Hiking Angels Landing: Everything You Need to Know

Last Updated on: 30th November 2023, 12:43 am

Zion National Park’s Angels Landing is one of America’s most thrilling hikes, as the final, narrow section can only be traversed by grabbing onto metal chains. But thanks to its uniqueness, the hike has also gotten extremely popular, and it can now only be accessed with a permit. In this guide, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about hiking Angels Landing, from obtaining a permit to the hike itself.

And as a bonus, you’ll also find a guide to hiking up to the Emerald Pools, another top hike at Zion. Given their proximity to one another, both hikes can easily be fit into a single day.

For more information about the park shuttle system, where to stay near Zion and the National Park entry fees, be sure to check the very end of the article.

Hiking to the Emerald Pools

About This Hike

THE BASICS: As mentioned, the Emerald Pools can be visited on the same day as Angels Landing. While we’ll cover the  permit system in detail below, whether you see the Emerald Pools before or after Angels Landing will depend on the starting time stated on your Angels Landing permit.

Ordinarily, most people visiting the Emerald Pools and Angels Landing on the same day would get off at shuttle stop #5 (Zion Lodge). From there, they would walk over the bridge, hike up to the three different pools and return via the Kayenta Trail, which leads directly to the Angels Landing hike (or vice versa if finishing with the Emerald Pools).

But at the time of my visit, the bridge near Zion Lodge was inaccessible, and it still is at the time of writing. But luckily, there’s an easy alternative.

Simply get off at stop #6 (The Grotto), the same stop you’re supposed to get off at for Angels Landing. Regardless of whether you visit the Emerald Pools before or after Angels Landing, you can simply do it as an out-and-back hike from The Grotto.

This trail is one of Zion’s most popular, so it can get very crowded. Also, the final stretch to the Upper Emerald Pool was a lot steeper and more tiring than I’d anticipated. But overall, this is a fairly easily and accessible hike.

All in all, expect it to take you around 90 minutes to visit all three pools via the Kayenta Trail.

RECOMMENDED APPS: The best app to use for this hike is AllTrails, though the guide below only describes the Kayenta Trail portion – not the full loop.

WHAT TO BRING: There’s nothing special you need to bring for this hike. Just be sure to have ample water, snacks and sunscreen, especially if you’ll be hiking Angels Landing immediately after visiting the Emerald Pools (more below).

The full loop trail as seen on AllTrails - the guide below only features the Kayenta Trail portion

There are three Emerald Pools – Lower, Middle and Upper. If you happen to be in a rush, the Lower Emerald Pool is the most interesting of the three. But as the other two are not that far away, it’s worth visiting them all if you can.

As mentioned above, I hiked to the Emerald Pools as an out-and-back hike via the Kayenta Trail, starting from The Grotto shuttle stop. But if stop #5 is open during your visit, you can also start there, finish at the Grotto and then immediately proceed to Angels Landing.

But if your Angels Landing permit is for before 9:00, then simply save the Emerald Pools for last.

Emerald Pools Hiking Angel's Landing
Emerald Pools Hiking Angel's Landing

The Kayenta Trail is gorgeous from the get-go, offering clear views of Zion Canyon. After enjoying the scenery for a while, the trail will eventually curve to the right and it won’t be long before you see part of the Lower Emerald Pool in the distance.

Emerald Pools Hiking Angel's Landing

While having an app is helpful, you’ll find ample signage along the trail, pointing you in the direction of each pool. And you’ll soon find a sign pointing you toward the Lower Emerald Pool – the hike’s highlight, in my opinion.

Emerald Pools Hiking Angel's Landing
Emerald Pools Hiking Angel's Landing

The amazing thing about the Lower Emerald Pool is that the trail takes you behind a small waterfall. The area also offers great views of the nearby rock formations.

Emerald Pools Hiking Angel's Landing
Emerald Pools Hiking Angel's Landing

Next, a short uphill trail will take you to the Middle Emerald Pool. During my visit during the dry season, this was little more than a small pond of water, and it was easily the least remarkable of the three.

Emerald Pools Hiking Angel's Landing

The forested trail then leaves you further uphill to the Upper Emerald Pool. As mentioned above, this hike was a lot more tiring and strenuous than I was expecting. While there aren’t any major obstacles, it is fairly steep and will likely leave you out of breath.

But the effort is worth it because as far as the pools of water themselves go, the Upper Emerald Pool is the most impressive. And just behind it is a massive wall of rock that serves as a scenic backdrop.

Just be forewarned – it can get pretty crowded up here from pretty early on.

Next, I retraced my steps back toward The Grotto and immediately started making my way up to Angels Landing. As expected, this would turn out to be a much longer and more strenuous hike.

