Some hikes are just epic. Your rise early, work hard for that endorphin release and break a sweat. Ultimately, we do it for the view from the top which can only be obtained by putting on put in from top the other. The hike to Angels Landing in Utah is no exception.
Zion National Park is a nature preserve and the crown and jewel of Americas desert southwest, although it takes shotgun position to the Grand Canyon. What Zion lacks in name recognition to the untrained eye, more than makes up for it with incredible views and vastly different hikes. I mean if you compare Angels Landing to a walk through The Narrows slot canyon in the same park, you won’t get two different experiences. The question is which one will you do?
I chose Angels Landing because I like to have an all-encompassing view of the park. Views from the top, leave you sitting on top of the world, surrounded by nothing but cascading mountainous views around and the fertile valley below. It puts you in Mother Nature’s driving seat.
Angels Landing Trail
Anyone in an average physical condition can undertake this trail however, as with most good things in life, it comes at a cost as there are two main factors which make this a challenging trail. The first is a series of switchbacks which take you up to Scout Lookout, then there is the narrow ridge of the mountain to be scrambled. Although there are chains bolted into the cliff to provide safe handholds, if you don’t have a head for heights, this is likely to be your worst nightmare.
Your first step begins at the bridge across the road of the Grotto Picnic Area and follows a section of the West Rim Trail, which is clearly signposted and well maintained. You start on the flat along the Virgin River, before crossing the canyon bottom; that’s when the hard work begins. Switchbacks allow you to slowly climb up the canyon wall to Refrigerator Canyon. From here, the trail enters Walter’s Wiggles, a series of sharp switchbacks which gain in altitude rapidly, all the way up to Scout Lookout. Even from here, views are incredible but you’re not at the top just yet. If you don’t have a head for heights, you should probably stop now. From Scout Lookout, gaze over to the ridge on the South and you’ll have a pretty good idea if it’s within your capabilities.
The next and final half mile follows the spine across a saddle and up the thin mountain ridge. Take your time and keep a firm hand hold on the chains. It becomes very steep from here and the ground is not flat. If you start hiking after 9am, there will be a lot of human traffic. My advice is start early, beat the crowds, and enjoy views in silence. That way you can be down again before the sun is at its peak. Be sure not to hike after a thunderstorm or when it’s icy.
At the summit, you’ll notice the various layers of rock, built up over 270 million-years which tell the story of the park, going right back to the Triassic period when this area was a flat basin at sea level. If there was ever a perfect place to stop for your lunch, then this is it so pack a sandwich. Please don’t do what so many hikers do and feed small animals, I’m pretty sure that crisps and sugar-laden food isn’t going to improve the physical performance of a squirrel who learns to beg in the same area every day.
Begin – The Grotto Trailhead in Zion Canyon
Distance – 5 miles (round trip through a series of switch-back trails)
Duration – 4-5 hours round trip
Difficulty – Strenuous – there is exposure to long drop-offs (people with fear of heights should only hike as far as Scout Lookout)
Elevation Gain – 1,488 feet
Other factors – Take enough water to last you. Once you start the trail there are no places to refuel
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Happy hiking folks