Best National Park Hikes Zion National Park Utah

You shouldn’t fear hiking Half Dome or Angels Landing

Two of my favorite hikes of all time have been described in some variety of “America’s Most Dangerous Hikes.” While it might be true that hiking Half Dome and Angels Landing poses an increased level of danger to a hiker compared to walking around your local park, the danger has been highly blown out of proportion to many.

With serious drop-off locations, both trails require the hiker to be nimble on their feet, pay attention to the trail, and be smart. But the latter is the most crucial and easiest.

Simply use common sense on the trail, and you’ll be fine.

Related: Zion to Bryce Canyon road trip

While there are always cases of pure bad luck, most cases of injury and death on these hikes are from people getting too close to the edge and not being careful. Now, there are parts of Angels Landing where you are close; you’re never “in danger” if you stay calm and keep moving on.

the view of the spine of angels landing in zion national park

The biggest danger is people.

I will say, when it comes down to it, the most significant danger you’ll face is the other people on the trail.

If you could hike both trails as the only one on it and be confident in your abilities, you’d excel. But mistakes can happen once you add more people into the equation, forcing you to wait, take a slightly different step than you’d like, or have to finagle your way past people.

That’s why I like to choose times when fewer people are on the trails, such as sunrise or sunset. (And weekdays, of course.) Thankfully, both trails are now permitted, so the number of people going up and down is limited.

Related: How many days to spend in Yosemite?

Why you should trust me on this?

I’m the proud owner of four successful completions (two each) of Half Dome in Yosemite and Angels Landing in Zion. Both of my Half Dome summits were during sunrise, meaning I hiked through the night to reach the cables.

Now, I waited until there was a little light in the sky to begin the cable section because, again, common sense. (I’m not saying you can’t do them in the dark, but I felt more comfortable waiting to see more than just my headlamp light.)

Now for Angels Landing, I did it when I was a young teenager with my parents and then also climbed down in the dark as an adult. I honestly felt going down in the dark, with no one else around, was the best experience.

Plus, we enjoyed the sunset from the top and watched the stairs appear above. A truly magical night outside.

Yosemite National Park
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

What makes it dangerous?

Half Dome is dangerous for two reasons.

The first is the 16-mile round-trip hike it takes to complete the trail. For most Americans, it is a far longer and harder hike than they have ever attempted. So, by the middle to the end, your body will begin to feel the stresses of the hike, which could impact how you function.

Now, moving onto what most people would consider the most dangerous part of Half Dome: the cables! This is a quarter-mile or so stretch that offers only two cables, four feet apart. Every 10 feet or so has a wooden plank to rest and get your footing.

Related: Best photo spots in Yosemite

But for the most part, you use upper and lower body muscles to propel your way up the granite.

The danger lies in there being no runout or safe place if you happen to slide off. If you slide, you are going down hundreds of feet, and you can only hope you end up where you started. (Which isn’t likely.)

a very zoomed in shot of half dome in yosemite
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

How you can navigate it safely

My biggest suggestion is to get up as early as possible so that when you are on the cables, you minimize the amount of people you pass. I honestly feel finagling around people is the most dangerous part of the hike. Going up and down without waiting on others will make you much happier and less anxious.

Another tip is to make sure you have some gloves to wear on this final section. Gloves will protect your hands and allow you to slide your hands up on the cables, never taking them off as you ascend.

Angels Landing, Zion National Park

What makes it dangerous?

Just like with Half Dome, a lot of the danger comes from other people on the trail. Navigating the chains and tight spaces becomes that much more complicated when another body is in the way.

The second danger comes from edges with a 1,000-foot drop-off, though most of the time, you don’t get anywhere near them to fall off.

Related: Epic Photos of Zion National Park

How you can navigate it safely

You can navigate Angels Landing by playing it safe and taking your time. If you don’t feel comfortable, take a moment to breathe and restart (or turn around). I suggest getting up early in the morning, so fewer people are on the trail.

While you will have to hike against people on your way down, at least your way up will be smooth sailing.

The veiw lookout out from the top of Angels Landing 1,500 feet off the zion Canyon valley floor.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Final Thoughts

As enternto permit season, don’t be afraid to hike Half Dome or Angels Landing. Take the leap of faith, start training, and experience some of the best views our national parks have to offer!

By the end of either hike, you’ll be so happy to go and have conquered any fear that you might’ve had about going.

Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Bio:

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on ExploreWithAlec.com. Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside