Zion National Park is Utah’s first and most visited national park with over 4 million visitors each year. This visitor count also puts Zion third on the list of the most visited national parks in the nation. People come from far and wide to see Zion’s expansive canyon which boast amazing canyoneering opportunities for beginners and advanced folks alike. Many visitors also come to test their fears and get a thrill from conquering the most popular trail in the park: Angel’s Landing. Two weeks ago I set out to hike Angel’s Landing myself.
I didn’t research Angel’s Landing too much beforehand or google pictures of the chain sections because I didn’t want to freak myself out before the hike. I have always had a fear of heights and I still get the heebie-jeebies on tall, steep and narrow sections of some trails. Before the hike, I knew Angel’s Landing’s trail distance (4.4 miles) and the elevation gain (1,604 ft.) and planned to bring my day pack for the day’s trip.
My friend and I visited Zion on a Thursday in mid September. We arrived at the visitors center parking area to pick up the shuttle at 6:15am and I was surprised to see how full the parking lot already was. A ranger noted that the parking lot completely fills by 7:30am most mornings during busy season (spring, summer & fall). I noticed other parking options were expensive and had strict time limits so try to get there early or go late when spots open up as people are leaving. Zion temperatures get heat exhaustion hot in the summer though so I would recommend hiking in the morning to avoid the day’s highest temps. We hopped on the 6:30am shuttle and started our hike up to Angel’s Landing by 7am.
The trail begins at the Grotto trailhead where you cross the river and make your way up into Refrigerator Canyon. There’s a steady incline with a few switchbacks and gorgeous canyon views as you head up to “Walter’s Wiggles”. Walter’s Wiggles is a series of twenty one switch backs that gain elevation quickly and take you right to the top of the ridge at Scout’s Lookout. Scout’s Lookout gives you a preview of the last half mile of the hike where you traverse the steep and narrow trail ahead using chains for support. My friend and I cruised up to this point fairly quickly and we stopped and looked at the last half mile ahead. Unsurprisingly, this is a common turnaround point for those who decide not to do the last portion of the hike. Scout’s Lookout boasts beautiful views of the canyon and the hike is worth doing up to this point!
We decided to continue on, passed the last half mile sign and started up the first chain section to cross the Saddle. The Saddle is a great entry jaunt to help you get acquainted to the chains and one side of steep drop offs. We got through this section fairly easily. If the chain section was like this the whole way then we could get through this no problem! We looked up to see what was ahead and it turns out it was the ridiculously steep and narrow Hogsback. Hogsback sent chills down my spine. I didn’t know if I could continue as I stared at the insanely steep drop offs on each side of me, gripping onto the chain for support. With my fear of height responses fully triggered, this portion of the hike is also where your mind starts thinking about the hike back. How are you supposed to hike back the same way you came when there are a ton of people trying to get up and down the same narrow route as you?! At this point my friend decided not to continue on. Everyone should hike based on their own comfort level and if you decide not to continue on after the first chain section there is a beautiful canyon lookout you can hike up to and hang out which is exactly what she did.
I gave myself a little pep talk and willed myself to keep going. I was so thankful for my ball cap that helped act as a blinder so I could stare directly down at my next step and try not to look over the dramatic drop offs on each side of me. I was also very thankful for the nice couple in front of me leading the way. Once you’ve crossed Hogsback, you then head up to the landing. At some point during the ascent I got used to hiking on the ridge and the last stretch up to the landing wasn’t bad but I still didn’t look down. The view from Angel’s Landing is stunning and the tougher trail getting there makes the view even sweeter. I hung out at the top for a little while to take the 360 degree views in before I headed back. I thought the way back was going to be challenging with all the people coming up still but it turned out not to be bad and it went by fast. Everyone hiking there is facing the same challenge and is eager to help and problem solve when needed. Be kind and bring your patience as there’s definitely some waiting as you take turns passing other hikers coming up but you’ll be off the chain section before you know it and will have officially conquered Angel’s Landing! In total, it took me a little under 3 hours to complete.
Angel’s Landing is a beautiful hike with incredible views. The journey to the top is part of the beauty but as always, hike within your own limits when enjoying the great outdoors.
Until the next tale… Happy trails.