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Is the Angels Landing hike at Zion National Park as scary as it sounds?

The Angels Landing hike at Zion National Park sounds scary. The final 3/4 mile of the hike runs across the top of one of Zion Canyon’s narrow walls. On a path that is often only a few feet wide, the drop offs on either side of you are over 1,000 feet. During a lot of the climb, there are chains to clutch. But during some parts, there is little to nothing to hold onto.

What the Angels Landing hike is like

Three woman in hiking gear in front of a sign for Angels Landing.
Ready to start our Angels Landing hike in Zion National Park at about 10 a.m.

On a recent trip to Zion NP, I hiked Angel’s Landing with my 20-year-old daughter and a friend. To me, Angels Landing was pretty scary! I guess it depends on what scares you, though, because my friend didn’t bat an eye at the narrow path or the steep drop offs.

The first four miles of the Angels Landing hike are lovely, and not at all frightening. The hike is labeled “strenuous,” but I didn’t find it any more difficult than hikes we’d taken in other National Parks, like Pinnacles or Yosemite. You start off from Zion’s Grotto shuttle stop on West Rim Trail, which here is a flat, slightly rocky path. After awhile, the path climbs a bit, then you walk through shady Refrigerator Canyon. 

A sign reading "QUIET ZONE" with drawings of two Mexican owls.
We kept our voices down during the section of the ascent where we saw these signs.

As you gain elevation, you pass some signs urging silence because of owl habitat. We would have loved to see some of the owls, but no luck. It was daytime, after all.

Then came Walter’s Wiggles, the famed switchbacks that get you up that steep canyon wall. Watching people march back and forth from below, this part of the hike looked grueling. However, we were lucky enough to hike on a May morning, so the heat wasn’t too bad. I took the hike slowly and never got too terribly out of breath. So, although this hike is described as “strenuous,” I wouldn’t let that scare you, as long as you are used to hiking a few miles with elevation.

A woman wearing a hat and sunglasses poses at the top of a mountain at Angels Landing in Zion National Park.
Stopping for a selfie partway up the Angels Landing hike in Zion National Park.

When the switchbacks finally end, you emerge onto the wide, flat, rocky top of the canyon wall. Scouts Lookout is here, with a restroom. This is as far as you can hike without a permit. A couple of rangers sit at the entrance of the Angels Landing section of the hike, checking permits and comparing them to a printed list.

The scariest parts of the Angels Landing hike

Rocks to climb like steps on the Angels Landing hike in Zion National Park.

One of the most scary parts of the Angels Landing hike, to me, was standing at the beginning of it, watching the narrow path stretch out before me like the Great Wall of China. Before going, I had imagined this section as resembling a balance beam: a straight, flat, very narrow strip.

In reality, of course, it’s not so uniform. Often you can’t see the rest of the path stretching out before you, which to me was a blessing. Sometimes you’re walking in a sunken path with rocks rising up on either side. Those were the least scary sections. In some parts, you have to scramble up some rocks. Those were my favorite sections, since I like climbing, and besides with the rock to hold on in front of me, I felt secure.

Other sections where Angels Landing gets scary:

  • Sections where you need to walk at the edge of a sloped rock, with the chain on the rock side and nothing between you and the drop off.
  • Narrow sections between chains.

Crowds at Angels Landing

A line of people waits to descend on the Angels Landing hike in Zion National Park.
For some stretches of the Angels Landing hike, you may be traveling in a line of people.

I’d read that crowds of people passing in both directions make the Angels Landing hike extra scary. The new permit system is supposed to limit this problem. I never hiked Angels Landing before the permit system began, so I can’t compare the crowd level to before. The hike was indeed full of people. As a slower hiker, I often leaned into a crevice on the inside to let people pass me. Sometimes I had to pass people going the opposite direction. But in general, everyone seemed to be looking out for one another and being careful, so I didn’t feel endangered by other hikers. Usually, people would pull over and wait for others to come through narrow areas before starting to cross them from the other direction.

