For the best view in Zion Park, go where the angels would go - Angel's Landing - for a birds'-eye look at Zion Canyon.
Although not nearly as well-known as the Virgin Narrows hike in Zion, Angels Landing still has the flavor of a unique outdoor experience since hikers grasp chains for much of the last one-half mile climb in order to reach the 5,990 foot summit - 1,500 feet above the valley floor.Because of the steep dropoffs, this not not a hike for children and the last half-mile is not for anyone afraid of heights or without good balance or eyesight.
Like most Zion Park trails, the path to Angel's Landing was constructed between World War I and the Great Depression in 1923-24, shortly after Zion became a national park. The Angels route follows the West Rim trail for two miles and then breaks off at Scout Lookout for the last 880 yards.
The trail begins at the footbridge, east of the Grotto Picnic area. The four-foot wide trail is paved for two miles in an amazing engineering feat that blends in with the color of the surrounding sandstone. These first two miles of trail were originally paved before World War II using 1,240 gallons of oil and surrounding rock chips carried by pack horses. Aging sections of the trail have been periodically replaced the last three decades using helicopters and small motorized carts to carry asphalt and concrete.
After 1.2 miles, the trail enters Refrigerator Canyon, so named for the cool air that perennially stays in the dark, narrow side canyon.
At the end of the canyon, the "Walter Wiggles" start - more than 20 tight switchbacks engineered and partially constructed in 1926 by Walter Ruesch, the first acting superintendent of Zion Park.
At Scout Lookout, small rest rooms are available, as well as good views of the surrounding area and the top of Angels Landing becomes readily visible. It's here where anyone who declines to scramble up the remaining cliffs can wait.
Shortly after the Angel's trail was built, 500 feet of pipe railings were added along the final accent to the summit "to render the climb . . . safe for the timid person," according to park records. Footholds and steps were also carved in sandstone.
Later, posts and chains were added for even better protection from falls. Notwithstanding the chains, there are open sections that lack handholds and this is not a place to clown around or take chances with as much as a 1,500 foot drop on both sides of a narrow ledge in some places.
In May of 1987, a Denver woman hiking on the final section of the Angels Landing area lost her footing and fell 250 feet to her death.
Although 500 feet lower than nearby Cable Mountain and Observation Point across the canyon, Angels Landing is in an ideal location for looking up and down Zion Canyon.
Angels Landing was named in 1916 by Reverend Fredrick Vining Fisher "because only an angel could land on it" - and so it was until a decade later when a trail to the landing was constructed and hikers could reach it too.
Previously, the peak had been temporarily dubbed "El Gobernador," a Spanish term in honor of Utah Governor William Spry, because Yosemite National Park had El Capitan, a prominent rock feature, and Zion looks a lot like Yosemite.
At least 100 people a day and 8,500 a year are estimated use the Angels Landing trail. The best time to hike Angels is just before sunrise to beat the crowd. It's more difficult traveling the last half-mile by having to slip by other hikers headed for the summit.
Overall, the hike is rated a strenuous, spectacular, three- to five-hour roundtrip adventure for Zion visitors that can be done almost year-round.
Hikers should stay off the peak during storms, though, because of lightning danger. People have been killed by lightning strikes on nearby Cable Mountain.