Looking up to Angel's Landing from the Virgin River

The trail up to Angel's Landing is about five miles round trip, but it is a steep trail (about 2,000 feet of elevation gain) and the last section is along a narrow fin of rock with a 1,500 foot drop on either side. Do not attempt it if you have balance problems or other issues that might put you at risk for falling. People do fall to their death every few years.

There is no water along the trail and the desert air is generally dry. The usual advice given by the park service throughout the Southwest is to carry a gallon of water per person per day. They aren't kidding. Since this is not a full day hike, I recommend two to three quarts.

I did not bring hiking poles as hands are needed for the chain section and most of the trail up to that point is paved. A hat and/or sunscreen is a good idea as there is very little shade.

My friends, Gary and Ted and I started up the trail about 7:00 AM to avoid the worst heat of the day. This was in October, 2014. I would start earlier in the Summer to avoid both the heat and the crowds. This is a very popular trail. From above it looks like an ant trail.

Trail warning sign

The trail leads up the North wall of Zion canyon. It is wide and paved but it is also steep and exposed to the full sun.

Overhung section of trail

The trail turns left into a narrow canyon that is deep in shade most of the day. The sandstone walls are cool, which is refreshing after the hot climb. That's why it is called "Refrigerator Canyon." This part of the hike is fairly level.

Further up the trail

Refrigerator Canyon

The trail turns right up a steep set of switchbacks called "Walter's Wiggles" after the park superintendent who oversaw the construction of the switchbacks. While it is steep, it isn't very long.

Walter's Wiggles

After getting to the top of Walter's Wiggles, the trail levels out a bit and soon comes to a view point called "Scout's Lookout". When I got there and saw the trail ahead I said to myself, "Are you !@#$%^&* kidding me?"

I did not know how exposed that trail was going to be but I thought, "I may never be here again. Just put one foot in front of the other," and headed down the trail.

Approaching Scout's Lookout

View from Scout's Lookout

Heading out on the fin

Start of the chain section - not too scary

Trail up the fin - definitely narrower.

Glad to have that chain to hold

Refrigerator Canyon is down to the right

Glad to have a tree between me and the cliff

Gary and Ted have reached the top

Trail on the top

The top is fairly level - and wider

Looking East fro the top

Looking West from the top

Looking back down towards the trail

There's a steep drop off that edge

Don't step back for this shot!

Looking down to another fin below

We had a relaxed lunch and plenty of water while resting on the top. There were quite a few people scattered around the top of Angels Landing. After a few photos and some time savoring the view, we started back down.

Going down

Road below

Glad to have steps

It looks worse going down

It just keeps going

Not so high above that fin anymore

Back down Walter's Wiggles

Finally back to Refrigerator Canyon

Refrigerator Canyon

Coming back down the wall of Zion canyon

After we got back down to the trailhead, we decided to hike to the Emerald Pools following the Kayenta Trail above the Virgin River.

The Kayenta Trail above the Virgin River

Just a note here about the geology of Zion. If you think about it, a river should cut to the bottom of the canyon. There shouldn't be a flat valley in the canyon with the river slowly cutting through that. In other words, all of Zion should look like The Narrows - steep rock walls with the river filling the space below. So how did we get the Zion canyon we see today?

Geologists have figured out that there was a huge rock fall that blocked up the canyon, turning it into a lake. That allowed sediments to deposit in the lake bed, producing the relatively flat floor of Zion Canyon. Eventually that rock dam eroded away and the river continues to carve down through that former lake bed.

For an interesting article on this, click 


Further along the Kayenta Trail

A little water trickles down from the Emerald Pool above

The Emerald Pools release a dribble of water over the edge onto the trail below.

Emerald Pool

The Emerald Pool shot above is harder than it looks because the pool is so dark and the far wall of the canyon and sky is so bright. A graduated neutral density filter would be very helpful. HDR doesn't work well because the foliage is moving, making blending images difficult. In situations like that (if I don't have a Graduated ND filter), I generally just underexpose a little to keep from blowing out the highlights and then bring up the shadows in Photoshop. That is what I did in this image. I should also point out that I took this photo using a tripod so I could shoot at f16. That gave me a good depth of field and slightly blurred the water. The only other way to get that depth of field would be to shoot at a high ISO, leading to a lot of noisy grain in the image.

After seeing the Emerald Pools, we took the shuttle back to Springdale, stopping at the bridge on the Zion/Mt. Carmel Junction where it crosses the Virgin River. The town of Springdale is just to the right of The Watchman peak.

The Watchman from the bridge

Back at Springdale, we were treated over dinner to a lovely sunset. My feet were sore from trying out new boots that day. I won't do that again.

Sunset over Springdale

The Angel's Landing trail is a great hike if you don't mind the steep climb and the exposed drops. It offers some dramatic views of Zion Canyon. On a clear sky day like we had however, I don't think it makes a photo worth printing and hanging on the wall, but maybe my standards are too high. I intend to try the hike again in more interesting weather. I would love to see it with a fog covering the valley below or with thunderheads and light streamers or perhaps a rainbow.  Hmm...What about the view from Scout's Landing or the trail up the fin leading into the Milky Way?........... My imagination is what keeps me going out for more.



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