Angels Landing is not one-of-a-kind, after all

The trail to the summit of Moro Rock at Sequoia National Park is similar to that of Angels Landing, at Zion National Park. (At Home in Wild Spaces)

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ZION NATIONAL PARK — It's been said that Angels Landing is "one-of-a-kind." But that's not true at all. Not unless you're looking for a hike that's exactly 5.4 miles out and back, rises precisely 1,488 feet from the trailhead to the summit, and is located smack in the middle of Zion Canyon.

Then, sure — Angels Landing is "one-of-a-kind."

But, if you take off the internet blinders — the nonsensical "must-dos," bucket lists and corporate- or state-sponsored advertisements — and widen your gaze, you'll soon realize that Angels Landing isn't alone, after all.

There are at least two hikes in California that are practically scaled carbon copies of Angels Landing, though made of granite and not sandstone.

On the bite-size end of the spectrum is Moro Rock in Sequoia National Park; a glorious little hike that barely qualifies as a hike because "hikers" get to climb approximately 350 perfectly level concrete steps and take advantage of a steel handrail, which runs from the trailhead all the way to the summit.

Moro Rock is a fin just like Angels Landing, but at a mere half-mile out and back, with less than 300 feet elevation gain on concrete steps, Moro Rock is kind of like Angels Landing, with training wheels.

As you'll see in this video, Moro Rock also offers unbelievable scenic vistas, that, like Angels Landing, come at the price of exposure. Just remember that railings, like chains, are no substitute for attentiveness and good judgment.

And while Moro Rock might not be suitable for some small children, the skill threshold for reaching the summit of Moro Rock is far, far lower than the skills necessary to summit Angels Landing.

Moro Rock also offers a bonus that Angels Landing couldn't hope to deliver.

As part of Sequoia National Park's fabled Giant Forest, Moro Rock requires passing by and, in some cases through, the largest known trees on earth which are sadly vanishing at a terrifying rate.

Beyond the Giant Forest, you'll find an incredible alpine dreamscape nearly three times the size of Zion National Park with only a fraction of the number of visitors that descend on Zion every year. Beyond Moro Rock and the Giant Forest, Sequoia National Park offers hundreds of miles of trails, including several to the summit of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states.

If Moro Rock is a bite-sized version of Angels Landing, then Yosemite's Half Dome is the four-course meal. This at least 14-mile trek is practically a mirror reflection of the Angels Landing trail, though more than three times the scale, rising 4,800 feet from Yosemite Valley (a glacially carved canyon).

Half Dome has so much in common with Angels Landing, it's kind of uncanny. Though, in contrast to Zion's sandstone, Yosemite's dreamscape is hewn from granite. The trail to Half Dome's summit also trades chains for cables and is much harder to climb. The final stretch to Half Dome's summit also requires a permit, like Angels Landing, which means hopping through a few extra hoops beyond the standard training and preparation necessary to complete the challenging hike.

If getting a permit doesn't work out, there are dozens, if not hundreds or even thousands of other trails across the western United States — a great many that offer an Angels Landing-esque experience, on both grander and smaller scales.

Going even bigger than Half Dome, you'll come to "the knife edge" of Colorado's 14,138-foot Capitol Peak. But, even coming back to Utah, there are numerous sandstone fins, as well as ridgelines and alpine summits that offer experiences reminiscent of Angels Landing with vistas that will similarly make your eyes pop, your knees weak and your heart sing without having to navigate suffocating crowds or waiting hours for the Zion Canyon shuttle.

In short, there's clearly something special about Angels Landing. It's an absolutely incredible trail. But the danger of ultra-famous hikes, like Angels Landing and to a lesser degree Half Dome, is the harmful, internet-induced blindness that brutalizes both our natural treasures and people alike.

Too often, the dominant lure of über-famous trails is the social prestige that comes with completing the experience rather than the respect and welfare of natural resources and other people. Online prowess seems to be drowning out any thought of stewardship or transcendent communion with the natural world.

That fame also draws in profiteers, anxious to wring every cent out of these natural treasures and the people wanting to explore them. Just look around, and see how land surrounding Zion National Park has been irreversibly gobbled up by development in recent years.

There's something to be said for getting back to basics, and ignoring most of the internet's "must-dos," choosing low-impact lodging like campgrounds and properly zoned guest services.

It's becoming a path less traveled and choosing it can make all the difference.

If you want to hike Angels Landing — then, by all means, hike Angels Landing. But don't let its fame blind you to a universe of other unforgettable and often vanishing experiences and locations.

There's a reason lifelong adventurers are passionate defenders of natural resources. When your life is blessed by unforgettable outdoor experiences, protecting our natural treasures becomes as intuitive as breathing.

There's no need to share everything and every place you visit online. When you do share your adventures, share messages of stewardship and respect for the land and your fellow travelers.

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Mike is a writer, filmmaker and public speaker, who, along with his wife Michelle, owns and manages At Home in Wild Spaces Films, a film studio that produces informational outdoor adventure media and resources. Mike graduated from BYU with a degree in film and animation, and occasionally writes about entertainment and current events.


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