Posted by: kerryl29 | June 14, 2012

Day 5: Angel’s Landing, West Rim Trail and Lower Emerald Pool

Just as I wanted to be the first one in the Virgin River on the day I hiked the Narrows, I wanted to be the first person on Angel’s Landing the following morning.  If the Narrows isn’t the most popular hike at Zion National Park, Angel’s Landing is.  Angel’s Landing lies atop a narrow edifice of rock that penetrates the middle of Zion Canyon, about halfway between Canyon Junction and the Temple of Sinawava.  The trailhead is accessed across the road from the Grotto stop on the shuttle and it’s a steep uphill climb–approximately 1000 feet of elevation gain–for approximately two miles to Scout Lookout, which is the jumping off point for a 1/2 mile jaunt to Angel’s Landing itself.

The two-mile climb to Scout Lookout from the canyon floor is steep, but not at all dangerous.  The trail is wide and, in many spots, paved, presumably to protect it from erosion.  The final half mile from Scout Lookout to Angel’s Landing is another matter.  The trail–such as it is–climbs 500 feet over 1/2 mile and is narrow and exposed in most places.  It’s at least 500 feet straight down, on both sides of a ridge that is no more than two feet wide in places.  Many places are so tightly compressed that it’s impossible for two people to pass by at the same time.  In a number of spots, chains are bolted into the rock to serve as handholds.  The park service recommends that small children and those with a fear of heights not attempt the final 1/2 mile to Angel’s Landing itself, which is fairly wide and flat.

The story behind the naming of Angel’s Landing probably tells you all that you need to know about it:

While exploring Zion in 1916, Frederick Fisher exclaimed, “only an angel could land on it,” and thus the monolith was named Angels Landing.

I wanted to be the first person on the Landing that morning, partly to avoid dealing with the crowds that inevitably show up by mid-morning and partly to deal with light as good as possible for photography.  Ideally I would have been on the trail to Scout Lookout before first light–sunrise was roughly 6:30 AM–but since the first shuttle of the day didn’t leave until 7 AM, that was impossible.  As it was, I hit the trail at the Grotto at roughly 7:15.  It was a cool morning and I dressed in layers, with the expectation of pulling off my light jacket and long pants when I reached Scout Lookout.  I was carrying a smaller camera backpack, with just one camera body and two lenses, plus water and a few accessories, with my tripod strapped in.  I’d been out to Angel’s Landing on my previous trip to Zion in 1998; I knew that traveling as light as possible was what the doctor ordered.

A few other people got off the bus at the Grotto stop, but I pretty much outran all of them onto the trail and double-timed it on the way up.  I probably overdid it, and found myself starting to sweat about one mile into the hike.  Just before I reached the cool recesses of Refrigerator Canyon–a narrow slot canyon that you traverse on the way up–I couldn’t take it anymore and stopped to shed my outer layers of clothing.

As I walked through Refrigerator Canyon–just about the only stretch on the hike up to Scout Lookout that’s relatively flat–I marveled at the beauty of the place.  I didn’t have time to stop and photograph–I wanted to be out on the Landing as soon as possible–and I could tell that by mid-morning the canyon would be flooded with direct sunlight, making it effectively unphotographable on the way back–so I resolved to return first thing the following morning.  I’d noticed at least a dozen good photo opportunities as I hustled by and I couldn’t let them go unrequited; I was leaving Zion for Bryce after the following morning’s shoot.

Before I knew it, I had ascended Walter’s Wiggles, a series of steep, paved switchbacks that marks the final assault on Scout Lookout.  Having reached the Lookout, I saw the telltale park sign with its warning about steep cliffs with no protection and noting that there have been fatalities on the Angel’s Landing trail.  But having taken the trail before, I immediately pressed on.

I have no fear of heights, but I do recall at least one intimidating moment from my first experience with the Angel’s Landing trail.  I can recall moving around a rock edifice somewhere on the trail and having my attention grabbed by this spiraling view down…down…down.  As I mentioned, I’m not afraid of heights, but that was a sobering moment.  I recall one other moment worth mentioning on my first Angel’s Landing experience 14 years ago.  About halfway to the Landing, you reach a saddle, of sorts, on the narrow ridge.  If you stop and look up, as I did, you see an edifice–one you have to climb–that seems to go up at about a 60 degree angle.  It turns out not to be anywhere near as difficult as it appears from that spot, but it’s quite something to experience.

Up Canyon from Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park, Utah

On my return trip, I knew just what to expect, and so zipped right along.  45 minutes after I got off the bus I was on Angel’s Landing, setting up my tripod.  And I had the place all to myself for nearly 30 minutes.  The views from Angel’s Landing are spectacular, in virtually every direction, and I spent some time trying to capture some of them.  The light wasn’t ideal, but was still eminently shootable.

Ridges in Morning Light from Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park, Utah

By the time I was done out on the Landing, other people were starting to show up, and there was a veritable crowd gathering by the time I returned to Scout Lookout.  Good thing I’d gotten out there first thing.

