Has Anyone Died Hiking Angels Landing?

has anyone died hiking angels landing?

Angles Landing is one of the most well known hiking trails in Zion National Park. It’s an exciting and challenging 5-mile round trip day hike with a 14,000 foot ascent. You navigate through through narrow trails with steep drop-offs, with safety chains running along the trail. Angels Landing ranks as a bucket list item for many hikers, but is it worth the risk? Has anyone died hiking Angels Landing?

Angels landing is considered one of the most dangerous hikes in the United States. There are safety chains lining the trail, but it’s not unusual for hikers to fall to their deaths on the trail. Throughout the past 2 decades hikers have fallen to their deaths an average of once per 2 years. It’s not easy to dial in the exact death count for Angels Landing, but at least 18 people have fallen to their death (14 between 2000-2021).

The great majority of those deaths are falls from the trail, but it’s hard to find an exact death count (I explain below). There are safety chains in place to reduce the risk of falling, but falls are inevitable with steep cliffs lining the trail.

How Many People Have Died Hiking Angels Landing?

Most estimates put the Angels Landing death count between 18-20 people, but it can be hard to come up with an exact number. Angels Landing is by far the most dangerous trail at Zion National Park, but any death that happens at the park is included in the official count.

There have definitely been a few deaths that happened at other places in Zion National Park. Multiple Zion Trails run alongside cliffs (west rim, observation point, etc.) and there’s no exact record of where each death occurred.

A recent fall (Corbin McMillen) was widely attributed to Angels Landing, but it most likely occurred from the nearby West Rim Trail. Patricia Bottarini is another famous Zion Park Death, but her death was on Observation Point Trail (may have been pushed).

When you consider how many people hike Angels Landing trail each year, it puts the death count into perspective. Zion Nation Park has 4.3 million visitors per year and Angels Landing is one of their most popular trails. Conservative estimates put 20,000-50,000 on the trail each year and there’s rarely a death.

While I can’t say there’s no risk on Angels Landing, but I would estimate a 1 in 150,000ish chance of death. Most people can avoid death/injury, by hiking conservatively and staying away from the cliff edge. I go over a list of safety tips for hiking Angels Landing further down.

Deaths and Rescues In Zion National Park by Dave Nally

According to Dave Nally (author of Deaths and Rescues In Zion National Park), there have been at least 15 deaths on Angels Landing Trail since 2000. A few deaths have happened since the book was written so you can increase the Angels Landing fatalities to 18-20 deaths.

Note that the figures only account for “deaths”, rather than falls. There’s absolutely no chance of surviving some of the steep falls on Angels Trail, but not every fall results in death. You have a 1,500 ft drop at the peak of the trail, with a narrow 3-4 ft overcrowded trail (deaths are inevitable).

Uncomplete List of Angels Landing Deaths From 1987-2021

A short stretch of the angels landing trail.

I had a hard time sorting through some of the deaths that were attributed to Angels Landing. Once I started looking into the deaths, a decent chunk of them happened at the nearby West Rim Trail and Observation Point.

An example would be Corbin McMillen that fell to his death on the West Rim Trail near Angels Landing in February 2021. There are a small handful of deaths that I decided to leave off this list, because I couldn’t confirm the exact location in Zion National Park. It’s safe to estimate that 3-5 more people have actually died on the Angels Landing stretch of trail.

There were also multiple deaths that occurred while rock climbing Angels Landing. I ended up including those since they actually happened on the mountain, but I noted those deaths in parenthesis.

