Inside a Hiker's Mind at Angel's Landing
Zion National Park | Utah, USA
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I'm Amy B, the writer, editor-in-chief and HBIC at Change N Focus. My mission is to inspire each of you to travel & explore the great outdoors, empower you to be the best YOU and truly LIVE the life of your dreams!
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Angel’s Landing At a Glance
Location: Zion National Park, Springdale, Utah
Distance: 5.4 mi/8.7 km on an out & back trail
Elevation Change: 1,488 ft/453 m
Estimated hiking time: 4-5 hours
Difficulty: Strenuous – a physical and mental challenge
Trail Waypoints: First set switchbacks, Refrigerator Canyon, second switchbacks (Walter’s Wiggles), Warning Sign before last half mile that is much more dangerous.
Have you ever wondered whether you should hike Angel’s Landing? This travel story is for you!
Hiker’s Tale of Survival on Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park
First let me say, this is a truthful account of what was going through my mind during the hike to Angel’s Landing and if you have not completed this hike, it should be on your BUCKET LIST! Also, if you don’t have a fear of heights or death, you probably won’t truly appreciate the experience I’m about to share.
Let’s start by providing you a glimpse of my background. I’m a former athlete, but still ultra-competitive at absolutely everything. I love walking and hiking in nature and go on annual hiking trips with my sister, but now that is usually my extent of exercising for the year. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2010 and had some of my intestines removed which makes it difficult to remain properly hydrated and energized.
You should also know that I let my sister pick the hike for our brief stop in Zion National Park and I had no prior knowledge about the Angel’s Landing hike before we began. Though my sister mentioned a couple times that she was extremely anxious about this hike while on our Utah road trip and she mentioned crazy switchbacks called Walter’s Wiggles.
That morning we woke early to attempt to get on the very first bus into the park from the Zion Visitor Center, which is a MUST DO for the Angel’s Landing hike; however, the line was already long so we jumped on the second bus of the day. This was April with temperatures in the mid-50s, so the bus heater was on and I started sweating before we began hiking. Off the number six Grotto stop, my sister was anxious and went to use the restroom. So…after EVERYONE had started the trail ahead of us, we finally crossed the bridge over the river and began our journey.
Photo taken looking back at the start of the Angel's Landing Trail
The trail soon began to incline and at first, I thought to myself, “this isn’t that bad”. My psychotic competitiveness had already kicked into high gear with everyone in front of us, so like usual, we began passing people on the trail. As the trail rounded a corner, we could see the first switchbacks, which I assumed were “Walter’s Wiggles” of which there are twenty-one, don’t make that same mistake! There were older hikers and less fit hikers that my mind kept telling me to pass, don’t be offended, my mind thinks I can and should beat everyone up any hike, so we continued to charge up the path. My sister, 5 years my younger, was ahead of me leading the way. It used to take a great deal for me to say I need a break, but my rapid heartbeat and lack of oxygen quickly brought me to a tipping point that I told my sister I had to stop about three quarters of a mile in.
My sister, in much better shape than I, seemed slightly annoyed, so I kept my thoughts to myself. I was thinking, “I don’t know if I can make these twenty-one switchbacks, I think we are only on five” and my chest began to tighten in slight panic mode. After this brief stop, we continue the climb again passing some of the same people. Only a few switchbacks go by, and I think, “My sister is going to owe me big after not fully describing this hike! I thought it was supposed to be cooler than this? Why is the sun beating down on me?! Is that pain in my arm the start of a heart attack?! Am I going to survive this hike?!” Dramatic to say the least.
It felt like the climb would never end, then I finally asked my sister how many more switchbacks and she says, “this isn’t even Walter’s Wiggles yet,” which doesn’t help my anxiety at all.
Finally, we reach a level path through Refrigerator Canyon with a cool breeze and shade. Though the moment of happiness quickly disappeared as we turn the corner to the actual Walter’s Wiggles. Twenty-one ridiculously steep, but thankfully short switchbacks that looked straight up a freaking rock wall.
Photos of Walter's Wiggles Switchbacks on the Angel's Landing Trail in Zion National Park
I cannot even remember how many times I had to stop to reach Scout’s Lookout, which I thought was the summit since so many people were sitting around and relaxing. Moment of accomplishment, then comes the WARNING SIGN about the danger of the final half mile of the hike. My sister points to the huge rock fin that we must scale to reach the summit and the view she swears is worth it all. I questioned whether we should even do it. My sweet sister replied, “We’ve come all this way, we are going to do it.”
Photos looking up to Angel's Landing Summit and back to Scout's Landing from the Summit
We begin up the fin and quickly start to realize the danger is incredibly real when they provide chains for people to grasp in order to ensure their safety from the sheer drop off on both sides of the narrow trail. We stopped again, both now questioning whether we continue, because an almost insurmountable amount of FEAR had now set in. We created this video with the thought that if we fell to our deaths then I guess, our phones would survive, and our mom would get our final “I love you”. Fear does crazy things to your mind. We then had snacks to give us a boost in energy and I drank Drip Drop to try to get electrolytes back in my body.
We created this video with the thought that if we fell to our deaths then I guess, our phones would survive, and our mom would get our final "I love you". Fear does crazy things to your mind.
As I’m writing this, my heart rate is increasing just remembering the fear and anxiety that the remainder of the climb caused. There were people coming back down that you had to wait to pass since it was one way only with one chain to hold onto. I had moments that I completely froze and required encouragement from my sister to continue. Again, the lack of oxygen and at this point the feeling that all energy had escaped my body, I thought I was simply going to fall off the cliff edge because my body would collapse.
Hikers on the descent kept telling us that the way down is much easier, which I couldn’t even fathom because I thought for sure I would never be returning down. After crawling up a few more sections, each passerby saying, “you’re almost there”, we finally reached Angel’s Landing!
