I must have been crazy to want to hike Angels Landing in the dead of winter. I’ve been to Zion National Park multiple times during the summer, but never during the winter. This was going to be my first time. I seriously couldn’t wait and was planning like a madwoman for months. I’ve never hiked Angels Landing, let alone in the winter, so I really didn’t know what to expect. I’ve seen so many pictures and heard so many things about this hike so I was determined to do it.
Even with all the planning and research, nothing could have prepared me mentally for what was in store. No one could have explained to me how many narrow pathways, icy surfaces, close encounters with death I would have overcome. I was scared shitless. Like literally, I had no desire whatsoever to stop and use the bathroom because I just wanted to get down the mountain as soon as possible. Now, if I knew what I know now, I would have been way better off. Luckily for all of you, I’m making this guide so you can be more prepared than I was to hike Angels Landing in the middle of winter!
ANGELS LANDING HIKE DETAILS
PARK ENTRANCE FEE : $35/vehicle, $30/motorcycle, $20/person on foot, or $80 for the annual pass
DISTANCE : 5 miles roundtrip
ELEVATION : 1,630 ft
TYPE : Out and Back
DIFFICULTY : Hard/Strenuous
TIME : AllTrails quotes about 3-4 hours, but during winter, I say more like 5-6 hours. We started around 10:00 a.m. and probably got down around 4:00 p.m. We did take a lot of pictures, but regardless, the snow/ice definitely will slow you down.
We visited Zion just a little after Christmas. They were requiring all visitors to use the bus transit system (Dec 24, 2020-Jan 2, 2021) at that time. Apparently, during the busy summer months and holidays, Zion closes the park to private vehicles. This helps to reduce traffic and pollution inside the park. So, make sure you check if the time you are going requires you to ride the shuttle. The winter months are usually not as busy as the summer months so you probably won’t encounter the shuttle requirement, but in case it does happen, here is the link.
Each ticket costs $1 and it’s non-refundable. You will need to sign up for a Recreation.gov account and that’s where your tickets will be stored. There are two options on how to get the shuttle tickets. There is an early bird window about a month in advance where you can purchase the tickets. Otherwise, if you missed that window, there is another opportunity for you to purchase the tickets the day before. We did the latter for three days and luckily we got it every time. Every morning, the website opens up at 9:00 a.m. MST, and there are one-hour time slots for you to purchase. Each time slot has 500 tickets so your chances are pretty high.
Once you enter the park, you will be required to park your car at the Visitor’s Center. The earlier you get in, the better chance you have at finding a spot. Once you’ve parked, you’ll head towards the shuttle line where you’ll be required to show your digital ticket for your allotted time slot. The shuttle line moves pretty quickly and surprisingly very efficiently. Since it’s COVID times, the buses are at half capacity. I would say from the time we parked the car to when we got to the trailhead took about a total of 30 minutes.
WHAT TO WEAR & BRING TO ANGELS LANDING IN THE WINTER
Let’s begin by saying that I’ve never hiked in the winter before and I tried to prepare the best I could. First, it started out with me searching for cute things to buy/wear, but that ended quickly. By the time we were on our first hike of the trip, I threw “looking cute” out the door. For the rest of the week-long trip, I probably wore the same thing almost every day. Below is exactly what I wore for Angels Landing. Each item can be translated to a men’s version easily. If you’re an experienced winter hiker then you can skip this section. Since I am not, I thought it would be useful for people to know what I wore and what worked/didn’t work.
- H&M FLEECE LEGGINGS : I wanted something thick and warm as my base layer so I went with these fleece leggings. Super affordable from H&M.
- UNIQLO HEATTECH LEGGINGS : To put over my fleece leggings, I got a pair of Uniqlo Heattech leggings. They are super stretchy so they went over my fleece leggings easily.
- COLUMBIA JUST RIGHT HIKING PANTS (SHORT) : For my outer layer, I wanted something wind and water-resistant. Wind will go right through both knit leggings so I needed something to protect me from that. Secondly, you will no doubt be sliding down Angels Landing on your butt. You definitely don’t want to have the water soak through your pants.
- UNIQLO HEATTECH LONG SLEEVE : For the upper part of my body, went with the Uniqlo Heattech line again as my base layer. Uniqlo’s Heattech technology is great since it’s light, keeps you warm, and moisture-wicking which you want on winter hikes.
- NORTHFACE FLEECE ZIP-UP : I had this already for snowboarding trips and thought this would be a great middle layer. The key to hiking in the cold is to layer up. You’ll want to be able to take off/put on clothes depending on where you are on the hike.