  1. March 2021: 43 year old Jason Hartwell (Source: Salt Lake Tribune)
  2. November 2019: 19 year old Savannah McTague (Source: Portland WGME)
  3. April 2019: 35 year old Pradeep Beryl Solomon (Source: KSL)
  4. February 2018: 13 year old unnamed girl from Colorado City Utah (Source: Salt Lake Tribune)
  5. March 2017: 45 year old Tate Ryan Volino (Source: Deseret News)
  6. April 2010: 63 year old Regine Milobedzki (Source: NPS)
  7. November 2009: 50 year old Tammy Grunig (Source: Idaho State Journal)
  8. August 2009: 55 year old Nancy Maltez (Source: NPT)
  9. June 2007: 53 year old Barry Goldstein (Source: Deseret News)
  10. August 2006: 29 year old Bernadette Vandermeer (Source: Deseret News)
  11. June 2004: 14 year old Kristoffer Jones (Source: Salt Lake Tribune)
  12. January 1997 (Rappel/Climbing Death): 36 year old John Christensen 36 (Source: Deseret News)
  13. April 1989 (Suspicious Death): 28 year old Jeffery Robert Dwyer (Source: Deseret News)
  14. May 1987: Unnamed Denver Woman At The Final Section of Angels Landing (Source)

Now You Need A Permit To Hike Angels Landing

In 2022, Zion National Park took a major step to reduce the death count at Angels Landing Trail. They started requiring permits to hike at Angels Landing. This should cut down overcrowding on the trail, which will help eliminate some of the deaths.

Less people on the trail should reduce erosion and hopefully increase the safety of the hike. There’s no way to completely eliminate deaths with a massive cliff running alongside the trail, but it should help some.

You can request an Angels Landing permit in one of two ways. Register into the seasonal lottery or request a permit the day before your hike (also a lottery). Even if you can’t get a permit, there are lots of great hikes at Zion National Park with beautiful views.

Is Hiking Angels Landing Safe?

I’m not going to say that hiking Angels Landing is perfectly safe. Angels Landing’s death toll should give you a good indication of how dangerous it can be. With that being said, people hike Angels Landing everyday without falling to their death.

Look at the picture above of one of the cabled sections on Angels Landing. Does that look like a safe place to hike? Obviously Not! That’s like 4ft wide section of rocky uneven ground with a 1,500 foot cliff next to it. Stop before Scouts Outlook if you want to avoid this dangerous and scary 1/2 mile section of trail.

According to the National Park Service, Angels Landing is suitable for any experienced hiker that isn’t afraid of heights. I wouldn’t say that it’s an easy hike, but it’s not the hardest mountain trail I’ve climbed. The trail is steep with lots of exposure to canyon dropoffs, but most experienced hikers can handle the 1,500 foot ascent to the peak of Angels Landing.

Staying Safe While Hiking Angels Landing

Obviously, anything can happen while climbing along a cliff, but there are ways to reduce the risk. The National Park Service has gone to great lengths to ensure the safety of Angels Landing Hikers. Chains were installed in the 1980’s, running the length of exposed/steep sections of the trail. They also started requiring climbing permits which should reduce the crowds on the trail.

However, there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk of injury and death on Angels Landing. Most of it boils down to hiking conservatively, paying attention to the weather, and hiking within your abilities. Lets go over a list of ways to stay safe on Angels Landing.

  • Only Hike If You’re Comfortable With Heights: Don’t push a hike up Angels Landing on anybody. People that are uncomfortable with heights, unsteady on their feet, or physically/mentally unprepared for the climb. This is a fun hike, but there are safer trails like West Rim and Observation Point that offer better views.
  • Know The Right Time To Turn Back: This isn’t a trail that you should mess around on. Turn around if anybody in your group is uncomfortable. I recommend stopping at Scout Lookout if you’re uncomfortable. It offers great views while avoiding the final half mile of trail, which is the most dangerous exposed stretch.
  • Hike Conservatively: Pay attention to where you step and hold onto the chains as you hike. The top of Angels Landing is very narrow so you need to be extremely careful. Don’t be aggressive while passing others and try to stick to the uphill side of the trail to avoid getting knocked offbalance.
  • Avoid Standing Near The Edge: Unfortunately, most Angels Landing deaths could have been avoided. People get too close to the edge and the ground crumples out from under them. This is a narrow exposed trail so you can’t completely eliminate risk, but holding onto the chain while staying away from the edge will help a lot.
  • Wear Real Hiking Footwear: This isn’t a trail where you should mess around with your footwear. You need to wear real hiking shoes that provide traction on the trail. Don’t hike in sandals, flip flips, and other non-technical footwear.

