A memorable climb up a famous sandstone precipice with 1,000-foot drop-offs on either side of a narrow trail, and an up-close view of a California condor.
Overview: Begin on West Rim Trail from The Grotto at Zion Canyon shuttle stop #6; cross bridge over the Virgin River to access it. Walk along the Virgin River before climbing steep switchbacks that take you through Refrigerator Canyon. From here, work your way up short and steep Walter's Wiggles to Scout Lookout where a 0.4-mile spur trail extends over sandstone and straight up the ledges to Angels Landing.
Distance/Elevation gain: 5.0 miles out and back/1,488' gain.
Most recent date hiked: 7/06/23.
Special Considerations: You must apply for permit via lottery system through recreation.gov. There are two check-point stations on the trail to verify your permit.
Map: Trails Illustrated Map - Zion National Park #214
History: The 21 short and steep switchbacks leading to Scout Lookout were constructed by Walter Ruesch, the first Zion Park superintendent, in 1926.
Geology: Angels Landing is a resistant fin of Jurassic age (~ 170 million years ago) Navajo Sandstone, carved by the North fork of the Virgin River.
NPS link for permits
Described as "one of the most dangerous hikes in the country", and also "deadly", the hike to the precarious perch known as Angels Landing is in high demand. It looks impossible to climb, but it turns out that it isn't: 200,000 Angels Landing permits were issued in 2022, according to Zion National Park Service's website. As many as 1,000 hikers/day make the chained journey on worn sandstone to one of the most coveted and iconic views in the country - a 360-degree view of Zion Canyon.
Actually, this hike is not as scary as it looks.
The first time I hiked Angels Landing was 30 years ago, on a trip with the Coachella Valley Hiking Club. It held a certain mystique and peril among my fellow hikers. Back then, the chains that you hold onto for balance on the dizzying heights were thinner and it seems like there were less of them. I've hiked it a few more times since then, and hinted that it was not for those afraid of heights in a post I wrote a few years back: Angels Landing: Not for the Faint of Heart.
Two years ago my sister Jen from Omaha, Nebraska, gave Angels Landing a try. She, Fred and I set out to conquer this beast. Just about everyone who arrives at Scout Lookout to gaze upon this narrow fin of sandstone towering 1,500 feet over Zion Canyon floor has to wonder how the heck they'll get to the top. Not having any experience with this kind of hiking, she made commendable progress to Angel's base, where the first drop-offs and slick rock test your resolve, but when we got to the vertical climb, the intimidating precipice got the best of Jen, so we didn't summit. Back in Omaha, she vowed that one day soon she would conquer Angels Landing.
So she did. Pretty easily, I might add, with my brother-in-law Ray, coaching her from behind, and Fred leading the way. Our permits through recreation.gov allowed us to be at the permit checkpoint by 9:00 am. This July morning was perfect - just the right temperature and no clouds. By the time we descended, however, the trail was getting too crowded; but patience, good spirits and comradery worked well to get everyone up and down safely. Almost like a celebration.
Now, I'm not surprised Jen made it this time. She's a conquerer, a goal-setter and achiever, not a person to sidestep challenges. Just do it. This was the best Angels Landing hike by far. I wouldn't have predicted, thirty years ago, when I was a beginning hiker, that I would be experiencing this with my sis and bro-in-law. But I did, and that is awesome! Years go by so fast and most things in life are unpredictable.
Another "conquer" of sorts was when she and I finished a Spartan Sprint challenge in Boise a few years ago (we've got photos on my Fit After 50 page).
As a bonus, we saw what I believe to be a California condor. It was a big black hulk of feathers with a small head, perched on gnarled pine tree branches on the summit. This one appeared to be a juvenile because of its black head - adults have a vibrant pink and orange-colored head. The photo below shows that condors have thick pointed ruff feathers that they raise to warm their necks in cold temperatures. The number of California condors plummeted to only 22 by the 1980's. In 1967, they were listed as an endangered species. Captive breeding has helped increase their numbers.
We were pretty lucky to get our Angels Landing permits - apparently only 43% of applications are awarded. The lottery system to apply for permits began in 2022. As a great add-on to this already stellar experience, I recommend continuing to hike up the West Rim Trail past Scout Lookout; the views, in my opinion, are even more spectacular as you climb higher.
Thanks for visiting. Keep on Moving - Keep on Exploring!
California Condor 2022 Population Status
Total World Population = 561 (total captive = 214, total wild = 347). The Arizona/Utah flock has the largest number of California condors at 116 with 4 wild fledglings. There's also flocks in Southern, Central and Baja California. Numbers got as low as 22 birds in the 1980's. Condors today still die of lead poisoning, consuming litter and microtrash, and electrocution from power lines.
Sources: National Park Service: All About Condors, World CA Condor Update
Partial topo map of Zion NP. Angels Landing hike begins across the Floor of the Valley Road from the Grotto on West Rim Trail. Hike north for 2.1 miles to arrive at Scout Lookout, where a 0.4 mile spur trail goes south to the top of Angels Landing.
Fred , Jen and Ray starting the switchbacks out of Zion Canyon floor. Angels Landing above!
Switchbacks up to Refrigerator Canyon and Walter's Wiggles. Zion Canyon floor below.
I took this photo on another Angels Landing climb....when it was not as well-traveled.
Not scary at all! Angels Landing.
A bit of easy Class 3 climbing.
Probably a juvenile California condor near the summit of Angels Landing. I read that these are very curious birds.
At the base of Angels Landing near Scout Lookout.
Looking down on Virgin River, the erosive force that created the narrow fin of sandstone known as Angels Landing.
Really is a great feeling of lightness when you are on Angels Landing.
Virgin River below.
Ray, Fred and Jen on top of Angels Landing! Perfect day.
Half of the fun of this hike is talking to people at the top!
The Great White Throne towers in the background.
From Angels Landing looking at Big Bend.
Two awesome sisters! (I tried to Photoshop the phone out of my hand......too much work!)
Ray, Jen, Fred, and Sue on Angels Landing - piece of cake!
Top of Angels Landing looking down Zion Canyon.
Ray and Jen - these guys made it look easy!
Heading back down this beautiful Navajo Sandstone.
West Rim Trail winds up on top of the vertical sandstone slab upper right in photo. I highly recommend continuing north up this trail.
Walter's Wiggles and Refrigerator Canyon below.
View of Angels Landing (center) and Floor of the Valley Road from Cable Mountain.
From West Rim Trail - waterfall after snowstorm.
California Condors. National Park Service website.
Sue and Fred
About this blog
Exploration documentaries – "explorumentaries" list trip stats and highlights of each hike or bike ride, often with some interesting history or geology. Years ago, I wrote these for friends and family to let them know what my husband, Fred and I were up to on weekends, and also to showcase the incredible land of the west.
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