Utah’s scariest hike? Conquering Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park (photos)

There’s a reason Angel’s Landing is the most famous hike in Zion National Park. This stunning (and at times terrifying) 5-mile trail climbs 1,200 feet up a sheer rock face–with nothing but a chain link railing keeping hikers from falling over the edge.

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While Zion’s other famous hike, The Narrows, is flat, wet, and shady, Angel’s Landing offers little protection from the dry Utah heat. The last half mile is not for the faint of heart; it involves scrambling across a narrow trail with sheer cliffs on each side without any railing. It takes strong nerves to get to the end, especially if (like us) you aren’t comfortable around heights.

Your heart will be pounding and your legs shaking– but don’t miss this hike when you visit Zion National Park. You’ll feel amazing after you’ve conquered Angel’s Landing!

The easy part

The first 2 miles of the hike, while strenuous, is merely a setup for the later climb. We took one of Zion’s first morning shuttles from our campsite to the trail head, which allowed us to avoid the hot mid-day sun as well as the crowds of people that amass throughout the day.

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The Angel’s Landing hike begins with a meandering but paved trail that follows the Virgin River. It quickly turns into a series of steep switchbacks cut into the rock face.

There are some gorgeous views along the way, although they pale in comparison to the vistas at the top of the hike.

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After a brief ascent, the hike cuts through a shaded patch between the base of Angel’s Landing and neighboring Zion Canyon. Hidden among the rock walls are several small caverns, perfect for a mid-hike rest or photo op.

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Next, you come to a series of 21 shorter and even steeper switchbacks known as Walter’s Wiggles. This is the last hurdle before reaching the chain handrail that marks the dramatic last half mile of the hike, at Scout’s Lookout.

Scout’s Lookout

When I was about 13 years old, I visited Zion National Park and began the Angel’s Landing hike. I don’t remember much about it, except getting to Scout’s Landing and being too afraid to go any farther.  This time, I told myself, would be different. I was determined to reach the summit.

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This is the end of the hike for many visitors, who opt to sit and watch the climbers instead of continuing. After reaching a warning sign telling us about six tourist deaths that had occurred over the last eight years, Leslie and I slowly approached the chain link railing.

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When we got over the initial ridge we saw the final summit, which can only be reached by a trail that measures a few feet wide and is surrounded by sheer drop-offs. We hesitated when we spotted the first gap in the hand-rail, which forced us to hug the rock in order to avoid a thousand-foot fall.

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After watching several hikers clumsily navigate the pass, we convinced ourselves that we had gone far enough and instead hiked back to Scout’s Landing for lunch and to explore a safer trail.

Working up the courage to climb

While we quietly hiked on a nearby scenic trail we tried to convince ourselves that skipping the last half mile wasn’t a big deal. We could do it next time we visited, we reasoned, or could even come back the next day to hike to the end. As we watched the crowds gather at Scout’s Landing we realized that if we didn’t finish the hike here and now, we weren’t ever going to finish it. So we steeled our resolve and set out for our second attempt to reach the summit of Angel’s Landing.

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Despite repeatedly passing hikers on their way down from the summit who recognized us and asked us why we stopped and came back again, we managed to make our way up the face of Angel’s Landing. The ascent was frightening but manageable, thanks to the chain link handrail.

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Most difficult, however, were the random gaps between chains that forced us to scramble across the thin trail.

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As we got closer to the peak, the wind picked up and the crowds grew, making the hike feel even more treacherous.

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Eventually, however, we made it to the summit, where there was just enough space to relax and enjoy the spectacular 360-degree views.

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Although we were hardly the only ones to reach the summit that day– there were a dozen hikers there when we arrived– we were proud of ourselves for overcoming our initial fear and for going outside of our comfort zones.

Getting there

Zion National Park is about a 3-hour drive from Las Vegas and a 5-hour drive from Salt Lake City. During the summer, no cars are allowed inside the park but a convenient shuttle bus takes you from entrance to all relevant locations. The trail head for Angel’s Landing is located at “The Grotto” stop on the shuttle bus.

Have you been to Zion National Park?

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About Jake Semmel

I'm a blogger and round the world traveler. I'm always on the lookout for new places to scuba dive, hike and ski.