Yet, despite all of this, thousands of people each year still make the pilgrimage to Zion National Park to hike Angels Landing.
But what does it really take to hike this famous trail? Let’s find out.
Zion National Park is full of beginner and family-friendly paved trails and easy hikes. Many can be walked in under an hour, even accounting for time to stop and take in the sights or snap a few photos.
Angels Landing is not that kind of hike.
At 5 miles, it’s considerably longer than many of the trails more popular among new hikers, those with children along, or anyone with trouble walking long distances. But even then, it’s far from the longest trail in the park.
What sets Angels Landing apart is the climb. During that 5 mile trip, you’ll be climbing more than 1,500 feet in elevation. At times, that elevation is gradual. But as you near the top, things change. Suddenly you’re climbing almost straight up the rocks–holding on is a must. Even active, healthy individuals will feel the burn just a mile or two in. If you’re dreaming of taking on this trail, you’re going to want to do some training ahead of time to ensure that you have the stamina to make it to the top.
The view from the top of Angels Landing is arguably one of the best in all of the United States. But surprisingly, that isn’t the only thing that draws people to this famous trail. Instead, it’s a narrow strip of rock that perches hikers right on the edge of a sheer cliff face, hundreds of feet above the ground.
Walking the spine, at times you’ll have just a foot of trail between you and that drop off. And this isn’t a paved foot of trail; its uneven and rocky, and can at times be slick.
There are chain handrails spaced along the trail. But these can sometimes be as tough to navigate as the trail itself if you’ve never used them before. If you don’t have a good sense of balance, what was supposed to be a fun and memorable adventure could quickly turn deadly.
This isn’t a trail to tackle in your favorite sneakers.
A well-fitting, high-quality pair of hiking boots is a no-brainer for anyone hiking Angels Landing, or any of Zion’s other moderate or strenuous trails. On uneven, rocky surfaces, they’ll help keep you steady and prevent rolled or sprained ankles. Smooth rock faces can be slick, even when they’re dry. The rugged rubber soles of your boots will help keep you upright, preventing dangerous slides and falls.
Everyone’s hiking style is different. Some will hike quickly along the trail without many stops, eager to get to the top of the landing to see the sights, then continue on to hike a different trail or two in the same day. Others take it slower, stopping often to rest or take pictures of the stunning scenery.
If you fall into the second category, the hike to the top is likely to take you around 5 hours to complete. Even if you are in that first group of fast hikers, you’re still looking at several hours on the trail.
Add in the steep climbs, the distance you’re hiking, the elevation, and the hot sun, and you’ll see why it’s so easy to get dehydrated on the trail. Active hikers need to drink an average of 1 liter, or 32 ounces, of water for every two hours. That’s just a starting point; you know your body and its unique needs better than anyone. You might be someone who needs to drink more in order to stay hydrated and comfortable while on the trail. High temperatures can also speed up how quickly you consume your water supply.
It’s always best to pack more water than you anticipate needing. That way if you get hotter or more tired than you expected, or if you get delayed on the trail, you won’t run the risk of falling ill from dehydration.
It’s no secret that much of Southern Utah is a desert. In fact, scientists have even said that it resembles the surface of Mars, with its arid, dry landscape. And while Zion’s valleys may look lush and green, once you start to climb, any sort of shade quickly disappears. Even if you start your hike early in the day, you’re looking at spending at least a few hours under the heat of the sun.
Forgetting to pack sunscreen is a painful mistake. Be sure to choose an SPF high enough to block out the UV rays and that will stand up to sweat.
A late-spring winter storm that passed just before Memorial Day dumped even more snow in the higher elevations of Zion. Now, snow melt is continuing to cause high water that has prompted park officials to close off The Narrows, another of the most popular trails in the park. This has led to some increased traffic on the trail to Angels Landing.
Even when there aren’t trail closures, on busy weekends or during the summer months, crowds will still form. Starting your hike early in the day can help you avoid the worst of them. If your schedule is flexible, you could also plan your visit to Zion during the off-season.
Or, you could simply pack your patience. A crowd won’t stop you from enjoying the views or experiencing this incredible hike. Just plan some extra time to finish the trail, and you’ll still have a great time. In fact, you might just get a chance to meet some fellow hikers who have made their way there from across the country and all around the world.
Hiking Angels Landing
Despite the risks, Angels Landing is still an incredible trail that should be on everyone’s bucket list. And with a little bit of planning, some training, and the right gear and mindset, anyone can conquer this trail.