Pine Creek is a beautiful slot canyon with a strange history and some surprises. Pine Creek Canyon itself actually host Highway 9 through Zion National Park, but the slot itself is bypassed by a long tunnel blasted out of the rock in the 1930’s. While descending the slot, you can sometimes hear traffic rumbling through the tunnel and radiating from the blasted windows high above the slot.
The slot canyon itself is a lot of fun and short and sweet. The canyon provides a lot of “bang for the buck” and so is one of the most popular technical canyons in Zion National Park. The park service limits the amount of people that can descend the canyon, so get a permit in advance or be prepared to wait in line at the visitor center very early in the morning.
If you have a half a day to kill while in the park, Pine Creek is well worth the time. An added attraction is the coolness of the slot. When we went through, the temperature in Zion Canyon was 111F (44C), but the slot was very pleasant. The hike out wasn’t bad either with all the swimming holes to take a cool dip. Sometimes the canyon is filled with several refrigerator cold swimming holes, even in summer.
Compared to many canyons, Pine Creek is more a hike with rappels than it is a true technical canyon. Even though the technical challenges are few, don’t get the wrong idea that this canyon is for the inexperienced. It would be foolhardy for anyone to try and descend Pine Creek without the proper skills. There have already been several parties rescued from the canyon-don’t be another one. Pine Creek and the Subway seem to have more rescues than any canyon in the Park and sometimes attract a lot of people that shouldn’t be there and the canyon could easily be fatal for anyone whom makes the wrong mistakes. The canyon has a lot of flash flood potential and is not the place to be when thunderstorms are present in the area.
This canyon is highly recommended for those that have the proper skills needed, but whom are not ready for challenging canyons elsewhere in Zion or on the Colorado Plateau. At a minimum every member of the group should be well versed in rope skills used by rock climbers and especially in rappelling. The canyon now sees many parties in the May through October season.
This canyon is justifiably popular and a beautiful route. Highlights include a long and interesting narrows, dark passages, high walls, arches, pools of water and then greenery and several cascades and pools in the last section and after the slot.
Note #1: The slot is pretty dark and hard to photograph. Forgive the poor quality photographs as they didn’t turn out as well as hoped.
Note #2: Pine Creek already has plenty of bolts. Please do not add any more.
A rappel in Pine Creek.
Pine Creek Slot.
Pine Creek (along with Fry Canyon much farther east), actually has the easiest access of any slot canyon I know of. The slot actually passes under the highway!
This is where you will exit the canyon. If hitch hiking, you will probably want to start here as you will be clean and dry before doing the canyon.
After obtaining the proper permit from the visitor center, drive up Zion Canyon to Highway 9. Turn right/east here and follow the road to the second switchback. Park here.
Note: Observe the surrounding landmarks so you will know the correct place to exit the canyon after completing it.
Continue up Highway 9. Go through the tunnel and park at the parking lot just east of it and right after exiting the tunnel.
Inside Pine Creek.
There is currently only one recommended route through Pine Creek and drops into the canyon right at the highway. The route has several rappels (5-8 depending on the route and group). Conditions vary tremendously. Sometimes the canyon is a dry romp and sometimes it is filled with ice cold water. Flash floods change the canyon periodically and in fact a few years ago one of the old rappels actually disappeared and was taken out by a huge flash flood.
The canyon included some dark passageways, so for the best lighting, an 11 am start is recommended. The canyon begins right at the highway and then the canyon quickly slots up and has several drops and obstacles. The convoluted walls are really nice and the passages interesting. The slot opens up after the last drop and then there is an hour or two ob boulderhopping to get to the lower trailhead. Most parties seem to take about 4 hours for the route. See the Route Page
for more details.
This is the rappel into what is known as the Double Arch Cavern or the Great Cathedral.
Permits are required to descend Pine Creek. Due to the extreme popularity of the canyon, it would be wise to get a permit in advance. Below is the site to get advanced reservations:
Here are the regulations from the National Park Service:
Reservations are available for Pine Creek. They are also available for a wide variety of additional areas. Reservations can be made up to 3 months prior to your trip date.
A reservation is different from a permit. You will need to go into the Zion Canyon or the Kolob Canyon Visitor Center the day before or the day of your trip to pick up your permit and check the most current weather conditions.
The grotto in lower Pine Creek.
There is no camping in Pine Creek. You must camp in one of two campgrounds in Zion Canyon or on BLM land surrounding the park.
May through mid-October is the normal canyoneering season for Pine Creek. Summer is the most pleasant season to go. Don’t be put off by the heat of summer as it is always cool in the slot and the canyon is very pleasant in hot weather. Late May through early July are the best times to go because of better lighting and lesser chances of thunderstorms and flash floods. Mid-July through mid September is thunderstorm season, but there are still several dry and hot days. Make sure to check current weather forecast at the visitor center backcountry desk and don’t enter the canyon if there is any flash flood danger. Early fall can be nice too, but with less light. Winter descents are not recommended.
If there isn’t that much water, a wetsuit may not be needed in June through August, but check this with the visitor center’s backcountry desk when you get your permit. Outside the summer season, wetsuits will always be required.
Swimming through the log soup in Pine Creek.
Weather Forecast for Zion Canyon:
Weather and climate data for the Zion Canyon, elevation 4050 feet. *National Weather Service Data 1918-2007.
Keep in mind that in the slot canyon, it will be cooler. In the the canyon, all the shade and water around makes hot weather pleasant.
|MONTH||AVE HIGH||AVE LOW||REC HIGH||REC LOW||AVE PRECIP (in)|