*unfortunately my GPS went a little insane in Refrigerator Canyon so I didn’t get a usable track for the GPX data or Google Earth. Fortunately, this is the most-hiked trail in the park and information is out there. Here is a great site with detailed pictures of the last half mile and a GPX file to download.

This is one of the most famous trails in the National Park System and definitely one of the two marquee trails in Zion National Park. This 5 mile trail takes you from the canyon floor up a narrow, winding trail to the prominent overlook of Scout Lookout. From there, a half-mile of vertigo-inducing, chained trail along the cliffside takes you to Angel’s Landing. Even those who don’t plan on heading all the way to the Landing should do this trail – the views from Scout Lookout are phenomenal – and if you’d like you can also continue further on the West Rim Trail into the solitude of Zion’s backcountry. A must-hike.

When you get back from Zion, there are two questions every hiker will ask you: “did you do the Narrows?” and “did you make it to Angel’s Landing?” The Narrows is a multi-day canyoneering and backpacking adventure that requires a bit of planning ahead of time to do. Angel’s Landing is a steep but surprisingly accessible trail that just happens to end with a terrifying half-mile clinging to the side of an exposed rock fin.

To be fair, most of the trail isn’t that scary – and for a lot of people, even that last half mile will seem like a piece of cake – but we’re a litigious society so we have to put up all sorts of warnings everywhere to make sure we can’t get sued. Naturally, then, the first thing you see when you start on this trail is a sign telling you how many people have died on it.

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Cross the bridge over the Virgin River and keep right at the trail junction to head toward Angel’s Landing.

The first section of the trail starts out innocently enough – just a nice, mostly level stroll along the river bank with pleasant views of Angel’s Landing to the north.

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This pleasant little walk doesn’t last for long, though – if you look up at the West Rim Wall, you’ll spot Refrigerator Canyon tucked in right next to Angel’s Landing … and you’ll also spot the steep trail blasted into the cliff’s wall, too.

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The trail continues at a mild incline for the first three quarters of a mile with some gorgeous views of the valley, and that’s when you hit the first set of switchbacks.

These paved, tight turns will take you up (and through) the wall of the West Rim and into the mouth of Refrigerator Canyon.

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Once inside Refrigerator Canyon (and yes, it IS a bit cooler up here), the trail takes a leisurely course along the canyon floor. Douglas firs have staked their claim to this ground and their presence makes a nice contrast with the red rock canyon walls. If you time your trip to be in this area in the mid-afternoon (2-3PM), you may be able to catch Refrigerator Canyon’s “Golden Hour” – a time when sunlight from one wall is reflected onto the opposite one.

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The trail stays fairly flat for about 0.4 miles inside Refrigerator Canyon before it hits another round of switchbacks. If you’re at all interested in the art of building trails – or even just the insane amount of work that goes into trailbuilding – you will gain a tremendous amount of appreciation for the people who put their backs into this route.

At the end of the canyon, the trail doubles back on itself before putting you face to face with Walter’s Wiggles – a steep series of 21 switchbacks named for Walter Ruesch, the first superintendant of Zion National Park.

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This is by far the steepest section of the trail, but just keep your head down and plow ahead and you’ll be fine. The trail is paved at this point so you really just have to get yourself into a steady rhythm and it’ll all be over before you know it!

At the top of the Wiggles, you’ll come out onto the small plateau of Scout Rest. From this perch 5343 feet above sea level, you’ll have fantastic views of Zion Canyon’s Big Bend just north of Angels’ Landing and the rest of the Canyon to the south. This is a great place to have a rest or lunch before steeling yourself for the Landing itself, heading into the park’s backcountry on the West Rim Trail, or just turning around and heading back to the trailhead.

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In case you were wondering – no, I did not make the full hike up to Angel’s Landing. I am not terribly fond of chain hikes and especially not fond of chain hikes that dangle you over giant cliff-drops.

That said, I have heard from many people that the trail to the Landing isn’t as bad as it looks, and maybe I’ll do it the next time I visit the park and am feeling a bit more adventurous.

For a great account of someone who balked at the initial ascent but came back to conquer the Landing later, head to Kolby Kirk’s tale of his summer adventure from a few years ago … but be warned: his Go-Pro fish-eye lens videos of some of the more terrifying sections of trail played a large role in keeping me from heading up there myself!

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Casey Schreiner

Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Modern Hiker
Since founding Modern Hiker in 2006, Casey's writing has appeared in Backpacker, the REI Blog, Adventure Journal, and Sierra Trading Post's Social Hub. He was in Columbia Sportswear's inaugural #OmniTen program and was featured prominently in their documentary "I Am #OmniTen."

His stories for Modern Hiker have brought regional and national attention, and have been featured on Good Morning America, NPR, and the Associated Press.

Casey is also an award-winning television writer-producer, and was Series Producer of pivot's TakePart Live and Head Writer of G4's Attack of the Show.
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This post was written by Casey Schreiner on April 29, 2013

10 Comments

  • Steve R. says:

    Nothing much to add other than – great writeup Casey! And yes, good memories…

  • GeekHiker says:

    Wow, that brings back some memories. I was there about ten years ago, on a trip that included the Grand Canyon. I definitely suggest going back and doing the last section, but only if you’re comfortable. You could always do what they do on the trails in Italy: wear a climbing harness, and carabiner yourself to the chain-rope!

  • Marla says:

    I was just in Zion a few weeks ago and also did the hike up to Scouts Lookout. My brother and 10 year old nephew made it all the way to Angels Landing and I almost regret that I didn’t do it. I tried the first bit with the chains and I thought I’d probably make it up OK, but wouldn’t be able to get back down (and definitely didn’t want to need rescuing or cause the park to need to update their sign). My brother said that the beginning is the worst part and there were only a few areas that were really scary. But the view from Scouts Landing were spectacular! Love the write ups from Utah, especially since I was just there!

  • Matt says:

    Loved this hike, did it in 2001 and remember it well.

  • winehiker says:

    I’ll buy that, Casey. After all, my pursuits of adrenaline tend to stop way short of hang gliding, heliskiing, wingsuiting and the like. Heck, I was one of the earliest in my old brain cage-wearing cycling club (if they wore any protective headgear at all) to adopt the hard-shell helmet! As with all things, I’ve always operated on the “moderation is key” principle, and therefore I tend to be more circumspect than some when exploring the wilderness. Like you, I tend to find hiking a very meditative pastime, so I get where you’re coming from. So don’t let me goad you unnecessarily.

    The urge to summit “because it’s there” is, I’ve realized, my core motivation – despite mild bouts of vertigo. But then, the one time I summited Angels Landing, our small group had a fearless 12-year-old boy and 9-year-old girl whom I simply could not disappoint. ;^)

    • No goading registered :) – From what I’ve heard the ascent to the Landing LOOKS much worse than it actually is – but on this day, I had such a great hike up to Scout Lookout and was enjoying the day so much that I just wanted to keep that feeling instead of replacing it with the inevitable nervousness that would have come had I tackled the Landing. So I had a nice lunch, met some very friendly travelers, and then hiked back down to do a few more trails before sundown.

  • Kevin says:

    The Narrows isn’t just a backpacking trip, there’s also a nice 3-4 mile there and back starting at the Temple. Half in the river, half on the edges you get to see some nice canyon walls further up before it turns to wilderness area. Definitely rent the canyoneering shoes and a staff from the outfitter in town, it really makes the hike nicer. I saw small kids and tourists doing it so its not very hard.

  • winehiker says:

    Casey! I’m muthafreakin’ slack-jawed that you didn’t ascend the final meters! (The heebie-jeebies are only temporary.) Next time, you just gotta do it! Indeed I believe the chains to be safer than navigating the Narrows. Still, a very nice photoessay – thank you for the trip down memory lane!

    • :) I realized a lot of things about myself on this trip – and one of the earliest was that people go off into the wilderness for many different reasons. Some look for adventure. Some just want to get away from cities. As for me, I’m MUCH less of an adrenaline-junkie than I am a meditative hiker – so I have a tenuous relationship with chain trails like this one.

      That said, stay tuned for some MUCH more adventurous trails, including a neighboring route where I was almost blown off the side of a cliff (without chains!).

  • ADKinLA says:

    Awesome recap Casey, not a huge fan of those type of chain/rock endings myself so I am right in your boat but man it looks like a cool albeit slightly calfburning, hike up to that point, one that I will definitely have to put on my list whenever I can make it out to Zion!

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