Canyoneering Zion, Deep Into the Slot Canyons

Zion National Park, Utah

The red walls of Zion
The red walls of Zion

Among adrenalin junkies, Zion is mostly known for 2 things: climbing and canyoneering (or canyoning). Notice the theme? I mean, all of those cliffs out there that make up Zion National Park – they must be useful for something. I’m not of a good enough climber to climb Zion, but if you can’t climb those cliffs, you can at least rappel off them.

My last canyoning adventure was a few years back in Ecuador. I’d use the word ‘canyoning’ loosely here because there was no canyon per se, just one gushing waterfall after another. It was more like being waterboarded while hanging off a rope.

MORE: Canyoning Rio Blanco in Ecuador

So I’m keen to try out a version of canyoning that doesn’t have that ‘God, I’m going to drown’ aspect. Besides, I’ve been flirting with the idea picking up canyoning as a hobby for awhile now. Zion’s famous slot canyons seems to be just the place for learning more about this sport.

The day starts out early at 7 in the morning when I met up with my guides at Zion Adventure office. They handed me mysterious looking bundles and equipment to pack the provided waterproof backpack.

Then off we go in a van – all 6 of us, including the 2 guides. The hike to get to the top of the canyon was steep. All around us are red banded cliffs Zion is known for.

canyoning in zion

Further up and up we went. Soon we started shedding off our layers.

Finally! An hour later, we stopped and were told to unpack the mysterious bundles we’ve been carrying uphill. They turned out to be clothing made specifically for canyoning: a piece of dry suit (basically a one-piece Gore-Tex) and a coverall (to protect the expensive Gore-Tex). Along with a harness and slings.

These suits are far than flattering but very soon I learned that they serve a major purpose.

First rappel in Water Canyon
First rappel in Water Canyon

Our first rappel was down onto a water-filled pothole a with a sloping edge. I was instructed to balance on the edge of water and make my way around to a flat platform.

I would’ve done just fine if I didn’t try to grab the rope next to me. As I bent sideways, I felt my shoes losing traction and I slipped, ever so slowly, down the sloping wall, into the deep, (GASP!) cold water.

Sigh. Seriously?

Somehow between the shock of the cold and my cumbersome getup, I couldn’t make my way out of the pool. Whenever I tried to stand up, I’d slip back into the pool again. Again. And again. Like a fly slowly drowning in a bowl of water.

Finally deciding that he’s had enough entertainment (and for fear of the company’s first ever casualty), my guide grabbed my pack and dragged me and whatever pride I had left out of the pool like one would a sack of potato.

Canyoning:2 Jill:0

Amazingly the dry suit, which I admittedly was very skeptical of earlier, did keep the water out of my clothes. My poor shoes and socks weren’t so lucky though.

The funny thing about canyoning is that half of the fun is the rappelling. Well, funny to me anyway. As a climber, I always see rappelling as a way to get off the mountain quickly – as one of the last obstacles to warm fire and dinner at the end of a long day. Most climbers know the stat: accidents happen while rappelling.

Canyoning the water canyon, Utah
Weeee!! Rappelling can be fun.
One of the tallest rappels in Water Canyon
I think the tallest rappel that we did was 165 ft

It took a mental ‘switch’ to actually start enjoying all the 7 rappels that we ended up doing. Part of it is knowing that it was going to be somebody else’s problem if the ropes get stuck.

The other half of canyoning is wading through pools of water, navigating narrow sections, and scrambling around. This was tons of fun.

Guided rappel
Guided rappel
The narrow slot canyons of Zion
The narrow slot canyons of Zion

I learned a couple of new things along the way too. One of them is the ridiculousness and awkwardness of tandem rappel. I giggled non-stop.

Tandem rappel is giggle inducing
Tandem rappel is giggle inducing

Between the rappelling, the squeezing, the scrambling, and the swimming – I can’t think of a funner way to spend a day in Zion than exploring one of Zion’s many slot canyons.

At the end of the day, I decided that there’s enough similarity between canyoning and climbing that I think next time Jack and I are ready to set out on our own.

So does that mean there will be more canyoneering adventures in the future? Absolutely.

(Although to be honest, I’d prefer a dry one next time).

Have you gone canyoning before?

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9 Replies to “Canyoneering Zion, Deep Into the Slot Canyons”

  1. On a business trip once, I drove from Salt Lake City to Park City to Provo. The scenery blew me away and I promised myself one day I’d go back and see more of the state. I’ve never tried canyoning, but that looks like a good place to start!

  2. Wow, absolutely stunning shots! Glad that you enjoyed yourselves and you managed to stay relatively dry! I wasn’t a fan of canyoning the last (and only) time I tried it (we never left the water), but this type of canyoneering is something I could possibly get in to (that’s if I can get over the height factor!).

  3. That looks absolutely terrifying! Being at either the top or the bottom would be fine, but the rappelling would totally freak me out. Good thing I can enjoy it through you!

  4. It looks like so much fun. I actually hiked and rappelled through the Subway at Zion a few years ago. It was ridiculously fun. The only problem is we did not have dry suits. I remember plunging into a cold, deep part of the trail. The water never sees sun, so it stays around the temperatures found in caves (50 degrees F). I remember gasping for breath as I surfaced and remembered how restricted my lungs felt minutes after! I highly recommend it and want to do more 🙂

  5. Hi!
    I’ve done canyoning a couple of times before (in Germany and Italy) and for me the jumping into waterholes and the abseiling was a big fun part. That looks quiet amazing! If I ever gonna end up doing cross country road trip. I am gonna stop there, think about you and then canyoning the hell out of the canyon 😉 The thing is that in germany it’s not really popular and almost no one knows it, which is good as well (no crowds!)
    Enjoy your roadtrip!
    Greetings from New Zealand!!
    Lara

  6. Zion is such an amazing park. I’m determined to go back someday, I wanted to explore the backcountry more but maybe canyoneering would be an option too. Do you have to get permits? Those can be a pain to get in the big parks sometimes….

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