The hike to Angels Landing at Zion National Park is one of the park’s most-popular attractions. The problem, however, is that overcrowding on the trail creates a safety concern because it is very narrow and runs along the edge of a sheer cliff.
Now, to reduce crowding and improve hikers’ safety, the National Park Service is using a pilot program that requires visitors to have a permit to hike Angels Landing. The system assigns time frames throughout the day to keep permit holders evenly spaced to ease trail congestion.
“We are trying to… make sure that folks have that time to go at their own pace, enjoy those beautiful views, and really hope that we can improve how they feel safe,” said Susan McPartland, Zion’s visitor use manager, according to KUER 90.1.
As of April 1, a permit has been required to hike the trail. Now that the system is in place, hikers report that requiring a permit improved their experience.
“I think it’s a good idea, I do,” hiker Abbie Crowell said, according to KUER 90.1. “It was fantastic. It’s a wonderful hike, but I can’t imagine doing that with people, you know, crawling all over each other.”
Tom Peter, another hiker, said the permit system helped control the number of people on the trail.
“It was about the right number of people on the trail today,” Peter said, according to KUER 90.1. The permit system made the hike “a nice experience.”
The Scenic Vista
When visitors get to Angels Landing, they immediately understand how it got its name. When Methodist minister Frederick Vining Fisher first saw the spot in 1916, he immediately said that “only an angel could land there,” according to the National Park Service.
Accessing Zion National Park’s Angels Landing via the 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.
The National Park Service 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 for hikers to use it as a handrail.
Then again, the effort is worthwhile. The views are amazing, including being able to see the 1,500-foot sheer drop to the floor of Zion Canyon below.
Growing Popularity Leads To Crowding
The number of people visiting Zion has grown rapidly in recent years. While the park had 2.8 million visitors in 2011, that number soared to 4.5 million in 2019, the National Park Service notes. And while visitation dipped in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and pandemic-related park closures, in 2021, Zion recorded 5,039,835 visits, the most in park history, according to the National Park Service.
Angels Landing is one of the park’s most-visited destinations. Indeed, more than 300,000 people hiked it in 2019, according to park officials.
As you would expect with a narrow trail, that popularity has led to overcrowding. In fact, last Memorial Day weekend, Zion management warned visitors that if they wanted to hike to Angels Landing, they needed to be prepared for a 4-hour wait in line — and that’s after a 2-hour wait to board a shuttle bus bound for the trailhead.
The trail itself can be dangerous due to the section that crosses the narrow ridgeline using the chain as a handrail. The issue is that the combination of the physical challenge and sheer number of people on the trail means that many visitors don’t feel safe hiking. Meanwhile, other hikers skip the trail to avoid the crowds but consequently miss the scenic overlook.
How The Lottery Works
The permit system is used specifically for the narrowest part of the Angels Landing hike, which is the section with the chain handrail.
There are two lotteries: The first is seasonal and the other is held the day before hikes. Per Zion public affairs specialist Jonathan Shafer, “Each lottery application costs $6 and can be for up to six people. Anyone who gets a permit will also pay a $3 per person fee.”
For the seasonal lottery, you can pick 7 ranked days and times you would like to hike Angels Landing. If, instead, you’re interested in the daily lottery, you can apply for a permit the day before your planned hike. The daily lottery opens every day at 12:01 a.m. and closes at 3 p.m. Mountain Time (MT).
You can learn more about both types of lotteries, including how to enter them, here.
Know Before You Go
It’s important to note that while a permit is needed to hike Angels Landing, permits aren’t needed in other areas of the park. For example, hikers going to Scout Lookout do not need a permit.
While you’re thinking about the park, be sure to visit all of our Zion National Park coverage, including: