In Zion National Park, canyoneering and mountain climbing are the ultimate sports. If you're thinking of joining the world of canyoneering, be ready to lug a wetsuit up steep mountains, swim in dirty-ice cold water, climb up and down boulders and other obstacles, scale slick rocks and learn the technical skill and rope work required for rappelling and getting yourself through a canyon. This sport is not for the timid and faint of heart and can be thought of as "hiking with a rope." Be sure that you never enter a technical canyon without the knowledge and skills needed to safely explore and return. Finding a canyon can require GPS and excellent map reading skills.
Backcountry permits are required for technical and semi-technical slot canyons located in Zion, but those canyons starting on the edge of the park can be explored without permits, as long as the exit is outside the park boundary. Obtain current technical slot canyon details and the weather report from the Zion backcountry desk before attempting any technical slot canyon.
Sources for Canyoneering
Do your research from many sources and study detailed information about the slot canyon you plan to explore. Tom Jones whom most affectionately call the Emperor of Canyoneering offers accurate information on canyoneering in the Southwest and also instructs in the Zion area. Contact Tom Jones
Canyoneering Gear: A sturdy
pair of shoes are recommended for canyoneering in Zion National Park. Quality shoes will help grip the rocks and prevent injury. Experienced Zion canyoneers like the Sportiva and 5-10 Canyoneers.
Zion's Canyoneering Limits: 80 permits are allowed daily for the
Subway and Keyhole. 50 people may travel through Pine Creek and Orderville daily. Only 12 people daily are allowed in the following zones: Icebox Canyon, Lodge Canyon, Kolob Creek, Imlay Canyon, Heaps Canyon, Englestead Canyon, Echo Canyon, Behunin Canyon, Spry Canyon, Mystery Canyon.
Semi-technical Slot Canyons: Subway, Red Cave, Orderville Canyon and when conditions permit, the non-technical section of Echo Canyon. These four impressive slot canyons might require some rappelling to explore and a rope is often needed to navigate obstacles. Those attempting the routes should be fit, able to navigate obstacles and swim.
Zion's Technical Slot Canyons
Keyhole is the technical canyon that normally is considered appropriate for beginners who have good rope and rappelling skills. If your skills are not up to par for technical canyoneering, try the Zion Narrows or the semi-technical canyons in Zion: Orderville Canyon and The Subway. Although many canyoneers consider Pine Creek to be an "easy canyon", the rappels are not easy and for some they are terrifying. The hike to and out of the canyon is easy compared to other canyons. Obtain proper instruction before ever attempting any canyoneering.
Canyoneering Equipment - The kind of gear you will need for your visit to Zion National Park depends on which trails or routes you plan to do. Comfortable, well-fitting shoes and neoprene socks are a must. If hiking the Zion Narrows is on your vacation itinerary you might want to invest in a good pair of aquatic shoes. Bo Beck, at the Desert Rat, can help you with quality canyoneering gear.
Important Notice - "I've
been studying the canyon tree frogs in Zion for 3 summers now, and have just
heard that the horrible chytrid fungus may be present in some frogs from Pine
Creek. I'd like to offer some simple tips that can help prevent the spread of
this disease, which will likely kill a large percentage of frogs that get
infected. The main way to stop the spread is very simple: let your gear dry completely
between canyons whenever possible. The most likely way to spread the disease is
to get some of the fungus on your equipment (you won't see it) and then do
another canyon in a different drainage before everything is completely dry. If
your gear dries, the fungus dies. There is lots of info online about this fungus and how to prevent it from
spreading and how it's decimating worldwide amphibian populations, but if our
canyoneering community can just keep this one simple idea in mind, we might slow
it down or even stop its spread locally." Curt Walker - Biology Proffessor at Dixie State College in St. George
Canyoneering in Zion National Park
You are responsible for YOUR own safety!
The canyons on this page are listed in a general order of what we consider easiest to hardest,
keeping in mind many different factors. Know your limits and stay within them.
Bo Beck, a veteran on Zion's high angle Search and Rescue Team, has wrote the canyoneering reports on this site that are in and around Zion National Park. When it comes to Zion, Hiking, Canyoneering or ropes we all say - "Bo Knows!" Visit my Bo Beck page to learn more about him.
Kolob Terrace - MIA. Extremely steep uphill hike to Lava Point
Long day, dozen rappels. Difficult starts, down-climbing, cold water swimming, river walking, route finding, challenging rope work. Wetsuit required.
Key: [East/South of Canyon Junction off hwy 9] [Cliff-side: Exposed scramble or ledge]
[Slot: Slot Canyon or Narrows] [Boulders: Climbing over boulders or up steep slabs]
[ Scrambling: Hiking/Climbing up or down steep slick rock]
[Semi-Tech: Rope and climbing skills] [Technical: Advanced climbing or canyoneering]
History of Canyoneering - Bo has always been an avid outdoors man and living near Zion he spent a lot of time exploring the parts of the park that few others even knew about. I can't imagine a time that Bo is not willing to share beta, carry a rope, swim in ice cold water and explore the unknown.
The first time the term "canyoneering" was probably used to refer to the modern form of exploring canyons was by Steve Allen in a book called "Canyoneering the San Rafael Swell" which he published in 1992.
The people that have been the most vocal about the sport and who have wrote and shared the most beta would probably be Steve Allen, Michael Kelsey, Christopher Brennan, Rich Carlson, Tom Jones, Shane Burrows, Todd Martin and Steve Ramras who is better known as Ram . Through the early years of canyoneering, the men would share their trips in the "Black Book" that is kept at Zion's backcountry desk. You can find most of these guys in all three of the outdoor communities listed below.
Bo and I look forward to having our first book on shelves in the Summer of 2011, and although its on the Zion area it covers mostly hiking but it does have a couple of canyons included.