West Rim Trail and Angel’s Landing

4/11/2017 This was my first visit to Zion National Park and I only had the morning to explore what I could before heading over to Bryce Canyon. I was originally going to visit Observation Point but last minute got off the bus for Angel’s Landing, off the West Rim Trail. 

Angel’s Landing is probably the most recognized hike in the park and is actually what is considered a scramble because you are going to be using your hands to get to the end of the trail.  Those comfortable with this type of hike and heights will not have to use the chains provided in any but a few places due to exposure.  The best way to travel is to remember to keep 3 points of contact at all times.

Yes, the trail sits atop a sliver of rock fin and is as narrow as 28” in places.  But the trail itself is only .5 miles long from the junction with the West Rim Trail so you don’t have to be in a hurry.  And if it is a busy day in the park, you can expect to be slowly walking the trail in a congo line of similarly minded folks.

It’s not for those with a fear of heights.  Or falling from said heights. But, if you still want to experience this popular trail and are willing to make the switchbacks necessary, there are several stops along the way before the real skinny steep bits where you can stop for the same view as those brave enough to continue on.  Just take you time and enjoy the river and surrounding vistas as you make your way up as far as you feel you can. 

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The West Rim Trail leaves from the Grotto stop up the Zion Canyon on the Canyon Line. The beginning of the trail is across the road from the picnic area and crosses a bridge over the north fork of the Virgin River before running alongside on a wide, fairly level path.  This is the first of six distinct sections on this 5 mile round trip hike.

The first section is from the parking lot to the base of the canyon wall under the fin of Angel’s Landing.

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Take your time.  Most folks seem to rush through here because it is flat and easy but then slow considerably when they start the climb up.

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This section follows the river through the canyon and gives you views up at the isthmus of Angel’s Landing and two of the next sections you need to get there.  The trail is relatively smooth with a slight grade, just watch your step for some rocks that jut out randomly. Poles would be helpful (but not necessary) on the 2 miles of the West Rim Trail section, but a hindrance on the .5 mile section to Angel’s Landing.

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Ahead you will see people slowly making their way up the first set of switchbacks, the second section, into Refrigerator Canyon, the third section of this hike.  It is paved here most of this way, as is common on trails that see extreme amounts of traffic to prevent erosion.  This means you won’t have to deal much with loose rock or uneven steps while you are catching your breath on the climb.

This is nice cool and relatively level area that shades you from the sun and wind.  Trees line the path and offer a green break from the orange rock walls.

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Your reprieve is short because the fourth section, Walter’s Wiggles, comes up quickly.  It is hard to imagine how folks made it up here before the tight switchbacks were added to allow horses to get over to Cabin Spring on the West Rim Trail.

About the time you wonder if the madness will ever stop, you do come out again on level ground at Scout’s Landing, your fifth section.  You have gained most of the almost 1500ft elevation at this point, you deserve a small break here.  Take a drink and eat a bite to give yourself energy for the rest of your journey.  You don’t want to get near the top and find yourself lightheaded or suffering from dehydration with very little wiggle room on the side of the trail.  There are bathrooms here but they are not always available.

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This area is perfect for folks who want to enjoy the views but want to skip the chains and death defying heights of the last section, the .5 miles to Angel’s Landing.  You can also continue on the West Rim if you want more time on the trail and avoid sharing this area with the crowds, most of whom do not go further on.

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These last steps travel up and down, over and along side the rocky ridge line of the isthmus and you will definitely needs your hands and good balance.

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As for the part of the trail that needs your hands, the sandstone is smooth but still allows for secure purchase on your way up.  It was much more “grippy” than I had imagined it would be. However, those chains do their job for the spots when you need them! 

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Honestly, I spent most of my time focusing on the view at my feet and tried not to look down or out in front of me as much as possible.  I saved that for when I was on more level and wider trail.

 This was the skinniest spot, probably the 28″ the shuttle operator mentioned in her speech to us this morning before we got off the bus.  You will clearly be adding your foot steps to thousands of other hikers who have braved this climb!

Expect to share the trail and wait patiently for others who may be in front of you as they overcome their fears to reach the top.  Be conscious of where there are places to pullover, as well, if someone needs to pass you. Trail etiquette says those ascending have the right of way but with limited options, it may be best to assume it is you and make the move first.

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The top of Angel’s Landing widens out and there is plenty of room for finding your own little resting spot.  It is obvious that some folks like to wander down the sides in front a bit but there is loose rock that could mean a slip and quick drop back to the canyon floor you don’t want to make from the little under 5800ft you are now standing at.

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I loved the look of the canyon road below as it snakes around the Organ, that solitary mesa that pokes out of the canyon floor to the side of Angel’s Landing.

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From the other side near the point of the lookout, you can see the entire Zion Canyon valley below in all it’s grandeur.

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There will be some tiny friends at the top to greet you and they will want to join you for lunch.  Please only take pictures and refrain from feeding them, fed creatures don’t learn to find food in the environment.

Be careful on your way down, it is easy to be complacent but your legs will be a bit more wobbly than the way up and momentum will not be in your favor.

It won’t be long before you are back down at the picnic area and staring back up at where you were just a short time before and feeling the pride of overcoming fear to reach new heights!

 

You can expect wind at the top, so a jacket and warm hat are helpful.  Make sure to take plenty of water and snacks to keep yourself nourished, you will want to stay a bit at the top and enjoy those views you have earned.  The only bathrooms you can count on are down at the picnic area and you will find picnic tables and drinking water, as well.

If there is one piece of advice, go early in the morning.  You will notice very few people in my pictures, I was on the bus at 7:15am to enjoy the trail without a billion other people.  I talk more about my hike to Angel’s Landing in my post, Spring Break Road Trip Day 2, Part 1: Angel in Zion and More Weeping.

For more information and current conditions, you can visit my page on Zion National Park or the NPS website HERE.

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