I kept hearing about the "most dangerous" and "most popular" hike in Zion. Angel's Landing is beautiful, thrilling, and inevitably crowded.
I woke up at 4AM to hit the trail solo at 6AM. I drove into the park from my Airbnb in St. George, Utah, and managed to be one of the first to the top!
I am so happy I planned this way. So I want to tell you how to plan similarly! In this Q&A-style post, I describe my entire experience. I explain everything including when to go and how dangerous it is. Then you can decide if it's a hike you'd like to do, too!
Where Is Angel's Landing?
Angel's Landing hangs over Zion National Park's scenic drive. In 1916, explorers remarked that "only an angel could land on it." This is how Angel's Landing got its name.
Angel's Landing is an "arm" of the Great White Throne—one of the most recognizable formations in Zion. Views from the top are the best in the park.
The hike to Angel's Landing begins at the Grotto Trail. I took the shuttle to the Grotto stop.
The shuttle runs between April 1 and October 30. Private cars can go up the scenic drive to the parking lots during the other months.
After arriving at the Grotto, I walked across the road. I then took a footbridge over the North Fork of the Virgin River. Next, I followed the trail to the right at a sign posted for the West Rim Trail. This marks the start of the Angel's Landing Trail.
How Long Is The Angel's Landing Hike?
There will be a sign stating Angel's Landing is only 2.5 miles. Don't think that's short and easy! That 2.5 miles takes longer and is more strenuous than you expect. The Angel's Landing hike is a steep and steady incline the whole way.
I took a little over 1 hour to climb to the top. Keep in mind that I sped up the trail. I only stopped a handful of times to snap a photo or catch my breath.
I stayed at the top for over 1.5 hours. It was worth it to watch the sunlight to cover more and more of the valley below.
Getting back down took about the same amount of time because of the crowds coming up. There are parts of the trail where I had to wait for a row of people to pass before I could descent.
I also stopped a few times to marvel at the scenery. It looked new as it basked in sunlight.
How Difficult Is The Angel's Landing Hike?
No hike will ever be as challenging as New Zealand's Tongariro Northern Circuit was for me. But Angel's Landing was still tough! The first 2 miles of the hike is a steady incline on a paved path. The terrain is smooth but steep.
There are switchbacks along the way to minimize the challenge. The first several are long and hardly noticeable. Then they get steeper. And steeper. Until you reach the "Walter Wiggles" section. The Walter Wiggles are by far the most intense of the switchbacks. Walter is the 1924 engineer who made these final 20-or-so tightly zigzagging switchbacks.
Prepare for burning calves and quads!
The Walter Wiggles section marks the end of the 2-mile constant incline. That's when I reached a sandstone plateau called Scout Lookout. Lots of people think this is the end of the hike.
But, really, it's only begun.
The lookout sits at the start of the ridge "fin" or sheer cliff that stretches out to the landing. The most difficult part of the hike (for those afraid of heights) is the half mile out onto the ridge and back.
Sheer drop-offs extend downward on both sides of the path in places. Some rock scrambling is necessary. And there are intermittent metal chains to assist at the most precarious parts.
Before you head out, take advantage of the restrooms at Scout Lookout. There are also views here for those unwilling to hike the last half-mile. Look North to see the view across the scenic drive far below. Look South for a downward view of "Refrigerator Canyon."
I hiked through Refrigerator Canyon before making it to Scout Lookout. Refrigerator Canyon got its name for its cool temperature and breezes. The canyon is cast in shade throughout most of the day. Park staff recommend warm clothes to wear for this part of the hike especially in cooler months.
How High Is Angel's Landing?
The trail includes 1200-foot drops on its North side and 800-foot drops on its South side. Once at the landing, there's a 1500-foot drop. Views in every direction make this one of the best vantage points in all of Zion.
I could spot many Zion National Park landmarks from there, such as Big Bend.
In addition to Big Bend, I could see the Organ, Cathedral Mountain, Observation Point, and Cable Mountain.
How Dangerous Is Angel's Landing?
