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America's National Parks were formed with one goal in mind:
Getting people out into the wilderness.
There's no better way to do this than by hiking! Hiking is accessible to nearly anyone who can walk, and everyone in the family can do it. It doesn't need any fancy equipment, just a good pair of shoes and a whole lot of water.
With 61 parks across the United States and all its territories, it stands to reason that some of the best hiking in the world is available in our National Parks.
One place that rises above the rest is Angel's Landing.
Angel's Landing: The Pride of Zion National Park
In case you didn't know:
Zion National Park is known for its dramatic sandstone canyons, which are streaked with beautiful colors like pinks, reds, and oranges. Most of its hiking is in Zion Canyon, with the less-traveled Kolob Canyon further north.
Between the green slot canyons carved by the Virgin River and the sun-baked mesas and deserts, Zion holds over 90 miles of trails and three camping sites. You're sure to find strikingly beautiful scenery wherever you go within the park.
But one of the most striking places is a thin mesa known as Angel's Landing.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ANGEL'S LANDING
In the middle of the Zion Canyon, overlooking the twisting Virgin River is a thin razor of rock which escaped eons of erosion. This rock, with its improbably high summit and precarious ridge, is Angel's Landing.
Here's the truth:
Angel's Landing is an easy-to-recognize precipice. It juts out from the floor of the canyon like a fin from the back of a shark.
Carved out of sandstone that's 270 million years old, the canyon plunges almost 2,000 feet in places. Passing along the top of Angel's Landing, only a few feet wide in places can give you some serious vertigo.
To fall off the top, would be like to fall from the top of the Empire State Building!
Fortunately, it hasn't happened often. In the past 100 years, eight people have died falling off the top of the trail.
While Angel's Landing takes mental fortitude and no small amount of physical endurance, it's one of the most popular trails in Zion, and in the United States. Knowing what to expect atop Angel's Landing can make it a fun, if adventurous, experience for everyone in your hiking group.
WHY IS IT CALLED ANGEL'S LANDING?
Angel's Landing got its name back in 1916, at the birth of Zion National Park. At that time, a Methodist minister named Frederick Vining Fisher visited the canyon and came upon the now-famous precipice.
And here's what happened:
Seeing it from the canyon floor made the climb appear almost undoable. Fisher remarked that only an angel might land there, and so the mesa earned its name.
Why is it such a famous hike?
Angel's Landing balances the challenging and the comfortable. It's not difficult to reach, nor is it a terribly long hike.
You can take a shuttle to the trailhead, and complete the hike in around five hours. The trail is paved and well-maintained.
The hike up to the top takes you along a series of switchbacks which are graded and reinforced with walls made of local stone for stability. Along the final ridge, known as the Hogsback, there are a series of chains set in the stone to make your trip easier. They give you a reliable handhold even as the sandstone slips away inches from your feet.
There are two viewpoints -- one before the Hogsback, and one after at the summit. Both give stunning views of Zion Canyon.
But views are only one factor in why people love Angel's Landing.
It's a hike that's both easy to get to and doable in a day. Unlike summiting a mountain, for example, there are dozens of other people on the trail with you, as well as a quick return to the safety of the visitor's center.
The most dangerous part of the trail gives you a sense of real risk. And there is real risk, of course. But at the end of the day, you're much more likely to make it to the top than ever coming close to danger.
THE UPS AND DOWNS OF ANGEL'S LANDING
Angel's Landing makes for a dangerous hike. But, why so? And what do you need to know before making your ascent?
Here's the first thing you should know:
Despite the hike's popularity, it's not for beginners. The park's unique geography has made for a climb full of switchbacks, scrambles, and dangerous drops.
While it's not for the faint-hearted, a healthy dose of preparation will prevent just about anything Angel's Landing can throw at you.
And it won't take a set of wings to get to the top!
PREPARING FOR YOUR ANGEL'S LANDING HIKE
The first part of any hike, especially one like Angel's Landing, is preparation. You need to prepare your body, your mind, and of course your pack to take on the trail.
Not only that:
Knowing every portion of the trail, and all of its predictable obstacles and challenges will make for a safer and more fun hike. You'll know when to pace yourself and when to go all out, and you'll be more ready in the event of any unexpected danger.
