Hiking Angels Landing in Zion National Park is on many bucket lists. It is considered one of the scariest hikes in the USA. Is it really that scary?
Why is Angels Landing so scary?
What makes Angels Landing such a scary trail? First of all, it is quite strenuous, you hike about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) straight up. The last kilometer is the scary part, the pathway is very narrow and, on both sides, there are sheer drops of 1000 feet (300 meters).
So hiking this trail might not the best idea if you’re afraid of heights. Before you start the trail, you’ll see this warning sign, because people have died while hiking on this trail. So be careful!
As you can see, this hike is not for everyone. Then why do so many people do it? Because the view from Angels Landing (the big rock you climb) is spectacular. It’s absolutely worth hiking this trail and it should definitely be on your USA bucket list.
Let’s start hiking!
What is it like to hike to Angels Landing? I tried it myself in the summer of 2016. Here’s a short report (with lots of pictures!).
Follow the river
The hike starts pretty easily, you follow a nice pathway next to the Virgin River. It’s about nine in the morning, and it’s still nice and quiet. There is a lot of shade and every now and then I see a beautiful cactus. The final goal, Angels Landing, is clearly visible on the right.
Then it’s time to start climbing. To make this at easy as possible, there are switchbacks, loads of them. .
At first, I’m like, I can do this, but man, this is heavy! It’s about 85 degrees (30 degrees Celcius), and even in the shade, it’s really hot. The switchbacks seem endless! My plan: take a break every three switchbacks and take a big sip of water. That turned out to be a bit too optimistic, so I take a break per switchback. I tell myself to keep on going, it will be worth it!
A little break
After I’m done with the switchbacks (yes!) it’s time for something easier. The path runs between two mountain walls and in the forest I see a few deer darting past. So cute! Slowly I walk on to the next series of switchbacks. Yes, there are more coming up!
I still have to climb about 800 feet (250 meters), so it’s time for another series of switchbacks. These are very short, you’ll constantly turn around. They call these switchbacks Walter’s Wiggles because a guy named Walter invented these short switchbacks in 1930. These are also quite steep, so taking regular breaks is a must.
The end of the “easy” part
After Walter’s Wiggles, I’m reaching the first viewpoint, which is a really nice place to take a break. The view is great, but I have to keep my eye on my bag. Several chipmunks try to steal my food. From here, I have a clear view of Angels Landing. It looks spectacular and also quite scary. Many people stop at this point because this is where the scariest part of the hike starts.
Hold on to the chains
Yes, continuing this hike from here is exciting and so scary. To get to the top you really have to climb. The trail is gone, but you have to find your way up over the rocks. There are some chains to hold on to, which makes it a bit easier to climb. It’s quite a challenge, but luckily there are people walking in front of me, so I can see where I need to go.
At the top of Angels Landing!
According to a legend, reaching the top was so hard, only angels could land here, hence the name Angels Landing. Making it to the top feels like a victory and the view is absolutely stunning. I sit on the top for a long time and enjoy the 360 views of the canyon. This is well worth the hard climb.
And yes, if you have reached the top you have to go back the same way. Descending along the chains is even more challenging on the way back, only then do you actually see how deep the abyss is and how steep the cliffs are. This for me was actually the scariest part! Fortunately, I’m mainly busy focusing on the trail and making sure I put my feet down properly, so I don’t really have time to get scared of heights. The switchbacks on the way back are a breeze by the way!
About the hike
Specifics of the trail:
- Length of the trail: 4 miles (8.7 kilometers)
- Duration: about 4 hours
- Difficulty: Streneous
How do you get to the trailhead?
- By shuttle: get off at Stop 6 (the Grotto)
- By car (only in winter): parking is also possible at the Grotto
The starting point is also the endpoint of this trail.
New from 2022: permit via lottery
Because Angels Landing is so popular and crowded, you need a permit from April 1 2022 to make this hike. These permits are made available through a lottery. You can choose from these three-time slots:
- Early in the morning (before 9am)
- Morning (9am to 12pm)
- Afternoon (after 12am)
These are the moments when you start the hike, so you don’t have to do the entire hike within this time frame.
