Angels Landing is the most renowned day hike in Zion National Park, and possibly all of Utah. While only 5.2-mile round trip with 1,500 feet of elevation gain, this trek has all the magnitude of a bucket list caliber hike akin to
Dome in Yosemite. Segments of the perilous trail to Angels Landing are just a few feet wide with thousand foot drop-offs on both sides. If that prospect doesn’t make you queasy, you will find the hike exhilarating. The views are extraordinary and the trail itself is a feat of engineering.
From the Grotto Shuttle Stop (where there is no actual grotto), head west to West Rim Trailhead. Take the bridge over the Virgin River to the junction on the other side and turn right, heading north. Kayenta Trail, to the left, connects to the Emerald Pools.
The paved trail to Angels Landing starts out quite gradual considering the climbing that lies ahead. Views of Angels Landing come from the very start – a towering slab of sandstone protruding into Zion Canyon. The trail progresses toward the canyon rim to the south of the landing. This steep wall looks impassable at first, but improbably a route has been established switching up the steep rock.
After 1.3 miles, cross a small bridge and enter Refrigerator Canyon. The trail heads straight back through this level hanging canyon, searching for some way up the steep rock wall.
What you find is another marvel of trail building, a famed series of twenty tight switchbacks known as Walter’s Wiggles. The wiggles take their name from Walter Ruesch, Zion National Park’s first superintendent, who in 1926 set about constructing a trail to Angels Landing. Amazingly, Walter had no engineering experience.
Above the dizzying switchbacks, the trail arrives at Scout Lookout, which has pungent bathrooms and fine views of Angels Landing and Zion Canyon. This point is 2.1 miles and 1,070 feet above the trailhead, and not a bad place to turn around for those afraid of heights. It is another half mile to Angels Landing along a bold trail that requires the use of fixed chain railings to safely cross the dramatic fin jutting into Zion Canyon.
Wear solid footwear, hold on to the chains, and try not to look down as you follow the now-rugged track along the tricky traverse. In addition to frightening drop offs and exposed crossings, the route is steep in spots, requiring modest scrambling. Take your time and enjoy the journey.
Angels Landing stands in the center of Zion Canyon inside a horseshoe bend in the Virgin River. The views from the landing are even more panoramic than Scout Lookout.
Reaching the end of the monolith is a real accomplishment, and the thrilling trail itself is half the experience. Take a break, have a snack, and make sure you feel at full capacity before heading down the potentially treacherous trail. Hikers fall to their death from Angels Landing each year, so do be cautious.
Once you get back to Scout Lookout, the paved trail provides a relatively quick descent. If you travel to Zion National Park and aren’t afraid of heights, Angels Landing is a hike you should not miss. It is also one you will remember forever — a truly classic trail.
To get to the trailhead: Between May and October, access to Zion Canyon is restricted to shuttle traffic only. From the Zion National Park Visitor Center, ride the shuttle for approximately twenty minutes and get off at the Grotto Shuttle Stop. Head west toward the river to find the trailhead.
Trailhead address: Floor of the Valley Road (Zion Canyon Scenic Drive), Zion National Park, Springdale, UT 84767
Trailhead coordinates: 37.2592, -112.9513 (37° 15′ 33.1″N 112° 57′ 04.7″W)