A Place Unlike Any Other
With more than 4.3 million visitors, Zion National Park finished 2018 fourth on the list of most visited national parks. Gorgeous, unique and boasting incredible hikes, it’s easy to see why Zion remains entrenched in the top 5, year after year.
I’ve wanted to visit Zion for some time. I knew winter would highlight yet another unique aspect of this iconic landscape, so we packed up our gear and drove down from Northern California. As I saw the snow covering the red rock for the first time, I realized that reality far surpassed even my wildest visions.
This is the hike I came to Zion to conquer. I’d heard of it, seen gorgeous pictures and watched quite a few videos of other explorers making the trek to the top. I had an idea of what was in store, but winter conditions made the trek even more treacherous. The Angel’s Landing hike is a little over 5 miles with a elevation gain of 1,488 ft. It’s rated strenuous, and even the most experienced hikers should proceed with caution.
We followed the winding trail up the beautiful red rock canyon to the famous Walter’s Wiggles. This section ascends the canyon wall on 21 tight switchbacks that make quick work of the elevation. The trail construction is an engineering marvel, and the views as you climb are phenomenal.
Coming around the bend of the trail, we reached Scout Lookout. This is where you get your first glimpse of Angel’s Landing in all its glory. All I can say is my jaw dropped, literally.
The pictures don’t do justice. Angel’s Landing is gorgeous and insanely huge. I hike a lot, but this trail – and the ice covering it – put some fear into me. The trail is very narrow with a 1,000 ft drop off on either side. From Scout Landing, it’s a half mile and another 500 ft in elevation to the landing. Fixed chains and steps cut into the rock help hikers get to the top.
I stood there for about 30 minutes questioning my sanity to do this, mainly because I have a fear of heights. I closely watched others going up the trail and evaluated the situation. Deciding to just do it, I put on my Yaktrax, tightened my bag straps, and off I went.
I hiked slowly and cautiously, watching every step I made to avoid any ice if possible. There were quite a few spots where I had to proceed as slowly as possible. The most dangerous factor wasn’t really the hike but the other hikers. I had to pay attention to the person in front of me and be prepared if they grabbed the chain and the movement made its way back to me. As I approached the top, I used the chains to pull myself from step to step on the narrow, exposed trail.
Finally…I arrived, and the treacherous hike was well worth the effort. Angel’s Landing ranks as my most memorable hike to date. I overcame a lifelong fear to see some of the most gorgeous views. It was spectacular. I stood there with 360-degree views of Zion.
Everyone at the top was congratulating each other on completing the hike. It was an overwhelming experience. We sat there taking it all in, taking photo after photo, to document the incredible landscape and the lifetime accomplishment.
Our second day in Zion was dedicated to hiking Observation Point. The trail is also rated strenuous, covering a total distance of 8 miles with an elevation gain of 2,148 ft. We immediately had to employ our yaktrax because the trail was iced over. We began some zigzagging up the canyon walls and were treated with a perfect view of Angel’s Landing along the way. There were long drop-offs, so taking it slow in winter is highly advised.
As we made our way along the trail, we came to Echo Canyon. I could have spent many hours exploring this gorgeous slot canyon.
I captured some great shots in here before heading back to the main trail.
Before reaching Observation Point, we stopped at the many lookouts. There was one particular spot just before the point that I liked more than the actual point itself. From the lookouts, you can even see hikers making their way up Angel’s Landing.
We spent quite a bit of time at Observation Point, eating our lunch and lounging in our hammocks. I highly recommend bringing a hammock on this hike; it’s an incredible spot to relax and take in the views.
The Observation Point trail has it all: backside views of Zion, a gorgeous slot canyon, incredible views of Angels Landing, and the perfect spot for a sunset photo.
Tips & Gear
Getting Around the Park
Zion has a fantastic bus system in place. Arrive early if you’re going to do either of these hikes to avoid the crowds.
Winter Hiking Gear
In addition to your normal hiking gear, consider:
- Traction cleats like Yaktrax – a must on icy/snowy trails
- Trekking poles
- Hammock – easy to pack and perfect for relaxing on a hike. We love our Grand Trunk hammocks.
Think layers and then more layers! I wore my KÜHL baselayers the entire time, and the W’S KONDOR BOTTOM & W’S KONDOR KREW kept me toasty warm. I also tested out my new KÜHL HORIZN SKINNY pants, and I’m in love with them. They are so lightweight and comfortable, and they paired perfectly with the KONDOR baselayers.
Don’t forget about socks! Moisture-wicking, comfortable socks are equally as important when hiking in the snow. We recommend Native Planet.
Royce is an outdoor enthusiast, photographer and athlete. She’s a Northern California native who has a passion for our National Parks and public lands. As a KÜHL ambassador, she shares her adventures and photos to encourage others to get outside and experience nature. When she’s not photographing epic locations you’ll find her running, cycling or competing in various athletic races. Follow her on Instagram @casunshine0508. All photos by Royce and @sarps_shots.