Lottery System Now Open to Hike One of the Most Popular (and Deadly) Trails in the U.S.

The beauty and starkness of Zion. Photo: Evan Quarnstrom

The Inertia

The beauty and scenic views from the top of Angels Landing have made it one of the most sought after hikes in the U.S. But the crowds and steep terrain also make it one of the nation’s most deadly. 

Thus, to mitigate crowds and increase safety, Zion National Park is continuing its permit system first launched in 2022 for its most popular trail. If you want to hike Angels Landing this spring, between March 1 and May 31, you’ll need to enter a lottery, which opened on January 1 and closes on January 20. When you apply, you will be prompted to select your group size (six max), up to seven dates, and a start time – either before 9 a.m., 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., or after 12 p.m. The lottery results will be released on January 25.

Subsequent rounds of permit lotteries will open in three-month intervals for the following season (e.g. the summer season permit lottery will be available starting April 1).

Angels Landing is a dramatic rock outcropping that juts into the center of the famous Zion Canyon and rises 1,500 feet above the valley floor. A system of chains has been installed to navigate the steep, narrow section on the trail’s final half-kilometer (below). However, the hike’s extreme popularity has often led to dangerous traffic jams and bottlenecks. Since 2000, 13 people have died while hiking Angels Landing, making it one of the most deadly stretches of trail in the U.S. 

Lottery System Now Open to Hike One of the Most Popular (and Deadly) Trails in the U.S.

The beauty can also make it overcrowded, and dangerous. Photo: Evan Quarnstrom

I hiked Angels Landing back in 2019 before the permit system and saw the crowds and danger for myself first hand. In the pitch black of morning hikers line up at the shuttle stops to try to be the first ones on the trail. And even though I started at sunrise, the trail was packed and long queues formed along the chain section. Many hikers were not experienced, slowing down hundreds of people behind them, while other hikers were reckless and passed the line in precarious areas without the aid of the chains. I even penned an op-ed on my blog wondering if the hike was worth the hassle and danger that the crowds subject you to. 

In my opinion, the permit system is a welcomed addition to make the hike not only more enjoyable, but safer. The number of people allowed on the trail per day varies from a couple hundred up to a thousand, depending on various factors like hours of daylight, seasonal shuttle hours, parking capacity, and trail conditions. According to recreation.gov, about 200,000 permits will be issued in 2024. 

In 2022, Zion National Park received nearly 4.7 million visits, the second highest on record. According to the park, the permit system is having the intended results.

“Visitors and rangers report that the program has been successful at reducing crowding and congestion, and we are building on this success as we prepare for 2024,” said Jeff Bradybaugh, Zion National Park Superintendent.

There’s also an alternative for securing permits for those who can’t plan so far in advance. Walk-up hikers can apply for permits for the following day. Those permits are still not guaranteed, though.


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