Utah’s Zion National Park is an absolute must see for outdoor lovers of any age. The scenery is amazing and there is a wealth of places to explore. For the fit and adventurous the big highlight is climbing up to Angels Landing. This is not for either the weak or faint of heart. However, in this post we will tell you how a middle age couple was able to tackle hiking up most of Zion’s Angels Landing.
Zion is best visited in spring or fall when the crowds have died down. The only time we visited in summer was later in August when many kids were back in school. Zion gets crowded and by far the biggest downside of Angels Landing is the number of people at the top of the trail.
Zion has a shuttle system that takes you into the actual canyon where many of the main attractions are located. You park in Springdale, at the visitors center or some of the other parking spaces outside the valley, and grab the shuttle. The shuttle is closed during winter, although the park is open. However, with snow and ice the Angels Landing hike is also likely to be closed.
The National Park Service has a good 4-minute video describing the shuttle system and visiting Zion Canyon in general. The shuttle is free with your paid admission to the park.
Take the shuttle to stop 6, the Grotto. This is about a 30-minute ride from the visitors center. You actually will start on the West Rim Trail and walk up to the actual Angels Landing trail. Signs to Angels Landing are well marked including many warning signs talking about how many people have died falling from this trail
On paper Angels Landing does not sound so bad. It is a 5-mile round trip with a 1500 foot elevation gain. Not bad at all. However, the starting altitude is 4000 feet and climbing 1500 feet at that elevation is significantly more difficult than hikes we do in San Diego starting closer to sea level. Furthermore, when you actually look up at the top it is pretty intimidating.
The first part is a nice flat hike along the Virgin River. But as you look ahead you will see the beast you will soon be climbing. After about a half mile along the river, the West Rim Trail starts a fairly steep climb up switchbacks for another half mile or so. At this point you reach a cool grove of trees in the area called Refrigerator Canyon. It is another half mile or so along a fairly flat, cool trail until you hit Walter’s Wiggles. Walter’s Wiggles is a series of 21 switchbacks. It is a short but steep climb. The actual elevation gain is only 250 feet (out of the total 1500 for the hike).
Walter’s Wiggles will take you to Scout Lookout. You now have gone 2 miles and climbed over 1,000 feet. This is a good resting point before things really get hard. There are crude restrooms (that smell awful) and plenty of flat space to spread out and enjoy the view. The next part is the actual Angels Landing trail.
The final trail is only a half-mile but it is a brutal scramble over rocks. The most notable feature is the chains provided for hikers to hold onto. At times the trail is only 3 feet wide with a 1500 foot drop off on each side is the part where people fall, but really not that many given the number of people that do this hike.
The view from Scout Lookout is great and it is perfectly acceptable to turn around at this point. In fact, if you have young children we definitely recommend turning around. Overall you don’t see many children on this trail and we are waiting until our kids are well into their teenage years. The main issue with the climb out to Angels Landing is the crowds. Frankly we have never made it all the way to the end of the trail because while the height is never wracking, height plus crowds has been too much.
Of course, going back down is an adventure itself. Climbing down from Angels Landing to Scouts Landing is quite a bit scarier than the strenuous climb up the boulders. The two-mile walk down from Scouts Lookout is not strenuous but can be brutal on the knees. This is where we were introduced to hiking poles. There are a lot of hikers in Zion using these poles and after climbing down from Angles Landing we went out and bought some.
Angels Landing is the most spectacular of several unique hikes in Zion. The Narrows and Emerald Pools hikes are more moderate and great for children. There are also the East Rim trails that take you way up the other side of the canyon. Furthermore, Zion Park offers much than just the canyon. Over the years we have learned that staying on the east side of Zion offers a nice break from the crowds. Be sure to see our guide to that experience!