I’m unquestionably adventurous, but I’m not necessarily a thrillseeker or what you’d call an adrenaline junkie. I love hiking and snorkeling, and floating the Snake River in the Tetons was one of my all-time favorite experiences — but you’re not likely to catch me skydiving.
That’s precisely why hiking Angels Landing in Zion National Park (or any other most dangerous hikes in the world, for that matter) was never on my bucket list. Until recently, that is.
After winning a highly-coveted permit to The Wave in Arizona (for a second time!), we decided to make a longer trip out of it and add extra days in both Bryce Canyon and Zion. Although we’d been to both parks several times, a few of those were during early coronavirus lockdowns. Many popular trails were closed, including Angels Landing.
Looking back, perhaps that’s exactly why I became so intrigued by the idea of hiking Angels Landing Zion — that whole wanting what you can’t have sort of thing. After visiting a few times and not being able to do it, I became bound and determined.
Never mind that Angels Landing has a reputation for being one of the most dangerous hikes in the world. Oh, and it was January. We would be taking on Angels Landing in winter. Gulp.
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An overview of Angels Landing Zion
Angels Landing is one of the most popular — if not the most popular — hiking trails in Zion National Park. The five-mile hike is difficult and technical, punctuated by grueling switchbacks, a 1,500-foot elevation gain, and vertigo-inducing views.
The Angels Landing Zion trail is divided into five distinct sections (and fair warning, none are easy!). Interestingly, the iconic “chain section,” the final stretch of the trail, is what makes Angels Landing so famous.
It’s also a huge part of why Angels Landing is considered one of the most dangerous hikes in the world.
The last half-mile of Angels Landing, aptly-named “The Spine,” is an extremely narrow ridge with sheer 800- to 1,000-foot dropoffs. On both sides. There are chain handrails bolted into the rock in several places, intended to help hikers safely ascend the final 500 feet. The chains are more of a necessity than a suggestion, so set aside any notions of them being for beginners. Angels Landing is no joke.
Still not convinced Angels Landing lives up to its hype? Check out the 360-degree views from the summit in this Angels Landing Zion video.
To access Angels Landing, start at the Grotto Trailhead (stop #6 on the Zion Shuttle). Allow anywhere from four to six hours to complete the hike. And let me be emphatic here, in case it still isn’t clear enough: while this hike is incredible, it is not for beginners or those with a genuine fear of heights.
Just how dangerous is Angels Landing Zion?
I won’t sugarcoat it; people have indeed died hiking Angels Landing. The number is actually lower than you might think, though. After all, this is supposed to be one of the most dangerous hikes in the world.
A National Park Service (NPS) spokeswoman told CNN in 2019 that nine people have died on Angels Landing since 2004. It’s unclear why it’s “since 2004” and unfortunately, the NPS doesn’t publish this information in a neatly-organized, easily-accessible place.
There are a few other sources floating around with similar figures, although none of them are official. Hey NPS, if you see this, the general public would love some official stats on Angels Landing hike deaths!
Anyhow, I digress. Down the Trail has what seems to be the most comprehensive data, claiming there have been 17 deaths on Angels Landing since the 1980s. That’s consistent with other statistics, though again, it’s not official in any way.
Update: Tragically, a man died in February 2021, bringing the official count of Angels Landing hike deaths to 18. He was believed to have fallen while hiking solo.
To be clear, I definitely feel that any Angels Landing hike deaths are too many. 9, 18, 1, 100 — too many. However, consider this: over 330,000 people hiked Angels Landing Zion in 2018 alone. That number suddenly doesn’t seem very high. In fact, it’s almost surprisingly low when put into that perspective.
Completing one of the most dangerous hikes in the world
I’m a research nerd, so I knew all the stats going into our hike. I also knew hiking Angels Landing in winter added an extra element of difficulty. Remember though, I was bound and determined. You know the saying, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?” I think it’s supposed to go, “…like a woman bound and determined.”
I woke up that Sunday morning and there was no question in my mind, I’d be on the Angels Landing Zion summit later that day.
Admittedly, there were several sections of the trail where I couldn’t bring myself to look up. My entire strategy was to focus only on my feet and my next step.
I’ve never been particularly afraid of heights, but the mental aspect of knowing Angels Landing is one of the most dangerous hikes in the world was, at times, all-consuming. It worked for me to constantly remind myself how many people safely hike Angels Landing Zion every day.
Having said that, it’s crucial to understand that hiking Angels Landing is legitimately dangerous. One misstep and you could (will) very easily fall.
Multiple sections have several-hundred-foot dropoffs on both sides and there is absolutely nothing to break your fall. The path narrows to a “knife-edge” just a few feet wide for extended stretches and you have to take several “leaps of faith” from one ledge to another.
