If you’ve heard of Angels Landing in Zion National Park, you most likely have heard rave reviews of it’s amazing beauty, unsurpassed views and recommendations as a “must-do” hike during your visit. Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s a waste of your time and I question why this hike is allowed.
Let me start by saying that I have done this hike twice, finished it once. Yes, it has amazing views, among the best I’ve ever seen. Yes, it is considered a dangerous hike. Yes, I am a regular hiker of more difficult summits and found this to be very similar to a walk in the park. No! You should not do it.
Why should you not do it? It’s simple, really. Too many people are on the trail.
You start your hike by following the West Rim Trail up to Scouts Lookout, an easily walkable path, wide enough for people to pass each other and wide enough for that to be done safely. If you only want to go to Scouts Lookout…go, do it! You still get pretty good views from there.
From Scouts Lookout you’ll see the 0.5 mile trail along the Angels Landing ridge. This part of the trail is where “questionable safety” comes in, it’s a ridge walk with a chain to hold on to. The chain weaves along the ridge and up along some wider sections of trail, goes along the cliff and over another ridge until you make it to Angels Landing. For anyone with a fear of heights, the mere sight of this will have them curled up in fetal position on the ground.
As an avid hiker, I’ve walked along chain sections and ridges many times before at much higher elevations, so none of this bothers me. What does bother me is that this is a single lane trail, which means that when you meet people on the trail moving in the opposite direction as you, one of you has to maneuver around the other person. So imagine if you will, one person has pressed themselves up against a rock wall while clinging onto the chain to prevent a fall from the cliff. The oncoming person is left to precariously “walk” around that person without falling off the cliff. So for a moment it either looks like you’re piggybacking someone as they climb around you, or you’re in an awkward face to face hugging maneuver. It wouldn’t be so bad if you only needed to do this once, but that won’t be the case. There will be at least 20-30 people you will need to do this with. Sounds fun, right! No.
So, why have I done this twice if I don’t recommend it? My first trip up was in September 2012 with Curtis. We had no idea what we were in for. By the time we realized this was a dumb idea we were already half way across and decided that since it’s only another 1/4 mile “let’s just finish it”. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people make this mistake. This past June 2014, I was in the area again with my Mother and decided that we’d just go to Scouts Lookout. At the time I had thought that she would go to Scouts Lookout and I would continue on and get some pictures. When we got to the lookout and I saw the herd of people lined up across sections of the ridge, I thought that it would be a nightmare to try and plow my way though them and this has reaffirmed to me how much of a dumb hike this is.
I do love seeing people who are enthusiastic about hiking, people who want to get out there and see all the beauty the world has to offer. I even encourage people to go out and see what I love so much. But it saddens me to see people doing this hike (or any hike) in flip flops and/or jeans. Too many things can go wrong when people are unprepared. So if you do insist that you must do this hike, please go prepared. That includes sturdy footwear, breathable clothing and lots of water because this is a scorching hot hike on a summer’s day. I recommend going when it’s not peak season and not raining. Get there early! The buses start at 6am, go then, if you must.
The National Park Service notes on their website that there have been 5 deaths on this trail. The sign at the trail head states that 6 people have died since 2004. I’m not sure why the numbers are inaccurate, it makes no sense at all. I’m sure that for a trail that started in 1926, more than 5 or 6 people have died by falling to their death.
Have you done this hike?
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I did the hike today and found it easy. It’s late October and there were very few people on the trail. It was perfect conditions. There should be limits in the summer for how many people can be on it at one time. Off season, anyone in decent shape with a healthy respect for heights should try this hike. Crowds, poor physical condition, improper footwear, weather, and carelessness are the real problems with the trail, not the trail itself, which I really didn’t find harrowing.
I started to do his hike in July 2013. Took the 6am shuttle and the trail was already crowded. I didn’t even attempt it past Scouts Landing after watching the scrambling and chaos of everyone trying to pass each other. I think that everyone should have access to the trails in the National Parks however at the same time I think with this trail there needs to be a limit on how many are allowed to be on it at one time. It really is an accident waiting to happen and is too accessible to the casual tourist who doesn’t take the danger serious (yeah talking about the flip flop/sandal wearing people…I saw those too).
And I THINK a woman was killed on the trail earlier this year. I remember reading about it. She was a very experienced hiker who had done this trail many times before but just slipped. That could be the discrepancy between the NPS website and signage since it happened recently.
Your photos are beautiful! Too bad you had such a terrible experience. It sounds like maybe they should have a permit system in place like they have required to hike half dome in Yosemite. This system allows only a certain number of hikers per day.
Even though you don’t recommend it, your photos make it hard to resist wanting to do it. Lol
I am planning to do the hike next week. I hope there will be little to no crowds given the the middle of the week/early season. Your pics are very nice. I would love to go up at sun rise and sunset (two hikes) to take some shots in low light. Are there any official restrictions on hiking this trail after ‘regular’ hours. I am an experience hiker and will have all the proper hiking gear (boots, clothing, water, food, lights, etc.), as well as photo gear, but I am wondering if, based on your experience with this trail, you have any other ‘special’ recommendations from the hiking or the photography stand point. Thank you in advance.
I’ve done this hike on the off season and it wasn’t crowded, but that is the only time of year I would recommend it…..you’re right, WAY too many people for it to be safe. And no one wants to be the one to let go of the chain to maneuver around someone.
I recommend hiking Observation Point. From the top, you are actually looking down on Angel’s Landing! And it isn’t as scary, but still provides an incredible view.
Have you seen the cables on half-dome in Yosemite? Now that is dangerous. This is a cake-walk compared to that. It would be so sad if they closed this hike down. It is one of my favorite hikes ever! If they need to limit the numbers on the hike at peak times … that would be one thing. Sitting in front of your TV too much is very dangerous too, with a HUGE death rate, but I don’t think we are going shut-off people’s TVs. As long as people are aware of the risks, I say, let’s not sanitize our parks for safety. If we do, people will just die in front of their TVs instead. Is that better? I think not! Get out their and challenge yourself. You are definitely going to die at some point, so make it all count! Don’t Fear the Reaper!!!!!
I’m going to Zion this coming weekend. I’ll go to Scouts Lookout, but I don’t know about Angel’s landing. If it’s not crowded and I feel enough confidence I’ll do it. I am afraid of heights, probably a little more than most people, but I don’t have a phobia.
I’m a bit overweight and out of shape, which is the main reason I’ll probably avoid it, but someday it would be nice just to have it as an accomplishment.
What is the most dangerous section(s) in that last half mile?
I did this hike with my daughter 18 years ago when she was 16, and we had a great weather and she was a trooper. We were careful and completed the hike safely to the end (and back). Then about 4 years ago I did it again with my son, who was ~35 at the time. When we reached the ‘chain’ section, I realized that because of rather windy conditions, the trail had a lot of sand on it, which it made it slippery, and rather unsafe, so we wisely avoided going the last 0.5 miles.