Zion Canyoneering Overview
The Zion National Park area has to be one of the most popular canyoneering destinations in the United States, and for good reason. The dozens of canyons in the area offer a variety of opportunities to explore, both for those new to canyoneering and those who are accomplished pros.
Canyoneering Zion is an incredible way to experience this beautiful part of the world. It also requires extensive safety knowledge, the proper gear, and a familiarity with the area – which is why Zion canyoneering trips are best done with a guide.
Here’s what we love about Zion canyoneering:
For the beginner, canyoneering Zion offers plenty of options to try this new sport safely and comfortably. Zion canyoneering adventures can be suited to all levels and ages of canyoneer!
The many canyons in the Zion area each offer a different experience. From cool river waters to hot red rock faces and exhilarating rappels, there’s something for everyone on a Zion canyoneering route.
Sometimes, canyoneering can have a high barrier to entry because it requires specific gear and knowledge, and many canyoneering destinations are remote and hard to get to. Part of what makes canyoneering in the Zion area so popular is the accessibility: many routes are easy to get to, and there are plenty of awesome Zion canyoneering guides that will show you the ropes and provide all the gear you need!
There are a number of Zion canyoneering routes suited to beginners, intermediate, and advanced canyoneers. Wherever you choose to go, if you are planning a DIY trip, you will have to obtain Zion canyoneering permits. If you choose a Zion guided canyoneering trip, your outfitter will handle these logistics. Outfitters are not allowed to guide within the National Park, but there are tons of incredible places for canyoneering outside the Park that they will take you.
Here are some of the popular canyons in the Zion area:
Perhaps the most popular beginner canyon in Zion National Park is The Narrows. This canyon doesn’t require technical canyoneering skills, and is primarily a stunning hike through the river as the canyon narrows around you. The water is cold and super refreshing in the summer, and the trail is pretty simple: it’s just the Virgin River, running through a canyon. You can walk up as far as you want and then return, so it’s truly a make-your-own-adventure. There is also the option to get a permit and hike the entire 16-mile length of the canyon. However you choose to set it up, The Narrows are a great introduction to the canyons of Zion.
During much of the year, the starting point of The Narrows is only accessible via shuttle bus. You need tickets for the shuttle bus, which go on sale at 5 p.m. the day before and usually sell out within minutes.
A tributary of the Virgin River Narrows, Orderville Canyon also makes a good Zion canyoneering experience for those with some experience canyoneering and rappelling. The route features a few opportunities to rappel as well as some swimming and scrambling. Because technical rappelling skills are required, it’s not a trip for complete beginners to canyoneering. We recommend that beginners instead book a guided trip with a Zion canyoneering outfitter. The total hike of Orderville Canyon, which requires a shuttle, is about 11 miles. The trailhead can be found on the east side of the park along Route 9.
The Subway bottom-up route is another beginner destination for exploring Zion’s canyons, though it certainly requires some physical fitness. The Subway bottom-up route is a pretty strenuous thru-hike, just under 10 miles, between Wildcat Canyon and Left Fork Trailhead. It still requires route finding, scrambling over boulders and creek crossings until you reach the Subway – the crown jewel of the hike.
For the Subway top-down route, you will need technical canyoneering skills and a shuttle. We don’t recommend this route for beginners to canyoneering. The day will include a few little rappels (60 feet of rope required), some rock slab climbing, and you’ll also get wet from wading and swimming. It’s definitely an incredible adventure for those with the skills to complete it. Only a half-mile of this canyoneering adventure is actually the namesake Subway: a canyon with overhanging walls, making for beautiful scenery and play of light. The Subway is located in the central part of the park, just northwest of The Narrows. You can apply for a permit for either hike here.
There are literally hundreds of slot canyons to explore on a guided canyoneering trip in the Zion area. TripOutside lists the absolute best outfitters for your canyoneering adventure, and they will customize your Zion canyoneering adventure to your preferences.
Like so many desert destinations, Zion National Park is a land of extremes. In any given season, night and day temperatures can differ by as much as 30 degrees!
Temperatures and rain are the two most important things to keep in mind when planning a Zion canyoneering trip. In the hottest summer months at Zion, canyoneering can be a lot of fun because it gets you down into cool, dark canyons, and often involves swimming. In the colder winter months, those same factors can make canyoneering unpleasant and even dangerous.
Peak Zion canyoneering season is usually the spring months of April and May and the fall months of September and October. Average rainfall is about an inch a month during these times, with highs in the 70s and 80s.
Flash floods are a major risk for canyoneering in Zion. Monsoon season is in the summer from July to September. During this time, consult the visitor center and local outfitters to get updated information about flash flood risks before trying any Zion canyoneering. We always recommend booking a guided canyoneering trip with a Zion outfitters if you are a beginner to the sport or new to the area.
Zion National Park is in a wild, fairly remote part of southern Utah, so the nearest airport is the Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, which is about a 2.5 hour drive from the park. Some people also arrive via Salt Lake City, about a 4.5 hour drive away. There is a lot to see in and around Zion, so many people will come in from these airports and rent a car so they can make the most of their vacation in the region. Other popular recreation spots near Zion include Bryce Canyon National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, and Capitol Reef National Park.
Especially for folks new to the sport, Zion canyoneering tours are the way to go. TripOutside offers the best Zion canyoneering guides, along with tours and even Zion canyoneering courses for those looking to hone their skills. Our outfitter partners are all four star rated or above, and are some of the most experienced Zion canyoneering guides in the state of Utah. We take the guesswork out of booking your Zion canyoneering trip – all of our outfitters provide top notch service and safety.
Yes! Zion National Park is open for canyoneering year round, though routes may occasionally be closed for safety due to flash floods and other weather conditions. The advanced permit lottery for The Subway and Mystery Canyon does not run between November and March.
During the cooler months, it’s highly recommended to wear waders and/or a wetsuit for many canyoneering routes. Being wet and cold is a dangerous combination. If you aren’t worried about getting chilly, you will need to wear typical hiking gear to your Zion canyoneering adventure. You definitely need sturdy shoes – a big part of canyoneering is hiking and rock scrambling. Your feet will probably get wet, so close-toed water shoes or good sandals are often a good bet. As always, bring sun protection like a sunhat and sunscreen if you’re going to be in an exposed area. What you need will depend on what route you take, so consult local outfitters about what you should wear.
At 10 a.m. MT on the 5th of every month, canyoneering permits for the following month become available. As long as availability lasts, these permits can be reserved until 5 p.m. MT the day before your trip.
Typically, canyoneering routes in the Zion area are very adventurous and part of the fun is route-finding. They don’t tend to be well-marked with rock cairns or signs, the way hiking trails are. This is one reason we recommend using Zion canyoneering guides.
Most permits are processed in real time by the computer. You’ll know immediately when the reservations become available if you’ve received a permit.
For the advanced lottery permits for The Subway and Mystery Canyon, applicants are notified by email on the 5th day of the following month as to whether they’ve won the permit or not.