Down Canyon from Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park, Utah

Rather than immediately descending back to the canyon floor I decided to go up the West Rim Trail and explore a part of Zion I’d never seen before.  It ended up being well worth the effort.  The part of Zion accessible from the West Rim Trail greatly resembles the Zion Plateau–the area east of the canyon that I’d visited on my first full day in the park.

West Rim Trail, Zion National Park, Utah

Removed from the direct effects of the Virgin River, this section of Zion is far more arid than the canyon.  There’s a great deal more exposed sandstone and most of the growth is in the form of Pinyon Pines and the occasional (usually stunted) Ponderosa Pine.

West Rim Trail, Zion National Park, Utah

Still, there were surprising batches of flowers at opportune points along the way.

West Rim Florals, Zion National Park, Utah

And the opportunity arose to experiment with subjects probably best rendered in monochrome.

Tree Roots black & white, West Rim Trail, Zion National Park

On a few occasions, I found stimulus material that led me to get particularly creative in post processing.

Indian Paintbrush mixed color/b&w, West Rim Trail, Zion National Park, Utah

I went about 1.5 miles up the West Rim Trail before retracing my steps back toward Scout Lookout.  On the way, I found a spot where Walter’s Wiggles and the edifice of Angel’s Landing itself, were visible.

Walter’s Wiggles and Angel’s Landing from the West Rim Trail, Zion National Park, Utah

I made my way back into the canyon–countless people passed me on the way up to Scout Lookout.  I then prepared for the afternoon’s shooting.  I started off back at the Temple of Sinawava, which had enchanted me several days earlier.  Due to a surprising number of clouds in the sky, the light at the Temple was much softer than it had been on my first trip there, two days prior, but good shots of the Pulpit and the surrounding area were still in evidence.

The Pulpit, Temple of Sinawava, Zion National Park, Utah

I then wandered along the canyon road toward Big Bend and found a few interesting spots along the Virgin River for intimates.

Virgin River Cascade black & white, Zion Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah

Virgin River Tree Trunk, Zion Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah

As late afternoon morphed into early evening, I caught the shuttle and got off at the Lodge stop, then took the trail up to Lower Emerald Pool.  There are two upper pools as well, but it had been sufficiently arid that the ephemeral waterfalls there were dry.  The falls at the lower pool were running and I scoped out a spot.  The trail to the lower pools is frequently crowded, but I was there late enough that most of the crowds had left.

Lower Emerald Pool, Zion National Park, Utah

Next:  Refrigerator Canyon, Goodbye to Zion, Hello to Bryce Canyon


  1. You put a lot of work into getting your photos, but the ressults are beyond spectacular!

    • Thanks very much.

  2. Beautiful, Breathtaking Photos – Have a Great Weekend!

  3. You got up to Angel’s Landing in 45 minutes?! You are in good shape.Fantastic! In Walter’s Wiggles, that is the trail, is it not, in the lower center? Ho-leee!!! Great shots, favourites are Lower Emerald Pool and the Ridges in Morning Light. This is an area that I want to see and Bryce Canyon, too. So I am looking forward to the next group that you post as well.

    • It would have been 40 minutes if I hadn’t stopped to shed outer layers halfway up. 🙂 Seriously, any time I wonder why I work out religiously, a trip like this reminds me of the clear benefits.

      Re Walter’s Wiggles, yes…you’ve identified them. I could only find one spot on the West Rim Trail where the Wiggles and the edifice that is Angel’s Landing were both visible.

      Thanks very much for the kind words.

      • yes I have gotten fat and lazy so hi ho, hi ho, I have a trail where I want to go.So off to work- out I must go.Hi ho , Hi ho.-sorry ,way past bed time.Thanks for sharing great photos.

  4. Fabulous photo series (as usual….) and great blog (as usual…).

  5. Wow!!! Fantastic photos Kerry and what a hike this has been! Walter’s Wiggles…jeez…I’m winded just looking at them. Time to get in better shape for sure!!! Great post and I am enjoying this adventure to the fullest!

  6. Wow!!! Amaizing place the photos are awsome!!
    Thanks for sharing them with us, it is such a really nice piece of art.

    Hope you have a great day! 😀

    • Thanks very much!

  7. […] my last post, I mentioned that I was entranced by the offerings of Refrigerator Canyon, a rather narrow slot […]

  8. Beautiful shots Kerry! If I ever make it out there I’ll have to hire you as a guide!

    • Thanks, Michael. Pay my bottom line expenses and I’ll throw in the guide work for free. 🙂

  9. […] Day 5:  Angel’s Landing, West Rim Trail and Lower Emerald Pool […]

  10. […] ever had.  I simply could not cross that narrow passage.  I mean…I’ve hiked the Angel’s Landing Trail at Zion National Park in Utah.  Twice.  I didn’t have anything like this experience.  I […]

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