Don’t Do Angel’s Landing!

Skip Angel’s Landing. Yup, that’s what I said. SKIP IT. This is a first for me… recommending that you NOT do a hike!

Angels’ Landing was the hike we most wanted to do in the park. It promised to take us 453m up to the peak of a narrow ridge line, holding onto chains where the drop offs on either side give thrilling exposure. We thought it would be super fun to walk on a fin of rock, suspended over the canyon floor, far below.

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The trail starts out beautifully enough, crossing the silt-laden Virgin River on a quaint pedestrian bridge.
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Like all trails in the park, it is well signed, and well-trodden.
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The trail follows the river for a short distance, and then takes you steeply up to the shoulder in this photo. If you look carefully, you’ll see wee people on the rock’s zigzagged  switchbacks.
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This is the view, looking back on the trail we’d come along to gain that shoulder. Zion is quite the canyon, eh?
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Soon we’d come through the shoulder passage and were heading along the backside of the cliff, toward Walter’s Famous Wiggles (named after the 1920’s Park Superintendent, Walter Ruesch, under whose tenure the switchbacks were built).
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At the beginning of the Wiggles, the trail rises steeply up the cliff face.
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Looking down on the Wiggles from the approach to Scout Lookout.

The trail up to the base of Angels’ Landing, up the 21 iconic, steep, man-made, stone-walled switchbacks called Walter’s Wiggles, was nothing more than a highway. It was like walking along the sidewalk of an outdoor shopping mall, the press of humanity was that great (admittedly, it was a Saturday). And then there were the people that loved to share their music with the world, whose presence added to the cloying, claustrophobic atmosphere. Our hope was that most were heading to the viewpoint and not doing the tough part, for that was what we’d been led to believe would happen.

As we arrived up top, we looked over to the chain area and saw a paralyzed lineup of people collecting in a crowd at its base, and a non-moving line up of people, nose to shoulder, all the way up the ridge, like leaf cutter ants, frozen in a moment of time on the buttress root of a rainforest tree.

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And at Scout Lookout, we were faced with THIS! UGH.

We were up at the lookout by 10am and it was already a GONG SHOW! The lookout, the trail and the chains were so over run with people! With people trying to test their fear limits, doing Angels’ Landing is nothing more than a cloying, mind-numbing traffic jam of an experience. Add to that a spattering of people frozen by fear, their companions trying to talk them through it, hundreds of people full of nervous chatter and giggling, then people trying to take charge of the chaos and bring some order to the situation and you have, in short, a nightmare. (Bill’s looking over my shoulder here and saying, “Why don’t you tell people how you really feel!”)

Find a good ridge line somewhere else to find the majesty, the humbling sense of awe and that on-top-of-the-world feeling that a walk on a mountain’s back can give you. All mountain ranges have them. Many canyons have them. Our advice is to find it somewhere else, not at Zion.

We got closer and watched as a large man turned and absolutely roared from his perch on the chains about 10m up, “Everybody stop! No more people come up! We have a traffic jam up here. I said, STOP!”

Ugh. It gives me shivers just remembering it here, writing it to share with you. You see, there isn’t a set of chains going up and a set going down. Apparently, the last stretch that is a 20 minute climb was taking people 3 hours at this point because the people on their way up, and those on their way down, have to pass each other.

Within about 30 seconds of taking in this chaos, we turned heel and pretty much ran out of there. We turned in the opposite direction to follow some of the multi-day West Rim Trail that left the area. Within about 500m we were away from the chaos, seeing very few people.

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We got out of Dodge very quickly! Heading up the West Rim trail, we looked back on the fin that people climb when doing the Angel’s Landing chains.

We found a place with an excellent view of the narrows below. We perched ourselves on a tranquil ledge of rock, across the canyon from the Hidden Canyon and Observation Point hikes we’d done the day before, to have our lunch and take a breather from the chaos.

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Looking down, far below, you can see the Virgin River as it approaches the famous “Narrows,” a hike that was closed while we were there. You can also see the end of the road for the shuttle buses.
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We sat in an area with rocks that looked like stacks of scalloped potatoes. Seeing the rocks as food could only mean one thing… yup, it was lunch time!

Sitting there, far from the din of the maddening crowd, looking down at the ravens playing in the thermals below our feet, taking in the immensity of the space and the majesty of the canyon… well, that redeemed the experience and made the day.

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And on THIS day, we’d brought our lunch!
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I’ll leave you with one last view of the lunch spot that saved the day.

If you go…. DON’T!

  • But if you feel you have to try it, go off-season and mid week.
  • Shuttle bus stop #6, “The Grotto,” is the one you’re after. Get off the bus, follow the sidewalk toward the river, cross the road at the crosswalk and cross the river on the pedestrian bridge. The trailhead is on the other side. Right takes you along the West Rim Trail up to Angels’ Landing. Left takes you a short jaunt down to the Emerald Pools.
  • Then, take the advice of a Tennessee couple that we met hiking along the West Rim Trail: eat the bullet and pay $20 for parking at the park entrance, rather than take the shuttle from town. Take the first park shuttle in to the trailhead at 7am. (Shuttles from town to the park gates don’t start until just after 8am.) Then HOOF IT! Not so that you get the place to yourself (you won’t), but so that you get down off the ridge fin before the crowds arrive.
  • Failing that, bike in before the park opens and lock your bikes at the trailhead, arriving before the first shuttle. The trail is super easy to find (cross the foot bridge across the river and turn right) and very wide. Once up top at Scout Lookout, turn right to go to the chains area. Left takes you along the West Rim Trail.
  • No matter when you go, you can escape the mass of people up top by heading along the West Rim Trail. Go about 1 km and then find any promontory point in the area where the rock turns yellow and looks like piles of scalloped potatoes. Food imagery aside, the flat rocks up there make incredible lunch spot vistas. With views up stream, toward The Narrows, and then back toward the Big Bend it is breathtaking. You’re perched so high up on the cliffs there that you’re sure to find it heart-stoppingly beautiful.

