Zion National Park is known for its outstanding scenery. You can see a lot of its splendor from the road, but to really get a feel of it you should hit its trails. I went straight for the best – Angels Landing, one of the most famous hikes in the world. Make no mistake: This is a challenging hike. You will be climbing steadily. You will be pulling yourself up with chains, and you will feel weak at your knees. But the ever-changing scenery means each step is worth the effort. When I finally arrived at the summit, with the whole world at my feet, I truly felt like I had reached the place where only angels could land.
Angels Landing – an Epic Hike in Zion National Park, Utah
Zion National Park is one of those places I could never get enough of. So when the opportunity presented itself to visit it again, I did not hesitate. The fact that I was able to pay for my airline tickets and a car rental with points I accumulated with my credit cards made my decision even easier.
It was my second visit to Zion, so much different from my first one 22 years before. This time, I did not have an infant with me which gave me more freedom to explore this beautiful park.
I knew exactly which hikes to take. Angels Landing was at the top of my list. I am afraid of heights and I knew it would be a challenge for me, but I was not going to give up without trying.
According to the legend, in 1916 one of the explorers to the region, Frederick Fisher, made a remark that “only an angel could land on it.” An angel in me felt a strong desire to try it.
Is this hike for you?
Angels Landing is not an ordinary hike. Since the park’s establishment in 1919, five fatalities have been recorded. Extreme caution on the trail is critical.
If you are afraid of heights, think twice before attempting this hike. I made it without a panic attack, so I guess my acrophobia is on the milder side. Still, the last half a mile was challenging physically and mentally.
You need to be in a decent physical shape to make the last portion of the hike. It is a full-body workout. Chains are there not only to keep you from falling; you need them to pull yourself up on steep slippery rocks. Good hiking boots are a must!
Children are not allowed on the trail.
When to Go
The trip organizer, a frequent visitor to the park, proposed the end of October as our time to visit. I agreed without question. I trusted his judgment. He was right; I can’t picture a better time to go.
Zion National Park is a desert so there was no typical foliage, but scattered yellow trees added to the beauty of the area. It was still very warm, upper 70s. The air was clear and the sky was as blue as it could be.
The park is best visited between March and October. Starting with April, crowds arrive and peak during the summer. Angels Landing, like the rest of the park, is very crowded during July and August. It is also very hot at that time of year. Keep in mind the trail is fully exposed to the sun, without any shade whatsoever.
How to find a trailhead to Angels Landing
Between April 1st and October 31st, Zion National Park can only be accessed by the shuttle. To reach the trail, you need to park at Zion Canyon Visitor Center and get off at the Grotto shuttle stop.
The trails starts at Grotto picnic area. During the rest of the year, you are allowed to park at the Grotto.
Description of the trail
There were four of us who attempted this five-mile round-trip hike. It takes 3 to 6 hours to hike the trail completely. I recommend six, not only to catch your breath once in while, but primarily to enjoy the scenery.
Elevation gain is 1500 feet and you will feel it every step of the way. The first two miles are steep but the trail is wide, safe, and well-maintained. There are numerous switchbacks that eventually get more narrow and even steeper.
The last half mile is when you need to decide if you are really up to it. Many hikers turn around here, including two of my friends who started the hike with me. I was determined to make it all the way.
I felt very happy that Yong, my dear adventurous friend, was ready to continue with me. What we saw in front of us was not inviting at all – a narrow sandstone passage with sheer cliffs on both sides. Now I know that the trail drops 1200 feet on one side and 800 feet on the other side!
From that point on it was a chain-assisted scramble over very slippery rocks. I could not imagine anyone making it without these chains. They keep you on the trail, reduce your fear of falling, and help you to move forward. It was a full body workout with my arms at times working much harder than my legs.
Becoming an Angel
I hiked a lot of beautiful trails, like The Wave, but Angels Landing became a category of its own for its level of difficulty, uniqueness, and outstanding scenery. I also love the fact that Yong and I officially became angels – we landed where only angels can land!