Hiking Angels Landing

Hiking Angels Landing

About This Hike

The full hike as seen on AllTrails

THE BASICS: The first part of the hike is part of the longer West Rim Trail. The first two miles take you up to Scout Lookout. And from there, the official Angels Landing hike begins, which is about a half-mile each way. While all visitors to the park are free to hike up to Scout Lookout, a permit is now required to hike up Angels Landing itself (see more below).

Nobody disputes that hiking Angels Landing is a thrilling experience – but is it safe? In my opinion, both the challenge and potential danger of Angels Landing tend to be over-exaggerated. People of a wide variety of experience and fitness levels successfully complete it with no issues. 

With that being said, the fitter you are, the better. And those with a serious fear of heights might want to sit this one out.

The full Angels Landing hike takes you up an elevation gain of 1,488 feet. And hiking from The Grotto to the very top and back down again should take 3-5 hours. In my case, even after adding in a brief detour along the West Rim Trail, I finished in four. 

RECOMMENDED APPS: The best app to use for this hike is AllTrails, because it clearly outlines the hike from The Grotto all the way to the peak of Angels Landing.

But if you do a bit of studying beforehand, you’ll also be fine with the free Maps.me app which works offline.

AllTrails and the similar onX Backcountry both require subscriptions to function offline, which go for about $30 per year.

WHAT TO BRING: While you don’t need any special equipment for this hike, hiking shoes would be ideal. Otherwise, bring your basic essentials: water, snacks, and sunscreen.

As mentioned, the highlight of the Angels Landing hike is the final section with the chains, which you’ll want to grab onto with both hands. As such, trekking poles would be a major hindrance.

Nevertheless, a surprising amount of people bring trekking poles for the steep hike up to Scout Lookout. While understandable, you’d then have to leave your poles at Scout Lookout and hope nobody takes them. Therefore, I’d only recommend bringing poles if you have someone to stay behind and look after your stuff.

The Angels Landing Permit System

During the pandemic, US National Parks became extremely popular for a variety of reasons. And in response to surging crowd levels at Angels Landing, Zion park authorities implemented a lottery system to reduce overcrowding.

But even with the pandemic behind us, the lottery system remains in place. Given how the chain sections of the hike are essentially ‘one-way,’ many feel that such a system is necessary for safety reasons. Yet as a result, not everyone who wants to hike Angels Landing will get the chance.

There are two ways to obtain a permit for Angels Landing. You can apply for the seasonal lottery, which runs from 1-3 months before each season. And if that doesn’t work out, you can try applying the day before you’d like to hike. You can find specific details about applying here.

While success is not guaranteed, I believe that the more days you’ll be spending at Zion and the fewer people in your party, the better chances you’ll have at success. You should also aim for a weekday rather than a weekend.

If you get a permit, you will either be allowed to start the hike before 9:00 AM or after 9:00.

When the permit system is in place, even those without a permit are still allowed to hike up to Scout Lookout, the plateau just before the Angels Landing hike begins.

During my visit, there was a ranger checking both permits and photo IDs near the very bottom of the trail. But there were zero rangers at Scout Lookout itself, nor anywhere else on the trial. As such, I suspect that plenty of people without permits are secretly hiking Angels Landing on a regular basis. And given the complicated lottery process, I can’t really blame them.

As mentioned above, the two-mile hike from The Grotto to Scout Lookout is technically part of the longer West Rim Trail. But to avoid confusion, we’ll be referring to the entire hike in between The Grotto and the top of Angels Landing as the ‘Angels Landing hike,’ as seen in the map above.

In my case, as my Angels Landing permit was for after 9:00, I did the hike to the Emerald Pools first. And I wouldn’t end up beginning the Angels Landing hike until 11:00.

While later than planned, this turned out to be a good thing for reasons we’ll cover shortly.

Hiking Angel's Landing

Not far from The Grotto, I encountered a park ranger who was checking everyone’s permits. While the ranger was polite and friendly, the check was more thorough than I expected.

Despite already having my name in the system, the ranger still wanted to see a photo ID as well as a picture of the permit on my phone.

Hiking Angels Landing
Hiking Angel's Landing

As mentioned, all visitors, regardless of whether or not they have an Angels Landing permit, are free to go as far as Scout Lookout (and the entire West Rim trail if they so desire).

So why only have a permit check at the bottom? All anyone had to do was declare that they were only going as far as Scout Lookout to bypass the permit check!

While the situation could change by the time of your visit, numerous other reports I’ve come across also mention the lack of enforcement on the trail. 

Hiking Angel's Landing
Hiking Angels Landing
Hiking Angel's Landing

While the initial ascent is entirely paved, it’s still quite the workout. The hike to Scout Lookout alone has an elevation gain of 1,100 feet, so the trail is quite steep from the get-go.

Weather-wise, beginning your hike at eleven or twelve is far from ideal – especially if you’re hiking on a sweltering summer day as I was.

But there was something I quickly noticed. While there were a ton of people coming down, only I and a handful of others were going up.

And as I’d later confirm, hiking Angels Landing from late morning seems to be the best way to avoid the crowds near the top (of course, if your permit is for before 9:00, you won’t have a choice in the matter).

Hiking Angels Landing
Hiking Angels Landing
Hiking Angels Landing

You’ll eventually reach a shaded section of the hike. While relatively short, it’s a nice break from the sun.

This part of the canyon is lined with various little caverns in the sandstone rock, while the area also serves as a habitat for Mexican Spotted Owls.

You’ll then encounter one of the steepest sections of the entire hike: Walter’s Wiggles, a series of 21 short switchbacks.

Hiking Angels Landing
Hiking Angel's Landing
Hiking Angels Landing

The ‘wiggles’ were named after Walter Ruesch, the first superintendent of Zion National Park when these switchbacks were constructed in 1926.

After the strenuous workout, you’ll find yourself at Scout Lookout, the point where the trail splits into two. One of the paths leads to the remainder of the West Rim Trail, which stretches out to a staggering 16 miles in total.

But if you’re reading this, that’s not why you came to Scout Lookout. It’s from here, of course, that the actual Angels Landing section – known for its many chains – officially begins.

While you won’t find any refreshments being sold at Scout Lookout, you will at least find porta potties.

Hiking Angel's Landing

The final ascent to the top of Angels Landing is half a mile, but this is by no means your standard hiking trail. And that’s why it’s become so popular over the years. 

I actually hiked this trail for the first time way back in 2007, and my group and I had much of the trail to ourselves. But now the atmosphere couldn’t be more different.

Hiking Angels Landing
Hiking Angels Landing
Hiking Angels Landing

As mentioned, I managed to avoid a lot of the crowds by beginning the hike in late morning. But there were still plenty of people making their way back from the peak.

Regardless of when you visit, hiking Angels Landing requires a lot of patience, as you’ll constantly be waiting for people to come down. At least you’ll be able to pass the time by enjoying the stunning scenery and taking lots of photos.

As scary as they may look in photographs, the metal chains feel very secure and seem to be able to withstand a lot of weight. Furthermore, the sandstone you’re walking across has a pretty good grip to it, especially if you’re wearing good hiking boots.

Hiking Angels Landing

With that being said, this is not a hike you want to rush. You’ll want to watch your footing and always think a few steps ahead. 

But also be sure to take the occasional break from the chains. The higher you go, the more amazing the views of the surrounding Zion Canyon become.

Hiking Angels Landing
Hiking Angel's Landing
Hiking Angels Landing
Hiking Angels Landing

The chains are not consistent throughout the entire Angels Landing hike, and there are some fairly long stretches without any. 

But they always seem to be there when you think you might need them, especially on the really narrow sections of the ‘trail.’ If it makes you feel any better, only thirteen hikers have ever fallen to their deaths here since the year 2000.

Hiking Angels Landing

After having done so many hikes where my legs did all the work, it was a very interesting change of pace for my arms to be doing just as much.

Angels Landing, of course, isn’t the only unique hike that Zion has to offer. The Narrows hike, which has you wading through the river below, also shouldn’t be missed.

Hiking Angels Landing
Hiking Angels Landing
Hiking Angels Landing
Hiking Angel's Landing
Hiking Angels Landing

After taking it slow and steady, I finally made it to the top of the 1,488-foot (454 m). While I certainly wasn’t alone, the summit was way less crowded than I’d expected. 

For what it’s worth, I arrived around 13:00. But had I arrived a couple hours either earlier or later, it might’ve been a very different scene.

Hiking Angels Landing
Hiking Angels Landing

Zion Canyon, comprised of Navajo sandstone, was formed by the North Fork of the Virgin River. And as nothing is truly stable in nature, the erosion process is continuing as we speak.

Standing atop Angels Landing, you can get a clear view of the Virgin River below, along with the main road running parallel to it.

Hiking Angels Landing
Hiking Angels Landing
Hiking Angels Landing

After taking in the stunning views for a while, I decided to get a start on the descent. I had to do lots of waiting on the way up, and I was concerned about a similar scenario on the way down.

Hiking Angels Landing

All in all, the descent wasn’t as bad as I expected. I found that I didn’t need to rely on the chains as much, only grabbing onto them when necessary. While things did get a bit crowded at points, I found the other hikers to generally be polite, with slower groups often letting me pass.

Unfortunately, I’d deal with some unpleasant ankle and shin pain the following day which would last for over a week But I’m still not sure if the culprit was the chains section or the descent from Scout Lookout to The Grotto.

Hiking Angels Landing
Hiking Angels Landing

Making it back to Scout Lookout, I wasn’t quite ready to head back just yet. Instead, I decided to check out part of the West Rim Trail to see what it was like. 

While I didn’t get very far, I can confirm that it also offers beautiful views of Zion Canyon but with almost no crowds.

Hiking Angel's Landing
Hiking Angels Landing

While the entire West Rim Hike can last an entire day (9-12 hours!), some people just hike to a viewpoint called Cabin Spring, about three miles away.

But after two long hikes, I wasn’t feeling up for it, and decided to head back down Walter’s Wiggles, and ultimately to The Grotto. It was around 15:00 by the time I made it back to the trailhead.

Notably, the ranger checking permits was no longer there, which was rather convenient for all the hikers who were just beginning their ascent!

Hiking Angels Landing

Additional Info

At the time of writing, everyone visiting Zion National Park during the busier, warmer months will only be able to travel around the main part of the park by shuttle.

Currently, the shuttle is completely free and no reservations are required (but that wasn’t the case when the mandatory shuttle system was first introduced).

From my experience, the shuttles seemed to come by pretty frequently, and all in all, the system worked smoothly and efficiently.

From the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, it takes about 25 minutes to reach The Grotto (for Angels Landing) and about 40 minutes for the Temple of Sinawava (for The Narrows).

You can learn more information about the shuttle, as well as view the full route map, here. Confusingly, the map also displays something called the Springdale Line, but this is only relevant for people staying in Springdale, Utah, and who will be using the shuttle to reach the park entrance.

The main problem with the shuttle system is that mostly everyone will be parking in the large lot next to the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. As such, you’ll want to arrive as early as possible to secure a spot.

On the few days I visited the park, I arrived a little after 8:00 each morning and the lot was always 80% full by that time. But what if you can’t find a spot?

I’m not exactly sure, but I’ve heard of people having to drive around Springdale to search for a spot around town. And the rangers at the ticket booth/entrance gate likely won’t even inform you if the lot is already full when you drive into the park.

Therefore, do whatever you can to get to Zion early.

Zion National Park is home to numerous campgrounds, which you can learn more about here. Just outside the park, meanwhile, is the town of Springdale, which features plenty of hotels and amenities.

High-rated hotels here include the Holiday Inn Express and the Cliffrose. Staying in this area will also give you access to the Springdale Line of the Zion shuttle which can bring you right up to the park, meaning there’s no rush to secure parking.

But there are lots of reasons to stay well outside the park. Not only would this save you money, but it would allow you to visit other nearby sites, such as Bryce Canyon National Park, from the same base.

For those coming from Las Vegas, you’ll first pass through St. George, the biggest city in southwest Utah. And it’s just 70 minutes from Zion National Park. I’ve spent a few nights in St. George at the Red Lion Hotel, which was one of the better deals I’ve found in the Southwest. Another good option that won’t break the bank is the St. George Inn & Suites.

While St. George has a lot of amenities, one major downside is that it’s about 2 hours and 20 minutes from Bryce.

The smaller town of Hurricane is only 30-40 minutes away from Zion and features a number of quality Airbnbs. And that’s where I stayed during my recent visit. But it too is a bit far from Bryce.

One of the best bases for Zion would be the small city of Kanab, about 70 minutes away from the park. It also serves as a fantastic base for numerous other sites (learn more here). If you’re coming from the east, you can stop in Kanab after a visit to Page, Arizona.

In the past, I’ve stayed before at Travelodge by Wyndham Kanab, a basic hotel that was perfect for resting after long days out in nature. They also provide free breakfast. Other popular options close to the center include Comfort Suites and the Hampton Inn.

Interested in hiking Angles Landing but would prefer the accompaniment of an experienced guide?

Fortunately, such tours can indeed be booked in advance online, such as this highly-rated half-day hike. Permits are even included as well!

At the time of writing, Zion National Park costs $35 to enter (learn more here).

If you’re visiting from abroad, note that in contrast to many other countries, US parks typically charge per vehicle rather than per person. However, if you’re traveling by motorcycle instead, they’ll charge you $30. And those visiting by bicycle or simply showing up on foot after riding the Springdale Shuttle will have to pay $20 per person.

Considering how many National Parks and National Monuments there are to see in the Southwest alone, the best option for most will be to buy an ‘America the Beautiful’ Annual National Parks Pass.

These cost $80 for the year. In most cases, you’re already saving money by just visiting four National Parks/Monuments anywhere in the country within a full year.

What’s more, is that only one person in your vehicle needs to have the pass. Additionally, seniors can buy the pass for just $20. So if you have someone over 62 in your party, just have them get the annual pass and everyone else will be set.

As for where to get the pass, you can purchase it in person at most National Parks or Monuments. But you can also order it in advance online.

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