    Read more about our time in Zion

  • If You Go to Zion National Park
  • Zion’s Little Detour: The Weeping Wall
  • Zion’s Hidden Canyon
  • Observation Point: Our Favourite Zion Hike
  • Sunrise at Canyon Overlook

27 Comments on “Don’t Do Angel’s Landing!

  1. I’ve heard that this is the MOST popular hike in the park and a zoo at peak season – and your experience seems to conform that. We climbed in mid-week in early May and, by staying at the lodge, were able to get an early start. The crowds were building as we were coming down but still nothing like what you encountered. Sorry. 😦

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My wife was just trying to convince me to do this hike earlier in the week. Your photos convinced me not to. I’m not much for tiny paths on the edge of drops!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Sorry to hear you had such a horrible experience! My husband and I hiked Angels Landing 2 years ago and we absolutely LOVED it! We reached the top and had it to ourselves for a good 20 minutes and when other people did come up, there were (at most) 12 people at one time and that’s it. It wasn’t crowded at all – we went in September. Literally one of my favorite half day hikes in the US.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sheri, you are hilarious! “…and saw a paralyzed lineup of people collecting in a crowd at its base, and a non-moving line up of people, nose to shoulder, all the way up the ridge, like leaf cutter ants, frozen in a moment of time on the buttress root of a rainforest tree.” Ha!

    I’ll remember Observation Point! But from what I’ve seen of the crowds, and the need to shuttle everywhere, I’m glad I just drove through Zion, the one time I was there… just kept going to Bryce, Arches and Canyonlands… and Moab – all of which we hiked. But there is a tremendous amount of beauty to see in that part of the country… so I’ll definitely be back for more. Thx. Sheri!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I’m glad that you didn’t follow Bill’s advice to let folks know what you really think. When we did Angels Landing back in 2009, it was not as busy but still on our way down I wasn’t thrilled about the two-way traffic on a single chain. I would love to take the West Rim Trail above Angel’s Landing. The thought of busy Zion makes me uncertain when we will ever go back.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think there are still ways to do it… you just need to be smart about when you go (as in time of year and day of the week)… and probably get up very early. Something I think you and David might not be crazy about (heh heh). Wait until you see the next thing we did… a sunrise hike.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. A great read with some amazing pics. I especially love the way you describe certain situations, ‘like leaf cutter ants, frozen in a moment of time on the buttress root of a rainforest tree.’ Classic!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I’m not a fan of crowded trails. Last year we traveled to Norway, and “everyone” it seemed was hiking Trolltunga and Pulpit Rock. It took a bit more researching, but we avoided those and had gorgeous views on Mount Saksa. I prefer to stray from mainstream!

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  8. That’s such a bummer to hear. We did this hike years ago and it was popular but by no means was it this crowded. I wish you’d had the chance to experience it under better circumstances.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Diana. I suppose the silver lining is that there ARE more people out there, experiencing the great outdoors.

      I firmly believe that the more people have experiences with the natural world, and with these special landscapes, the more they’ll come to care about them and want to preserve them. So in some ways, it’s a good thing.

      It just means you have to be a little more skilled at the research end of things to find those more peaceful, intimate places and experiences. And that’s what I’m hoping to do with this blog… inspire people to get outdoors while giving the info they need to choose the where and the how.

      I don’t resent the people on that trail… I’m just kicking ourselves for not being more thorough in our planning.

      Then again, life is better lived in the contrasts. So having this experience made us appreciate that beautiful, peaceful lunch spot down the West Rim Trail all the more.

      Thanks for coming along and catching up on the reading!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yes indeed. I find myself constantly torn between wanting everyone to visit my favorite places and wanting people to stop visiting my favorite places because they’re getting so crowded. I can only hope that you’re right and that as more people start to explore, our respect for land and nature will increase as a whole across the nation.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. I can’t believe they don’t find some way to limit the number of people who can do that trail each day. It sounds rather dangerous to have so many people milling about, actually. I’m glad you were able to find a quiet place to get away from the crowds and enjoy the scenery, at least for a little while!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Scary and stunning views there! 😦 The long line of hikers remind me of some of the popular mountains here. It isn’t the best experience trying to navigate through that.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. We were there in April last year, on a weekday, probably made it up to Scout Lookout by 8AM. So off peak, mid week , super early…it was still almost as crowded as what you depict…I think I posted a pic of it in my Zion post. My daughter and I were having none of it and we enjoyed the view from some of the quieter spots nearby while my husband made the trek to the landing. He was disappointed and aggravated by the whole thing. The NPS needs to limit the amount of people going up there at the same time…reservations for a nominal fee or something

    Liked by 1 person

    • Or for a lottery versus a fee. When we were at Machu Picchu the crowds were intense. The site is bookended by two mountains. You can hike to the top of either mountain to get a birds eye view of the site. It’s super cool. But what is interesting is the way that they manage access. You have to sign up, online, for hiking spots ahead of your visit. You have a one hour window to show up for your spot, if you get one. They do it by lottery (so if you ask for two spots you either get them or you don’t… it’s not like only one person in your group gets it). It’s a fair system. And it limits the number of bodies on the dangerous spots.

      Like

      • I suppose the glass half full look at this whole situation is that more people are getting outside, enjoying the great outdoors…. which means they’ll care and want to preserve it. So that is a good thing, as far as the future of national parks is concerned, we can hope.

        Like

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