where, when, and what to find

Zion NP -- Angel's Landing & West Rim Trail

posted by Tim Avery at
on Tuesday, January 20, 2015 

West Rim Trail from Google Street View

This 2.5 miles hike is not for those with fears of heights. The strenuous hike takes you from the canyon floor up to the Angel's Landing view point which is the most spectacular view in the park.  The actual birding areas here are typically just from the trailhead to Walter's Wiggles at the end of Refrigerator Canyon.  Starting with riparian habitat and desert scrub the trail rises through mixed oak and juniper woodland and dry desert hillsides, as it hugs the canyon walls with cliffs overhead.  Refrigerator Canyon is a narrow and tall slot canyon with a riparian base habitat and a small number of Ponderosa Pines adding a montane component to the birding.

Angel's Landing is well known for its amazing views while birding has really been a sub-activity of the hike.  But in recent years the Refrigerator Canyon section of the hike has become well known for a nesting pair of SPOTTED OWL that can often be found here with careful looking in the spring and early summer.  This sensitive species for some reason has chosen this busy trail and tight quarters as a nesting spot and despite the often loud and raucous crowds have seemingly returned year after year (or never left at all).  The Ponderosa provide excellent cover for day time roosts, while the birds are more often than not hear on the canyon walls above, then seen perched on cliffs or outcrops.  The best chance at seeing them is planning on arriving just before dark, and staying until you hear them calling or see them moving about.

Just make sure you make it down before the last shuttle leaves you stranded in the dark (and don't forget a headlamp or flashlight).  The owls aren't the only highlight though.  The hike up provides great habitat for both VIRGINIA'S and BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER which are often heard and seen. CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHER, CANYON WREN, and BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER are usually encountered as well. HERMIT THRUSH can usually be heard singing at dusk in Refrigerator Canyon, while occasionally PINE SISKIN and CASSIN'S FINCH wander down form higher elevations into the pines here.  WHITE-THROATED SWIFT are a common sight here along with VIOLET GREEN SWALLOWS. PEREGRINE FALCON are often reported from the top of Angel's Landing as are another park specialty--the CALIFORNIA CONDOR.  This is perhaps one of the best locations in the Zion Canyon section of the park to see this species.

If you do try for Spotted Owl here, please be respectful of the park rules, as well as using good birder etiquette.  This means no tapes, don't spotlight the birds, stay on the trail, and be an ambassador for birders if people ask what you're doing.  This location provides a great spot for birders to share something very cool with non-birders and it often happens with the owls.

All Zion National Park hot spots directions in Zion Canyon, or to the east will originate from the visitor center parking lot for consistency. Anything in the north and west sides of the park will come from the nearest major intersection. Catch the Zion Canyon Schedule at any pick up locations inside or outside the park. Stay on the shuttle until you reach The Grotto Picnic Area Stop. Exit the shuttle and proceed across the river, following signs to Angel's Landing. The trail starts just on the other side of the river, continues to Refrigerator Canyon, up Walter's Wiggles and to Angel's Landing.

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