Hiking Angels Landing With Kids

Introducing your kids to hiking at a young ages is an excellent idea, but Angels Landing shouldn’t be one of your first choices. It’s one of the most dangerous trails in the United States with steep cliffs running along the trail.

I don’t think it’s worth the risk, but there are kids that hike the trail everyday. The only time it would make sense is if your children are experienced hikers that are used to hiking through tough terrain. This is by no means an easy hike! So they need to be physically capable of safely making it to the summit. Most adults can’t handle the trail, so it will be especially challenging for young children.

If you do decide to hike Angels Landing with your kids, consider stopping at Scout Lookout. As the name implies, that’s where most Boy Scout troops turn around on the trail. You get 99% of the views without hiking the last half mile stretch of dangerous exposed terrain.

Don’t Hike Angels Landing In The Rain

Historically, there hasn’t been anything stopping people from hiking Angels Landing in the rain, but that might change now that Zion requires permits. Hiking the trail in the rain is extremely dangerous due to the trails steep ascent and cliffside exposure. You don’t want to add unnecessary risk by adding an another hazard.

Slippery footholds can be dangerous when you’re standing next to a 1500 ft canyon drop. Is it really worth taking the risk? With better views at Outlook Point and West Rim, I don’t think it’s worth the added danger.

With that being said, rain isn’t the only danger you’ll face on the trail. Most people don’t realize that a desert trail can get covered in snow and ice. That’s even worse than rain, so check the weather before heading out to avoid dangerous conditions.

Is Hiking Angels Landing Worth The Risk?

By Diliff – taken by Diliff, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=305224

The views you find on Angels Landing are spectacular (look at the above picture), but there are safer trails with comparable views. Observation Point and West Rim Trail are much safer and most people say the views are better than at Angels Landing. People still occasionally fall from West Rim and Observation Point, but there’s far less risk.

There are better views in Zion, but Angels Landing has been established as a “must-do” hike among the outdoor community. If you tell somebody that you visited Zion, the first questions is usually “Did you hike Angels Landing?”.

This mentality leads to an overpacked trail filled lots of hikers. Most experienced hikers enjoy the trail and don’t find it overly scary. Even kids can manage the trail if they’re not scared of heights.

It’s a relatively short 2.4 mile one-way trail with a steep ascent and even kids can manage the trail assuming they’re not scared of heights. You may not even need to rely on the chains for balance, but I wouldn’t take that risk.

The only times I’ve been uncomfortable hiking Angels Landing is when there’s a 100 person line of people in front of me. Hopefully Zions recent change to requiring permits on the trail will cut eliminate that issue.

WARNING: There Are Times When You Shouldn’t Hike Angels Landing

Angels Landing is a strenuous climb up a winding cliffside, so it’s not for everybody. Here are a few reasons why you may not want to climb Angels Landing.

  • Afraid Of Heights: This one should be obvious, but don’t hike Angels Landing if you’re afraid of heights. The chains help a little bit, but it’s still a narrow 4-5 foot trail with steep cliffs running alongside it.
  • Large Crowds: Don’t hike Angels Landing when there are large crowds. Hopefully permits solve this issue, but it’s hard to say at this point.
  • Young Children: This is a strenuous/dangerous climb, so I wouldn’t take young children on the trail. Children that are 9+ years old might be able to handle it, but hiking alongside cliffs is scary (even for adults).
  • Hiking At Elevation: A steep 1,500 ft climb will wear you down fast. You need to be in good shape to finish this climb.
  • Weathers Extremely Hot: There’s no water on the trail so hiking Angels Landing in July or August will be hot and miserable.
  • Forgot Water Or Snacks: This is a strenuous hike so you need to carry lots of water and snacks to eat along the trail.