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Angels Landing Hike In Zion National Park Is Precipitous Fun


At least 13 people have died hiking the trail, which includes perilous sections 1,000 feet above Zion Valley below. A chain handrail is bolted into the rock to help people navigate the hike.

Dripping sweat and winded from a 2-mile hike up a red rock trail, I watched as a half dozen people carefully picked their way down a steep cliffside in Zion National Park. 

Some appeared calm but exacting as they chose each step while clutching a chain railing built into the rock. One woman near tears was on her behind, clearly nervous about making the wrong move. 

“I peed my pants back there,” she announced as she finished the Angels Landing trail on a recent April day. 

Thinking she was joking, a ranger pointed to where the restrooms were. “No, I really peed my pants,” she maintained in a surprisingly chipper voice. 

With that inspiration in mind, it was my turn to tackle the popular and perilous trail that is the site of 13 deaths since 2004, mostly people who slipped in wet or icy conditions, according to the park.

Want a permit to hike Angels Landing?: Here’s what to know in order to secure one of the coveted passes

Located in southwestern Utah two and a half hours from Las Vegas, Zion had more than five million visitors last year, making it one of the most popular national parks in the country. The Angels Landing hike is located along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which is accessible only by shuttle or on foot much of the year. 

I was nervous as I grabbed the thick chain and headed up a set of steep switchbacks. Clutching the cold metal and choosing my steps, I gladly moved to the side to make way for a group of people coming down.

As I continued up the half-mile chain section, I periodically ran into people and asked them if they made it to the end and how scared they were along the way. Several reported having to turn around and several were stopped where I found them, waiting for braver friends and family  to return. 

“There’s a section without chains, about a foot and a half wide with drops on either side,” reported one man who said that’s as far as he went. 

Along the way, I kept waiting for the fear to hit me. It never did. 

The scary section the man had described felt more like 4 feet wide and didn’t bother me as I crossed it, glancing down at the 1,000-foot drops on either side. 

I focused on each footstep and chain-hold, and took plenty of breaks. I shared encouragement with those I passed. 

“Congratulations,” I’d tell them. “You can do it!” they’d return. 

Soon enough I was at the top, sharing 360-degree views of Zion Valley with roughly a dozen people, far fewer than usual because of a new permit system for Angels Landing. 

I snapped photos, ate a sandwich and took it all in. 

As I scanned the valley below, I understood why so many people do this hike. It provides a dash of danger without requiring special equipment or training and a sense of accomplishment when completed. 

On my way back down I saw a second woman in tears. She had made it to the top but was seated and being comforted by a man. 

“You did it!” I told her. She nodded, wiping the tears away. 

I grabbed the chain and stepped down. 

More coverage of our National Parks from USA TODAY

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