Hiking up to Angel's Landing, Zion National Park

Angel’s Landing – Zion National Park

Date of visit: Friday November 13th, 2015

Attractions/Places of Interest:

Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park is one of the most iconic and strenuous hikes in the entire United States. The 5,790 foot summit does offer some of the most rewarding views, though. The full hike is about 2.5 miles each way over which you gain 1,488 feet in elevation. You should allocate about 4-6 hours depending on your pace and physical ability.

Starting from the West Rim trailhead the first two miles although steep and difficult, are well maintained. Towards the end of the first two miles you will come to Walter’s Wiggles – a series of 21 stair switchbacks which make you tired just looking at them. Don’t get too excited once you complete the switchbacks (like my friend below seeing the next obstacle to get to the summit of Angel’s Landing) – this is just Scout’s Lookout. Once the switchbacks end, you’re “almost there” – this is where the Angel’s Landing trail actually starts.

Realizing Scout's Lookout is not the summit of Angel's Landing
Realizing Scout’s Lookout is not the summit of Angel’s Landing

Following Scout’s Lookout you will continue another half a mile of terrain that requires some serious physical ability, courage, and balance. While the final section of Angel’s Landing does look scary, especially with those that have a fear of heights like myself, it is worth every bit of willpower to push yourself forward to the summit. With the thousands of annual visitors every year, the National Park Service has stated there has only been 5 fatalities. This section is no joke and if you feel you are not capable of completing it please reconsider continuing.

The last half mile is a very narrow ridge which you need to follow with careful footing and patience as other hikers going up or down pass you with little room to spare. There are chains mounted in the rock to help you with your balance, just don’t let them give you a false sense of security as they can sway unexpectedly when other hikers grab onto them.

Once at the top, I felt relief and satisfaction I was able to make it right before sunset. I was still a bit uneasy standing so high above ground knowing that any misstep will send me flying a thousand feet below. I have been on many hikes that ended at even higher elevations but what made this one so much scarier was knowing I had limited space for foot placements and it almost felt like I was scaling a vertical wall with no support at times. Angel’s Landing is not for the faint of heart, but those that complete it earn serious bragging rights and will experience a view that not many people get the chance to see.

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You can read more about specifics of the Angel’s Landing trail at Utah’s official website.

Travel Gear:

It goes without saying you will need proper footwear for this hike. A good solid shoe that provides a secure grip is an absolute necessity, especially on the last portion of this hike. Depending on the weather, dress appropriately – check out my Travel Essentials page for some of the outdoor gear I use myself that provides the best weight/bulkiness/packability to warmth/comfort ratio.

You would benefit from trekking poles or a walking stick on the first 2 miles of the hike, however it would be difficult to continue up the steeper part with them where you need your hands free as you scale up the chains. If you do bring them, make sure you’re able to pack them in your backpack securely on the last section.

Make sure you are also staying properly hydrated and bring at least 1 – 1.5 liters of water. I recommend a water bladder system for efficiency and not having to stop to pull a bottle out several times along your hike.

Photo Gear:

You will want to stick to the wider angles here and one lens such as the Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 or Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 would be all you would need here. This is a tough hike and you will not want unnecessary gear weighing you down. I have a more minimalist approach when I pack my gear for the day on such excursions so things like tripods and heavy telephoto lenses only get taken along if I feel there’s no way I can create stunning photographs without them.

In this case a one body/one lens combo is all you need in my opinion so there is no reason to over complicate things. A polarizing filter would be a nice addition if you own one as you are photographing a landscape that has potential to get hazy depending on weather conditions and this filter would help cut that down.

Make sure you have a backpack that is secure where you can put your gear in to free up your hands on the last segment of the Angel’s Landing hike. I rarely use the waist belt that is attached to my Lowepro Hatchback 22L but this was one scenario where I found it to be very beneficial as it stopped my bag from shifting around as I ascended up the ridge.