Sweeping views of Zion Canyon. A scramble up the spine of a narrow ridge. California condors circling the summit. There’s a reason the Angels Landing hike is one of the most popular in Zion National Park.
But for all its beauty, hiking Angels Landing is also infamous for its danger. For a full mile of the hike, you have to clamber up a set of chains in the rock, with 1,000-foot cliffs on each side. The trail is barely three feet wide in some places.
This hike isn’t for everyone. If you’re nervous about heights, don’t have great balance, or are traveling with small children, you might want to skip it. But for everyone else, the views from the summit are 1000% worth it — and you can get there safely!
Read on for all the details to plan your hike to Angels Landing.
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- 1 So really, how scary is the Angels Landing hike?
- 2 Zion National Park safety record
- 3 How hard is it to hike Angels Landing in Zion?
- 4 What about the crowds?
- 5 How to get to the trailhead
- 6 Hiking Angels Landing: On the trail
- 7 What to wear and bring when you hike Angels Landing
- 8 Zion National Park practicalities
- 9 Is the Angels Landing trail worth it?
So really, how scary is the Angels Landing hike?
This is probably the #1 thing you’re wondering about this hike.
I’m normally not great with heights. The suspension bridges on my trek in Nepal were more than enough for me. I was sure I’d have to turn around on the Angels Landing hiking trail, too nervous to continue.
But real talk — the chains are waaaay over-hyped on Instagam. They really, really are not that bad. I wasn’t the least bit scared — and I absolutely did look down a few times (from a safe distance away).
Part of my comfort level came from the fact that I hike a ton in Western North Carolina and I’m confident in my hiking boots. Part of it was because I hiked on a dry, warm day where ice and slippery rocks were not an issue.
But the biggest factor was the fact that you crawl up at a snail’s pace due to the crowds. It’s really hard to slip when you’re walking about 20 feet per minute, with dozens of people all around you to help catch a fall.
I would not let anything less than a paralyzing fear of heights stop you from attempting this trail.
And if you get to the chains and you don’t feel comfortable, that’s totally okay! There is absolutely no shame in looking at it and saying “nope not for me.” Plus you’ll get views that are just as good from the saddle immediately below the chains.
Zion National Park safety record
The flipside of feeling safe on this hike is, Zion National Park doesn’t have the world’s greatest safety record. At least 13 hikers have died at Angel’s Landing since 2000. That’s one of the highest fatality statistics on any trail in the park system.
Now, a couple caveats. First, the Angels Landing trail is immensely popular — as many as 1,000 people a day tackle it in peak season. So 13 hikers out of tens of thousands isn’t actually a very high fatality rate.
The second major caveat is the vast majority of accidents on this trail happen not on the dodgy chains — but at the wide, flat, uncrowded summit. People get far too close to the edges for a look into the canyon or for the perfect photo, and then slip or get caught in a rockfall. So the easiest way to stay safe on this hike is simply to stay at least 6 feet away from the edges at the summit.
Third, most accidents have happened under two conditions: poor weather or a solo/separated from their party hiker. Again, these are both avoidable. Don’t hike Angels Landing in icy or wet conditions, or when rain threatens. Stay with your group (and if you’re a parent, keep your kids close by) on the chains. And if you do hike solo like I did, don’t try to speed past all the slower groups.
No National Park Service staff monitor Angels Landing in Zion National Park. The park advertises the trail as strenuous and warns about dropoffs, but that’s it. If you aren’t prepared, no one is going to tell you you can’t do it. If there are absurd crowds already on the chains, no one is going to make you wait for them to clear out before starting. The final half mile to the summit is quite steep and strenuous in places — chains aside, not a great choice for first-time hikers or anyone without enough food or water.
There is a good chance all of this is going to change soon. Rumors are swirling in the outdoor community that Angels Landing will be a permitted hike starting in 2022.
How hard is it to hike Angels Landing in Zion?
I alluded to this a minute ago, but hiking Angels Landing is not a walk in the park. You’ll gain about 1,500 feet of elevation in 2.5 miles. Virtually the entire way to the top has switchbacks, some of which are very steep.
Once you get to the chains it gets even harder. The final 500 feet to the summit involves hands-and-knees climbing up rock faces (with chain assists and good footholds).
