A grueling 15 mile day in Bryce Canyon enabled us venture to another National Park in Utah: Zion National Park – the home of Angels Landing. We left our Bryce hotel room at 4:30AM, January 17th, 2021. Making the nearly two hour drive to the Angels Landing trailhead. The parking lot at Angels Landing is by no means small, but it fills up quickly. We settled in a half full parking lot at 6:15AM, and by 6:30AM it was packed. Soon after, rangers arrived on the scene and began turning visitors away.
We idled in the parking lot until daybreak for ideal video footage. There is parking on both sides of Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and we had to cross the street and a bridge spanning a River. Kayenta Trail heads off to the left, while Angels Landing Trail hugs the river. We stopped at a few offshoots to photograph soaring cliffs rising over the water.
Video of our Hike to Angels Landing
Angels Landing Trail is paved up to Scout Lookout, easy to follow and displays commanding views of surrounding cliff faces. We halted several times to take in the breathtaking scenery of Zion National Park. The mileage to Scouts Landing is not particularly long, but the elevation gain is no joke.
Changes in direction and steep trail conditions persist even before reaching the famed Walters Wiggles – a series of 24 rapid-fire switchbacks.
Hiking the Chain Section
Two and a half miles and 1,300 feet of elevation gain behind us, it was time for the mentally and physically demanding half mile stretch to the summit. I strongly suggest using the Scouts Landing privy before setting off if fear of heights and exposure is an issue. Angels Landing Trail was busy for our entire ascent, and the final summit push was even more congested; more of a conga line than a hike. Heavy crowds on this portion made the hiking conditions all the more difficult.
Chains bolted into the rock serve as handholds along heavily exposed areas, and rocks worn smooth by millions of footfalls added difficulty to the hike. At some portions the trail was so packed and narrow that the only thing we could do was wait for other users to hike up or down before resuming. Peering down into the canyon during this stretch can be stress-inducing, I tried to avert my eyes as much as I could. Dave, on the other hand, was unfazed by the dizzying heights and exposure. I suggest before attempting this hike, make sure you know your abilities and limitations.
Summit of Angels Landing
The narrow summit had a joyous energy as other hikers celebrated their climbs. Cliffs jutted into the sky on all sides, while the river and Scenic Byway looked like ribbons down below. The sun on the summit warmed us after the cold metal chains on our fingers and the predominantly shady hiking conditions. As a contrast to our ascent on narrow exposed areas, there was hardly any wind. Dave took photos along the edges of Angels Landing, I was happy to stay squarely in the middle far away from any steep drop-offs.
With hikes like Angels Landing, the return trip is just as hazardous as the ascent. Trail conditions were somewhat more manageable the way down, and I was able to breathe a sigh of relief when we reached Scouts Lookout once more. My legs had that weird jelly/tired consistency of being shaky and nervous for the last hour. The smooth composition of the switchbacks had us flying down to the trailhead. While our trip up took two hours, we were back in the parking lot in 45 minutes.
The total hiking distance was around 5 miles round-trip, with 1,600 feet of total elevation gain.
Overall, the views atop Angels Landing and from various points on the trail are picturesque and the trail is in great shape, but it was not my favorite hike. I understand the allure of Angels Landing and I’m glad I did it, but there were way too many people on the trail and we had no solitude. Even in January in the off-season the trail was immensely crowded; I don’t even want to imagine summer conditions. The amount of people on the final stretch is claustrophobic and, in my opinion, dangerous due to proximity to steep drop offs. If a less popular hike to a nearby peak is achievable, I would much rather partake in that.
Park Rangers were still presiding over the parking lot, and as we drove out of the park we learned that Zion Scenic Drive was closed entirely. From April to October, personal vehicles are not allowed on the Scenic Drive, visitors must take the shuttle to trailheads. If we return to Zion, we will try to find lodging at the Zion Lodge, centrally located on Zion Scenic Drive, or plan to arrive early morning. Bikers and hikers walked along both sides of the road, and cars were intermittently parked on the shoulder as well.
The rewarding views while driving in Zion National Park are exceptional. We were unable to see any surroundings in the dark when we arrived, but upon our departure we were amazed at what we had unknowingly driven through. Cliffs rise on either side of the winding road and we drove through a dark, winding tunnel gorged right into a cliff face. We can’t wait to plan a return trip to knock out The Narrows, a 16 mile hike that requires wading through water.