The final destination: the Angels Landing overhang

A chipmunk balances on the edge of a sheer rock face on Angels Landing in Zion National Park.
This chipmunk was utterly unconcerned bout balancing on the vertical edge of Angels Landing, the canyon floor over 1,000 feet below.

When you arrive at the end of the canyon wall, fortunately it widens out again, allowing space for many hikers to sit down and bask in the wonder of our top-of-the-world perch. Some people sat on the edge with their legs dangling off the side. That was not for me. Then there was the chipmunk that had no qualms about walking sideways long the face of the rock. I don’t even know how that was physically possible! But I did trust myself enough to slowly turn in a circle to video a 360 degree view. Looking down at the river at the bottom of the canyon was like looking down from an airplane. It sent tingles down my spine.

Was hiking Angels Landing worth it?

A sign warns of the danger of falling from Angels Landing in Zion National Park.
A sign warns of the danger of falling from Angels Landing in Zion National Park.

I didn’t really read up on Angels Landing until after we won the permit lottery. When I did, I almost changed my mind about hiking it. The Angels Landing hike looked that scary! After all, people have died from falling off the trail. And earlier on this same trip, I had just slipped slightly off a trail, on my first day of hiking in Zion. My only injury was a banged up knee, but still! Knowing how easily I could go from walking to falling gave me pause.

However, I’m glad we went ahead and hiked Angels Landing, even though it was scary. The experience was thrilling, and like no other hike I’ve ever done.

Would I hike Angels Landing again? 

I see no reason to tempt fate. I did it, it was magical, and most importantly: I survived. OK, maybe I am hyping up the danger a bit. After all, people die in car accidents every day, yet you don’t feel super brave for driving to the store. But did I mention that I am very clumsy?

Do you really need a permit to hike Angels Landing?

A sign warning Angels Landing hikers that they must show permit and ID.
Signs on the Angels Landing hike warn to you carry your permit and ID.

You are required to have a permit to hike Angels Landing. The park says that hiking without the permit is “punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and/or six months in jail.”

Online, I read complaints saying that Zion NPS rangers weren’t enforcing the permit requirement. That was not what we experienced hiking Angels Landing in May. Since two rangers were parked right at the entrance of the restricted part of the hike, it would have been difficult to get past them without showing a permit. The rangers have a list of permit holders for the day, and they check this against your permit and your ID.

That said, many people feel that the view from Scout Landing, which you don’t need a permit to reach, is just as good as Angels Landing. After hiking all the way, I would say the view from Scouts Landing is almost as good. But the view from Angels Landing is unique, since the dropoff is on three sides of you. And more than the view, the attraction of the Angels Landing hike is the thrilling experience of hiking such a narrow path.

If you aren’t too scared of heights and think you can hike it safely, I would recommend entering the Angels Landing permit lottery. But if you don’t win it, you should still go ahead and hike to Scout Landing. It’s still a cool hike with a spectacular view at the end.

How does the permit process work? 

You can enter the daily lottery for an Angels Landing permit every day between 12:01 a.m. and 3 p.m. Mountain Time, at the cost of $6, on the Recreation.gov web site. You enter the day before you want to hike. The system allows you to to enter up to seven chances. For each chance, you choose whether you want to enter before 9 a.m. or after 9 a.m., and enter the number of people in your group. You only have to enter one person’s name to enter the lotto for a group of up to six.

Could you increase your chance of winning the Angels Landing lottery with multiple entries?

You can’t buy more than one entry in your own name — if you do, they’ll throw out both entries. But if you are hiking in a group, you could purchase an entry in each person’s name, giving you a greater chance of winning. But that could be costly: If an entry wins, they automatically charge you $3 for each person in your party. So, if you are hiking with a group of six people, and all six of you enter the lottery for a group of six, you would pay $36 in lottery fees. If by crazy chance you all win, you would then be charged an additional $18 per winning entry, and you would have way more permits than you need. This would also be unfair to other hikers, who would miss out on the chance to hike Angels Landing because of your strategy. Because of those issues, I don’t recommend applying for multiple permits for a single group.

