When I decided to go to Zion National Park earlier this year, I knew I wanted to do the Angel’s Landing hike. It’s one of the most popular hikes in the park and is often quite crowded. The last half mile is along a narrow ridge over 1,000 feet above the valley floor and is lined with chains to hold on to for balance. Much of this portion of the trail is only wide enough for one person, so it does get backed up because you have to wait for people coming from the opposite direction to pass before you can proceed. While I normally don’t prefer crowded trails, I’d heard that the experience of Angel’s Landing was worth it. Spoiler alert: it was.
Arriving at the trailhead, you can see your ultimate destination, but it’s not really clear exactly how you’re going to get there. Since this was my first time doing the hike, I didn’t know what to expect, which I think makes the experience seem easier. When you know how much further you have to go, it can be a real bummer. When you have no idea what to expect though, each twist and turn is a new adventure.
The first part of the hike is pretty basic. Some switchbacks and steady elevation gain eventually got us to Refrigerator Canyon, where we turned into the canyon and soon lost view of the road. This is pretty much the only part of the hike that’s not fully exposed to the sun, so it’s a chance to cool off and enjoy the breeze. Once we reached the back part of the canyon, we started up Walter’s Wiggles, a series of switchbacks that allow you to gain elevation quickly but without the vertical climb.
At the top, Scout’s Lookout offered a nice place to have a rest or a snack while taking in some pretty awesome views of the canyon. This is also where we got our first look at the infamous chains. If you aren’t comfortable with the chains, you’ll want to turn around here.
The last half mile of the trail is pretty narrow, down to four feet wide in some places, with significant dropoffs on either side. People have fallen to their deaths from this trail; it’s not something to be taken lightly. That said, the chains are a huge help and it’s not so bad as long as you focus on where you’re going and don’t look down.
It was pretty crowded when we were there, which I expected to be a bummer. As it turns out though, the crowds added to the experience. There was a very positive atmosphere of everyone encouraging everyone else through the scariest parts of the hike. People were helping each other through the steep parts and cheering on friends and strangers alike.
We eventually made it to the very end of the trail and took a few minutes to appreciate the incredible views of the valley. Unfortunately, it started to rain right after we got there, which had me pretty worried. The top of giant rock is not the best place to be in a storm and even a little bit of rain was going to make the trek back down very slippery. Luckily, the rain stopped after a few minutes and we were able to get down without incident.
This hike was absolutely worth doing, despite the crowds. Aside from the incredible views, climbing up the ridge holding on to the chains was a very cool experience. I’ve never done a hike quite like this and highly recommend it to anyone who is interested and in the appropriate shape to handle the terrain.
A few things to remember:
This hike is not for everyone. If you have poor balance or a fear of heights, do not attempt this hike. Also, don’t take children unless they are old enough to follow the rules and hold on to the chains. This is nature, not Disney World, and it can be dangerous.
Don’t feed the wildlife. The squirrels and chipmunks on this trail are very bold and will come right up to you to beg for food. If you leave your snack while you go off to take a photo, chances are it will be gone when you get back. Not only is people-food unhealthy for the animals, but it strengthens the human/food association and leads to increasingly aggressive behavior, including biting.
Relax and go with the flow. Please do not try to push past the line of people to get up the ridge more quickly. No one is standing there in a deliberate effort to block you. The people in front of you are probably waiting for a group of people to come from the other direction in a no-passing zone. Just wait your turn and don’t try to go around. It’s dangerous and rude. You’ll get to the top, it’s not going anywhere.
Leave enough time to get down. If you start out on this hike late in the day, leave yourself enough time to get back down before dark. You especially don’t want to be on the chains after sunset, but there’s no artificial light on any part of the trail, which makes it much more dangerous than during the day. Also, you don’t want to miss the last tram back to your car.