Angels Landing in Zion National Park is famed as one of America’s most dangerous hikes. To compensate, it yields the prettiest views and highest level of satisfaction. We’ve been lucky enough to hike in some incredible places around the world, and this hike will always be one of our favorites. In fact, it was so great, we did it twice!
We hiked Angels Landing via West Rim Trail in the time of Coronavirus, as we were traveling through the USA in our self contained RV. We wanted to stay safe by avoiding crowds, which meant starting our climb well before the shuttles in Zion started running. That amounted to hiking up in the dark and summiting with the sun. It was beyond words amazing!
The hike, which is 5.4 miles out and back, is truly not for anyone with a fear of heights. Don’t use this hike to “conquer” your fear – respect your body and your limits. We don’t have fears of heights and are very confident hikers, thus never once felt nervous or unsafe. There are chains when you need them, which we used as intended. Luckily, we never ran into any problems as we gained 1,488 feet of elevation.
Both times we hiked Angels Landing, we made it from the trailhead to the top in under 2 hours in the dark. We stayed pretty well paced the entire time and didn’t make any stops other than to take off layers (we bundled up for November’s early morning temperatures). The reward upon getting to the top was the entire landing to ourselves and the daylight revealing all that we conquered. I wish this intense sense of accomplishment and appreciation of the beauty around you for every nature lover. This hike is a bucket-lister and here is how you can make it your reality:
There are many ways to begin this hike when the shuttles are running in Zion, thus rendering Floor of the Valley Road inaccessible to personal vehicles unless you have a reservation at Zion Lodge.
The first time we hiked Angels Landing, we parked in the visitor’s center parking lot around 3:30 am. We biked from the parking lot up the Pa’rus trail to Canyon Junction, where Pa’rus ends. From the junction, we biked up the main road, Floor of the Valley Road, until we arrived at The Grotto (Shuttle Stop #6). From the visitor’s lot to The Grotto, it’s about 4.2 miles one way. The bike ride lasted between 30 – 35 minutes, as we took our time biking uphill to preserve our legs before the hike. We locked our bikes up at the bike racks provided at The Grotto picnic area and walked across the street to begin the hike.
We were the only people on the pitch black trail. The trail is actually paved for most of the way. The intense part (yes, the 21 switchbacks of Walters Wiggles are strenuous, but they don’t require chains and they’re paved) doesn’t begin until you reach a sign indicating you’re 0.5 miles away from Angels Landing. This area is called Scout’s Landing and there is a bathroom available. I’d argue that any hiker, at any level, without a fear of heights, would have no problem accessing the first two miles of this hike. The view from Scout’s Landing is worth the climb up, even if you don’t complete all of Angel’s Landing.
We summited about 45 minutes before the day broke and enjoyed a picnic for breakfast up at the top. It was very cold, so I recommend multiple layers and hand warmers if you hike in the fall or winter months. We brought hot coffee to sip as we stargazed. It felt like a dream! Once daylight broke, we were truly speechless. Zion National Park is staggeringly beautiful and the views from the landing are the best it has to offer.
After spending some time at the top, we hiked halfway down the trail before we started passing other hikers. They were dropped off by the 6:00 am shuttle (shuttle times change seasonally). I can’t stress enough how enjoyable it was to hike the trail alone. I would not want to share the trail with others once you get to the chains part of the hike. If you Google search images, you will see how uncomfortably crowded Angels Landing can get. Do yourself a favor and avoid the crowds!
The second time we hiked Angels Landing, we did it with friends. We drove a car to Canyon Junction. Since you can’t drive up Floor of the Valley Road in a personal vehicle during most of the year, we found parking along the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. Ample parking along the highway will be available early in the morning. We snagged the closest parking spot to the junction. We walked, but you could also bike, from the car, up to The Grotto. It is about a 3.4 mile walk one way from the junction to The Grotto.
If you plan to camp in the National Park, you will walk or bike the Par’us Trail to reach The Grotto if you wish to hike Angels Landing before the shuttles start. Your campground choices in the park are Watchmen or South Campground. South is the closest campground (approx. 4 miles from the trailhead). If the extra biking or walking is too much, you can make a reservation to stay at Zion Lodge. The lodge is a 0.5 mile walk to the trailhead. If you don’t mind sharing the trail with others, you can simply take the free Zion shuttle bus. It leaves from the Visitor’s Center and brings you to The Grotto (Shuttle Stop #6). If you visit Zion when the shuttles aren’t running, you can drive to The Grotto to park in the lot!
Still curious? The National Park Service has provided a virtual tour of Angels Landing.
Disclaimer: you won’t see the actual sun rise, as the mountains around Angels Landing block that view. You will see an incredible night sky full of stars and planets turn into daylight! It is a stunning experience. We saw Venus and shooting stars both times we hiked up in the dark in late November 2020. It was breathtaking and I can not recommend starting your hike in the dark enough. Please only take on this adventure if you’re a confident hiker without a fear of heights.
Hiking Angels Landing to Summit with the Sun – Gear Guide:
Light source: If you plan on starting your hike in the dark, you’re going to need headlamps and handheld flashlights. The headlamps are an absolute must. When you get to the chains part (on and off during the last 0.5 mile) of the hike, you absolutely need both hands to help navigate. You won’t be able to hold a handheld flashlight.
Layers: In November, the temperatures were below freezing in the dark. They barely hit above 32F/0C at the top of Angels Landing, even once daylight hit. The hike up is a constant climb. We started hiking in multiple layers on our tops and bottoms. After working up a sweat, we took off most of the layers by the time we reached Angels Landing. As soon as we stopped hiking, we quickly layered up again! I wore a thermal top layered with a pullover, fleece, and puffer jacket. On the bottom, I wore work out leggings with sweatpants pulled over them. A hat, mittens with hand warmers, and thick hiking socks also helped to keep me warm.
Shoes: Hiking boots are great, but not necessary for this hike. Most of the trail is paved. I would recommend hiking boots or sturdy shoes – anything with good tread will be a wise decision.
Daypacks/Other: Of course, don’t forget the water and snacks! We brought daypacks to hold our shed layers and food. In the pack went our 2.5L CamelBak, coffee in a Swell bottle, bread, cheese, and Clif bars. Our Nikon camera, tripod, and cell phones were used for pictures. We also packed a mini trash bag to easily carry out our scraps. Leave no trace!
Additional Camping Recommendations:
When we hosted friends for Thanksgiving, we stayed at Zion Canyon Campground, which is located just outside of the park. You can see the campground within the park from this privately owned campground in Springdale.
A version of this article is also available on Travelinsightpedia, and you can find it here.