Canyoning at Zion National Park was incredible and you should definitely look into it if you’re headed to Utah. In my last post, I shared our planning tips for flight, lodging, transportation, and what to pack. Now to get into the active part of the trip. Day 2 was our only full day in Zion National Park and we decided to go canyoning and save an easy hike for last. We wanted to be as alert and energized as possible for this adventure.
What is canyoning? It’s the sport of exploring a canyon by hiking up and rappelling, rafting, and waterfall jumping back down the canyon. Unlike mountaineering, where the goal is to make it to the top, canyoning is all about getting to the bottom. If you are an adventure seeker, canyoning is definitely a fun activity to add into your hiking trip.
For our trip, we booked our group with Zion Mountain School. You have the option for a half day, full day, or ultimate canyoning trip. We opted for a full day of canyoning which is a 7-9 hour trip that starts at the crack of dawn. Our group of 3 was the perfect size and we each paid $165, not including gratuity. It does get cheaper with more people, but it takes a lot longer. It’s a private group so we weren’t put with any other people (unless requested).
The morning was absolutely beautiful. We caught the sunrise on the canyon walls, sipped on coffee, and met with our guide. His name was Al and he was super cool. For our trip, he decided to take us to Waters Canyon. It’s known for its beautiful narrow passages, waterfalls, and cool springs. We took a 30 minute drive out to the middle of no where and began our ascent.
In addition to our backpacks, we carried our own harnesses and helmets. We began the 2 mile hike into the canyon. It was pretty much all uphill, so I’m sure our butts looked freaking amazing after! I would say this was the hardest part of the canyoning trip and it wasn’t bad at all.
We walked over creeks, climbed over rocks, and weaved in and out of bushes and tree branches. Of course, we stopped to take lots of photos! It was just breathtaking. These photos do it no justice.
At many points we were on the very edge of trail or canyon. It was easy to look over and see you were quite high up. I chose to stare at my feet instead of over the edges. The thing about this hiking portion is being aware at all times and watching your footing. We didn’t worry so much about any animals or snakes. Our biggest enemy would be slippery rocks and clumsiness. You don’t want a twisted ankle midway through a hike.
The scenery continued to get more beautiful. The rock formations and random pools of super cold water were fun. The experience wasn’t anything like I imagined it. I had this terrible assumption that we’d be hiking in scorching heat, exposed to the unrelenting sun. But we were mainly in the shade and the weather was very cool comfortable. Perfect hiking weather for sure.
The amazing thing about Waters Canyon is that it’s pretty much the lifeline to Springdale, UT. Water seeps out of the rock to create these little pools of water. We actually found a spot where we could drink straight from the canyon walls. The water was cold and refreshing. It’s also technically filtered. Thousands of years of continuous release from the canyon walls. The red coloration is due to the iron in the rock.
Once we made it to the top, we took a quick snack break and braced ourselves for our first rappel. We strapped on our harnesses and helmets and made sure all of our water bottles and everything was secured. Unlike the 500 ft free rappelling I did off the Reunion Tower in Dallas, we’d essentially be walking backwards down the side of the canyon. Al, Our guide took every pre-caution and made sure we were safely tethered to him before our descent.
Our rappels would be broken up into 6 or 7 trips ranging between 40-100 ft. The first one was 100 ft and the most nerve-wrecking. It was hard simply because we were getting used to the feel of the ropes, but eventually it was a breeze. With that said, don’t get nervous. The ropes and harness support a ton of weight so there’s no way it can just snap. It can support a weight of 5000 lbs or something ridiculous. Our guide Al could rappel us all the way down if he needed to and had a second rope that he controlled. It was easy to learn and pretty basic. The hardest part was simply taking the first step off the edge.
We were also able to control the speed of our descents. It was so cool walking down the walls. Felt so Matrix-y standing completely straight up, but on the side of a canyon.
Below wasn’t a traditional rappel. It was almost like a swing. There’s a pool of water below, but we didn’t really want to jump in. They were super cold and there wasn’t a lot of sun to dry off. There were a few opportunities to jump in pools and we saw a few climbers do so. We just lived vicariously through them. Not in the mood to rappel completely drenched and cold. Just sayin…
Once we completed our rappels, we had another one and a half miles to hike back down. It was definitely a lot easier and faster getting down than it was going up. We were out of the canyon by 3pm. Along the way down, I also fell on my ass. My Nikes, even with the grippy bottoms, were no match for wet sand on the rocks. Aside from a bruised ego, no injuries. Looking down, it was amazing for us to see how much ground we covered, yet so little. We were all quite pleased that we beasted this trail faster than expected.
A day trip like this is great for anyone in some physical shape. Definitely disclose any injuries to your guide beforehand. The last thing you want is to be carried out of the canyon. That’s no fun. It’s most strenuous on your legs, so if you can walk, you can do it.
Of course being fit is an advantage, but I wouldn’t say you need to be super fit to do this. Obviously it’ll be a little easier if you have some strength and endurance. I did get out of breath going up the canyon. It was like doing the Stairmaster for an hour. The three of us are tiny, so our size was a huge advantage for us. I’m 5’1. Being small, we could easily maneuver around and through the crevices. Don’t let that deter you though. Our guide Al was 6’2 and he did fine as well.
Take as many breaks as you need. It’s not a race to the top and better to be energized and aware. You make mistakes when you’re tired. On that note, after we got out of the canyon, the adrenaline rushed disappeared and we realized how exhausted we were. As much as we wanted to find another hiking trail, we grabbed some ice cream, dinner and called it a night instead. We didn’t want our exhaustion to affect our judgment while driving in the dark.
Flash floods are a real thing and it’s recommended to be out of the canyons and back in town by 3pm. It rains sporadically in the canyons and being a drainage, it’ll literally wash everything out. People have died in the canyons before. Better safe than sorry, am I right?
Overall, canyoning was such a fun experience and I’d definitely recommend it. I felt safe and secure during the trek up and down. It’s not as busy as some of the other trails and you get to experience being inside the canyon. It’s another activity you can do in addition to hiking and one I highly recommend. You get a chance to experience something different.