Of the more than 4 million people that visit Zion National Park each year, there’s no way to determine exactly how many choose to attempt the hike to the summit of Angels Landing. But if the lines that form at the trailhead during holiday weekends or the crowded stretches of narrow trail are any indication, the annual number is well into the tens of thousands.
While the total number of hikers isn’t clear, there is another number that is recorded; the number of people who have lost their lives there. Because of the narrow width of the trail at points, how slippery the rocks can become after rain or snow, and the height, the trail can be incredibly dangerous, even for seasoned hikers. Despite this, many visitors make pilgrimages of thousands or more miles to get to the park and take their own photos from this famed landmark.
Whether you’ve already accomplished this difficult hike and want to experience it again or you’re planning your very first visit, hiking to Angels Landing requires some preparation and safety precautions. Keep reading to learn what you need to know to safely hike this iconic trail.
Understand That the Trail Isn’t for Beginners
Zion National Park offers plenty of trails that are perfect for those looking to take their very first hike. The Pa’rus Trail is relatively flat and is paved, making it ideal for new hikers. It’s also ideal for those in wheelchairs or even for bicycles (it’s the only trail in the park that’s open to bikes and dogs!). The aptly named Riverside Walk is another paved trail, and offers an easy stroll along the Virgin River, under hanging gardens and with stunning views of the red rock cliffs rising far above the canyon.
But the trail to Angels Landing is far from a beginner-friendly hike. In fact, even those with some hiking experience will want to consider their abilities before attempting it. At 5.5 miles roundtrip and climbing nearly 1,500 feet in elevation, the trail is physically demanding. You’ll navigate steep switchbacks, scale rocky surfaces, and, once you’re at the top, turn around and face the same obstacles, only with gravity pulling you downhill.
Those with a Fear of Heights Should Think Twice
At the top of Angels Landing, you’ll be staring down sheer cliff faces dropping more than 1,000 feet below. And before you even reach the summit, you’ll need to traverse a narrow stretch of trail with drop-offs on either side. While you will have a chain handrail to hold on to, those with a fear of heights may want to think twice before attempting this hike.
Weather Can Make the Trail Even More Dangerous
The rocky surfaces you’ll hike throughout the trail to Angels Landing are easy to grip with a good pair of hiking boots in dry, warm conditions. But during or after a rainstorm or when there is snow, the trail becomes even more treacherous.
It is possible to hike the trail in wet conditions. But you’ll need to practice extra caution and wear sturdy boots with a non-slip sole. You may also want to invest in a pair of ice picks or chains to add to the outside of your boots to increase your traction. These can also help you keep your grip on ice, although the steep heights and slick conditions on the trail make hiking it when ice is present very dangerous.
If you have your heart set on making the hike during your visit, its best to plan a trip to Zion during the warm summer months and choose a dry day to attempt it.
The Right Gear Makes a Big Difference
No matter your experience level, making the hike to Angels Landing always requires caution. But there is some gear you can bring along to help mitigate some of the dangers.
Wearing the right clothing is a good start. During the winter months, or even the late fall or early spring, temperatures on the trail can reach dangerous lows. Wearing too few layers, or layers that trap moisture and lower your body temperature can be dangerous. Instead, dress in warm, wicking layers. You should also wear a waterproof outer layer in case you get caught in rain or snow on the trail.
Your choice of hiking boots is also important. They should not only keep your feet warm but also help you keep your grip on wet, slick surfaces.
Hiking to Angels Landing
Unless you’re taking a leisurely stroll on a flat, paved trail, most hikes do come with some degree of danger. And just like with Angels Landing, practicing caution, being mentally and physically prepared, hiking only on days when the weather is favorable, and having the right gear can help you mitigate many of these dangers.
To learn other ways to keep yourself safe while hiking in Zion, check out these tips on choosing the right winter gear.