Even though neither of us had ever been to Zion National Park, we knew before going that it would be one of our favorite national parks. Zion is a dream for both families and experienced hikers alike as it offers many trails of various lengths and difficulty levels.
The Angels Landing Trail, known as “one of the most dangerous hikes in the world”, is one of the most famous in the park. Being the thugs that we are, we naturally decided to tackle this trail as a first introduction to Zion National Park.
Because of the popularity of the Angels Landing hike, we decided to head there early and take the very first shuttle in the morning (in order to regulate heavy traffic, private cars can’t drive in Zion NP during the high season from April 1st to October 30th and instead, shuttles carry people throughout the park). Visitors were already lining up when we arrived at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center around 6:40 AM (finishing a pint of ice-cream with a spoon… Yep, ice-cream before 7:00 AM, that’s how we roll).
We got off at the Grotto shuttle stop and headed towards the other side of the bridge that passes over the Virgin River. The trail begins through a woodland of pines and other conifers. It felt relatively easy as the sun hadn’t yet broken the horizon. Refrigerator Canyon offers welcomed shade and a nice cool breeze.
This is the trail that we climbed, gradually making our way up the face of the canyon.
After a 2-mile uphill trek, there is a series of 21 switchbacks (Walter’s Wiggles) up the West Rim Trail. As you can see in the picture, it’s quite a steep section! Our calves were on fire.
Overall, this first part felt really safe, there were no steep cliffs or drop offs, just a rapid gain in elevation.
After the switchbacks, we reached a flat sandy area called the Scout Lookout. This is the junction where the West Rim Trail meets the “proper” Angels Landing Trail. The views we had into the canyon from the lookout were impressive and we stopped there for a while to soak it all up (and to rest our calves…).
If you are afraid of heights, you may want to stop at Scout Lookout as from there on out, the last half mile of the trail runs along a ridge with steep drop offs on either side!
This is where the ‘fun’ begins. The pictures below show the steep drop offs on each side of the narrow path.
Along this section of the hike, there are chains to hold on to for support and to help hikers pull themselves up. I am extremely scared of heights so my sweaty palms held onto them for dear life all the way up. The chains gave us comfort and support when needed. I remember being really scared at one particular spot only — when you have nothing to hold on to, so you thank your good trekking shoes for keeping you steady on the rocks.
Looking at the view as close to the edge as I could bring myself to go, haha.
The trail continued up the ridge and we sensed we were approaching the summit. As the landscape became more flat, we reached what looked like a plateau on top of the ridge and went a bit further down to see the view of the canyon.
The summit of Angels Landing is absolutely breathtaking! The name comes from a group of explorers who, back in 1916, looked up to the monolith and exclaimed that “only an angel could land on it.”
We spent nearly an hour up there to soak up the view, play with the little chipmunks scavenging for food, and take (way too many) pictures. When we started our descent, more people were on the trail so there were a few traffic jams at the sections that are too narrow to let people hike both ways.
There was some improvement – at this point I was ok to crawl closer to the edge.
We got back to the shuttle stop before lunch break and called it a day already! To summarize, the Angels Landing hike is strenuous but not technically difficult. The main difficulty is that it’s mentally challenging for people who are afraid of heights. The exposed drop offs and cliff faces along the path are real. The entire hike is 2.5 miles (4 km) each way and we completed it under 4.5 hours with an hour-long stop at the top.
Best season: March to October, but can be hiked year-round as long as the trail is free of ice and snow.
Tip: Try to arrive early to beat the crowds and to avoid being stuck behind a line of people towards the end of the hike.
Timing: 4-5 hours roundtrip