ADVENTURE HIKES AND CANYONEERING© Christopher Earls Brennen
IN THE SOUTHWEST
Hike D2. Angels Landing
- Hiking time: 3 hours
- Estimated hiking distance: 5 miles
- Elevation gain: 1488 feet
- USGS Topo Map: Temple of Sinawava or Zion National Park Topographical Map
- Difficulties: Rough trail with considerable exposure
- Special equipment: Leather gloves
- Permit: None required
- ACA Rating: 1AR II
This popular hike climbs from the floor of Zion Canyon to an awesome perch that sticks out into the middle of Zion Canyon in Zion National Park. Angels Landing is the appropriate name given to this enormous sliver of redrock that has almost 1500ft of sheer cliff on all sides. Just south of the Temple of Sinawava where the Virgin River emerges from the Narrows the river winds back and forth in the windening canyon and surrounds this sliver on three and almost four sides. Indeed its only connection with the massive west wall of Zion Canyon is an even narrower backbone whose demise can only be a geological instant away. This hike climbs the west wall to the beginning of this backbone and then ascends it to the top of Angels Landing. The first part of the hike follows a well-developed park trail; the last 0.5mi along the apex of the backbone is a mental challenge from the huge exposure on both sides. The chains that line the route help to ease the fear as one clambers along the rough route to the summit.
This hike should not be tackled when there is ice or snow on the ground or in high winds. In the hot summer months it is best in the cool of the early morning. A pair of leather gloves will be useful when clambering along the backbone.
Park at the Visitor Center in Zion National Park and catch the Zion Canyon Shuttle Bus to the Grotto parking area (37o15.56'N 112o56.99'W).
Cross the Virgin river by the footbridge (elevation 4300ft) and turn right following the signs for Angels Landing. After a brief stretch along the river bank, the trail switchbacks up the west wall of the main canyon, travelling through grooves blasted from the vertical rock face by the trail makers. About 30min from the start, the trail contours into Refrigerator Canyon at an elevation of about 4930ft. In the heat of summer the cool, relatively level hike into Refrigerator Canyon will be a welcome but brief respite. About 45min from the start and deep within Refrigerator Canyon at an elevation of 5150ft, you will come to the bottom of Walter's Wiggles. This set of steep switchbacks climbs precipitously up the right wall of Refrigerator Canyon to the top of the main wall of Zion Canyon. You emerge at a place called Scouts Lookout (37o16.50'N 112o57.04'W, elevation 5350ft) where there is a breath-taking overlook onto the main Zion Canyon and up into the Narrows to your left. Pause here 2mi and 50min from the start to absorb the spectacular views from this aerie. The backbone trail to the top of Angels Landing is readily visible to the south and you can usually discern other hikers making their way along the ridge to the summit.
Angels Landing ridge from below Angels Landing ridge from the top
The trail proceeds south and immediately you encounter chains that line the route around the west side of a large outcropping. Having surmounted this you will come to the narrowest section of the trail. Here you descend a short way to a point where the exposure is 1500ft on both sides of a route that is only a few feet wide. Focus on your footing to avoid being overwhelmed by the drop-off. Thereafter, the ridge climbs steeply but you stay mostly on the apex following the chains all the way to the flat summit ridge. Make your way to the end of this summit ridge for a truly awesome view looking south down Zion Canyon or north into the Narrows. It is indeed an Angel's Landing (37o16.17'N 112o56.87'W). You should reach this 5790ft perch 1hr 30min and 2.5mi from the start. The return along the same route should take about 1hr 15min.
Last updated 7/16/03.
Christopher E. Brennen