Iconic Hikes Vol. 4: Angel's Landing

Iconic Hikes Vol. 4: Angel's Landing

Navigate a narrow ridge to a summit in the heart of Zion Canyon.

This edition of Iconic Hikes features the trail to Angel's Landing, a classic day hike found in Zion National Park.  While only 5.4 miles round trip, the trek to the top traverses steep exposed trails, narrow ledges, and perilous drop-offs.  The reward is a stunning view of the canyon from atop Angel's Landing, the knife edge mountain that cuts into the heart of Zion.

Due to the popularity of the hike, it's best to get an early start to the trailhead, especially if you're visiting Utah in the summer, when the heat will only add to the difficulty of the hike.  Take the Zion Canyon shuttle to the Grotto trailhead.  The shuttle can be picked up at the visitor center, but parking is limited and fills early.  Alternatively, one can park in the town of Springdale and catch the town shuttle into the park.

From the Grotto, cross the bridge on the opposite side of the street and follow the West Rim Trail north along a paved and exposed section.  The trail begins to climb steeply up the side of the canyon before leveling out as it enters Refrigerator Canyon.  Here, the near perpetual shade in the narrow crevice creates a cooler climate than that of the sunny canyon around you.

View from the top of Walter's Wiggles

Enjoy the reprieve from the heat before tackling Walter's Wiggles, a series of 21 tight switchbacks masterfully carved into the rock in 1926.  The Wiggles are named after Walter Ruesh, the first superintendent of Zion National Park who oversaw the construction of the trail.  The carved path serves as a beautiful example of the monumental construction projects accomplished by the Park Service.

The trail tops out at a sandy saddle called Scout Lookout.  Leave the West Rim Trail behind and follow the trail to Angel's Landing.  From here, you'll have your first look at the narrow path that will take you to the summit.  If you're unsure of the weather or your ability to tackle the difficult trail ahead, this is an ideal place to enjoy the view and turn back.

The last half mile of trail involves narrow ledges, dizzying drop-offs, and steep scrambles as you cross along the crest to the summit.  Chain railings bolted into the rock make some of the dangerous sections more manageable.  Take your time.  A mistake here can prove deadly.  But done right, this can easily become one of the most enjoyable sections of trail you'll see in the canyon.

A view back towards Scout Lookout, with Refrigerator Canyon to the left of the ridge.

At the end of the trail, your effort is rewarded with 360 degree views of Zion canyon.  Take the time to soak in your accomplishment before heading back the way you came.

Be sure the pack enough water for the entire trip, especially in the summer when the arid environment reaches stifling temperatures.  Be especially cautious of afternoon thunderstorms, as clinging to a chain on the narrow ledge of Angel's Landing is the last place you want to be when lighting strikes.

The view from the summit.

Hike It

Distance: 5.4 miles round trip.

Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous.  The trail is mostly exposed, and the final portion requires steep ascents with dangerous drop-offs, aided by chains and hand rails.

Trailhead: The Grotto trailhead.  The Zion Canyon shuttle makes a stop across the street from the trail.

Route: From the Grotto shuttle stop, cross the street and follow the West Rim Trail north to Scout Lookout.  Take the spur trail to the Angel's Landing summit.  Return by the same route.

Permits: None.

Best Time To Go: Open year round.  Spring and fall will have mild temperatures, with the summer hot and crowded.  Start early to avoid crowding on the narrow sections of the trail.

Links:

Zion National Park website

NPS Zion Hiking Guide

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Cuyahoga Valley National Park

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