There will be two different lotteries:
- Seasonal Lottery – The lottery opens four times a year to get your permit in advance. For example, if you want to do the hike between 1 April and 31 May 2022, you need to enter the lottery between 3 and 20 January 2022.
- One day in advance – You can also try the Day-before Lottery to get a permit. This can be done between 12 noon and 3 p.m. the day before you want to go hiking (if you want to walk on a Tuesday, you must enter the lottery before 3 p.m. on Monday).
It is $6 to enter the lottery (no refunds). If you get the permit, you pay an additional $3 (per person). You will receive an e-mail after the lottery has ended with the information on whether or not you have received the permit.
At this point, it’s not known how many permits will be available. More details can be found on the official webpage from Angels Landing. Please note: it is a pilot, so things can change.
Do you want to make the most of your hike to Angels Landing? Here are some more tips:
- Go as early as possible. Angels Landing is popular and can get very crowded on the trail. The earlier you go, the fewer people. In addition, it is also a lot cooler in the morning.
- It can get very hot in Zion Canyon (especially in the summer months), so bring plenty of water.
- Put on good hiking shoes, you cannot do this hike on flip-flops.
Zion National Park
Zion National Park is one of five national parks in the state of Utah and also one of the most popular. It’s not big, but it is stunningly beautiful. The park consists of a large canyon with steep (red) cliffs. It really is a park for people who love hiking, since there are many beautiful hiking trails that will keep you entertained for days (or even longer).
Other great hiking trails in Zion
There are a lot of amazing trails to explore in Zion. Angels Landing is just one of them. These hiking trails are also highly recommended:
- The Narrows – this is the most popular hike in Zion. You hike through the Virgin River in a canyon surrounded by huge cliffs and it is quite spectacular.
- Observation Point – a beautiful hike along the mountain and at the endpoint you have an amazing view of Zion Canyon (you see the top of Angels Landing from here). Please note: unfortunately this trail is currently closed.
- Emerald Pools – these are actually three hikes in one as there are three Emerald Pools. During your hike you walk along the cliffs, you see waterfalls and of course the beautiful lakes.
An overview of all trails can be found on the official website of Zion National Park.
Where to stay?
If you want to visit Zion National Park, it is wise to stay here for a few nights as well. It’s highly recommended to stay in the village of Springdale. This is located right next to the entrance of the park. Here are some great places to stay in Springdale:
- Flanigan`s Inn – lovely hotel with comfortable rooms within walking distance of the entrance. There is also a nice swimming pool and jacuzzi.
- Bumbleberry Inn – cozy hotel with pool in downtown Springdale.
- Cable Mountain Lodge – a great luxury hotel right next to the entrance to Zion National Park.
Traveling in Southwest USA
Do you want to go road tripping in Southwest USA? These are a few handy websites to organize a wonderful trip:
- Find the cheapest flights via Skyscanner.
- Compare rental car prices on Discover Cars and Rental Cars. And check RVshare if you’d like to rent an RV.
- You can book a room in a hotel or motel via Booking.com. Prefer a house or apartment? Make sure to check VRBO.com.
- Excursions and organized tours can be found via Get Your Guide. For example, you can do this great horseback riding tour or a guided hike through The Narrows.
Learn more about Zion National Park and Southwest USA
Do you want to read more about Zion National Park or discover beautiful places in Southwest USA? These are a few great travel guides:
Moon Zion & Bryce With Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Grand Staircase-Escalante & Moab
In recent years I have often traveled in the USA, so you can find a lot of information on this website about a vacation in the United States of America. Did you like this article? Then you might also like to read these articles:
- Visiting Capitol Reef National Park: Utah’s hidden gem
- These are the best day hikes in the USA: 16 favorites
- 15 best unknown places to visit in the USA
This article was published in November 2016. Last update: December 2021 with information about the new permit system.
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