- UNIQLO ULTRA LIGHT DOWN PARKA : For my outer layer, I knew I wanted something that was lightweight and will keep me warm. I’ve never bought a puffer jacket before and ending up buying two of these but wished I bought this one instead. The ones I bought don’t cover your butt so I wished I bought a jacket that went over my behind. Since I didn’t have this luxury, I took an extra jacket and tied it around my waist. Everything worked out in the end.
- BEANIE : Any headgear will do.
- COLUMBIA HIKING SHOES : Bought these hiking shoes on sale specifically for this trip. I have summer hiking shoes where they are more of a knit to let air flow through. For winter hiking, I wanted something that will keep my feet warm and was waterproof. Ended up working out well and loved the color too.
- DARN TOUGH HIKING SOCKS : Bought my first pair of Darn Tough socks and they did not disappoint. A little on the expensive side but the last thing I wanted was cheap quality socks that were going to make my feet hurt.
- FLIP OVER MITTENS/GLOVES : Bought these but they were a waste for this hike. Definitely get gloves that are insulated and waterproof. I didn’t think I needed them and boy, was I wrong. I was on my hands and knees most of the hike down and my gloves were soaked. If I would have known, I would have gotten these instead or at least brought my snowboarding gloves with me. This is the one thing I would not skimp out on.
- CRAMPONS : Something like this or this. Ideally something with spikes. We did not have these and this was probably the biggest regret that we had. I thought my hiking boots would have enough traction, but definitely not. If there is no snow on the ground and everything has melted, you’re probably okay. For us, it snowed all day before. The snow started to melt throughout the day and refroze into ice. Everyone was slipping and sliding everywhere. I can’t stress enough how many times I slipped on ice literally inches from the edge of the cliff. People had to literally help other people from not sliding off the mountain. If you are already at Zion and just now reading this, you may be able to buy some at the bookstore. We met a few people on the way that did that.
- SUNGLASSES : We, unfortunately, forgot our sunglasses back in the hotel room. I felt like it wasn’t too bad, but the sun and snow combined do make you squint a lot. I would bring a pair regardless.
- FACEMASK/GATOR : Of course during COVID, you probably already have a face mask, but we opted to use a face gator instead since everything is snowy and wet up there.
- HIKING STICKS : This is a preference. We had two hiking sticks (we each had one stick) and didn’t need to break it out until Walter’s Wiggle. This is where people started putting on their crampons too. If I had to do it again, I would get rid of the sticks and use the crampons. The sticks kind of just got in the way especially coming down the mountain. They were just flailing around and getting caught on things which made it more dangerous.
- LUNCH/SNACKS : We did pack a couple of sandwiches and snacks the night before. A quick note about that, there are barely any restaurants and supermarkets around Zion. The last big city that you will hit (if you’re coming from California) is St. George. We stopped at a supermarket there and bought a week’s worth of groceries for our lunches. We literally ate turkey and cheese sandwiches every day with a little bottle of hot sauce.
- BACKPACK : We had brought our camera backpacks and a 32 oz Hydroflask of water each. Didn’t really have any problems with the backpack until we started the descent. Had to take it off a couple of times to be able to slide down, but other than that, it was fine.
BEST TIME OF DAY TO GO
This will highly depend on what your purpose for doing this hike is. If you are a photographer and want an evenly lit picture of Angels Landing during the winter, I highly suggest you start hiking before sunrise. Otherwise, you’ll need to go on an overcast day. We started the trailhead around 10:00 a.m. and probably got to Scout’s Lookout around 11-11:30 a.m. The sun was beaming! Once we got to the “Instagram” spot, it was probably 12:30 p.m. and the sun was literally right behind the famous part of Angels Landing. So most of our shots of Angels Landing were in the shadows, but you’ll at least get a cool shot of the sun.
If you’re hiking just to hike, I suggest you probably start at the same time we did. If you don’t want to be cold and have the sun to warm you up, starting around 9:00 a.m. or 10:00 a.m. is perfect. We actually wanted to start the hike earlier than we did, but we were limited by the bus time slot that we got (9:00-10:00). If the buses weren’t running, I would have wanted to start the hike around 7:00 a.m.
ANGELS LANDING TRAIL CONDITIONS IN WINTER
The day we went on the hike, it just snowed the night before so there was a level of uncertainty on what to expect. I was even scared that they were going to close down the trail, but the park rangers didn’t even seem phased by it. First, it is important to note that this is a dangerous hike during summer and an even more dangerous hike during winter. The crucial thing to remember is that after it snows, you can’t actually see the trail. You are literally holding onto the chains for dear life and that’s your only point of reference on where you should be walking. We spoke to a ranger and they said that on average, one person dies each year, so be careful!
