Towering at more than 5700 feet above sea level in Zion National Park, Angels Landing is one of the most iconic and notorious rock formations in the United States. The trail to the top is a daring and heart-pumping challenge, pushing the limits of even the most seasoned hikers. Each year, thousands of visitors from around the globe flock to the trailhead, excited and anxious in their attempt to summit the monolith that (as stated by an early explorer) “only an angel could land on”.
In truth, the whole experience along the trail to Angels Landing is spectacular…..not just the last half mile when hikers are required to use chains to hold on to while creeping along the cliffs. The views of Zion Canyon and the surrounding area are enchanting and thrilling from every portion of the trail, making this hike a great option even if you don’t feel comfortable climbing all the way to the top!
What You Need to Know
The trail begins with a stunning view of Angel’s Landing and the surrounding rims of Zion Canyon. From here, it can be hard to believe that in just a few short miles you will be peering over the edge of this dramatic formation!
Starting off, the trail is sandy and gradually gains elevation as it follows alongside the Virgin River.
As the trail travels away from the river, you may begin to huff and puff. This is the first set of steep switchbacks that carve their way to the top of the ridge, providing incredible views of Zion Canyon. This section of trail not only gains a fair amount of elevation, but it is sun-baked for most of the day and provides very little shade. The stunning views make the climb up the switchbacks more enjoyable…whenever you get tired, just stop and snap a gorgeous picture!
We hiked up these switchbacks in the direct sunlight (luckily it was a perfect 60-degree October day). On our way back down, about an hour before sunset, the trail was nicely shaded. I do not recommend hiking this trail in the heat of the day, so get an early start during the summer months.
The views from these switchbacks are spectacular and well-worth the hike, even if you do not plan to travel the chains to the top of Angels Landing. A few rock outcroppings provide small patches of shade to take a rest and snap some great photos before saying goodbye to the canyon views for a time.
Just when you feel like you might die from the heat, the trail makes its way into a narrow gap between Angels Landing and Cathedral Mountain. This canyon is called Refrigerator Canyon and is so named because of the cool breeze that flows through the area. Most of the canyon is shaded and flat, providing a much needed reprieve from the heat.
Upon exiting Refrigerator Canyon, the trail begins to sharply zigzag up and up as far as the eye can see. One of the most famous parts of the hike to Angels Landing is this series of 21 short switchbacks known as Walter’s Wiggles. You may just have so much fun on the Wiggles that you won’t even notice how tired you are from all of the elevation you are gaining!
About halfway up the Wiggles you may begin to wonder if these switchbacks are ever going to end! A look of relief and gratitude washes over each face as they emerge upon Scout Lookout. With ample space to spread out, Scout Lookout is a popular place to stop and rest and it is recommended that children and those afraid of heights terminate their hike here. A small bathroom exists just off the trail but it so overused the Park Service is asking that it only be used for extreme emergencies. The West Rim Trail continues on to your left and the Angels Landing Trail begins straight ahead.
Are you prepared to take on the next 0.5 miles of steep drop-offs, a narrow trail, and those infamous chains? If you are not, sit and enjoy the gorgeous views from Scout Lookout. If you are, get ready for quite the adventure!
The chain hand-holds begin almost immediately as you leave Scout Lookout. The first ridge (pictured below) is mild compared to what is to come. If you are feeling nervous about the trail and are uncomfortable as you climb up this first ridge, you may want to reconsider continuing your hike to the top.
If you’ve made it up and over the first ridge and are feeling good about your preparation and abilities, you may be ready to conquer the real beast….the narrow razorback rock that leads to the top of Angels Landing. I was feeling quite confident up to this point, but even someone who is completely prepared, in shape, and not scared of heights may be a little unsettled while staring this rock in the face!
If you are feeling uncomfortable or unsafe at anytime during this climb, don’t be afraid to turn around. Your safety is the most important factor to consider while hiking — better safe than sorry.
While climbing the trail to the top of Angels Landing, make sure that you have good hiking shoes with excellent traction. You will want the use of both of your hands, so be sure to secure everything (including your camera and water bottles) in your backpack so that you can effectively maneuver around the dizzying drop-offs.
On one side of the razorback, the cliffs descend 800 feet. On the other side, it’s a shocking 1200 feet to the bottom of the canyon. A few times during your hike to the top, you will be exposed to the sheer cliffs on both sides of you, but usually the cliffs emerge just one side at a time. Take in the grandeur and majesty of it all. The magnificence will leave you speechless!
Be mindful of the weather and do not plan on hiking this trail if there is the possibility of thunderstorms, lightning, or high winds. This route is extremely exposed and the rocks and chains can be slippery when wet.
The sections of trail where the chains are needed can be incredibly congested. With traffic traveling up and down the rock and only one chain to share between hikers, it is absolutely imperative that patience is exercised. Every hiker has a duty to help others navigate a path that is safe and courteous. Please do not put others in danger by not waiting your turn, going off trail to find a faster way, or goofing around. If you cannot be patient, smart, and mature, you should not be on the trail to Angels Landing!
We enjoy the luxury of living close enough to Zion National Park that we can visit almost anytime we want. I know that for many, a trip to Zion is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you have your heart set on hiking Angels Landing during your visit, I will try to persuade you to plan to take your trip in the spring or the fall. This trail is much more enjoyable without the summer crowds!
After clinging to the chains for a half a mile, the trail opens up a spectacular and enchanting view of Zion Canyon! The river shimmers nearly 1500 feet below and the beautiful surrounding red rocks emit a magical glow. Squirrels and chipmunks that call this daring location home scurry along the cliffs. The hardiest of trees emerge from cracks in the rocks, providing a nice spot of shade to sit and enjoy the breathtaking views. You have conquered the trail to the top of Angels Landing!
The views are spectacular in every direction!
The trail to Angels Landing is a strenuous 5 miles roundtrip and gains 1488 feet of elevation. Downhill travel along this trail is also strenuous and can be especially hard on the knees.
If you would like to experience a virtual tour of this hike to the top of Angels Landing, check it out on the official website for Zion National Park.
The West Rim Trail to Angels Landing begins at the Grotto, located in Zion Canyon just past the Zion Lodge. During the off-season you can drive your car to the trailhead, but during peak season all visitors must use the complimentary Zion Canyon Shuttle Service.
The Grotto Trailhead has bathrooms, running water, and a picnic area.