What happens when you win the daily lottery?

If you win, you will be emailed the permit. Take a screenshot on your phone and/or print it out. Also make sure to bring your ID on the hike.

Is the daily permit lottery hard to win? 

We entered twice, and won the second time we entered.

Is there a way to secure a permit for Angels Landing farther in advance?

Yes. There is also a seasonal permit lottery for Angels Landing. In 2024, summer season permits were sold from April 1 to April 20. Fall season permits will be sold from July 1 to July 20.

Is it worth visiting Zion National Park without an Angels Landing permit?

Woman smiles in front of Zion Canyon from the Angels Landing peak.
Once you get up to the start of Angels Landing, you’re rewarded with a spectacular view of Zion Canyon.

Absolutely! First of all, just looking up at the peaks that surround the canyon is spectacular. Most of the hikes in Zion Canyon don’t require permits. We hiked the Emerald Pools trail on our first day, which was pleasant although not the most scenic. The very easy one-mile paved path to the start of the Narrows is gorgeous. You also don’t need a permit to hike The Narrows from the bottom up.

What if I my group gets separated? 

We applied for the permit in my name. Later I regretted this, since both my companions are faster and fitter than me. We worried that if I fell far behind or had to turn back, my companions wouldn’t be able to complete the hike either.

This turned out to not be a concern. We asked the first ranger we met what would happen if the permit holder separated from the rest of the group. He advised us to:

1) Each carry an image of the permit on our phones.

2) Take a photo of ourselves together, holding up the permit, and each carry an image of that on our phones.

We never ended up needing this precaution. It wasn’t difficult for me to hike to the area where the rangers are checking IDs. Although my friends got ahead of me on the first part of the hike, they waited for me and we went through the checkpoint together. You’re supposed to be prepared to show your permit at any point during the final section of the hike, but no one asked after the checkpoint.

Tips for safely hiking Angels Landing

A woman grins while holding a chain on Angels Landing hike, Zion National Park.
My friend didn’t find the Angels Landing hike scary at all.
  • Wear good hiking boots. When I slipped off the path on the Emeral Pools hike, I was wearing Tevas sandals. I felt like they had good soles for hiking, but I also slipped in my Tevas on one other day of our trip. I never slipped while wearing my inexpensive Columbia hiking boots.
  • Hold on! I favored keeping a grip on the chains whenever I could, and holding onto rocks in between sections of chain. I was not ashamed to scoot along on my butt like a toddler, especially when going down steps. My friend found it more comfortable to keep a hand on the rock, where possible, rather than holding the chain.
  • Be patient and take your time. Most people are happy to wait for you to come through a narrow segment before they start.
  • Don’t be afraid to hug a stranger. Sometimes, you do end up passing people going the opposite direction in the middle of a narrow stretch with chains. What I did in that case was hold the chain with one hand, then reach my other hand around the stranger to grasp the chain with that hand before letting go of the first. It was a lot like giving my fellow climber a loose hug, but we were all consenting adults and it was fine.
  • Bring adequate water. Unsurprisingly, there is nowhere to fill a water bottle on the hike. The ranger suggested two liters of water per person. I think I drank less than 1.5 liters, but it wasn’t very hot out.

How long does it take to hike Angels Landing? 

It took our group 4 to 5 hours round trip, including a leisurely hang-out at the top and a shorter hang-out at Scout Landing. My companions probably could have finished it in 3 hours.

What’s a good guide book for visiting Zion National Park and Angels Landing?

On a picnic table: A pink backpack, a Moon guide to Zion & Bryce, a hat, chapstick, hand lotion, two pair of glasses, bandana and water bottle.
The Moon Best of Zion & Bryce was handy to carry with us on the Angels Landing hike.

We brought two new books by Maya Silver: Zion & Bryce and and Best of Zion & Bryce: Make the Most of One to Three Days in the Parks. Both books were great for helping us choose our hikes and other activities in the parks. I’m not getting paid to mention these books, but Maya was kind enough to have both sent to me for free to help me prep. Thanks Maya and Moon!