The towering rock formation known as "Angels Landing" soars 1,488 feet above the Virgin River in Zion National Park. For those who reach the summit, the reward is a spectacular view of Zion Canyon and surrounding cliffs.
Although the hike is only five miles up and back, most hikers take four hours to make the round-trip. After all, you are climbing 1,488 feet in elevation, up steep switchbacks. The last half mile is along an exposed ridge where accidents or carelessness can prove fatal. You're safe as long as you stay on the trail, but literally risk your life if you leave the trail.
Park officials recommend an early morning departure so you can beat the heat of the mid-day sun. (You really don't want to be up there in the late afternoon, trying to get down in the dark.)
Preparing for your Angels Landing Hike
Being prepared to hike the Angels Landing Trail means hiking boots or closed-toe hiking shoes with non-slip soles (sandals, flip-flops and dress shoes are all bad ideas), a day-pack to carry plenty of water and salty snacks, plenty of sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat.
According to the National Park Service, "The route to Angels Landing involves travel along a steep, narrow ridge with support chains anchored intermittently along the route. Footing can be slippery even when the rock is dry. Unevenly surfaced steps are cut into the rock with major cliff dropoffs adjacent. Keep off when it is wet, icy or thunderstorms are in the area. Plan to be off before dark. Younger children should skip this trail; older children must be closely supervised."
Logistics of Angels Landing Hiking
To climb Angels Landing, take the shuttle bus to the Grotto drop off point. The trail follows the Virgin River for awhile, then gets steeper as it leaves the river. You'll climb up switchbacks, be refreshed by cool breezes from Refrigerator Canyon, then surmount the 21 tight switchbacks of Walter's Wiggles, named after Walter Ruesch, the first superintendent of Zion National Park. Ruesch designed and led the construction of the Angels Landing Trail during the Great Depression. Workers hung from ropes for $3.50 a day, as they chipped a trail out of solid rock.
When you reach Scout Lookout (at 1,000 feet above the canyon floor), it is time to make one of several decisions. You can stay and enjoy the spectacular view, drink some water, eat a snack and head back to the Grotto after you catch your breath.
Or you can hike another 488 feet to Angels Landing, along a narrow spine of rock and a trail that's only a few feet wide, with 1,000-foot dropoffs on either side. Support chains help increase your peace of mind. Some spots are narrow, so be courteous as you pass others going up or down. The 360-degree view from Angels Landing is blow-your-mind "Wow!"
Finally, there's less scary hiking options -- a day-hike out on West Rim Trail, or a longer 12-mile hike to the high plateau of Lava Point.