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So I love surprises.  But sometimes, that affinity comes at my own detriment.  Because of this proclivity, I was hardly involved in the planning for our recent trip to Bryce and Zion, and I didn’t know anything about the Angels Landing hike.

I had no idea what I was about to experience.

Black and white image of the Angels Landing rock formation | LotsaSmiles Photography

We set out for a 5-mile hike.  That’s fine.  I can handle that, no problem.  There would be some elevation gain.  That’s fine, too; I’m used to such hikes from Colorado.  There will be epic views.  Awesome!  Sign me up!

Somewhere in there, I either didn’t hear or forgot all mention of chains.

The First Mile

Hikers resting along the side of the Angels Landing hike in the hot sun | LotsaSmiles Photography

The Angels Landing trail starts gently enough.  Meandering along a creek, the trail was level, and we were moving along at a decent pace (except when I’d stop for pictures, of course).

Then we started to climb.

Ascending the paved Angels Landing trail, with the valley floor in the distance | LotsaSmiles Photography

That’s ok; I can handle it.  Get the blood pumping, warm up a bit, strip a layer.  The path at this point was paved, a walking road that switched back up the cliff face.  The higher we got, the more beautiful the views of the valley below.  Aaron had to take a few breaks.  Knowing I’d stop for pictures anyway, I trudged along.

The Canyon

Man sitting on the edge of the Angels Landing trail with a mossy canyon wall behind him | LotsaSmiles Photography

Then the path curved left (past an Asian gentleman filming a monologue for a vlog in a language I didn’t catch) into a narrow canyon.  We lost the sun at this point, so we got chilly as the sweat cooled on our skin.  Fortunately, we were still ascending, so we warmed right back up in no time.

Some more switchbacks to rise up the canyon wall.

A mossy canyon wall along the Angels Landing trail | LotsaSmiles Photography

I was really surprised to see so much moss in the canyon.  Accustomed to the Colorado desert (to which Utah is quite similar), I didn’t expect to see evidence of so much moisture.  The green of the moss stood out beautifullly against the red of the rocks.

I took more pictures.

I also noticed that as we progressed, the number of fellow hikers reduced.  We never quite had the trail to ourselves, but it never felt crowded, either.

A switchback in the Angels Landing trail, viewed from a bend | LotsaSmiles Photography

Then we came to the part of the trail that I likened to San Francisco.  Actually named Walter’s Wiggles, this section zig zags the steep incline through 21 short switchbacks – nearly three times both the number of switchbacks and elevation gain of the famed Lombard Street. (Ditch another layer…)

Scout Lookout

The Zion valley viewed from above at Scout Lookout | LotsaSmiles Photography

Summitting this section brought us to Scout Lookout.  Wow, those views!!

Exhausted, I was ready for our packed lunch and a rest to take in the mind-blowing scenery.

“We made it!  Is this it?”

“Nope.  We still have that ridge over there.”

Haha, very funny….  Wait… You’re not joking?

Did I mention I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into?

The final Angels Landing sign, warning of the dangerous hike ahead | LotsaSmiles Photography

Next came the true adventure.

The Chains

Chains leading up the rock face on the Angels Landing trail | LotsaSmiles Photography

First, we skirted a saddle, holding onto the chains bolted into the rock.  The trail took us along the ridge, and the sides quickly evaporated into death-defying drops.

Down into the saddle and across to the final ridge.  And then we climbed.

Chains and steps leading over a ridge on the Angels Landing trail | LotsaSmiles Photography

The vertigo sets in when you’re gripping onto a chain and you know that’s the only thing keeping you from a two-thousand-foot plummet.  If you’re afraid of heights, steer way clear of this section.  I am not afraid of heights, and even I had a few brief paralyzing moments.

The trail (if you can still call it this at this point) winds its way precariously up the rock, and I had to lock my camera to my side where it wouldn’t move; I definitely needed both hands.

People ascending the Angels Landing trail, backlit by the sunny afternoon | LotsaSmiles Photography

I can’t imagine doing this hike in the summertime.  Not only would it be impossibly sweltering (we got too warm hiking it in the winter), but from the images I’ve seen since, the trail is simply packed.  And these narrow sections along the chains would be ridiculously dangerous with a swarm of people attempting to navigate both up and down.

The Summit of Angels Landing

The Zion valley viewed from the summit of Angels Landing, with a person at the summit in the foreground | LotsaSmiles Photography

We finally crested the rise of Angels Landing and walked along the final hogsback to where the other hikers were resting and celebrating their accomplishment.  Someone was flying their drone to capture the stunning scenery (don’t do this – they’re not allowed in national parks).  A couple of backpackers eased their heavy loads down to the rock (I can’t fathom hoisting myself up those chains with an awkward heavy weight on my back; backpacking over rocks is hard!).

Zion's dappled valley, viewed from the Angels Landing summit | LotsaSmiles Photography

And then some clouds rolled in.

A tree clinging to the hogsback at the summit of Angels Landing in Zion National Park, overlooking the dappled valley far below | LotsaSmiles Photography

They were sparse enough that they beautifully diffused the sun, leaving a surreal scene below.  I quickly had my camera out, and I was shooting like crazy while it lasted (which wasn’t long).  I couldn’t get over the views, and I almost didn’t want to leave.  Alas, we had a sunset to catch, so we needed to get back down.  Besides, the wind had picked up, so it was beginning to feel a bit shaky on top of the unprotected rise.

The Descent

Two people descending Walter's Wiggles on the Angels Landing trail, viewed from above | LotsaSmiles Photography

Down was easier than up, mostly because we had gravity to assist.  We practically ran down Walter’s Wiggles.  We once more passed the vlogging gentleman (he hadn’t made it very far), and we emerged from the canyon into the late afternoon sun.

Angels Landing trail descending into the main valley | LotsaSmiles Photography

Tired and awed  by the experience we had just had atop the renowned Angels Landing, it felt really good to sit down in the car.  It was a lot of work, but this might be one of my new favorite places (I have many of those now in Utah).  We later rewarded our achievement with a spectacular sunset behind the famous Watchman.  What a day!

A man just reaching the top of the Angels Landing hike in Zion National Park, with the valley far below behind him | LotsaSmiles Photography

Need to catch up on the Utah adventure thus far?  Find previous posts here, and follow my blog for all the latest!


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    1. Hahaha! Thanks, Tina! I’m more than happy to take on all the crazy things you’d rather not do and bring back pictures for you to live vicariously 😉

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