The trail is beautifully maintained — much of it is paved. Even the “rougher” sections are smoother than anything I’ve seen on the East Coast. It’s wide enough for two-way traffic until you reach the saddle.
Overall, I’d rate Angels Landing on the difficult side of moderate. It’s a lot of climbing very quickly, in a desert, but it’s not long. The only places where you need to watch your feet are places where you have chains to help you and you move slowly.
In fact, the hardest part is coming down. Descending the chains was a bit hairy, and the main trail is pretty knee-busting.
Because of the crowds, it’s hard to go super-fast on this trail. Even though it’s just over 5 miles, plan on 3-5 hours. The last mile takes a full 90 minutes on its own.
What about the crowds?
If you’ve seen photos of this hike, they might not have contained any people. But don’t be fooled. Angels Landing is the most crowded hike I’ve ever done. And I went in shoulder season (mid-May), on a weekday, early in the morning.
If you’re wondering what happens when you get to the chains, in crowds, with two-way traffic — yep. It is exactly as much of a disaster as you’re picturing.
From the beginning of the chains, you’ll be in a line behind dozens of other people, creeping up the narrow ridge. The speed of the hikers in front of you is a moot point — if you try to pass them, you’ll immediately get caught behind someone else. So you might as well accept that it’s going to take ages.
People come up and go down the same route, which is only about 2 feet wide. So you’ll move for a bit, but then you’ll have to wait for descending hikers to create space at the next ledge. Sometimes you’ll wait 15 minutes or more. But it’s really important to let them pass. Ascending hikers have the right of way, so the only reason you’re waiting is because there literally is no space if you continue.
Once you’re at the top, it thins out. You can get all the people-free photos you want.
If you hang around the summit for a bit, you’ll notice people tend to come up in clusters. So try to sneak between clusters when you’re ready to descend. It’ll go a lot faster if you’re not constantly waiting for big groups!
All in all, it sounds more stressful than it is if you’re willing to be patient. A couple hikers around me seemed frustrated by the pace, but there was no way they were getting to the top any faster, and they were ruining their day complaining about it.
It took me 90 minutes to go up and come down (total distance: 1 mile), with a 20-minute break at the top.
How to get to the trailhead
Angels Landing is in Zion Canyon, which means you can’t drive to the trailhead. Your only options are the park shuttle, cycling, or walking.
If you have access to a bike or you don’t mind adding almost 11 miles to your hike, walking or cycling is by far the best option. It’ll allow you to be on your own schedule — no waiting in line. You’ll also have the option to hit the trail before the shuttles start running at 6 am. If you can get to the trailhead by 5 am, you’ll completely avoid the crowds and you might even catch sunrise!
If you don’t have your own bike, you can rent one from Zion Outfitters or one of the other shops in Springdale. It isn’t cheap — you’ll spend $35/day for an adult bike, or $95 for an e-bike (but you will appreciate the e-bike on the way back!).
One additional walking option is to backpack in from Lava Point. This is a fairly easy two-day backpacking trip. You’ll need two cars (or a commercial shuttle) and a permit.
Otherwise, you have to brave the shuttle.
I so, so wish I could tell you the shuttle is a great solution to Zion’s transportation woes. Unfortunately, it is not. On peak weekends, you may encounter lines over two hours long to board the shuttles.
The shuttle boards at the Visitor Center in Springdale. Don’t count on getting parking there — the lot was full by 6 am when I visited. If you’re staying in Springdale, walk or use the town shuttle. If you’re commuting in you’ll have to pay for street parking.
When you arrive at the Visitors Center, park staff will check for your America the Beautiful pass or other park pass. If you haven’t purchased one yet, you can do so. Then take a left around the building and get in line.
The shuttles are following COVID precautions. Masks are required, and they only allow enough people on to fill the number of seats. They also won’t let you sit next to another group. (So if you’re a solo traveler, you get two seats.)
The good news is, once you’re on the shuttle, it’s a quick 15-minute ride to The Grotto. This is the stop for the Angel’s Landing hike. Hop off, use the restroom and water filling stations here, and cross the road to pick up the trail.
Whatever you do, don’t wait to catch the last shuttle out of Zion Canyon after your hike. It’s almost always full by the time it passes The Grotto. You’ll have to walk five miles back to Springdale in the dark. Plan to be on a shuttle by 7 pm in summer, which unfortunately means you can’t hike Angels Landing for sunset.