Secondly, I can’t express enough the importance of proper footwear. There were teenagers in New Balance tennis shoes just slipping and falling all over the place. I thought for sure they were going to turn back, but they kept going. I even saw one of them slide off the side of the trail at one point. Please don’t be like them and just get the proper shoes/crampons.
So, if I haven’t scared you enough and you are still willing to do the trail, then great! Doing Angels Landing in the winter will be even more rewarding because I actually think Zion is prettier in the snow. Even though I was scared most of the time, the views made it worth it.
ANGELS LANDING SECTIONS
GROTTO TRAILHEAD : This is where you will start the hike for Angels Landing. Stop number 6 on the shuttle bus. The trail that you will be on is actually called the West Rim Trail. Eventually, it will split off to Angels Landing.
REFRIGERATOR CANYON : For most of the beginning, it’s a paved pathway with a lot of long switchbacks. Pretty easy and a lot of great lookouts once you start ascending. It’s called Refrigerator Canyon because it’s always cool and chilly due to the fact that it’s mostly in the shade.
OWL’S PASS : This is just a name I made up. I called it Owl’s Pass because it’s where owls are nesting and the park requests that you keep your voice down and turn off any music. You can tell that you’ve entered this area because you’ll cross a small bridge and enter a small canyon. Also, there’s a sign that’s a dead giveaway. This is probably one of my favorite parts of the hike. Everything was freshly covered in snow and it looked like a winter wonderland.
WALTER’S WIGGLES : After Owl’s Pass, you’ll end up at the base of Walter’s Wiggles. You can’t miss it. It’s 21 tight and steep switchbacks. This is where you’ll want to put on your crampons or take out your hiking sticks. Or if you want a good laugh, you can just sit here for a bit and watch everyone trying to not slip and fall down.
SCOUT’S LOOKOUT : Once you’ve reached the top of Walter’s Wiggles, you’ll end up at a wide landing called Scout’s Lookout. It a pretty big area where people are hanging out, going to the bathroom, taking pictures, and resting. This is also where the trail splits. You can either choose to continue the West Rim Trail or move on to Angels Landing.
THE SPINE : This is the famous part of Angels Landing that you see in all the pictures. The sign says it’s only .5 miles, but I swear it feels 10x longer. It took us more time to finish this part than all of the other portions combined. Every time we thought we were at the end of the trail, there was another hump we had to climb over. This stretch was definitely the scariest part especially coming back down. The snow covered the trail so you couldn’t really see what you were stepping on. There are chains for most of the trail, but there are portions where there are NO CHAINS and you have to use your best judgment. You should pack all your camera gear away and anything that might distract you. Some parts are so close together that you are literally hugging people as you’re trying to cross them. Oh, you might be wondering about COVID? Good luck. You will definitely be closer than six feet. More like six inches. There’s no way to pass on the ledges without closely crossing paths with other people. Just make sure you’re wearing your mask or maybe even double your mask to be extra careful.
ANGELS LANDING SUMMIT : For the last portion, you’ll reach this ledge of pure white snow and then land at a small clearing that will lead you to the summit. You’ll keep on walking until there’s nowhere else to go except down. In the end, you will be graced by a 360-view of all of Zion. Your first instinct is probably to take pictures of the main canyon, but make sure you turn around. The sun will be illuminating the whole canyon behind you at this point. By now, it’s around 1:00 p.m. so we decided to have our lunch here. There are plenty of spots for you to sit down and enjoy the view. The sun was out and the sky was blue and filled with little clouds. We couldn’t have picked a prettier winter day to hike Angels Landing.
HEADING BACK DOWN : In my honest opinion, going back down was much scarier than going up. A good tip is to hike down backwards. I know it sounds strange, but what you want to do is to hold onto the chains and have the mountain in front of you. Almost like you’re repelling down a rock. If there are no chains, it is time to get on your butt and just slowly slide down. The key is to take your time. There is no rush and people understand that. If someone is in a hurry, just let them pass.
Doing Angels Landing in the winter was by far the scariest hike I’ve ever done. If I wasn’t suffering a heart attack every time I fell, I was suffering a heart attack watching other people fall. With that being said, I don’t regret doing this hike at all and it was totally worth it. If I were to do this Angels Landing again during the winter, I would start super early before sunrise and definitely have crampons. That way I won’t worry so much about slipping and actually get to enjoy taking photos. The real hurdle though will be trying to convince me to wake up that early to hike in freezing temperatures.