Few trails around the US can boast the kind of vertigo inducing, heart-thumping adrenaline overload that Angels Landing in Zion National Park can. The steep, winding trail follows a cliff-spine with dramatic drop offs into a far-away canyon floor on both sides of the pathway. And yes, some people have actually given their lives climbing this trail.
So what draws thousands of people to this treacherous walk every year? The trail takes you on the back of a fin-like mountain that juts out into the center of a canyon 1,500 feet above the floor. If you can make it up to this point, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most majestic views nature can offer. But remember that it’s not for the faint of heart.
What you can expect out of the hike
The trail starts off unassumingly enough at The Grotto Trailhead. A paved walkway passes by olive colored greens. Soon enough, the path will start leading you upwards giving you just the first taste of the challenge ahead. The full hike is about 5 miles roundtrip and will take roughly 5 hours to complete.
As you leave the valley floor behind, you’ll walk through a series of zigzags affectionately dubbed Walter’s Wiggles. Further on, Scout Lookout is often considered the last opportunity for regretful travelers to turn back before the worst of the hike begins. And if you’re still walking at this point, you’ve hopefully come to terms with any fear of heights you might still hold. Chains hammered into the bedrock will help guide your ascent throughout the trail here. And sturdy if gnarly tree roots lining the pathways make for pretty decent handholds. But the going is rough with views to the dangerous Cliffside drop right over your shoulder through much of the trip.
Managing two-way traffic on the path can be a sort of a stomach wrenching dance in some places and it requires a tad more precision and alertness than you’d probably use on a city sidewalk. You definitely don’t want to rush through these passings.
The prize at the top
The final stretch of the hike courses on top of the exposed spine of the mountain where you can see the canyon floor from both sides of the trail. Anyone with a fear of heights will probably not want to attempt this trail. But the reward for all that work will be a stunning 360-degree view of the whole canyon at the end of the trail. At this point, go ahead and grab a rocky seat, rest those weary feet, and take in the beauty surrounding you on every side.
When to go
Angel’s Landing is open year-round but hikers are advised not to go when it’s raining or snowing. In the winter, the trail can be covered in snow as well as ice. You’ll see the most people on the trail between March and October. Summer can get oppressively hot but spring and fall should be pleasant.
And for the most Insta-ready photos, try to avoid reaching the summit in the early afternoon. The harsh, color-draining rays of the midday tends to make your photos look flat. Early morning and late afternoon views will give you the most color and softer shadows. But of course, this all depends on the conditions of the day and the bounties nature has in store for us.