CONDITIONING -- HOW TO GET YOUR BODY READY
If you've never hiked before but want to start big, or just want to make sure you're prepared for the big hike, you need to be in the right condition.
That means being able to hike at least five miles and gain 1,500 feet of elevation in 100-degree heat.
The best option for conditioning for a hike is, of course, by hiking. Go for a few short walks every week. Get your heart rate going and maintain it for 30 minutes or more.
Here's an idea:
While you're on these walks, the best thing for you to do is to wear the same gear you'll be taking on your hike. If you have new hiking shoes, wear them in like this so you won't get blisters. And bring a weighted daypack to get used to carrying it.
Beyond that, training for a day hike is pretty straightforward.
Exercise your quadriceps, calves, and hamstrings for strength and stability. This can happen during your regular brisk walks, and you can use ankle weights to increase the difficulty.
Gear will also help prevent injury, so trekking poles and boots with higher ankles can go a long way.
SAFETY -- DANGERS ON THE ASCENT
For any hike in Zion, remember you're going to be in the desert. Hiking here is best between March and November, with summer being the most popular time.
Your first obstacle:
The ever-present sunlight.
Most of the trail is in complete sun. You're totally exposed to the elements, and that will take a serious toll on you. Sunburn, heat stroke, and dehydration all threaten to turn your day in the park into a medical emergency, and that's even without the risks of the trail itself.
And that's not all:
The hike is strenuous, and although it is short, it gains nearly 1,500 feet over its approximately 2.5-mile span. Much of this gain is made on steep switchbacks, meaning you have little time to rest in between inclines.
Of course, the most strenuous part is the last half-mile, which involves hiking and scrambling along a narrow strip of rock.
This is a real challenge, even for more experienced hikers!
The truth is:
The real challenge in hiking Angel's Landing is all in your head.
Standing on top of that thin mesa and looking down could make you dizzy. In fact, you may decide not to cross the final half mile at all.
Approaching the home stretch when you're dehydrated, overexposed, or just plain tired, can make a precarious hike downright dangerous. If you're trying to take on Zion's 100-degree summer days, the heat alone could overwhelm you.
So, do this:
Make sure to take plenty of breaks to hydrate and rest. Recover your energy in the shade wherever you can, like in Refrigerator Canyon.
Apart from the ridge leading to the Angel's Landing summit, this hike is no more dangerous than any other in the park.
But that doesn't mean it's a picnic.
WHO SHOULD HIKE ANGEL'S LANDING?
It should be clear by now, but Angel's Landing isn't for everyone.
Primarily, young children without experience hiking or scrambling should definitely not make this trek. If they're under 12 or don't understand how important trail safety is, this could be quite a treacherous journey.
An important side note -- if anyone goes with you who decides they won't attempt the summit, don't let them go back on their own. Make sure they make it to Scout's Lookout, the start of the ridge, safely.
Any hikers who have experience with elevation gain and scrambling should be able to make this hike with enough preparation. The scramble at the end, with a chain assist, shouldn't be too difficult for experienced hikers.
It would also be a fun challenge for anyone looking to take their hiking to a new level.
And this goes without saying, but:
Anyone with a serious fear of heights should not attempt Angel's Landing. Passing along a ridge 1,500 feet in the air would be sure to trigger their fears.
But don't worry:
There are plenty of hikes in Zion Canyon for hikers who cannot make Angel's Landing. You won't have to worry if your group splits up so that everyone can enjoy their day.
But be forewarned that only one trail in the canyon allows dogs.
WHAT TO BRING ON YOUR HIKE
The most important thing to bring on your climb is lots and lots of water! In southern Utah heat for most of the year, Zion Canyon can be a punishing and dehydrating place.
Bring more water than you think you need.
Backpacker.com recommends three to five quarts per day for the average hiker in the spring.
You may consider bringing more if you're unaccustomed to it. And you'll definitely want to have more at camp or in the car for when you get back.
If you don't have a good handle on your water consumption, pack a little heavy. The hike is almost entirely sunbaked and is sure to work up a sweat! You could even consider a hydration pack, which will keep your hands free during the final leg of the trail.
