In southern Utah’s Zion National Park (Yosemite in red, as I like to call it), the enthusiastic hiker is presented with a multitude of excellent options for how to spend some trail-time, but for maximum bang-for-the-buck, no hiking destination in Zion Canyon delivers on the level of Angels Landing.
Standing sentinel over the heart of Zion Canyon, Angels Landing juts out from the canyon’s west rim, piercing the area around the Virgin River’s Big Bend like the mighty prow of a proud ship, and casting views down into Zion Canyon in all but one direction.
The hike to Angels Landing packs a wallop of a scenic payoff for the effort required to reach it; though reaching its outermost promontory is no undertaking for the faint of heart, or for those a-feared of high places and precipitous drop-offs.
Note: the NPS Park shuttle will have to be taken in the summer months.
For the latest shuttle info: www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/shuttle-system.htm
LENGTH: 5.4 miles
APPROX TIME: 4 hours round-trip
ELEVATION GAIN: 2,488 feet
TERRAIN: Paved for most of the way, with the exception of the last half mile which is mostly exposed sandstone with chain hand holds. This section is notoriously dangerous and not for the faint of heart.
ESSENTIALS: Zion Canyon really cooks for much of the year. Well-prepared hikers will have in their packs:
- Food: 1 meal or a couple of snacks per adult
- Water: 2 liters
- Clothing for sun protection
- Sturdy footware
BEST SEASON TO VISIT: Spring and Fall. Winter’s too icy and treacherous, summer is exceedingly hot.
The Grotto Picnic Area, Zion Canyon: (37.259196,-112.951373)
Angels Landing: (37.26934,-112.948036)
Here’s How it’s Done
From the trailhead at the Grotto Picnic Area in Zion Canyon, the Angels Landing Trail climbs 1,500 feet over just under two and a half miles, rewarding its conquerors with nearly 360 degree panoramic views of the upper and lower canyon.
Beginning by crossing the Virgin River via a pedestrian footbridge, the trail skirts northward along the base of the canyon’s west rim, roughly tracing the river’s course upstream for a stretch before the river swings wide to the northeast to make its way around the bulk of Angels Landing. Here the trail begins to climb the west wall of the canyon, via a series of steep, paved switchbacks. Epic views of southern Zion Canyon erupt after very little climbing, though the views to the north are as of yet hindered by the protruding mass of rock which is the hiker’s goal.
At about 4,900 feet, the switchbacks top out, and the trail threads its way up a damp, narrow slot canyon between the west flank of Angels Landing and the west rim proper, out from which the former juts. The slot canyon can be cool and breezy, but don’t be fooled, you’ll be sweltering momentarily. At approximately 5,150 feet, the trail whips a sharp U-turn and begins the steep ascent of Walter’s Wiggles, a series of 21 switchbacks which gain 150 feet over just a tenth of a mile.
After topping out on Walter’s Wiggles, the trail soon reaches the West Rim Viewpoint, and the junction with Zion’s West Rim Trail, from which the hiker can now see down into the northern end of Zion Canyon, with views towards the Temple Of Sinawa, site of the Virgin River’s emergence from the deep, twisting canyons of the Narrows, through which it has just threaded its way for nearly 40 miles.
This is where a lot of hikers say “That’s enough for me”, for from this point forward, the route out to Angels Landing consists of a thin trail skirting an isthmus of sandstone, with nauseating drop-offs on both sides, before the mass widens out again a short distance further. The spit of rock that connects the west rim to the main bulk of Angels Landing is, at its narrowest, barely eight feet wide; and with a 1,400 foot drop on the left and a barely-less-unappealing drop of many hundreds of feet on the right, one can be forgiven their vertigo on this stretch of trail. The remainder of the Angels Landing Trail from here has been fitted with chains bolted into the rock, to ease the hiker’s nerves, and provide a (relatively) safe route out to the viewpoint. At intermittent spots, the chains driven into the rock provide solid handholds where there would otherwise be a fingers-crossed, better-hope-you-keep-your-balance dance with delirium.
If you can clear these mental and physical hurdles, however, you soon find yourself standing out on the point of Angels Landing, towering high above the floor of Zion Canyon, with the Virgin River’s dull roar faintly discernible through the thin airs of the upper canyon. To the south, one looks down-canyon, towards Springdale, UT, which is out of sight around a couple of bends in the river. To the north is the Big Bend of the Virgin River, which carries the river away and out of sight around the foot of Angels Landing, coming from the Temple Of Sinawa. Directly across the canyon, on its east rim, stands The Great White Throne, Cable Mountain, Hidden Canyon, Weeping Rock, and to the northeast, Observation Point, all more-than-worthy goals for the hungry day-hiker.
Return by the same route up which you came.
When to Go
From November through March, visitors are permitted to drive Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, along which the Grotto Picnic Area and Trailhead is situated, just ¾ of a mile north of Zion Lodge. Park at the Grotto, cross the bridge, and you’re off!
From April through October, Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is closed to non-essential traffic; and during this time visitors must use the surprisingly simply, yet very efficient, shuttle system, which provides free access to points along Zion Canyon, from Springdale up to the Temple Of Sinawa. The shuttles run constantly from early morning to late evening; and stops are numerous. For access to Angels Landing, disembark the shuttle at the Grotto. Catch the shuttle here when your hike is done.
Deek’s Word’s of Wisdom
The Angels Landing Trail is extremely treacherous when wet; so don’t even think about attempting it on anything but a completely dry day.
Plan for a drive of about three hours from Las Vegas (169 miles). Though the town of Springdale, UT, at the foot of Zion Canyon, offers lodging, restaurants, bars, gas, and other services, St. George, UT is the last full-service town you’ll pass. If you’re coming from Salt Lake City, expect a drive of more like 5 hours (315 miles), with Cedar City, UT as your last full-service town.