Breathtaking but Deadly: How to Safely Hike Angels Landing

Jun 25, 2019
By: Suzi Iverson

Is Angels Landing safe? If you care at all about your travel companions (and I do, because I birthed most of them), this is the critical question to ask before making plans to visit Zion National Park. Once you know the dangers of Angels Landing, you might decide this iconic trail is best hiked by other people — preferably people willing to Photoshop you into their pictures.

After all, we’re not just talking twisted ankles and broken bones. People have died on Angels Landing. Since 2017, three people have tragically fallen to their deaths while hiking Angels Landing, most recently in April 2019. This brings the total number of deaths to nine, according to the park website.

Prior to 2017, there had been no deaths since 2010. Is Angels Landing getting more dangerous? Kind of, and that has to do with the massive popularity of the trail, but we’ll get to that. There are still ways to safely hike Angels Landing, so don’t give up on those beautiful views yet.

Is the Angels Landing hike safe?

Angels Landing may be one of the most famous public hikes in the United States, but I have no interest in free falling 1,000 feet off a cliff to the valley floor, and I bet you don't either. Which leaves us asking ourselves, exactly how treacherous is this trail?

The truth is that Angels Landing is one of the most dangerous hikes in the country. People do fall off the edge of this very, very tall chunk of rock — there are no guardrails, after all. Taking selfies isn’t usually considered a risky activity, but you’ll want to think twice before trying to get that perfect angle on Angels Landing.

The trail itself is precarious, too. It involves traversing a knife-edge ridge with steep drop-offs on both sides. At its narrowest, the trail is only a couple of feet wide, and the sheer drop-offs mean you’ll want to hold tightly to the chain that’s bolted into the ground.

You'll want to hang on to this chain as if your life depended on it — because it does.

In recent years this hike has become so popular and crowded that bottlenecks develop as people jockey for usage of the chain. Some hikers either rush through perilous spots on the trail or try and go around slower hikers, both of which are dangerous. Impatient and inexperienced folks attempting Angels Landing can put everyone around them in jeopardy. Don’t be that person.

Who shouldn’t hike Angels Landing

There are activities that we think we can — and should — attempt, despite all evidence to the contrary. Some of us should sing the national anthem at a baseball game, and others should listen quietly from the stands. In other words, know your own limits.

Just because Angels Landing is on every top ten list of places to go in Zion National Park doesn’t mean that you should hike it. Be prepared for a very strenuous hike with potentially changing weather conditions. It’s important not to attempt this climb if you aren’t in good physical shape. It is not appropriate for young children and is too dangerous to try with a kid in a backpack.

Only hike Angels Landing if you are in good physical shape.

If you have a fear of heights, do not attempt a trail literally called Angels Landing. Yes, it’s close to heaven, but it’s not going to feel that way if you get nauseated every time you look down at the teeny tiny cars on the valley floor. If you become frozen with fear on the trail you’ll be a danger to yourself and everyone around you.Rock gets slick when it’s wet so watch the weather and do not hike Angels Landing if there’s snow or ice on the trail. One little slip and you’ll be a statistic.

Finally, don’t just leave Vegas on a whim, head to Zion National Park, and start Angels Landing in your flip-flops. In order to avoid sliding off the trail, you must wear proper footwear with non-slip soles. This is one case where a good pair of hiking shoes is an absolute must.

Tips for safely hiking Angels Landing

Caveats aside, if you are an adult in decent physical shape who has no trouble skydiving, you can totally manage this climb. We care about you, so we strongly recommend you heed the following tips for safely hiking Angels Landing.

  • Be patient and wait your turn so that everyone can climb the chained section safely. Remember elementary school, where you lined up for recess, lunchtime and your turn on the swings? Channel those memories.
  • Keep all your belongings securely fastened to you. This includes cameras, water bottles, and your backpack. (Leave your boombox at home.) You don’t want your stuff hitting other hikers or throwing you off balance, and you’ll need both hands free to help you climb.
  • Wear appropriate footwear. Chucks are not going to do it. Sturdy hiking shoes or boots with excellent soles are important here.
  • Stay on the trail. Read the posted signs and abide by them. They’re there for a reason — those National Park rangers aren’t kidding around. Do you think they enjoy finding bodies at the bottom of the valley?
  • Watch the weather. Definitely don’t attempt the hike if it’s icy or snowy. Be wary if there’s any rain or strong winds in the forecast, too.
  • The trail is exposed, and on a clear day can get very hot. Pack plenty of water.
  • Obviously, do not attempt this hike if you are under the influence of alcohol or any other mind-altering (or balance-altering) substances. This is not the place to do celebratory shots at the top.
  • I can’t believe we have to say this, but while at the top of Angels Landing, stay away from the edge. Be careful while taking photos or selfies; one little trip and you’re a goner.

Looking for an alternative to Angels Landing? Try Observation Point

Observation Point is a safer alternative to Angels Landing and offers equally spectacular views.

If you decide that Angels Landing isn’t for you, consider Observation Point instead. The hike to Observation Point is strenuous (8 miles, 4–6 hours round trip with 2,000 feet of elevation gain), so don’t feel like you’re taking the easy way out. However, it is decidedly less death-defying and less crowded than Angels Landing. Plus, the views of the canyon from Observation Point are sensational. You will be looking down on Angels Landing when you reach Observation Point, so go ahead and brag that you came, you saw, and you conquered.

Suzi Iverson is the co-founder of the site Travel With Monsters , where she writes about how and where to travel with kids. A lot of the content on there can help you plan grownups-only trips too. Follow Travel With Monsters on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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