Canyoneering is a thrilling sport that entails travelling in canyons and involves a variety of techniques including hiking, climbing, rappelling, and swimming. Adventurers must utilize their route finding and rope work skills in order to navigate around the natural obstacles in the canyons. Zion National Park is considered to be one of the best destinations to experience canyoneering.
Some of its world-famous canyons include the Zion Narrows and the Subway – with plenty of other canyons sprinkled in. In order to have access to these canyons, hikers must have canyoneering experience as well as the proper equipment. During these canyoneering routes, hikers will experience beauty they have never seen and a thrill that can only be experienced when canyoneering in Zion National Park.
Obtaining Your Canyoneering Permit
In order to access any technical canyoneering route at Zion National Park that requires the use of descending gear or ropes, you must have a canyoneering permit. There are several ways to obtain a permit for your canyoneering trip.
- The first option is to make an advanced reservation up to three months in advance to reserve a permit slot. Over half of the available permits at Zion are booked this way.
- Your second option is to enter into the Advance Lottery three months prior to your trip. The lottery system is for trips through the Subway and Mystery Canyon. Due to low demands during November through March, the lottery system does not run during this time. You will need to submit a lottery application online and are limited to making one request per individual per month. Applicants will be notified via email in the following month about their status.
- If you haven’t obtained your permit prior to seven to two days in advance of your trip, you can enter into the Last Minute Drawing. If the drawing does not fill and you still need your permit, there is the option of going for a walk-in permit application the day before or day of your trip.
- If you are a frequent visitor to Zion you may want to consider enrolling in the Zion Express Membership. This will allow members to convert their reservation to a permit online three days before there trip.
Required Gear for Canyoneering in Zion
It goes without saying that you will need some heavy duty gear to accompany you on your canyoneering adventure. Some of the items you will need include the following:
- Climbing harness and rappel device – There are outfitters where you can rent these but recommend having your own set.
- Canyoneering rope – Make sure your rope is long enough for the longest rappel you will encounter on your trip. It is typical that you bring double the longest rappel length and that’s the amount of rope you should bring on your trip. We recommend that you use static canyoneering rope as opposed to dynamic climbing rope.
- Webbing and rapid links – This is for any possible damaged anchors that you may encounter.
Warnings Before You Go
As with any trip it is a great idea to know what you should expect to encounter during your canyoneering experience. Zion is a beautiful place and its canyons are full of many surprises. There a lot of dips and turns that occur randomly and present you with unforeseen obstacles. By staying on your toes and working at a safe pace you will be able to better deal with these tricky situations.
Make sure you inspect all anchors at the rappel stations before you rappel off of them. The rappel stations in the popular canyons are not officially maintained by the National Park Service staff. In order to be prepared for damaged anchors, make sure you pack webbing and rapid links so you can clean up anchors that look to be in bad shape.
Something that a lot of visitors don’t realize is that you should definitely expect to get wet and cold since most of the canyons will have sections of water. A lot of these areas don’t have readily available sunlight so they can be quite cold. It is imperative that you wear the proper clothing and also bring drybags to keep your water-intolerant equipment safe. Some of these water areas are a nice easy walk through, while others will require you to swim.
Along with standing water, flash flooding is a very real and very serious danger in the canyons. It is imperative that you pay attention to the weather during your trip and cancel any plans if there is a threat of rain. This will best ensure your safety.
Canyoneering Routes in Zion National Park
The Subway (Top Down)
The Subway is one of the most popular canyon routes in Zion National Parks. For hiking you can complete the Subway from the bottom up, but for canyoneering you will explore the Subway from the bottom up. You will encounter a strenuous hike that will require you to have rappelling skills, 60 feet of rope, and route finding experience.
Be prepared for swimming through several deep pools of cold water that could contain some debris. The Subway also includes several short rappels and downclimbs. You will begin your trail at the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead and navigate your way to the Left Fork Trailhead, 9.5-miles later. You can only access the Subway in the daytime.
Orderville Canyon is going to be the easiest technical hike found in Zion. It is known for being slippery and narrow, full of shallow pools and plenty of water. The Orderville Canyon is very similar to the Zion Narrows and can be accessed as a side hike from them. To get the full experience though it is definitely recommended you complete the top-down section which is a semi-technical canyoneering route.
On this route you will encounter two short rappels, swimming, and downclimbs over a course of 12-miles. There are ton of boulders and rock formations in Orderville so get ready for an exciting time exploring them in this tall, dark, and narrow canyon. Permits for this hike are not issued when the flow is 120 cubic feet per second or greater.
Keyhole Canyon involves short technical canyoneering. It is estimated to take you around 2 hours to complete the hike. Beginning canyoneers will love this route because they will encounter approximately three short rappels during their trip. You will also encounter many obstacles to navigate through your downclimbs as well as short swims and wades through cold water. Wetsuits are recommended, even in the summer.
The longest rappel in Keyhole Canyon is 30 ft, and the route is known for having an awkward first rappel. As with each canyoneering route, make sure you take a look at the weather forecast so you can properly prepare and cancel plans if rain is expected. The Keyhole Canyon is a subterranean slot that offers beautiful scenery that should be experienced.
Pine Creek is another popular canyoneering route that is extremely technical. It offers subterranean slot canyon scenery, simply and magnificently beautiful. You will start your route at the Canyon Overlook and finish at the Route 9 switchbacks in the main canyon. It is easily accessible, which is rare for a technical canyoneering route in Zion. It should be expected to take 2 to 6 hours to complete the Pine Creek Canyon.
Wetsuits are recommended for this hike. The most iconic section of this route is known as the Cathedral, named for its arch doorway and a final rappel of 100-ft. It is a route for thrill seekers. Pine Creek is one of the easier technical canyons but should not be taken lightly. The route also involves several other rappels, downclimbs and swims through cold water.
Mystery Canyon, appropriately named, is a hanging canyon that feeds into the Zion Narrows. It has stunning beauty that rewards a strenuous technical canyoneering route. At the entrance of the route it is extremely steep and intimidating, filled with many rappels and dark sculpted narrows. In the middle of the canyon there is an enormous landslide and rock fall obstacle you will navigate over.
Towards the end of your hike you will encounter two big-wall rappels that will take your breath away. The final descent is a rappel down the Mystery Falls that is absolutely stunning – if the other rappels did not impress you, this one surely will. The longest rappel is 120-ft and there are twelve other rappels across the entire route. At the end of your hike you will be right in the Zion Narrows.
Canyoneering in Zion National Park can be exiting and daring, but it is important to make sure you are properly equipped for the experience with the appropriate gear and skillset. Make sure you remember to obtain your permits for the canyoneering routes you want to complete and check the weather on the day you will be completing the routes!
It is important to remember that you are responsible for your own safety and proper precautions should be taken. Canyoneering in Zion National Park will be one of the most memorable experiences of your lifetime and should be approached with great preparation in order to keep yourself safe and maximize your enjoyment.