The iconic Angels Landing hike in Zion National Park is sometimes said to be one of the most dangerous hikes in the US – which is not really true. There have been about 17 confirmed deaths on the Angels Landing hike, as at December 2022, compared to over 400 people who died on Mount Rainier and about 60 people on Yosemite’s Half Dome. A permit system introduced in 2022 significantly reduces the number of people on what was Zion’s most popular hike and there have been no deaths in the last few years…
The Angels Landing hike starts at The Grotto on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, a short walk from the Zion Lodge where I’m staying. The trail immediately crosses the Virgin River, and you can see angular Angels Landing jutting up in the distance.
As the trail continues to ascent gently towards the base of the cliffs, there’s a nice view of the valley (Zion Canyon) and Red Arch Mountain and Great White Throne on the other side of the river.
The paved trail soon starts ascending along a series of switch-backs (there’s no shade along this section in the morning). It seems impossible that there is a walking route up the sheer cliffs – and it was until the trail was cut into the rock in 1926.
There’s some respite from the never-ending switchbacks along the next section, as the path traverses Refrigerator Canyon
Next is the infamous Walters Wiggles, a series of 21 steep switchbacks named after Walter Ruesch (Zion National Park’s first superintendent) who designed the trail in 1926.
At the top of Walters Wiggles is Scout Lookout: from here, the West Rim Trail continues another 12.6 miles (20.3km) up to Lava Point, while the Angels Landing Trail heads up the steep and spiny ridge to Angels Landing. (From April 2022, a permit is needed to continue past Scouts Landing.) It seems improbable there is a track up the steep rocks – in fact, Angels Landing is said to get its name after Methodist minister Frederick Vining Fisher (on his first visit to Zion Canyon in 1916) said that only an angel could land there.
This last section is why Angels Landing is considered a dangerous hike: the trail is steep, with chains to help the ascent. There’s not much of a drop-off for the first part of this section…
…but as the trail continues, the ridge gets more narrow and there is soon a lot of exposure. There’s a 1000-foot drop to the Virgin River and Zion Canyon Scenic Drive below.
A final stretch of chain up the middle of the narrow spine gets you to the top of the ridge.
The views from here are spectacular: looking south down Zion Canyon you can see the Great White Throne, Red Arch Mountain and Mountain of the Sun on the left-hand side of the valley, and Mount Zion on the right.
To the north is the Angels Landing ridge on the left, below Cathedral Mountain, and Observation Point to the right of the valley.
Almost directly below in the Big Bend at the north end of Zion Canyon is The Organ, which rises 700-feet (213 metres) above the canyon floor. The Organ is believed to have been named by Claud Hirschi and Ethelbert Bingham, who visited Zion in 1916 with Frederick Vining Fisher.
I linger at the top enjoying the views for a while. I’ve hiked up late in the afternoon, and even though it’s in June (a relatively busy time) there’s almost no-one left up here.
Getting to Angels Landing
The Angels Landing hike starts at Grotto Road on Zion Canyon Road – access is by shuttle only when the Zion Canyon Shuttle is running, and at other times there is limited parking here. As of April 2022, a permit is essential to contonue beyond Scouts Lookout to Angels Landing. If you can’t get a permit, you may be able to get a spot on a guided hike (although these can also get booked out in peak periods).
- National Park Service (NPS) – Angels Landing Permits & Hiking
- Down The Trail – Here’s 14 People That Fell From Angels Landing
- Wildlife Trekking – Angels Landing Private Day Hike
- East Zion Adventures – Guided Angels Landing Hike
Have a look at The Best Hikes of Zion National Park from more hikes and scenic drives in Zion.