Zion National Park remains at the top of my list of favorite National Parks in the US. There is something magical about the red rock, the steep canyon walls towering above you, the sharp cliffs, flowing rivers and the beauty of the morning light pouring into the canyon. From the second I laid eyes on the beauty of these place, I knew it would not be my last visit. It seems like a lot of other people share my feelings about Zion seeing that it’s on the list of top ten most visited National Parks in the US. Zion offers up some pretty incredible hiking. I’ve only been able to spend a few short weekends here, but I take in a new hike each time to go. One of the most memorable for me, no surprise, is one of the most popular hikes in this park. This is Angels Landing: the hike whose name needs no explanation. I do feel like this hike should come with a word of caution: it is not for the faint of heart. However, if you have the nerve and the stamina to make it to the end of this hike, the point you aim to reach may end up being one of the coolest and most awe-inspiring places you will experience.
This hike can easily be done in an afternoon. I recommend starting in the early morning to try to beat the heat and the crowds. The trail draws quite a crowd in the busy summer season. You need to pick up a shuttle at the visitor’s center. This shuttle will take you into the park and stops at a variety of interest points and trailheads along the way. Take the shuttle until you reach the grotto trailhead (6th stop). The trail is about 5.4 miles return-trip. Fill up your water bottles at the trailhead faucet (make sure you have a bag of snacks and ample water) and hit the trail. The hike starts by crossing the foot bridge over the river.
You will start out on the West Rim Trail. You won’t be hiking long before the trail challenges you with some steep switchbacks. Despite being in good shape, the heat and the steep incline wore me out very fast. It is important to be aware that the summer sun here can be very hot and temps can reach over 100 degrees F.
The trail is wide enough in this section to accommodate more than one person. Take a minute to sit in the shade of the Refrigerator Canyon on your way up and catch your breath in this cool (literally and figuratively) spot. You are about to reach what is known as Walter’s Wiggles. Your legs will be burning as you gain elevation quickly up these tight winding switchbacks.
You will arrive at a plateau known as Scout’s Lookout. This would be a good spot to stop, have lunch and take in the amazing views if you don’t plan on going any further. The trail from this point leads over a strenuous and dangerous ridge to the Angels Landing viewpoint. This part of the trail isn’t recommend for young children, people who lack physical stamina or anyone who is afraid of heights. That being said, it’s an awesome hiking experience if you can conquer your nerves and complete it.
The trail in this final section often only has room for one person to go up (or down). Be prepared to stand aside to let people by. There were a couple of sections where I had a moment of panic and had to be talked down (or was it up?) off of a ledge. Looking down, you see the canyon floor straight below, a feeling which can be a bit unsettling. Be prepared for a bit of hand and feet scrambling in this final section. There are chains installed which offer a hand hold (you will want to use them) and stairs carved into the stone in steep sections. I wish I had more photos of the nerve-racking spots, but instead I was busy clinging to the side of the cliff!
When you reach the final viewpoint on Angels Landing, you will be rewarded with amazing views from every angle. Be sure to stop here for a snack and reward yourself for the hard work and nerves it took to get you here.
I was a bit worried about how I would feel going down the trail when my nerves were getting the best of my on the way up. But surprisingly, the way down was a breeze for me. This was certainly one of those hikes that makes you feel like you have accomplished something great when you finish. Some of the best places on earth are the ones you have to work hard to get to.
What was your favorite part of this hike ? The view…the challenge…or both?