- 1You'll also want to pack as much as possible to beat the sun even when you're all the way in it. A good hat to keep the sun off your head, face, and neck will go a long way.
- 2Sunglasses will make the hike much more comfortable -- you'll want to be able to see when your path is only a few feet wide!
- 3And of course, sunscreen will make sure you're not feeling scorched once the hike is done. You may also consider wearing long clothing made of cooling materials for sun protection as well.
If you're used to taking sneakers out onto the trail, now is the time to invest in a good pair of hiking shoes. Parts of the scramble have been worn smooth by thousands of passing feet, and shoes with solid traction are a must-have.
You'll want your footing to be as sure as can be when you're up on top of the ridge.
ABOUT ANGEL'S LANDING
Max Elevation: 1,488 feet
Distance: 5.4 miles from trailhead
Average time to complete: 3 to 5 hours
TRAVELING TO ZION NATIONAL PARK
Zion National Park is far in the southwest corner of Utah, close to the borders of Arizona and Nevada. While it's pretty far from any major population centers, it is close to some very small ones. Fortunately, they have plenty of places for you to stay.
Angel's Landing is accessible by the Zion Canyon entrance at the southern end of the park, close to the town of Springdale.
Parking at the visitor's center at this end of the park fills up quickly, usually as early as 8 or 9 a.m.
If you're planning on arriving later:
You don't want to risk missing out on parking:
You've got options. The best one is to park in Springdale. While parking in Springdale is not free, the shuttle to the park is. If you get there early, you can easily bypass the wait.
If you bring a bike or are willing to put in a hike, it's about a mile from Springdale to the park's entrance. But the shuttle is easier and faster and leaves you fresh for Angel's Landing.
It's worth noting that you can also enter the park on the north end, the Kolob Canyon entrance. This is a much less-visited side of the park.
But don't think that entering here is a secret loophole to avoid the throngs at the southern entrance. This side of the park is very far away from Angel's Landing and Zion Canyon.
Last but not least:
If you want to go in winter to beat the crowds, make sure you plan on arriving early. While parking is still scarce, the shuttle from Springdale doesn't run from December to February.
BASE CAMP: WHERE TO GO FOR A COMFY STAY
Zion National Park is fairly remote. It's only near a few small towns, so traveling there is a bit out of the way.
Fortunately, the towns that are in the area are all based around their proximity to Zion and other nearby national parks. Springdale, St. George, and the more distant Cedar City are all great jumping-off points to get to Zion.
Springdale, only a mile from the Zion Canyon entrance, is the best choice if you want a hotel stay. It has offerings for every group. If you want a cozy bed and breakfast or a simple hotel with a pool for the kids, you'll find it in Springdale.
Cedar City is quite a bit larger than both Springdale and St. George and has more attractions if you're looking to fill time around your Angel's Landing hike.
It's about an hour's drive from the Zion Canyon entrance to the park, so budget that into your schedule should you pick Cedar City.
ROUGHING IT IN ZION NATIONAL PARK
Of course, if you're going for an outdoor experience, why not go all the way?
Zion has two campgrounds close to Angel's Landing for you to pick from, and you should book well in advance to make any of these slots.
South Campground and Watchman Campground are the two you'll want to look for when you hike Angel's Landing. If you're planning a trip anytime soon, though, it's already too late.
Sites fill up as soon as they open for registration, six months in advance. They're full almost the entire year from February to November, and even the first-come, first-served spots fill up early in the morning.
If you do camp, make sure you're aware of all the details. Campsites cost between $20 and $50 per night. While both the South and Watchman campsites allow parking and come with potable water, only Watchman comes with flush toilets.
Not only that:
If you're planning on bringing multiple vehicles, each campsite only allows parking for two. And only one of these can be an RV or camper van.
Your last option, if you want to stay inside the park, is the Zion Lodge. This hotel offers high-end amenities, meaning you can stay in comfort while still being close to all of the hikes Zion Canyon has to offer.
Much like the campsites though, booking at Zion Lodge fills up quickly. Plan well in advance.
HITTING THE TRAIL
Part of Angel's Landing's widespread popularity is how accessible it is. The mesa sits in the middle of Zion Canyon, not far from the most visited entrance in Zion National Park.
