Classic Trek to the Top of Zion
Difficulty: Moderate (with some scrambling and exposure)
Elevation gain: 1500 ft.
Dog friendly: No
A long, long time ago, baby 24-year-old me moved to Utah. Before I started my first park ranger job, I made an obligatory road trip to Zion National Park. There, like thousands of other tourists, I made the trek up to the top of Angel's Landing. I was a total desert newbie then -- this vertigo-inducing hike up a skinny hunk of rock blew me away. I was hooked. Fast forward eight years, and I'm still in Utah. You've been warned -- hiking Angel's Landing might turn you into a bonafide desert rat!
Obviously it's been a while since I first hiked Angel's Landing, and it was time for a repeat visit. So this weekend, I loaded up my daypack and made the quick drive from St. George to Zion. I had to brace myself for the cluster-F of humanity -- Zion is busy this time of year. But you guys, the view from the top of Angel's Landing is worth it. Slap on a smile, leave your fear of heights at the door, and join the party.
This time of year, private vehicles are not allowed in Zion's main canyon -- you have to take the mandatory (but free!) park shuttle. So after driving into Zion National Park along Highway 9, park your vehicle at the Visitor Center or in the town of Springdale. The shuttle stops at all the trailheads in the canyon. Hop out at the Grotto Triailhead.
Navigation along this hike is a breeze -- the trail is popular and well-marked. From the shuttle stop, cross the road and head towards the bridge that spans across the Virgin River. After you cross the bridge, continue right (northeast.) You'll be hiking parallel to the river for a while before the paved switchbacks start. Time to go up, up, up. At 1.5 mile, you'll enter Refrigerator Canyon and a pretty, shady stroll with an easier grade.
The trail starts climbing again via 21 switchbacks known as Walter's Wiggles. At the top of the wiggles, you'll reach a signed junction. Look to your right. See that skinny, vertigo-inducing hunk of rock? That's Angel's Landing. Get your party pants on -- it's time to climb.
The final stretch of this hike is not for anyone with a fear of heights. It's not especially dicey -- thousands of people do it every year -- but this isn't the place to try and cure your acrophobia! The trickiest part is navigating the crowds. Angel's Landing can definitely turn into a tourist conga-line, and it's a bit of a pain waiting for everyone to navigate steep, narrow sections. Anyway, the route is lined with thick chains. Hang on, don't look down, and soon enough you'll be at the top. Take a few minutes to soak up the out-of-control view before turning around and hiking back the way you came.