Zion’s Most Dangerous Trails [And How to Hike Them Safely]

Jul 15, 2019

Zion National Park is home to dozens of beautiful trails, each offering its own stunning views. But while there are plenty of easy or even moderate trails that are perfect for those who are new to hiking or families with children along, many of the trails are strenuous, with drop-offs and cliff faces that can quickly become deadly.

Understanding the risks associated with any trails is a must before setting off on a hike. That way you can prepare for the danger and do your part to prevent a deadly accident.

Zion’s Most Dangerous Trails

Despite covering more than 220 square miles, many of Zion’s trails head in a vertical rather than horizontal direction. With some cliffs climbing over 2,000 feet in the air, many trails leave hikers climbing almost straight up. At the top, you’ll be left squeezing along narrow passes far above the valley below. Rolled ankles or trips on rocky surfaces can make even an easy trail dangerous, but add in some height and suddenly you’re facing a life or death situation.

Here are the most dangerous trails in the park, each of which still draws thousands of hikers a year.

Observation Point

Topping out the list as one of the most dangerous hiking trails in Zion is Observation Point. This trail is also perhaps the best-known view in all of the park. Hikers who are able to make the 2,000 foot climb in elevation and between 4 and 6 hours of hiking are rewarded with a jaw-dropping panoramic view of the valley, hills, and cliffs far below.

However, to take in this view, many hikers stand near the edge of a sheer drop-off. The sandstone at the top can be as slick as ice when it’s even a bit wet, which can spell disaster for unsuspecting visitors.

Angels Landing

Perhaps the most dangerous trail in the park, as well as one of the most dangerous hikes in any national park in the country, is Angels Landing. Like Observation Point, this trail features a climactic-view, high above the valley with sheer drop offs all around. Slip here and you could fall over 1,000 feet before hitting a cliff far below.

But even more dangerous than the top is the trail you take to get there. Just before you reach the plateau, you’ll have to hike across a skinny-land bridge. With only a metal chain on one side to hold onto, hikers have just over a foot of trail to walk on and 1,000 foot drop-offs on either side.

The popularity of this trail has recently made it even more dangerous, as daredevils and influencers alike all try to one-up each other with death-defying selfies on the edge.

Emerald Pools

While this trail may not be as difficult a climb as Observation Point or Angels Landing, it can be equally as dangerous. Wet rocks and algae growth near the edge of the pools makes the ground slick. Often, children, families, and other hikers go close to the edge to take a peek at the pools below or capture photographs. But if they aren’t careful with their footing, it can be very easy to slip and fall.

The Narrows and Keyhole Canyon

Unlike the other trails on this list, hikes like The Narrows and Keyhole Canyon aren’t dangerous for their heights, but instead for how low they are. Each trail passes through slot canyons, which are narrow, sunken canyons. While not dangerous on a normal, dry day, they can become deadly in only a matter of seconds if it begins to rain.

Flash floods can fill the canyons, washing hikers and debris downstream and making it almost impossible to escape. The length of these trails and how remote they are make it difficult for hikers to learn about changes in weather forecast, which means that flash floods usually catch them completely by surprise.

Staying Safe on Zion’s Most Dangerous Trails

While accidents can happen no matter how careful you are, there are a few things you can do to keep yourself and any hiking companions safe on these and other trails.

To start, you should always wear hiking boots with good tread and a no-slip sole. Old, worn-out boots or tennis shoes simply don’t offer the support and solid base that you need for hiking on wet or rocky surfaces.

Watch your footing and never get too close to the edge of cliffs. A picture is never worth risking your life for. When hiking Angels Landing or other trails that take you near the edge of a cliff face, stay focused on your feet and hold onto the chain rails whenever you can. Watch children and never allow them to go near the edge, whether conditions are dry or not.

When hiking slot canyons, always check the weather forecast before you start your hike. If any rain is in the forecast, it’s best to stick to higher ground. If the weather begins to change while you are hiking, seek higher ground before the rain starts.