Once you have a place to stay and you've found your way to the park, getting to the Angel's Landing Trail is particularly easy. Thanks to the size of Zion Canyon, the visitor's center runs a shuttle along several points.
Here's where to go:
Angel's Landing's trailhead is located at the Grotto, stop number six on the shuttle's route. Like everything in Zion, the shuttle can be crowded. If you're planning on starting early, the first shuttle runs at 7 a.m. Arrive at 6:30, and you may just be the first passengers there.
Plus, if you're a power hiker, you could very well be down from Angel's Landing before the biggest crowds even start to arrive.
REACH FOR THE SKIES: MAKING THE ANGEL'S LANDING CLIMB
So, you've planned your trip months in advance, made your booking, traveled out to the corner of Utah, and made it to the trailhead.
Now it's time to do the thing.
SECTIONS OF THE HIKE
The Angel's Landing trail benefits from having a few very distinct sections. These each have their own landmarks and challenges, which makes it easy to tell how far along in the hike you are.
This is helpful because:
Knowing these will help you pace yourself, and know when to rest and when to power through during the hike.
TRAILHEAD AND WEST RIM TRAIL
The start of the trail:
This exposed section of canyon floor is nearly two miles. That means it's the majority of the Angel's Landing hike.
This part of the trail is just like any other. There's constant, steady uphill elevation with a handful of switchbacks. This section is also known as the West Rim Trail, a 17-mile hike from one end of Zion Canyon nearly down to the other. Of course, you'll be branching off before too long.
At the end of these two miles, you'll likely start feeling the heat!
Fortunately, Refrigerator Canyon is a great way to cool off and rest before heading for the summit. Because although the longest part of the hike is over, the most difficult challenge is just ahead.
Refrigerator Canyon is a narrow slot canyon which, true to its name, is full of cooling winds and plenty of shade. In fact, it's the only part of this hike which is shaded all day long.
If you're looking for a challenge:
Refrigerator Canyon is the opposite. It's a place to catch your breath, rehydrate, and vent off some of the heat you built up on the way in.
The next part of the hike is both physically and technically difficult.
So, you'll want to build back some strength before you go on.
Heading out of Refrigerator Canyon, you start a sharp ascent up to the top of the Angel's Landing Mesa. This series of 21 switchbacks is the most significant elevation change on the hike.
Here's what you'll see:
Going up, you'll notice that these switchbacks are reinforced with paving stones that blend into the native sandstone.
That's because, in 1925, Walter Ruesch decided to make a trail up to the top of Angel's Landing.
As superintendent of the park, he wanted to keep things attractive while giving visitors a relatively easy path upwards.
This winding path. It's a tough hike to be sure and a sign that you're almost to the end.
Not a section of trail so much as a landmark, Scout's Lookout is the transition from Walter's Wiggles to the Hogsback. While this viewpoint is not as grandly named as Angel's Landing, you can still get some heavenly views.
This is a great resting point and a chance to determine if you want to continue any further. The last half mile is the most difficult, and the infamous stretch for which Angel's Landing is known.
Here it is:
The moment you've been planning for, training for, and hiking to this entire time.
The razor-thin Hogsback skims along the top of the mesa, 1,500 feet in the air. A chain strung between poles, and of course your own balance, are the only things keeping you from going over.
You'll want to be careful here, especially during the busiest times.
Parts of the ridge are so narrow only one person can go across, so always look ahead to see if anyone's coming. There are plateaus along the ridge to rest or stand aside and let other hikers pass.
There have been relatively few deaths on this part of the hike, especially for how many hundreds of people hike it every day. Just put one foot in front of the other, and try not to worry too much.
After half a mile of hiking along the ridge, you'll finally reach the end and be rewarded with a beautiful view of Zion Canyon.
Take some time to catch your breath, have a snack and talk about the hike with your companions!
Of course, remember to drink lots of water. You're only halfway done.
But here's the good news:
The return hike is mostly downhill, and even the ridge is less frightening on the way back.
Reaching the end means months of planning and preparation have paid off. After summiting Angel's Landing, you have nowhere to go but up!
What have been your greatest hiking adventures so far? Are you going to tackle Angel's Landing? Tell us all about it in the comments!