Is Angels Landing Really that Good?
When most people think of Zion National Park, they think of Angel’s Landing. I’d heard of this hike long before I ever came to the park myself. As years have gone by, that notoriety and popularity have only grown; it is now one of the best known hikes in the country and for good reason—the nerve it requires of its hikers.
I have come to love and appreciate many hikes in this beautiful park, but when I hiked Angel’s Landing for the first time this past weekend, it really did awaken in me a sense of excitement and wonder. I feel torn about this because, if I’m being honest, I had hoped to report that it wasn’t as special as everyone had been saying and, thus, not feel it necessary for everyone to do this hike when they visit Zion. But I’ll get into that more as I share with you my experience hiking Angel’s Landing this winter.
Zion is classified as a six-month park and, therefore, only has full staff and support during the portion of the year when mass visitors are here. The problem this is creating, though, is that the winter months are becoming increasingly popular. More and more people have been in the park each winter I’ve lived here but the shuttles don’t run, so parking at popular trailheads is getting worse and worse. My point here isn’t to complain but it did worry me when I finished the hike and there were cars lining the road edges on both sides for half a mile in each direction from the parking area. I strategically chose winter to hike Angel’s because I didn’t want to fight a crowd of people along the narrow, dangerous sections of chains. I’m a little skittish around heights.
Thankfully my companion and I chose to be the early bird as well as choosing winter as a precaution for the crowds. We got a parking spot where we should have and completed the hike without any terrifying passing situations 1500 feet in the air. Our plan was a success, and even though the parking area was overflowing when we reached the trail head again, I didn’t feel like there was an out-of-control number of people on the trail. The traffic was pretty well spread out.
Let's turn to the real reason I wanted to write about this hike. I had such a good time! More than I anticipated I would. The views were different from most I had enjoyed the last three years visiting this park, and I had thought I had seen them all. I was glad to be wrong about that. It wasn’t just the views though. Everything about my hike was great. The friend I brought along was good company and created some great conversations. We made new friends along the trail. There were roosting California Condors up on a cliffs edge maybe 50 feet away from us at one point. All of these things are unique probably to my experience and can’t necessarily be replicated every time, but they played a role in how I enjoyed the hike.
The trail itself was great. It was interesting and diverse with wide, open views in places and narrow canyon walls towering above you in others. The scary sections of chains were pleasantly not as terrifying, at least for me, as people had made them out to be. It was just the right amount of scary to be enjoyable and not ruin the experience. Once you reach the top you have a unique perspective because the hike leads you out to a floating island in the middle of the canyon and you only have to turn around to have a perfect view down both directions of the canyon. It was incredible!
Everything about this experience was just plain fun. Before hiking Angel’s Landing for myself, I had come to believe it was over hyped and kind of a cliche. Because of that, and because of how crowded it gets, I had hoped to report that it was just another hike and you could do one of several other hikes in its place without missing anything. I now know that would be a lie. You would be missing out on a lot and absolutely need to do it when you come to Zion.
It’s still not my favorite hike (Observation Point) and it would be great if we all didn’t re-hike it every time we visited so the crowding would be just a little bit less problematic, but my opinion of this trail is it’s a once-in-a-lifetime hike. You have to do it. Just remember to be respectful, Try to avoid holiday weekends or maybe even try to come early in the winter like I did. We all have to learn how to share this beautiful world and treat it with care, but that doesn’t mean excluding people or hiding it away.