Angels Landing – Bring Oxygen!

There’s a reason they call it Angels Landing. Besides being way up above the floor of Zion Canyon, it’s also the place where several less than careful park visitors have joined the angels. Be careful up here, or pay the price.

A couple of years ago I toured the national parks in southern Utah with some photographer friends, and one day we decided to head up to a place called Angels Landing in Zion National Park. The plan was to hike up in the late afternoon and stay until after dark to get moonlit images of the canyon below, and then hike back using our headlamps. While it wouldn’t be terribly unusual to hike after dark, the fact that the hike was challenging, with a steep drop-off on either side so dangerous that the Park Service has installed chains for support, well, that just made the hike so much more interesting!

So how dangerous is the Angels Landing hike? Well, according the park website, since the park’s inception there have been five deaths from falling from Angels Landing that did not involve suspicious activity. The Park Service does not elaborate about deaths from suspicious activity, but one would have to assume that Angels Landing would be a great place to get rid of someone who was making your life unpleasant. Keep that in mind if your special someone that you’ve been fighting with suggests you celebrate your reconciliation with a trip to Zion NP. And if they only book one-way tickets, you might really want to pass on that invitation.

Anyway, five deaths since 1909 or 1919, depending on whether they’re counting from the start of the National Monument or the designation as a National Park, is not really all that significant. (Again, you have to wonder how many “suspicious deaths” there were. That’s really bugging me.) But wait! There’s a sign that says six people have died just since 2004! At least that’s what it said in 2012. Apparently the Park Service is having trouble keeping track of deaths on their watch. Interesting.

So, off we went through a canyon and then on a rather steep ascent up some paved switchbacks. (They’re paved to prevent erosion.) Finally we came out to a plateau of sorts, where we could rest, visit the restroom (closed for the winter), and see what we were really in for.

I don’t mean to be overly critical, but I really did find the barrels of human waste to be a tad bit unsightly. There was no attempt made to hide them from the main trail.

Human Waste, Zion National Park, Utah

Human Waste, Zion National Park, Utah

Well, at least they made up for it by planting these beautiful wildflowers across from the outhouse.

Desert Paintbrush and Sandstone, Zion National Park, Utah

Desert Paintbrush grows out of cracks in the sandstone, in Zion National Park, Utah.

OK, they didn’t really plant them there. Anyway, about what I said about seeing what we were in for. After the outhouse and the desert paintbrush, the trail turns and makes the final run up to Angels Landing. You can see from this image what it looks like. I climbed up a bit to get a better view, so I’m actually looking down at the trail from this vantage point.

Trail to Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah

Trail to Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah

So, you see all those people on the trail? No? Too small? Well, let me help you out. See up at the very top, coming down from the right? There are people there. Take a look at this zoomed in image from the image above.

Angels Landing Hikers

Hikers on Trail to Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah

How about further down, crawling up the side? Here’s another zoomed in image from the one above. See the cables they’re holding on to?

Hikers Using Chains on Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah

Hikers Using Chains on Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah

Looks like fun, doesn’t it? And this photo was taken in the daytime. Remember, we’re coming back in the dark! Awesome!

But wait! There’s more! What about the view from the top? Well, from the top you can see all the way up and down Zion Canyon.

Zion Canyon from Angel's Landing by Moonlight, Zion National Park, Utah

A view up the Virgin River from Angel’s Landing is illuminated only by moonlight, in Zion National Park, Utah.

That’s great, but nothing compares to sitting right on the very edge of this thing, 1,488-foot (454 m) up, and looking straight down! Yikes! I get nervous just looking at these images I took. Check this out!

Scenic Drive and Virgin River from Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah

Scenic Drive and Virgin River from Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah

Exactly. (Shudder!) This is a place where you absolutely, positively, cannot make a mistake. So we didn’t. Well, Jeremy almost did, but I wrote about that in an earlier post. OK, OK, I’ll mention it here. So on our way down, just below the top, we reached a small flat area where we decided to stop and take more images. The moon was starting to come up, so it wasn’t pitch black, but it was still pretty dark. We turned off our headlamps and started shooting. This is my favorite image from that spot.

Angels Landing Trail by Moonlight, Zion National Park, Utah

The view of Angels Landing from just under the summit shows a steep ascent and chains used by hikers for safety, in Zion National Park, Utah.

While I was sitting safely and comfortably in the middle of the rock, I heard my friend Jeremy exclaim, “Whoa, that’s the edge!”. Not what you want to hear when you’re 1500 feet up. Seems he was wandering around in the dark and perspective was changing in ways he wasn’t expecting – because he was closer to the edge than he thought. Yikes! The whole thing still gives me the chills. But somehow we survived to shoot another day.

Well, I hope I haven’t scared you too much. If you ever visit Zion (without small children), Angels Landing is definitely worth doing. Just be careful, and it would probably be best if you were back in the lodge by sunset. Just sayin’.

You can read more about our adventures in Zion National Park here.

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4 Responses to “Angels Landing – Bring Oxygen!”

  1. Sue-Z says:

    Intriguing photo’s. The Virgin river photo reminds me of a Van Gogh painting!

  2. jeff mabry says:


    As usual you surprise me with the beauty of your photos. Truly as good as any i’ve ever seen.

    right now i’m in fairbanks,ak. when i leave here i have to go back to dallas for a day and then on to spain for a month.

    thanks agaiin for your hospitality and please stay in touch.


  3. Frances Trudell says:

    Beautiful photo of “Angles Landing”. Lovely ” Landing Lights”!
    Thanks for sharing!