Photos at the Summit of Angel's Landing
I’m not sure if it had anything to do with the stunning 360 degree view or whether it was that the summit had a safe area to stand and not feel like you were on the edge of a cliff, but the adrenaline rush and sense of accomplishment was like nothing I’d ever felt before! That high made my exhaustion seem to fade away and we took photos and simply enjoyed the incredible views of Zion Canyon.
Photo of the view at Angel's Landing Summit in Zion National Park in Utah, USA
After the elation subsided, the fear of looking down while returning to Scout’s Landing rapidly returned. We didn’t stay too long at the top, partly because I wanted the fear of the descent to go away.
Great news, it was indeed much easier coming down from the summit! Not sure why. I was even able to look down a few times. Though there was a time that a couple and I were stuck at the same point and they had the inner grip on the chain. I politely asked the gentlemen, “Is it okay if I touch you?” Which sounds creepy now, but he said, “No problem, thanks for letting us pass”. So, as I slide around these people with a crazy 1,000 foot drop immediately behind us, I was praying that these are nice people that won’t flinch and cause me to fall.
We make it to a stopping point since tons of people were heading up to the summit and causing a slow down on the trail. The greatest line I heard all day was, “There are no strangers up here, it is only strange that we are all here.” I agreed and thought to myself, “we are all insane.”
The remainder of the trail back down seemed like a breeze and once again the incredible sense of accomplishment set in and we were reminiscing with a friend we made at the summit just how great a hike it was and how proud we were to have conquered Angel’s Landing!
"There are no strangers up here, it is only strange that we are all here."
Photo looking down on the first set of switchbacks...NOT WALTER'S WIGGLES!!
Zion National Park Information
Zion National Park is located just outside of Springdale, Utah. It was the first National Park in Utah and has some of the most beautiful scenery in the United States. It is incredibly busy throughout the year and has limited access points with roads closed to automobiles in Zion Canyon for most of the year (March-October).
Zion has limited parking space. For the Angel’s Landing hike, I highly recommend parking at the Visitor’s Center before it opens and getting in line for the first Zion Canyon Free Shuttle of the day. The trail gets more crowded as more people get moving and arrive in Zion. You do not want to be on the half mile to the summit when it is crazy crowded!
Angel’s Landing Trail Map
Below you will find the trail map for the Angel’s Landing hike in Zion National Park, along with the waypoints mentioned in my story including: first switchbacks, Refrigerator Canyon, Walter’s Wiggles, Scout’s Lookout, and Angel’s Landing summit.
Trail map above shows waypoints: Grotto Trailhead, 1st Switchbacks, Shade on trail, Walters Wiggles, Scout's Landing, Angel's Landing
Utah Travel Tips & Recommendations
Best airports to reach Zion National Park on a road trip are Las Vegas (LAS) or Salt Lake City (SLC).
We traveled to Las Vegas then visited the following places on our 10-day road trip in April 2016: Hoover Dam, Sedona, Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon in Page, Zion National Park, & Bryce Canyon National Park, then returned to Las Vegas to fly home. For more details on this route, check out Arizona & Utah 10-Day Road Trip. From Las Vegas, take Interstate 15 North for 136 miles to State Highway 9 East and about 40-minute drive to Springdale.
On our ultimate Utah road trip in 2019, we flew into Salt Lake City (SLC) and visited the following places along our 10-day journey: Moab, Arches National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, Canyonlands National Park, Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend, Buckskin Gulch, Vermillion Cliffs, White Pocket, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, and Capitol Reef National Park. You can find more information and route map at The Ultimate Utah Road Trip. Traveling direct to Zion from Salt Lake City is also easy, just take Interstate 15 South 284 miles to Highway 9 East.
Best Time of Year to Hike Angel’s Landing
During winter, you can still do the hike, but check for trail conditions at official website for Zion National Park. In peak season, I highly recommend catching the first shuttle bus of the morning from the Zion Visitor Center where parking is available and to avoid massive amounts of people on the trail at the same time you are scaling the summit. I have enjoyed two visits in the month of April to visit Zion. Great temperatures and you can beat the summer madness.
Each time I stayed at Quality Inn & Suites Montclair that is located on Zion Park Boulevard just 2.3 miles from the Zion Visitor Center. Reasonable prices, comfortable beds, hot shower, free Wi-Fi, and free hot breakfast for sustenance for a long day of hiking.
Angel’s Landing Hiking & Safety Tips
There are TWO sets of switchbacks on the trail, don’t forget that.
To feel true happiness and the ultimate high, you must overcome your fears. Fear of heights should not stop you from hiking Angel’s Landing! I don’t recommend watching Youtube videos of the hike beforehand.
Pace yourself on the switchbacks to save energy for the half mile hike to the summit.
TAKE YOUR TIME! Don’t let people rush you, it is for your safety and theirs.
Be patient on the rock fin, it will be crowded and a slow climb up and down.
Take a backpack – you will need water and snacks
To stay hydrated on the trail, I highly recommend Drip Drop. It quickly absorbs into your body to quench your thirst.
Don’t forget a camera for the fabulous views of Zion Canyon, I used Nikon D3300 for the photos on this post
Wear proper hiking shoes
Should I take children up to Angel’s Landing summit? I wouldn’t suggest taking children on this hike, but I did see children hiking to the summit. A simple slip on dirt can send you off a 1,000-foot cliff.
How long will the hike take? It is an out and back trail, approximately 5 miles roundtrip. It took us approximately 3.5 hours; however, we didn’t dilly dally at the top and other than rest break, moved at a moderate pace. I would give 4-5 hours to enjoy more of the scenic view.