Hiking Angels Landing: On the trail
When you hop off the shuttle at The Grotto, the first thing you’ll see is the picnic area. This is your last chance for a restroom — don’t pass it up. Once you’re on the trail, it’s so crowded that you won’t even be able to find a bush to duck behind if you have to go.
On the other side of the street you’ll see a bridge crossing the Virgin River. Take it. The trail forks on the other side — to the left is a connector to the Emerald Pools Trail, while Angels Landing begins on the right. It’s clearly marked (and the various graphic warnings about steep cliffs make it pretty hard to miss the signs).
For the first ten minutes, you’ll walk a sandy path along the canyon floor. You can roam down to the river in a few places; just be sure to follow the designated signs for river access rather than cutting your own trail. In May, the cactus flowers here were blooming.
Next, you’ll come to your first set of switchbacks. And they go on…for awhile. It’s not steep in this section and you can cover it pretty quickly, but you’ll also get sweeping views of the canyon that will encourage you to take your time. My favorite photos from my Angels Landing hike are from this stretch.
Once you’re up the first cliff, you’ll enter a shady area between sections of the canyon. This is sensitive wildlife habitat and signs will warn you to keep quiet. It flattens out quite a bit as the trail passes through impossibly green vegetation, followed by a couple semi-hollowed-out caverns.
Approaching the summit
Next you’ll reach the final set of switchbacks, adorably known as Walter’s Wiggles. These are much steeper than the first set. You’ll be going up, up up for awhile — I think it was around 20 switchbacks, but you can see your final destination from below. Luckily in the morning this stretch is in the shade.
Coming off the switchbacks, you’ll land at Scout Lookout and a near-panoramic view. You have to wander around a bit for the best photo spots — stay a few feet away from the edge — but trust me, if you make it this far and decide not to continue, you won’t feel like you missed out.
Scout Lookout is where the West Rim Trail (which you’ve been on the whole time) splits off to Lava Point. You can’t miss the path to Angels Landing though, since you can see the chains right in front of you. The only reason to take the left turn to the West Rim is if you really, really need a bathroom (there is one up here but based on the expressions of horror I heard from people who used it, I would avoid it if you can).
Finally, you’ll be on the chains. The first stretch is pretty easy and sheltered. It’ll take you to a spot known as Hogsback, where the trail widens. If you weren’t comfortable with that first scramble I’d suggest turning around here — it gets more exposed, and steeper, immediately afterward.
As you ascend, the views to your left keep getting better and better. Chat with your fellow hikers, snap a few photos, and you’ll be at the top in no time!
Once you’ve finished at the summit, head back the way you came. If you want to hike longer when you get back to Scout Lookout you can go up the West Rim Trail. It’s a beautiful hike through a little-visited section of the park, and you’ll get fabulous views of Angels Landing from over 1,000 feet above it. Go as far as you want — I went six miles out and six back. It was a lot of very-exposed, very-hot climbing, but it was one of my favorite stretches of trail in Zion.
What to wear and bring when you hike Angels Landing
Angels Landing doesn’t require as much special gear as the river-focused hikes like The Narrows and the Subway. But you definitely need to be prepared for a potentially long hike in the desert heat.
The most important piece of gear you need is reliable hiking shoes. Don’t do this hike in anything without good traction, or that you’re likely to trip in (I’m looking at you, Chaco’s). I wore my boots, but trail runners would also be fine.
Beyond shoes, you can wear whatever you normally wear hiking. I swear by long-sleeved Merino wool shirts and my PrAna hiking pants for desert hiking. But shorts and cotton t-shirts would also be fine.
You’ll also need adequate water and snacks — at least two liters of water per person. Bring salty, high-protein snacks that will replenish electrolytes while making you feel full for longer. Peanut butter pretzels are my favorite, but salted nuts work well too. Carry enough food for five hours on the trail. You can stock up at Sol Foods in Springdale.
Sunscreen is an absolute must for Angels Landing (and every hike in Zion). You’ll be in direct sunlight almost the whole way. Don’t forget to apply it behind your ears, on your eyelids, and under your nose. Your lips will appreciate it if you bring lip balm with SPF too.
Finally, while I normally swear by trekking poles, I would not recommend them for Angels Landing — especially if yours don’t fold up and fit in your pack. It would be dangerous to attempt the chain section with poles in your hands.
