Angels Landing in Zion National Park is known for two things: its spectacular views of the Utah landscape and overcrowding.
The trail itself can be dangerous because one section involves crossing a narrow ridgeline with a chain bolted into the sandstone to hold for balance. When you combine that challenge with the sheer number of people on the trail, the result is that many visitors don’t feel safe hiking, according to Susan McPartland, Zion’s visitor use manager.
To reduce overcrowding, and consequently make the trail safer, the National Park Service (NPS) is considering implementing a reservation system for the hike.
“A more formalized system on Angels Landing would provide an equitable process that prioritizes visitor safety along the chain section of Angels Landing while ensuring park resources are protected and desired visitor experiences are available,” the NPS explained in a statement.
“The system would be closely monitored and adjusted to allow park managers to learn and improve the application of the day-use permit lottery system.”
A Scenic Vista
Accessing Angels Landing via West Rim Trail is strenuous. The trail itself is 5.4 miles long and steep — with an elevation change of 1,488 feet. And after hiking to the top, visitors must then hike back down the steep trail.
However, the NPS also cautions that the hike is also “mentally challenging.” Part of that challenge is due to the section of the trail where a chain is bolted into the sandstone so hikers may use it as a handrail. The views are amazing — including the 1,500-foot sheer drop to the floor of Zion Canyon below.
The Angels Landing hike is extremely popular due to its amazing views. Indeed, the half-mile chained section of the trail beginning at Scout Lookout drew more than 300,000 visitors in 2019.
“Growth has continued rapidly in 2021 — and increasing park popularity has led to intense crowding and congestion along the Angels Landing trail,” the NPS explains. “Crowding continues to raise safety and visitor experience concerns.”
Last Memorial Day weekend, Zion management warned visitors that if they wanted to hike to Angels Landing, they needed to be prepared for a four-hour wait in line — and that’s after a two-hour wait to board a shuttle bus bound for the trailhead.
A Possible Solution
Here’s how the proposed permit lottery system would work.
Visitors who want to hike Angels Landing would use the Recreation.gov website to apply for a chance to use the trail and pay a $6 application fee. Then, those who secure a hiking permit through the lottery would pay a $3 per person fee. Each application would be good for groups of up to six people.
The first lottery opening would take place in January 2022 for permits to hike from March through May 2022. A second lottery to obtain an Angels Landing hiking permit would be available the day before the desired hike date.
It’s important to note that — right now, anyway — the permit lottery would only apply to the half-mile section with the chained handrail beginning at Scout Lookout.
NPS Is Gathering Feedback
In anticipation of some feedback, the NPS has already explained why it is proposing a hiking permit lottery and not a first come, first served permit system.
“A first come, first served system can mean that to obtain the most popular times and dates, a user must be on the website the exact date and time of sale and have a fast internet connection,” the NPS explains. “A lottery open for approximately one month provides more flexibility and gives users a chance to enter at their convenience as well as select a range of date and time choices for their hike.”
The NPS is still gathering feedback and opinions from the public. If you would like to register feedback, you can learn how to leave a comment for the NPS here. Comments can be posted until September 12, 2021.
For more information about hiking Angels Landing, be sure to read Cindy Barks’s article “12 Things To Know Before Hiking Angels Landing.
While you’re thinking about it, be sure to read the rest of our Zion National Park coverage as well.