That’s not to say that you should avoid hiking Angels Landing. Rather, have a healthy respect (and yes, fear) of the trail’s rugged elements. Take your time, be careful and confident, and you’ll be totally fine. Remember, hundreds of thousands of people successfully complete this hike every year.
Hiking essentials for Angels Landing Zion
Angels Landing hiking tips
So, now you know how Angels Landing Zion stacks up as one of the most dangerous hikes in the world. If you feel the same sort of burning determination I did and you’re ready to hike it, awesome!
Here are some tips and tricks I picked up that will hopefully help you on the trail.
Don’t hike Angels Landing alone
I’m all for solo hiking, but I don’t recommend it here. You can very easily talk yourself out of completing the hike (full disclosure: I nearly did!). Having a hiking partner encourages you to keep going, providing mental and emotional support. Plus, there’s the whole safety in numbers thing.
Use proper trail etiquette
In spite of the Angels Landing hike deaths and it being one of the most dangerous hikes in the world, this trail is BUSY. Bottlenecks form, unfortunately at some of the most perilous spots. Be patient and do not attempt to pass slower hikers. On other trails, sure, but not this one. As a general rule, hikers coming down have right-of-way over those going up — unless it’s unsafe to let them pass.
Avoid peak times
If at all possible, avoid holidays and arrive extremely early in the morning (I’m talking dawn) or aim for early afternoon. By then, much of the morning crowd will be done hiking and on their way out. I don’t know about you, but standing in a human gridlock on the very edge of a cliff 1,000 feet above the ground doesn’t sound appealing.
We got to the trailhead around 1:00pm on a Sunday, which was perfect for hiking Angels Landing in winter. Having said that, bring a good headlamp in case it’s dark on the way out. I’m a huge PETZL fan and always have my 300-lumen TACTIKKA in my pack.
Be strategic about driving
Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, where Angels Landing is located, is one of the most popular areas in the entire park. It’s only open to private vehicles when the Zion Shuttle isn’t running, which is generally from December through early March. If you drive during those months (we did), plan on the Scenic Drive being closed due to traffic — this is a common occurrence.
Park at the Zion Lodge, just before the road closure, and walk to the Grotto trailhead, an easy .8 miles on a paved road. This adds 1.6 miles to your roundtrip total, but I promise it’s well worth avoiding the hassle of trying to find other parking! Anyway, you just did one of the most dangerous hikes in the world; what’s another mile-and-a-half?
Note: The Zion Shuttle now requires tickets to comply with COVID-19 guidelines. Recreation.gov issues the tickets, which are $1 per person, per day.
You don’t have to wear them the entire time, but a pair of gloves will save your hands on the chains section. No blisters and you’ll have a much stronger grip. Thank me later.
Wear proper hiking shoes
I saw several people wearing Vans, Keds, and Converse. Guess what? They were slipping and sliding all over. Even if you’re fully confident in your abilities or you absolutely love your go-to Keds, they don’t belong on this trail. This is one of the most dangerous hikes in the world, so why risk it? A pair of shoes is simply not worth potentially adding to the Angels Landing hike deaths count.
Bring crampons — just in case
Piggybacking onto the previous tip, it’s smart to pack a pair of crampons, AKA “ice cleats” or “micro spikes.” This is particularly true if you’re hiking Angels Landing in winter, when snow and hidden ice are likely.
Check the weather
If you’re wondering how dangerous is Angels Landing, imagine how much more dangerous it is in inclement weather. Avoid this hike completely if rain, strong winds, or lightning are even remote possibilities. If there’s snow or ice on Angels Landing in winter, put crampons on your hiking shoes and exercise extreme caution.
Know your limitations
I know how intimidating it is just thinking about one of the most dangerous hikes in the world. Angels Landing Zion is also a strenuous trail by all measures, so there are lots of factors working against you.
First, pace yourself — there’s no reason to hurry. If you do, you may find that you’re too tired once you reach Angels Landing itself. The initial climb, followed by dozens of switchbacks, challenges even veteran hikers.
Most importantly, give yourself grace if you don’t complete the hike. There are several places where it’s completely safe to turn back before you start on the final ascent to Angels Landing. In fact, you’ll see many people hanging out at Scout’s Landing, the last section of the trail before setting out on The Spine.
Some people wait here for their hiking partners to come back down from the summit. Others decide the views from Scouts Landing are good enough (they are indeed spectacular) and choose not to go any further.
If you do start the chains section but freeze in panic the first time you have to stop, you should probably consider turning back once it’s safe. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the last section definitely does not get any easier as you climb. The old saying “it’s better to be safe than sorry” quite literally applies here.
So, are you ready to tackle Angels Landing Zion, one of the most dangerous hikes in the world? I sure hope so, and I’d love to hear all about it! Pin this guide for later, and connect with me on Instagram @_chasingtrail so I can see your trip photos! Have fun, BE SAFE, and remember — you got this!