Phrase from Lonely Planet about hiking Angels Landing in Zion National Park:
“Sure, you get an adrenaline rush conquering your fears while hiking up steep ascents past sheer drop-offs. But this is not Disneyland. The danger is real. Loose stones can be slippery and every year people die from falls off cliffs. Even minor injuries can turn serious when difficult terrain means rescuers are hours away. Just be prepared and pay attention. We can’t believe we have to say this, but flip-flops (thongs) are not appropriate hiking footwear for Angels Landing. And parents, please keep hold of young children. We want you, and your offspring, to be reading our books for years to come.”
This is what we read about hiking Angels Landing, our planned hike in Zion National Park, Utah. Doesn’t sound very encouraging, right? It almost sounds like they have been paid by the park officials to write this phrase in their guidebook. In our opinion, with Lonely Planet it always depends on the author how difficult a hike really is. We noticed that in New Zealand we could usually count on the actual described walking times but in Scotland for example, the hikes were far more strenuous and time consuming than described. For our US roadtrip we had no idea how this was going to be like, but figured that since many others can do it and with our experience, we should be able to do Angels Landing without too much trouble.
Hiking Angels Landing
Zion National Park has two legendary hikes, Angels Landing and the Narrows. When only there for a day, you will have to pick one unless you are extremely fit and a quick hiker. If you have more time than just a day, you can do both. As we also went canyoneering with a guide, we only had a couple of hours in the afternoon to wade through the Virgin River (which is, in fact, the Narrows trail) and didn’t make it all to the end, which was actually just fine. Ever since I got almost washed away in an Icelandic glacial river a couple of years ago, I’m not that much into hiking in/through rivers anymore.
We decided Angels Landing would be our must-do. But, was it really as bad and tricky as Lonely Planet wanted us to believe? Or was the warning just intended for over-enthusiast and unfit tourists with the urge to do something out of their reach?
We woke up incredibly early to catch the earliest bus (which I believe was about 06.00 am) to start hiking Angels Landing trail. The sun just started rising and lighting up the top of the mountains. When exiting the bus I got a wee bit scared. As I looked up, I realized we were going all the way UP THERE, meaning having to hold chains and staring into an incredible depth. However, I kept on telling myself that if others can do it, I can do it. This turned out to be my mantra for the rest of the walk.
The first part of the trail is easy, it’s just a sturdy uphill walk and will make your calves burn. I loved how quiet it was, how we could hear birds singing and only a few of us where on the trail that led us through some shady bush. Then came Walter’s Wiggles, a set of 21 steep switch backs carved out in the rocks. Great for uphill hiking and a sturdy exercise.
After about an hour from the start, we reached Scout Lookout, which has a pit toilet (yay!) and is usually the turnaround point for those who have a fear of heights. We were attacked by squirrels (always the same in the US haha) and took a little break. From there, you can also see your final destination: Angels Landing. And the steep, narrow trail that leads up to it…
On we went and we started climbing gradually. I just forced myself not to look down and just up, holding the chains where necessary. We were glad we started early, not just because of the heat but also because at many parts of the trail, it’s not possible to pass each other so we can imagine long waiting lines will occur, especially when someone freaks out and doesn’t want to carry on. From Scouts Lookout it was about another 45-60 minutes to Angels Landing. When we were there, an amazing 360 degree panorama opened up and we just sat down and enjoyed the views. While the sun rose above our heads and more people reached the landing, we decided to start our descent not too late as we didn’t want to get into traffic and we still had to drive to Bryce Canyon that day.
The way down isn’t as bad as you think. If you get afraid, just bum slide and make sure to hold the chains. I felt that the trail wasn’t as difficult or dangerous as they made us believe, however if you have a fear of heights, you shouldn’t even consider doing this. I have no fear of heights and have been on steeper hikes, without handrails or chains to hold on to, that were way more scarier and difficult than this one. However, if you are in doubt, reconsider because we have a lot of alpine experience and this trail is not a piece of cake. Hikers get in trouble each year because they are not prepared for what is about to come or if they overestimate themselves.
When back at Souts Lookout we noticed many people were there and we were relieved we were already on the way back. By the time it got really crowded we were almost finished already. In about 3.5 hours we reached the bus stop again, having gone up and down, happy to have achieved another great hike, the perfect way to end of our stay in Zion National Park.
As I said, only do this hike if you think you are up to it. If you have some stamina and are not afraid of heights (I repeat it once again, are NOT afraid of heights) this won’t be too hard on you. Just make sure to go early, otherwise I’m sure you’ll regret it and the trip will take you way too long, giving you a chance to look down and overthink what happens if you fall. And that’s just about the only thing that you don’t want to do …
More technical information about this hike can be found on the Zion National Park website.
Be honest – would you dare doing this hike? Or did you ever do it? Let us know if you agree with us that it’s not too hard?
Want to read more about Utah or our hiking adventures? You may like these as well:
– The 5 best hikes in Zion National Park
– Negro Bill Canyon Trail: Moab’s best half day hike
– How to spend 24 hours in Bryce Canyon National Park
[this article was first published in March 2014 and updated in January 2016]