SW National Parks Trip: Zion’s Angels Landing


Between March and October, visitors to the Zion Canyon section of Zion National Park are not permitted to drive into the Canyon. You can park at the visitor’s center, and get on one of several propane fueled shuttle buses that ferry visitors in the Canyon. This was implemented in the 1990s in an attempt to cut down on pollution and the effects of so many vehicles in this fragile ecosystem. The buses come along frequently, and were often standing room only. We took a bus out to the Grotto stop, which is where the Angels Landing hike begins.

Who Could Resist this Little Guy on the Angel’s Landing Trail?

Who Could Resist this Little Guy on the Angel’s Landing Trail?

I had read about Angels Landing before we left on the trip and wanted to challenge my fear of heights. It is one of the most strenuous hikes in the park, with a round trip length of 5.4 miles up a mountain on switchbacks to the top, where you are rewarded with an amazing view of the canyon below. We hiked up an unpaved trail, which then becomes paved as the trail gets steeper.  Then we hiked through Refrigerator Canyon, which is a shady area which often has a nice cooling breeze.  The breeze was lovely when we got there, after getting hot and sweaty in the sun on the way up.

Some of the Beautiful Sandstone on the Angels Landing Trail

Some of the Beautiful Sandstone on the Angels Landing Trail

Then we got to Walter’s Wiggles, which are a series of steep, paved switchbacks cut into the rock.   Walter’s Wiggles are a series of 21 steep switchbacks that are named after the first superintendent of Zion National Park, who helped engineer the switchbacks.  To be honest, I don’t remember there being 21 of them!  After tackling Walter’s Wiggles, we made it to Scout Lookout, a beautiful area at the top of the rock.

Walter’s Wiggles from Above

Walter’s Wiggles from Above

Here, at Scout Lookout, you have to decide whether you are going to continue the last half mile out to Angels Landing. The last round trip mile of the hike, for those who are not faint of heart, is a part-hike, part-scramble up a slick rock slope, across a narrow ridge of rock, onto Angels Landing. There are chains embedded in the rock to help you out, but it is still a narrow, exposed section of rock with drops of 1400 feet. In case you weren’t already nervous, the Park Service has this sign posted…

Just so you know what you are getting into…

Just so you know what you are getting into…

And in case you were still gung-ho about doing it? They have this one posted, telling you how many brave visitors have fallen to their untimely deaths here lately…

In case you need a more direct warning…

In case you need a more direct warning…

So, why did I want to try it? A couple of bloggers had written about hiking Angels Landing, young women like me who are fit but not super athletes, and they had both said that the hike was less scary than they had been expecting. So maybe it wasn’t so bad. After all, there were lots of people up there making the attempt the afternoon that we were there.  Thousands hike Angels Landing each year, and live to tell about it.  Many love the experience!

You get this spectacular view from Scout Lookout

You get this spectacular view from Scout Lookout

We started out up the cliff, holding onto the ropes and putting our feet into the depressions of those who had gone before us. Based on the steps that have been worn into the sandstone over time, most of the adventurers were much taller than me, because there were some large spaces between steps. I got about 20 feet up the cliff, and then decided abruptly that this was not for me. I was getting really nervous, and this was just the beginning. I didn’t want to have a panic attack and find myself stuck on an exposed cliff. Not to mention, there would be lots of waiting in line to go up or down because of the numbers of people there that day.

The First Part of the Last Push to Angels Landing. I got to about where the guy is sliding down on his butt…

The First Part of the Last Push to Angels Landing. I got to about where the guy is sliding down on his butt…

My fear of heights was not going to be conquered; at least not that day. I scrambled down and Jon came with me. He later told me that he could see it clearly on my face at the exact moment that I decided I was not up for the challenge – a look of doubt had washed over me and he knew I was going to turn around. He didn’t give me a hard time about changing my mind, but I knew he was disappointed because he did want to go to the top.

After basking at Scout Lookout for a little while longer and talking to a woman – she had done the hike before and said that it just got worse from there – I felt better about my decision to not go. So, I didn’t succeed on this hike, but hey, sometimes that’s the way it is. Sometimes you find out what your limits are. Sometimes you find out that there are things that you just aren’t good at – things that just aren’t for you. And that’s ok. I can do lots of scary things – ride a bucking horse, speak in front of crowds, be brutally honest with a problem employee, but hiking Angels Landing is not one of them. That doesn’t mean that I will stop trying, stop testing my boundaries, stop challenging myself. And who knows, maybe one day I will hike Angels Landing.

You can see the trail we came up, snaking its way around the center of the picture

You can see the trail we came up, snaking its way around the center of the picture

After turning back from Angels Landing, we hiked back down to the bottom and then walked the 0.5 mile Grotto Trail to the historic Zion Lodge for a late lunch.  It is an easy path that runs parallel to the road – and was a nice relaxing walk after our strenuous hike.  Salads (with ham and chicken chunks on mine) a fruit cup and some beer made for a perfect afternoon break on the patio at the Lodge.  Hey, maybe defeat isn’t looking so bad…

Have you ever hiked Angels Landing?  Have you ever decided not to?

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12 thoughts on “SW National Parks Trip: Zion’s Angels Landing

  1. Good call on the Angel’s Landing hike — knowing yourself is the key. Once you got up there, you’d then have to get down. And for me, down is always worse than up.

    The sandstone formation is gorgeous. What a spectacular place.

    I’m excited about this series. The National Parks of southern Utah/Colorado are on my bucket list, so I’ll be taking notes.

    • Going down has consistently been worse for me as well! I interned long ago at an oil refinery and had a chance to climb one of the towers – 160 feet to the top in a series of caged ladders. I stood frozen at the top for a little while before climbing down. Whew!

      Everyplace we went was stunning. I’m glad you are excited to read about it – I’m excited to tell it. Every post makes me wish I could take off again tomorrow!

  2. For me, the worst part of Angel’s Landing is maneuvering around all the other hikers coming up and down on the slickrock section. We only went up the first section after Scout’s Landing there’s another smaller landing there before the final push – the last couple hundred yards after that looked to be a bit much for us. As you said….maybe next time. What an experience though, eh?

    • It was an experience – even without going all the way. I might have been more willing to try a little more if there hadn’t been all those people. The idea of having to move around somebody made it even scarier.

      Perhaps the next time needs to be really early in the morning – if there is one…

  3. Knowing your limits and accepting them is definitely important. With 3 kids, we definitely turn back during many hikes instead of stubbornly pressing forward. Angel’s Landing was not in the cards for us either when we visited Zion last week. One day maybe, though 🙂

    • I could not even imagine doing Angels Landing with children – although I know that many people do. It seems insane! And while testing my boundaries and challenging myself is important to me, I also want to be around to tell about it. 🙂

  4. You certainly have me curious enough to want to try it, though I’d probably turn back, too. The fear of heights is a healthy one when it keeps you from falling off a cliff.

    • Ahh yes… I’m not such a fan of falling off a cliff, which is probably where the fear of heights started. Although admittedly, mine is a bit irrational – as I don’t like walking over grates or tall bridges either. Place that are high but don’t have much risk of falling still freak me out!

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    • Thank you! I’m going to get there and do it one day! Since this trip, I hiked Delicate Arch (which was scary too!), went partway down the South Kaibab Trail at the Grand Canyon, and I have ziplined twice! I am slowly conquering this fear of heights.

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