I like to make lists. Maybe a little too much. Packing lists, grocery lists, travel lists. I usually make a list of exactly what pieces of clothing I’m going to bring with me about a week before I actually have to start packing for a trip. What can I say? I like to be organized and I like to categorize things.
Pat just jokingly asked me if I have a list of all the lists I want to make. I don’t, but now I kind of want to make one.
You may have already noticed my propensity for list-making if you’ve stumbled across my lists of Places I’ve Been and Places I Want to Go. Well this post is also part of a list; that of my All-time Favorite Hikes.
Not only is Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park one of my favorites, it also has to qualify as the most extreme hike I’ve ever done. It’s classified as strenuous, and rightly so. We encountered 1000 foot (305 m) drop-offs, chains drilled into the side of the mountain, steep switchbacks, and a step called the “leap of faith.”
Angel’s Landing is a red rock mountain rising 1500 (457 m) feet above the floor of Zion Canyon. Which means that we had to climb 1500 feet to get to the top of it. In about 2.5 miles (4 km). However, we were rewarded with spectacular views of Zion Canyon in all directions, as well as the bragging rights of having made it to the top.
The trailhead for Angel’s Landing is located at The Grotto shuttle drop-off point. From the parking lot, the trail crosses the Virgin River and remains relatively flat for the first quarter mile or so. As we neared the edge of the canyon, the trail began to ascend fairly steeply. Perspective can be difficult to capture in photographs, but I think the photo below gives at least a general idea of how rapidly we began to climb.
Next, we traveled through Refrigerator Canyon, which is oriented such that sun exposure is minimal, so it’s about 15°F (9°C) cooler than the rest of the trail; a welcome relief from the hot Utah sun. Beyond Refrigerator Canyon is Walter’s Wiggles, a series of 21 switchbacks that are very short yet incredibly steep. If you make it up all 21 without stopping, you’re in much better shape than I am.
Once we made it to the top of Walter’s Wiggles, we arrived at Scout Lookout. This is a scenic viewpoint that’s a little more than halfway to the top in terms of vertical feet, and provides nice views of Zion Canyon. It’s also a popular turnaround point for people who aren’t keen on adrenaline, heights, or otherwise extreme trail conditions.
From Scout Lookout, it’s only 0.5 miles (0.8 km) to the top of Angel’s Landing, but it’s the slowest half mile I’ve ever hiked. Not because it’s so steep (which it is) but because the trail is ridiculous. In places, it’s only about a foot wide and there are chains drilled into the rock to hold onto to keep from falling to your death. There’s one step that’s called the “leap of faith” because you step out and around a slight curve and the chains are really the only thing helping you keep your balance.
Insane? Absolutely! But also completely worth it because the views from the top of Angel’s Landing are incredible and panoramic. There’s a reason this is on my All-time Favorite Hikes list: because it’s extreme, but it’s also extremely cool.
And once we made it back to the trailhead in one piece, we hopped back on the shuttle and headed to the very end of the canyon for the short, flat Riverside Walk. This 1 mile (1.6 km) leisurely stroll took us to the mouth of The Narrows, where we could relax in the shade and soak our feet in the cool water of the Virgin River.
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: Zion National Park is located off Utah Highway 9 between La Verkin and Mount Carmel Junction; access from the east is restricted to cars only (no pedestrians, bikes, large vehicles, or trailers are allowed due to a narrow tunnel)
- Fees & passes: $30 for a 7-day pass; Interagency Annual Pass is accepted
- Camping: South Campground (no reservations) and Watchman Campground (reservations accepted and necessary) are located just inside the south entrance to Zion Canyon; campsites are $20-30 per night and most have very little shade
- Hiking: the Angel’s Landing trailhead is located at The Grotto shuttle stop
- Other: this trail is strenuous, with little shade, large elevation gain, exposed sections, and steep drop-offs; bring plenty of food, water, and sun protection, and wear sturdy shoes