A Guide to Hiking Angel’s Landing
Deep breath in. Grab onto the chains. Pray to whatever divine influence there is that you don’t lose your footing. I’ve never had a fear of heights. At least, that’s what I told myself before I set off on the hike to Zion National Park’s Angel’s Landing. Two hours in and I was wondering if perhaps I was wrong… What was scarier, though, was that I had my husband and in-laws in tow. They’d all put their faith in me to plan a great trip around some of America’s favourite national parks, and on our first day I’d thrust us into one of the most challenging trails going. But that’s not to say we didn’t love every second.
Renowned for being one of the most thrilling tramps in Utah, the hike to the top of this mighty monolith is a 5.4-mile round trip with an elevation gain of 1,500ft, the last 500ft of which involves scrambling up a narrow (and slippery) sandstone ridge. It’s not one for the faint hearted, but at the summit you’re rewarded with jaw-dropping views of the surrounding peaks and forestry. Ferngully: eat your heart out.
Fancy the thrill? Check out my guide to hiking Angel’s Landing below:
Take the Shuttle
The town of Springdale, less than two miles from the park, is a great base from which to explore. This is especially true as car parking in Zion itself can be a bit of a nightmare. There just aren’t enough spaces for the number of people visiting this magnificent natural area, so the best thing you can do is leave your car at your hotel and take advantage of the convenient (and free!) shuttle service that runs from the town. We hopped on at Stop 5 outside the Sol Foods Market, took the shuttle to the park’s South Entrance at Zion Canyon Village and, once we’d bought our tickets and were inside, took a second shuttle that runs inside Zion to Stop 6 for “The Grotto”. This is where the Angel’s Landing trailhead begins. Shuttles run around every 15 minutes in the spring/summer months, but for the most up to date information, check out the national park website.
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Pack Reusable Bottles
We visited Utah at the start of spring, which meant the mercury was already well on the rise. The start of the route has a handy water station – but that’s all you’ll get. Make sure you take an empty bottle (or three!) to fill up before you start. It’s a pretty consistent incline all the way to the top, getting steeper as you reach Angel’s Landing itself, and the higher you get the more exposed you are. Simply put, it’s crucial to keep hydrated.
Consider Walking Poles
My biggest regret of the hike was not taking walking poles. You won’t need them for the majority of the walk, but when you start the climb to the top, they’ll come in handy for leveraging yourself up the trickier passes.
Wear Good Hiking Boots
The Angel’s Landing hike is not to be underestimated. You can expect paved sections, areas with loose rock, a wonderful selection of 21 short, steep switchbacks (otherwise known as Walter’s Wiggles) and of course the relentless uphill ascent from Scout Lookout to Angel’s Landing itself. As such, walking/hiking boots are an absolute must – particularly as the stone can get slippery towards the end. Make sure you take a pair that you’re comfortable in, are well-worn and have good grip.
Go in the Afternoon
Angel’s Landing may be one of the most strenuous hikes across America’s national parks, but thanks to its incredible route and views, it’s also one of the most popular. This means the trail can get pretty busy – particularly during peak months. Dodge the crowds by either starting the trail first thing in the morning (I’m talking pre-breakfast if you can stomach the early start) or do what we did, and head up in the afternoon. We started the hike around 3pm and, as there were fewer hikers around, it took us around four hours to complete. Visit when it’s busy and you can expect it to take up to six hours.
If You Want to Take Pictures, Bring a GoPro
I was fine using my DSLR on most of the route however, along the final section of the trail, you’ll be holding onto the chains a lot and even crouching and scrambling across narrow passes. You’ll need both hands free, so it’s quite tricky (not to mention dangerous!) to try and take photos of the route here. Indeed, the picture I snapped of my brother-in-law Dec (above), was the last one I took of the climb before fully abandoning my camera. Instead of using something hand-held, take a GoPro attached to a head or chest mount so you can capture as much as possible – all you need to worry about then is enjoying the route!
Try Not to Look Down All the Time
Like I said earlier, I’m not really scared of heights. But whether you have vertigo or not, there’s no denying that the sheer drops from Scout Lookout to the top can be pretty dizzying. Focus on the trail and scenery ahead, and only stop to properly look around (and down) when it’s safe to do so. The best time to soak up how far and high you’ve come – and how beautiful Zion is – is when you reach the flat rocks at the summit.
Look Out For Wildlife
It’s easy to be seduced by the beautiful scenery at Angel’s Landing, but make sure you’re not so distracted that you miss all the wildlife! Condors soar and nest around the higher cliffs and you can glimpse lizards and rock squirrels darting in-between rocks. Foxes, bobcats, ringtail cats and mountain lions can also be spotted here.
Reward Yourself with Delicious Pizza
After completing the hike, we caught the shuttle back to Springdale where we grabbed dinner at Juniper Pizza. Between the six of us we had three large, delicious, thin, crispy pizzas. I’m not sure if it’s because we were still on an adrenaline high from actually finishing the trail, but it was quite possibly the best pizza I’ve ever eaten – and that’s saying a lot. The garlic bread – served with home-made marinara – was pretty top-notch too. And of course, after burning all those calories, you can indulge guilt-free. What more could you want?
Images: Alexandra Cronin/Bradley Cronin
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