For Thanksgiving break this year, Julia and I decided to embark on a trip to Southern Utah to experience The Mighty 5. The Mighty 5 is composed of Utah’s five national parks, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands. Most travelers journey to these parks in the warmer months, but we decided to pay them a visit in the final weeks of Fall. Luckily, Utah has some pretty incredible Fall and Winter weather. Even when it gets a little cold, the weather tends to be sunny and dry most of the year.
Leaving from our home base in Southern California, we made our way up highway 15 towards our first stop, Zion National Park. We decided to break the drive up into two parts, spending the night in Las Vegas before finishing the drive to the park the following morning. It made for an enjoyable trip, with only a few hours in the car before were on the park shuttle and on our way to hiking the world famous Angels Landing Trial.
Angels Landing is a 5 mile out-and-back roundtrip hike that gains 1488ft to the 5785ft summit.
The Angels Landing trail starts at The Grotto Trailhead. This trailhead can be reached by the park shuttles when they’re running, or by car when the shuttles stop operating in the down season. The first few miles of this trail were paved, wide, and gained at a rather pedestrian rate. It was really nice to have the time to warm up after the drive up from Las Vegas.
You can see the trail ahead most of the way for the first few miles, with a notch in the rocks being the major point of focus. The trail is still paved all the way up to the notch, but the switchbacks began to climb a little more steeply at that point. Julia and I were cruising up when we heard the sobs a young woman. She was with a big group and was really struggling. It’s always hard to see people hit their mental wall and break down like that. It’s pretty common at National Parks though, as tons of people who don’t hike, or exercise at all, take on the mountains and trails I’ve made a part of my daily life.
The first two miles of paved trail were sunny and exposed, which felt great on such a cold morning. I can imagine that exposure feeling a little less nice on a hot summer day. After reaching the notch, the trail levels out into a section called Refrigerator Canyon. This stretch of trail was nice and shaded. After the short lived flat sections of trial, the switchbacks pick up again.
At the top of the switchbacks, the trail is a little less groomed, as it follows a sandstone ridge. The views of Zion really start to come alive here, and the site of Angels Landing ahead pulled me upward.
One of the most written about aspects of this trail involves the safety of the final ascent. Yes, people have died on this trail, but it is not a dangerous one. The jaunt up requires the hiker to pull themselves upward using chains. In this moment I was instantly happy about two things: 1.) We decided to hike this in the off season 2.) We got an early start. Still, it was slow going with the chains only allowing for one way traffic. I can only imagine the congestion on this section on a crowded day in the summer.
The last quarter mile to Angels Landing is absolutely breathtaking. People thought I was a bit crazy, as I was sprinting up the sandstone without really using the chains to take in the views. I’ve read and seen a lot of things about this hike, and it lives up to the billing without a doubt. Even with the congestion on the chains at certain points, it’s hard to complain. Those stops just gave me more time to look around and soak up the views.
The last few feet of the Angels Landing Trail follow a ridge on the summit to a sandstone platform that offers some of the best views in Zion National Park. We took quite a bit of time up at the peak to let it all sink in. It’s times like these I realize just how lucky I am to live in the Southwest United States. We have so many breathtaking National Park and protected wilderness areas. In the season of Thanksgiving, it is this that I am very grateful for.