The first 2 miles of the hike are very safe. There's a wide, paved, elevating path. There is little opportunity for falling down the side of a cliff. Instead, the last half mile of the hike is what people often regard as dangerous.
In the last 13 or so years, seven people have died from falling off the Angel's Landing cliffs. Five of those fatalities were not due to "suspicious activity" (e.g., pushing a person?).
The National Park Service made sure to post a sign noting the number of fatalities at the start of the hike.
In other words, they consider it important to tell hikers. So do not take each step for granted on the last half-mile of the hike. It is, indeed, treacherous.
However, this hike was not bad for a sure-footed, unafraid rock-scrambler like myself. I heard about the sheer drop-offs and that there is "only a chain to hold you up." I ended up expecting a much more challenging and scary experience than it was.
True, there are parts that are very narrow. These parts have a metal chain tacked into the rock that is necessary to hold onto for peace of mind.
The hike is also made especially dangerous in thunderstorms, in the dark, or with snow and ice. Not to mention, other people can make this hike dangerous. Go at a time when you don't have to navigate around people on narrow, cliff-exposed paths!
But early on a summer day, I was able to walk and scramble along on my own and with ease. The rock you walk on is solid and quite wide despite the heights.
Don't let me decide for you, though. You need to be confident to do this hike. Don't ever push yourself if you don't feel comfortable. Motorbike up a mountain instead. Learn to scuba dive. Eat new things. Just recognize and appreciate your limits!
When Does Angel's Landing Open?
There is no set timing that Angel's Landing opens. Angel's Landing is open as long as the park is not closed and the weather permits. Some people even stay overnight at Scout Lookout. When I made the ascent, I bumped into overnighters making their way down.
While you can always walk to the trailhead, you won't be able to catch a shuttle there until the first shuttle of the day.
The first shuttle of the day arrives a few minutes after 6AM to the first stop on the scenic drive. It starts at the Visitor Center at 6AM.
(You'll also skip the park fee that early in the morning!)
The recommendation is to not hike in the dark. The last half hour of the hike is particularly treacherous. It requires a keen eye and good footing. Light would be your friend on a hike like this.
What To Pack For The Angel's Landing Hike?
I packed lots of water because the hike is strenuous and sun-exposed. You'll be happy for the extra liquids.
I also packed an extra long-sleeve shirt and a scarf for the hike. Remember that there's Refrigerator Canyon to get through. This canyon has a distinct temperature change from the rest of the hike—at all times of year.
I burnt my early morning breakfast energy by the time I reached the top. So I packed some snacks to eat up there. I also knew I'd be spending some time there and wanted to enjoy some food with a view. The sun spilling into the valley below is one of mother nature's best shows on display!
Just be careful while at the top with your snacks.
There are tons of little chipmunks hungry for some breakfast. And with all the people who hike this trail daily, they are bold and unafraid of people. They ran up my back, over my feet, and they tried to snatch my snacks right out of my hand and bag!
What Is The Best Time To Hike Angel's Landing?
I followed good advice. As a result, I was among the first to reach the top of Angel's Landing. My suggestion is to do what I did for the safest, most enjoyable hike.
Take the first shuttle of the day to the trailhead. In doing so, I made it to the top well before the crowds. A ton of people hike to Angel's Landing every day. It's the most popular trail in the park next to the Narrows.
I was the first on the trail. So I did not have to wait in line to make it up the difficult parts. And the only people who made it to the top before me were some of the people who stayed overnight!
I sat at the top with only a handful of people. As I stayed, the numbers grew while I had a prime viewing seat.
On my way back down, the crowds were already intensifying. I snapped this photo of the congestion at Walter Wiggles for proof:
The time was 10AM when I made it back to the shuttle stop. I had plenty of time for more adventuring!
I loved hiking up to Angel's Landing. For some, this hike is very scary with its cliff-exposure. But I loved every part of it! The steep inclines were a great workout and the payoff in views is epic beyond belief!
By going early, I missed the crowds and returned in time to experience an entire day of activities.
Next time, I will tell you all about these extra activities. I'm excited to share my experiences taking a dip in the Virgin River and exploring Checkerboard Mesa!