Zion National Park practicalities
Zion National Park is just outside the small town of Springdale in Southern Utah. It’s about a 4.5-hour drive from Salt Lake City and a 2.5-hour drive from Las Vegas. If you’re on a longer Utah road trip, you can reach Springdale from Bryce Canyon in under two hours.
Zion charges a park entrance fee of $35 per vehicle, $30 per motorcycle or $20 per cyclist/pedestrian. This allows you to explore Zion Canyon and Kolob Canyon for up to 7 days.
If you plan to visit multiple parks this year, a far better deal is to purchase an America the Beautiful pass. This admits you to all National Parks and other federally managed nature destinations for a full year from your purchase date. It costs $80 for most adults, $20 for folks 62 and up, or free for families of 4th graders. You can purchase online if you plan far enough in advance for them to mail it to you, or at any park entrance.
As mentioned earlier, the only ways to explore Zion Canyon are by foot, bicycle or shuttle. You can’t take private vehicles into the main canyon (unless you stay at the lodge, and then you can only take your car to the lodge and back). Unfortunately a major rockslide a few years ago means several of the shuttle stops and associated trails are closed. At this point you can only reach trails accessible from the lodge, the Grotto, and the Temple of Sinawava.
Angels Landing, along with the Narrows, Emerald Pools and the River Walk, are all in the main canyon. But there’s plenty more to Zion! If you want to get off the beaten path consider a permitted hike like the Subway, or check out the Kolob Canyon area.
Accommodation and food
Springdale has a small-town, artist community vibe. It’s the best place to stay during your Zion trip — you can’t beat free parking and easy access to the park shuttle. It has plenty of places to eat, a couple gas stations, and lots of accommodation. But it is pricey. For cheaper options, you’ll need to look to Hurricane, St. George or Cedar City.
The only affordable accommodation option in the Springdale area is camping. If you’re super lucky, you can snag one of the NPS-managed campgrounds. You can reserve spaces at Watchman Campground in advance, but you need to plan way in advance. Spaces at South Campground open two weeks in advance, and you don’t exactly have great odds unless you can be online when they open. Both campgrounds cost $20/night and neither has showers.
If you missed a Watchman reservation and you don’t want to chance a South Campground one, you have two options: dispersed camping on BLM lands or a private campground. The nearest dispersed camping is in the La Verkin area, about 30 minutes outside Springdale. You need a high-clearance vehicle (or at the very least, not a rental car with “no gravel roads” in the contract) to access most sites. Pack out absolutely all waste and no campfires allowed.
Your final option is a private campground. Springdale only has one, and it is expensive, but it’s also your only camping option if you want a shower. Zion Canyon Campground and RV Resort is where I stayed, and I’d recommend it for anyone who wants a little more comfort but is still on a budget. You can’t beat the location, and the restrooms/showers are spotless. The campsites don’t have a ton of privacy but at least you’re allowed to have fires!
If you’re not a camper, be prepared to spend big on lodging. The top budget choice in Springdale is the Bumbleberry Inn, but even that is nearly $200 a night.
Springdale has lots of restaurants, most of which are on the pricey side. Budget $10+ for breakfast and $20+ for dinner. Breakfast at Cafe Soleil is a must, and Oscar’s Cafe has fantastic Mexican food. Dinner spots fill up fast, so eat at 5 pm or expect to wait over an hour for a table.
For groceries, Sol Foods is your best bet. Again, it’s pricey, but they have pretty much everything for hiking lunches or camping dinners. They also have an affordable salad bar and cheap pizzas.
Is the Angels Landing trail worth it?
For a trail that’s often called “the most dangerous hike in America,” Angels Landing is actually pretty tame. The chains and scrambles make it feel more adventurous than your typical walk in the woods. But it never feels like your life is at risk, as long as you stay a healthy distance from the cliff edges.
Even with the crowds and extremely hot weather, I would still 10/10 do it again. Zion is one of the most stunning parks in the entire U.S. park system, and the vantage point you’ll get from the Angels Landing summit can’t be beat.
But even if you don’t make it to the top, the views from Scout Lookout are almost as good. So as long as you’re willing to climb up a few switchbacks, you really can’t lose with this hike.
Don’t miss Angels Landing when you visit Southern Utah!
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