facebook as Hawk Hickok Hickman. I have also written 6 books, 4 on full time Raving and 2 on gathering Irish Sea Moss seaweed in Scituate MA.

    Pictures amanda.. I was just wondering how did you take pictures with both of you in it and thats in chain section

      Hey Angel! There’s only one photo of both of us together, and that was taken at the top, where we just asked another hiker to take our photo. The rest along the trail (including in the chain section), I just took myself. I’ve gotten pretty good at using my camera one-handed as it’s hanging around my neck!

    I really enjoyed reading your blog about Angels Landing. I wonder how scary it is to just get to Saddle portion before the chains? . I think that may be as far as I want to venture…? I have a fear of heights for sure but the uncertainty, impatience and under prepared people surrounding me are truly my greatest fear. Especially the girl you mentioned in the pink sketchers who shrieked her way down the side of the cliff, that would have been so un-nerving for me.

      The hike up to Scout Lookout, while a bit challenging due to all the switchbacks, doesn’t have any steep drop-offs to worry about, so you would likely be just fine with that part!

        Thanks Amanda. I appreciate your time.

    Hi, thank you for the post and tips. My friends and I are planning to take a Southwest trip this winter break, and we are thinking to visit Zions and hike to Angels Landing. Based on your experience, do you think we will be able to hike in December? What will the weather be? Thank you.

      It could do anything in December! I’ve been there in December when it was pretty mild, but have also seen photos of snow. You can visit Zion regardless of the weather, but you’ll have to check the forecast closer to your trip; I definitely would not recommend Angels Landing if there’s any ice or snow around!

    I just did this hike last month and it was absolutely AMAZING! One of my favourite hikes I’ve done. I am so impressed that as a non-hiker you not only managed it but aced it!! You should be proud of yourself!

      I did my research on this hike before we went and did lots of extra cardio to prep. It was tough, but not awful – I’m so glad we did it!

    I did Angel’s Landing in 1995. 2 years after being diagnosed with MS. I have a real fear of heights but am crazy enough to take a challenge and I was so glad I did. Scary but exhilirating. I did a week of hiking through the canyonlands and this hike has stayed with me for 2 decades. So proud I did it.

    Angels Landing is truly one of the most terrifying hikes you can do. Not for the faint of heart due to the extreme difficulty of the last half mile of the hike up the spine. I did the hike with my daughter in April. The number of people ascending and descending made it much more difficult to do the hike. So the best suggestion is to go as early as possible to beat the crowds. I am a long time experienced hiker. This was the most dangerous hike that I have ever done. I hiked the Grand Canyon with my son in 1 day,rim to river to rim. . That was the most difficult hike that I have ever done.

      It definitely is a dangerous hike, and I agree with your tip to start as early as possible to avoid the worst of the crowds! I wouldn’t be opposed to the park service instating permits for this hike – it got extra scary on the way down because the afternoon crowd was on the way up!

    Quick question: How would you suggest someone prepare for the climb up? I would hate to plan a trip, and wimp out because I didn’t prepare enough – any amount of flights of stairs can you compare it to? I live in pennsy, and only hike around here – we have smaller, much less steep mountains. But this is on my list for next year. Thanks! Loved reading this!

      I didn’t actually do a lot of hiking to prepare – but I was going to cardio kickboxing classes 3-4 days per week in the months leading up to our hike! I’m not sure I can really compare it to flights of stairs since there are sections on the chain that really require you to use your whole body to pull yourself up!

    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

      I think it’s my favorite hike so far, too! (To be fair, I don’t do a whole lot of hiking like this, but Angels Landing was 100% worth it!)

    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.

      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!

    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?” ?

      That is AWESOME, Denise! Congratulations!!

    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!

      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. 🙂

    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!

      I’m sure you would be fine, but this definitely isn’t a hike to do if you don’t feel comfortable with it!

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