Angels Landing - the scariest hike in the USA - Zion National Park

Angels Landing hike: the scariest trail in the USA

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?

What is Angels Landing?

Angels Landing is an iconic hiking trail located in Zion National Park, Utah, United States. It is one of the most popular and challenging hikes in the park, attracting thousands of visitors each year. The trail offers breathtaking panoramic views of Zion Canyon and the surrounding landscape, making it a favorite among outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.

The hike to Angels Landing is approximately 5.4 miles (8.7 kilometers) round trip and can take around 4 to 5 hours to complete.

Once you reach the summit of Angels Landing, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the Zion Canyon and the Virgin River below. The sense of accomplishment and the stunning vistas make the challenging hike worth the effort for many adventurers.

Why is Angels Landing so scary?

As you can see in the title of this blog post, Angels Landing is considered as one of the scariest hiking trails in the USA. 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 and there is not much shade which can be tricky on hot days.

The last half mile is the scary part, as it involves walking along a narrow ridge with sheer drop-offs on both sides. The trail is only a few feet wide in some places, and the cliffs on either side can be up to 1000 feet (300 meters) high. To assist hikers in navigating this challenging part of the trail, metal chains are bolted into the rock to provide a handhold. While the chains offer some reassurance, they also serve as a reminder of the potential risks associated with the hike.

Warning sign at Angels Landing

So hiking this trail might not be the best idea if you’re afraid of heights or have a fear of falling. Before you start the trail, you’ll see this warning sign, because people have died while hiking on this trail. As of 2023, there have been at least 17 reported fatalities on the Angels Landing trail. So please be careful when you plan that Angels Landing hike!

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.

Angels Landing hike: what is it like?

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!

First switchbacks to Angels Landing

Taking a 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!

Hiking between the rock walls to Angels Landing

Walter’s Wiggles

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.

Walters Wiggles in Zion

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 there, 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.

The descent

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!

Descent Angels Landing

About the hike

Would you like to hike Angels Landing? These are the specifics of the trail:

  • Length of the trail: 4 miles (8.7 kilometers)
  • Duration: about 4 to 5 hours
  • Difficulty: Strenuous

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.

Permit via lottery

Because Angels Landing is so popular and crowded, you need a permit from to make this hike (since 2022). These permits are made available through a lottery which you can apply for on this website. You can choose two different time slots:

  • Before 9 AM
  • After 9 AM

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 – 1-3 months prior and this is the best way to get your permit in advance. For example, if you want to do the hike between June 1 and August 31, you need to enter the lottery between April 1 – April 20.
  • 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 (up to 6 people and 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.

This video explains in detail how to apply for a permit to hike Angels Landing.

More details can be found on the official webpage from Angels Landing.

Good to know: if you hike Angels Landing without the permit, you risk a fine of up to $5,000 and/or six months in jail

Additional tips

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. There are no filling stations along the trail. The advice is to bring 2 to 4 liters 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, but there’s another way to get to the viewpoint.
  • 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.

Book a trip to Southwest USA

✈️ Plane tickets – For an epic Southwest USA road trip, you can fly to Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, or Los Angeles, among other destinations. Check WayAway to find the best deals and cashback on plane tickets.

🛏️ 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 Resort and Spa (3⭐) – lovely hotel with comfortable rooms within walking distance of the entrance of Zion National Park. There is also a nice swimming pool and jacuzzi.
  • Bumbleberry Inn (3⭐) – cozy hotel with pool in downtown Springdale.
  • Cable Mountain Lodge (3⭐) – a great luxury hotel right next to the entrance to Zion National Park.

Check for more options, prices, and availability.

🚘 Rental Car – The best way to see Southwest USA is by going on a road trip! Check out Rental Cars to find good deals on car rental. Do you prefer to travel by RV? Check RV Share for the best deals.

🎡 Tours & Activities – Would you like to do something special during your stay in Zion National Park? Check out the amazing activities on Get Your Guide. In Zion, for example, you can go horseback riding during sunset or join an adventurous off-road jeep tour.

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:

Lonely Planet Zion & Bryce Canyon National Parks

Fodor’s Utah: with Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Capitol Reef, and Canyonlands National Parks

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:

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This article was published in November 2016. Last update: August 2023 with the latest information about the new permit system.

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Angels Landing in Zion National Park - the scariest hike in the USA

As a girl from a small town in the Netherlands, I always dreamed of traveling. I thought it would always be a dream, but nowadays, I travel 6 to 8 months a year and I hike thousands of miles on the most beautiful hiking trails. On this website you can read all about my favorite destinations.

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