In this month’s installment of the Pilot Your Own Adventure blog series we take a trip to Zion National Park in the southwestern corner of Utah for one of the most exhilarating, tightrope walking, don’t look down (or maybe do) hikes in the national parks system. Take an adventure with us on the iconic Angels Landing hike.
Zion National Park stands firmly in the top 10 list of our nation’s best national parks. Nestled in the southwestern corner of Utah, this enormous park boasts majestic mountains and rock formations, a beautiful river valley, desert vegetation and even a waterfall or two. Any visit should include an attempt of hiking to Angels Landing. Even for a group of pilots, this adventure might make your knees shake and your blood pressure rise. You start out in the Zion Valley which many have dubbed “Yosemite Valley in color”. Take the park’s provided shuttle service to the Grotto stop. Get there early. If you think the hike itself is nerve-racking you won’t want to do it with several hundred strangers. Cross the Virgin River and head to the base of your ascent.
This is the easy part, you gently wind up the stone mountain gaining amazing views of the valley and river below. Then the gentle ascent becomes less gentle as you approach the section playfully named “Walter’s Wiggles”. Walter Ruesch was the park’s first superintendent and constructed the switchbacks in 1926. 21 switchbacks give your lungs and legs quite the workout. The grade is steep and they seemingly never end. It’s in these switchbacks you really come to appreciate the ingenuity of their construction as they were built right into the side of the mountain. Steps were carved from stone which allowed hikers to climb it’s steep crevices. Not to sound cliche, but they simply don’t make them like they used to. This was an engineering marvel, without which wouldn’t allow visitors a chance to enjoy such a unique experience and magnificent views.
Now it gets real. It’s here where the adventure really begins. Time to tackle Angels Landing’s spine. When you reach Scout’s Landing, it’s time to make a decision – is the rest of this hike for you? Don’t feel obligated to continue (many opt out here), the view from this point is worth your efforts, but the next half mile of hiking is why you came. If you decide to go, ditch your hiking sticks or whatever excess gear you have and get ready for sheer drop offs and hair-raising tightrope walking.
Ok, so there’s not a tightrope, but there are sections with extremely narrow passages. Poles and chains have been installed for you to grab and take hold along the way. You couldn’t pry them open from my tight grip. Take each step carefully and only look down if you’re brave enough. Give way to other hikers on their descent and take a moment to catch your breath and enjoy the breath-taking views. There aren’t many turns and twists, it’s a straightforward shot up this spine to the end. In one section in particular, the path narrows to about two feet wide and on both sides you’ll find nothing but the 1488’ drop off. It’s exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.
It’s sublime once you reach the summit and you get rewarded with a great sense of accomplishment. Take a while to take it all in. Check out the valley and river below. You’ll notice the busses on the park road pass; they look like little ants slowly making their way along the road. And those tiny moving dots are other hikers on their way up. But don’t forget to rest up because as all you pilots know, what goes up, must come down!
The descent down Angel’s Landing is nearly as exciting as the accent. Continue to take extra care with every step and don’t forget to hold on to the chains. Once you get back to Scout’s Landing you can exhale – you made it! Now you have an amazing adventure to share with all your friends and notch on your hiking belt. Tell them you conquered the trail which at its creation was surmised that only angels might land on it.
- Location: Zion National Park (Utah)
- Length: 2.5 miles one way
- Elevation gain: 1500’
- Shuttle stop: Grotto
- Best time to go: spring – fall
Airports Near Zion National Park
- UT37 – Carmel Mountain Ranch
- UT47 – Grassy Meadows/Sky Ranch Landowners Assn Airport
- KSGU – St. George Regional Airport
- KCDC – Cedar City Regional Airport