Angel’s Landing – The Rocky Hide Challenges The Bravest Hearts

Climbing and hiking on rocky mountain paths have been a favourite, addictive in the United States. This Angel's Landing is one of the most dangerous rocky hike that will challenge the bravest hearts.
October 05, 2021 | 13:56

Angels Landing, known previously as the Temple of Aeolus, is a 1,488-foot (454 m) tall rock formation in Zion National Park in southwestern Utah, United States. A trail cut into solid rock in 1926 leads to the top of Angels Landing and provides views of Zion Canyon.

Angels Landing is the most popular hike in Zion National Park. This hike, along with The Narrows, draws thousands of visitors per year, most of them during the summer months.

Why is Angels Landing so popular? This is a hike where it is more about the journey than the destination. Yes, the view from the top of Angels Landing is spectacular, but it’s the final climb along the narrow ridge that draws so many people here. With chain-assisted rock scrambling sections, stunning views, and vertigo-inducing heights, this really is a thrilling hike.

The trail to Angel’s Landing

Photo: Josh Braun photography
Photo: Josh Braun photography

The trail to Angels Landing is 2.5 miles (4.0 km) long with an approximate 1,500 feet (460 m) elevation gain. The hike is rated as a class 3 difficulty based on the Yosemite Decimal System. It begins at the Grotto drop off point on the park's shuttle system, which operates from early spring through late fall. It roughly follows the path of the Virgin River for some time along the West Rim Trail, slowly gaining elevation in sandy terrain. Most of the trail is uphill on the way up to Angels Landing. As the trail gets steeper and leaves behind the river, it becomes paved. After a series of steep switchbacks, the trail goes through the area between Angels Landing and the Zion Canyon that is a gradual ascent. Walter's Wiggles, a series of 21 steep switchbacks, are the last hurdle before Scout Lookout. The wiggles are named after Walter Ruesch, who was the first superintendent for Zion National Park and constructed the switchbacks in 1926.

Scout Lookout is generally the turnaround point for those who are unwilling to make the final summit push to the top of Angels Landing.The last half-mile of the trail is strenuous and lined with numerous sharp drop offs and narrow paths. Chains to grip are provided for portions of the last half-mile to the top at 5,790 feet (1,760 m).

Photo: Jay Dash Photography
Photo: Jay Dash Photography

The half-mile section up the spine, the Angels Landing Trail-West Rim Trail, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

Since 2000, as of March 15, 2021, 13 people have died from falling while hiking the trail.

In July 2018, the trail was closed following damage due to a severe storm and was re-opened in September 2018.

When to Hike Angels Landing

On weekends from late spring through summer, the trail often gets very crowded. Ascents can slow to a crawl and stepping aside for descending climbers can hamper the momentum of the adventure, especially in the blazing heat of the summer sun.

Water's Wiggles. Photo: East Zion Adventures
Water's Wiggles. Photo: East Zion Adventures

Shoulder seasons are the time to go, especially in early March and mid-November. There will be fewer hikers than peak season and the relentless solar radiation will have backed off. An early winter hike isn't a crazy idea, though check with rangers before heading up as Angels Landing is no place to be if coated with a slick skin of ice or snow. Sunrise and sunset hikes are perfect for photographers who want to capture the deep oranges and reds from desert sunlight.

The worst time to hike? During the busy summer season, especially on holidays like the Fourth of July. If that's when you happen to find yourself in the park, hit the trails as early as you can but expect to encounter a lot of incoming foot traffic on your descent.

Photo: @tristate_in_oh_ky_hiking_event/Instagram
Photo: @tristate_in_oh_ky_hiking_event/Instagram

How to hike to Angel’s Landing

Hiking along a gutsy trail with high exposure is what makes Angels Landing so amazing — and for some, a daunting proposition. You don't need to have super-human nerves of steel (though it helps), but even confident hikers will need to stay vigilant throughout the hike. With careful, deliberate footing, hikers will be rewarded with memorable, vast vistas of Zion Canyon over 1,000 vertical feet below their boots.

The adventure begins at the Grotto Trailhead and features a nice prelude to the main show.

Begin by crossing the Virgin River on a bridge — the easiest part of the day. Angels Landing starts along the well-marked West Rim Trail and gains elevation quickly to reach the elevated mouth of the aptly named Refrigerator Canyon. It then levels off as it enters the cool inner recesses of the cleft. Cool-climate plants such as bigtooth maple and white fir thrive in the shade of the canyon floor, and the vertical walls of red sandstone are pocked with grottos and overhangs.

Photo: @exploremorenature/Instagram
Photo: @exploremorenature/Instagram

As the path nears the head of the canyon, it begins a strenuous ascent of the east wall. A series of twenty-one switchbacks have been built cunningly into a rift in the wall here and bears the hiker upward with calf-burning efficiency. Known as “Walter’s Wiggles,” these carefully crafted stoneworks are regarded as one of the engineering marvels of the park — and, yes, they pick up a lot of elevation very quickly.

Soon after reaching the top of the switchbacks, the path makes a gradual ascent to a sandy pad called Scout Lookout, offering aerial views into Zion Canyon. It's a good turnaround point for people who lack the stomach for the final and hair-raising 500-vertical-foot push to the top of Angels Landing.

As you approach the summit, the trail follows carved-out steps along the spine of a knife-edge ridge. Heavy chains attached to the rock serve as handrails along most (but not all) of the drop-offs. Hikers must make a steep scramble to surmount the first knob, followed by an unprotected walk across a narrow saddle that is flanked by sheer drop-offs. On the Angels Landing hike, you truly get a feeling of walking on the razor’s edge. Climbing then resumes, aided by more handrails and footholds chiseled into bedrock. This is the long and final pitch you’ll follow to the grand summit.

Photo: My Travel Scrapbook
Photo: My Travel Scrapbook

There are no guardrails on Angels Landing's highest point, where gnarled, defiant pinyon pines grow from impossible toeholds above the dizzying void. Occupying the center of the Big Bend of Zion Canyon, the summit commands a spectacular 360-degree panorama of rugged spires and towering walls — be sure to bring your camera so you can share pictures with your friends. Highlights include the Great White Throne, Red Arch Mountain and the entrance to The Narrows.

Hiking tips

The early bird gets the worm on this hike! For the best experience, this is a hike that needs to be started early in the day. By being on the first shuttle, you will be one of the first on the trail. This gives you plenty of time to hike the spine of Angels Landing before it gets crowded with other hikers. Starting early also helps you avoid the midday heat and afternoon storms, which becomes a huge bonus during the summer months.

If you have the time and energy, from Scouts Lookout you can continue on the West Rim Trail. The scenery is spectacular and very few people venture out this way.

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