Angels Landing Trail Day Hike

As one of the most sought-after day hikes in the United States, Angels Landing in Zion National Park punches above its weight. With enormous red rock cliffs, oasis-like accents of green and dizzying heights that’ll max out your adrenaline, the relatively short 5.4-mile out-and-back trek packs a huge adventure into a moderately challenging route.   

First constructed in 1926, the Angels Landing Trail is a mix of sand, bedrock, and paved sections that continue to steepen as you get further into the route. But don’t let the seemingly “mellow” 1,488’ of elevation gain fool you: Angels Landing is a steep hike that’ll get your blood pumping long before the real fun (intense exposure) begins beyond Scout Lookout at mile marker 1.7. 

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Starting from The Grotto Trailhead (shuttle stop #6), head northwest over the bridge that spans the Virgin River, then follow signage pointing north toward the Angels Landing/Zion Traverse/West Rim Trail. The path hugs the valley floor for roughly the first half mile until the trail begins to switch back on itself. All the while, your destination looms directly overhead and offers a bit of intimidation prefacing the climb to come. 

As the switchbacks continue, you’ll cross into the sun-protected Refrigerator Canyon. Take a rest here to cool off and rehydrate before tackling the lion’s share of the route’s switchbacks, known as Walter’s Wiggles. This intensely steep series of bends comprises 21 tight switchbacks stacked on top of each other. The physical challenge aside, if you have trouble with the exposure on Walter’s in this section, consider avoiding the last half-mile chain section up the flank of Angels Landing proper. 

A view of angles landing hiking trail
Photographer: Emily Gillard

Following Walter’s Wiggles, you’ll come to Scout Lookout, which offers fantastic views, a pit toilet, and a good rest stop before turning around or continuing up the .5-mile chain section. After .4 miles of steep, exposed hiking and scrambling, the terrain’s exposure eases a little and you’re rewarded with a prominent clifftop to rest, relax and take pictures before heading back down.

Once you’ve had your fill at the top of Angels Landing, descend the same way you came up (slowly) and be mindful and courteous of other hikers who may be ascending. The remainder of the route follows the same path down to The Grotto Trailhead, where you can calm your nerves and dip your toes in the Virgin River.  

Angles Landing Trail Overview

  • Distance: 4.4 miles round trip, out and back 
  • Vertical gain/loss: 1,390’ up, 1,390’ down
  • Hike Time: 3-5 hours round trip
  • Difficulty: Difficult, strenuous, precipitous 
  • Best Time to Hike: Early mornings and late afternoons—during the cooler parts of the day. Early spring. To avoid the crowds, go during the shoulder seasons—spring and fall.
  • Permits: Required—apply for day-before and seasonal permits here
  • Trail Map

What to Know About Hiking Angels Landing  

Due to its popularity with guests and renown on social media, the National Park Service has instituted a permit system for hiking Angels Landing. The NPS offers both a day-before permit lottery and a seasonal lottery, with entry for both costing $6. If you win the lottery and are awarded a permit, the reservation will set you back an additional $3. Additional permit information and the portal to apply can be found at this link

Be sure to print out a copy of your permit or have a digital copy ready on your phone: rangers might request to see it at The Grotto, Scout Lookout or anywhere else on the trail. If you lack the flexibility to apply for a day-before permit, the seasonal permits include a seven ranked-choice structure, so you can hopefully land a date that’ll work for your schedule. 

To lessen traffic congestion, all access to Zion Canyon in Zion National Park is by shuttle only. All shuttles are free and do not require a permit or reservation. Starting at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center (stop #1), visitors are welcome to board the shuttle heading northbound toward The Grotto Trailhead at stop #6. Both Northbound and Southbound shuttles offer service multiple times an hour, so catching a ride is rarely time-consuming.  

As with any steep, exposed (and often hot) hike in the desert, it’s crucial to come prepared. This includes bringing plenty of water, snacks + electrolytes, sunscreen, a good hat, and a thirst for adventure. It’s also a good idea to bring an extra layer in case the winds are ripping at Scout Lookout or atop Angels Landing. Again, this hike is exposed and it’s helpful to be mentally prepared for vertigo and a plethora of steep drop-offs—take your time accordingly.

Angels landing hiking trail from above with hikers on the trail


Is Angels Landing as scary as it seems?

Although a hike’s fear factor is largely subjective, Angels Landing is indeed as scary as it seems. With intense exposure, limited footing and a narrow land bridge for the last 0.5 miles, Angels Landing is not for the faint of heart or those that don’t have a strong tolerance for heights. 

The introduction of the permit system has helped alleviate the intensity of the final climb to some extent, as previously there were dozens if not hundreds of hikers all utilizing the same limited foot space and hand-chain real estate. This crowding led to bottlenecks that exacerbated the already precarious dynamic of the final push-up Angels Landing, with many hikers of varying abilities clambering past each other, causing stress and complicating an already intimidating situation. The permit system has lessened this crowding and given hiking parties more room to maneuver up the gnarliest sections of exposure.

Can beginners hike Angels Landing?

With moderate elevation gain and a relatively limited mileage, the Angels Landing hike is in some ways beginner friendly. However, the Chains Section will be too intimidating for most beginners or anyone who struggles with vertigo or a fear of heights. 

The initial 1.7 miles pose an aggressive climb with dozens of switchbacks that precipitously stack on top of each other, including the dizzying Walter’s Wiggle. But with a reasonable level of fitness and a tolerance for heights, it is possible for beginners to trek the Angels Landing hike, especially if they’re only attempting to reach Scout Lookout.

Is Angels Landing deadly?

Yes. Over the years Angels Landing has claimed upwards of 17 lives, with some counts totaling 20. With hundreds (and hundreds) of feet of exposure on the Chains Section, Angels Landing offers a very small margin for error. Heat, wind and sun exposure add to the dangers, presenting what can turn into the perfect storm of factors, making this a very dangerous walk in the park. 

If you struggle with acrophobia (fear of heights), have a heart condition or are in generally poor health—even if you simply “have a bad feeling”—do not attempt the Chains Section, as a minor mistake or lapse in judgment can lead to serious injury or death.  

See more bucket list day hikes, like the surreal Fern Canyon.

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Sam Morse

Sam is an outdoor-focused wordsmith and a survivor of Peter Pan Syndrome. Creatively, he draws on his lived experience to distill stories that inspire and delight. He loves deep snow, long hikes, spicy food, diving in tropical waters, and all manner of riverplay/exploration. He’s also the co-author of The Ski Town Fairytale, a children’s book (for adults). Currently he lives and plays in Salt Lake City with his golden retriever pup, Blue.