The next several sections focus on the peaks, climbing, and canyoneering in the park. Listed with the peaks are routes that are the easiest or are otherwise recommended (or both). If you are looking to read about the natural and human history of Zion, this is not the page for it; the focus is on the climbing!
The Peaks + Routes Overview-- Kolob Terrace
Located some miles west of Zion Canyon and north of Virgin and south of Kolob Reservoir, the Kolob Terrace area holds fantastic scenery; some of the park's best scrambling peaks, including the classic North Guardian Angel and the elusive ultra-classic South Guardian Angel; the world famous semi-technical slot canyon known as the Subway; and, in comparison to Zion Canyon, a feel of being almost deserted. A good deal of private property abuts this section of the park, but there is still a wild, wide-open feel to much of it. Be aware that there are no NPS campgrounds out here except for the one at Lava Point, which is several miles north of the best peaks and trails of the Kolob Terrace area. However, there is some BLM land adjacent to the park out here, and one can camp there for free and with few restrictions.
Spring and fall travelers-- be aware that the Kolob Terrace area is significantly higher than the Zion Canyon area. Be prepared for temperatures to be at least 10 degrees (F) cooler.
In and Near Zion Canyon
Zion Canyon-- even if you're a world-class climber who's seen it all or someone who's been into the canyon a hundred times or a first-time visitor, it is impossible not to be awed by this spectacle.
Sheer cliffs and spires rise, in some cases, more than 3000' above the canyon floor, rivaling the great walls of Yosemite Valley. In the spring and after heavy rains, ephemeral falls pour from the heights, sometimes transforming into misty wisps short of pounding onto the ground below. The Virgin River, emerging from one of the most famous stretches of narrows in the world, winds its way through cottonwood groves that create a nigh-unbelievable contrast against the red cliffs all around. In autumn, those cottonwoods turn a burning gold that defies belief. This is the desert?
Although it can seem incredibly crowded, don't let Zion Canyon even in the busiest times turn you away. As is always the case, a sense of adventure or some good route beta will remove you from the hordes and transport you to what the canyon's namers saw in it-- Heaven, or Zion.
Angels Landing-- NPS Trail (Class 3), Prodigal Son (IV, 5.8), Ball and Chain (VI, 5.10a, A2+)
Bridge Mountain-- Exposed, complicated Class 4 route from the east via Gifford Canyon
Cable Mountain-- Many Pools (Class 3+), Echo Canyon (Class 1), East Entrance (Class 1)
Mount Spry-- Holy Roller (5.11), Shark Tooth Freighter (5.10)
-- Scramble to Middle and Right Marys (5.2-5.4)
The Watchman-- West Face-- Class 4 (with major route-finding issues, fantastic scenery)
Because only one peak east of the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel and not considered part of the Zion Canyon group-- Checkerboard Mesa
-- has a name on USGS maps, and because there are only two officially maintained trails originating out there-- Tunnel Overlook and East Rim-- the east side is Zion's flyover country, so to speak; the majority of visitors are people on their way to or from Zion Canyon, and they do little more but stop and wander a few yards from the roadside to take some pictures. Thus, the east side, with its many unnamed peaks and its numerous washes and canyons, is a haven for scramblers and explorers who delight in isolation and secret wonders. In addition to all the peaks, there are several small slot canyons of varying difficulty levels, including Keyhole Canyon, a dark, very narrow technical slot. The Pine Creek slot also begins on the east side although it ends west of the tunnel.
-- NW Ridge (5.8), NE Ridge (5.4), East Slopes (Class 4)
The Kolob Canyons area, accessed from I-15 north of where people exit to get to Springdale and Zion Canyon, is a relatively little-known area that has some very nice hikes but does not see a lot of climbing activity despite the fact that Zion's highest peak, Horse Pasture Mountain, is located there. Horse Pasture Mountain is a 12-mile undertaking with Class 3 scrambling and very tedious brush near the summit.
Just Outside the ParkAround the borders of Zion are numerous peaks ranging from walk-ups to multi-pitch climbs. Many of these peaks are very "Zionesque" in character, and most do not attract much activity even though some of them are just as spectacular as most Zion peaks are. Almost all of these peaks are on BLM land or are in federally designated wilderness areas. Several are easy to access from the Kolob Terrace Road.
From “walk-thru” canyoneering classics like the world-famous Virgin River Narrows
(aka – Zion Narrows or “The Narrows”), to semi-technical classics like The Subway (Left Fork of North Creek), and yet still to technical canyoneering epic-builders like Heaps Canyon, Zion canyoneering
(click on the link for further, and highly informative, reading) has certainly found its way onto the adventurer's map.
A mere sampling of some of the fine canyoneering adventures available in the park follows. Permits are required for all those listed except for the Hidden Canyon route linked below. Canyon ratings are in parentheses.
(2A R II)
-Behunin Canyon (3AIII) - trip report
-Spry Canyon (3AIII) (photo
-Keyhole Canyon (3BII) (photo
-Englestead Canyon (4AIV) (photo
-Das Boot (4BII) - (photo
(4B R IV)
(4B R V) (photo
Canyoneering ratings in a nutshell:
The first character in the rating, such as the "3" in 3BIII, refers to the technicality of the canyon.
A "1" refers to a non-technical canyon hike. No rope or other technical gear is needed.
A "2" is a basic canyon, wherein one might need to do some scrambling to work through the occasional obstacle. A rope might be useful for assistance with packs, belays, etc. Up-canyon escape options (without fixed ropes) are available.
A "3" is an intermediate-level canyon. There may be actual climbing (and/or downclimbing) and/or rappels involved. A rope will be needed and a retreat upcanyon would necessitate fixed ropes.
A "4" refers to an advanced canyon. Multi-pitch rappels, difficult climbing and/or complex rope work can be expected. Natural anchors may be challenging to establish, and unique canyoneering obstacles, such as keeper potholes and Mae West obstacles, may be present.
The second character in the rating, such as the "B" in 3BIII, refers to the water volume and current in the canyon.
An "A" means that the canyon is typically dry or contains very little water. Some wading might be needed.
A "B" means that there is water in the canyon. The water should have little or no current. Some swimming can be expected.
A "C" means that there is water in the canyon and it moves swiftly. Expect waterfalls...and expect that wet canyon rope techniques will be needed.
The third character in the rating, such as the "III" in 3BIII, refers to the grade of the canyon.
A "I" means that the canyon will only take a couple of hours to do.
A "II" means that the canyon should take about half a day to complete.
A "III" means that the canyon can be expected to take most of a day to complete.
A "IV" means that one should expect a long day. A bivy may be required.
A "V" means that the canyon will take about two days to complete.
A "VI" means that the canyon will take two full days (or more) to complete.
Occasionally, a rating will have an "R" or an "X" as well. The "R" means that the canyon is particularly risky. Beginners, even in the presence of solid partners, are not appropriate. An "X" means that the canyon is appropriate for experts only.
Canyoneering, like climbing, is a potentially dangerous activity. Conditions change regularly. Don't bite off more than you can swallow. 'Nuff said.
Refer to Tom Jones' excellent Utah canyoneering site
for more info. He's got a Zion canyoneering guidebook
out too. Check it out.
Big Walls and Climbing Spots (Short Routes)
In the American West, only Yosemite is more prized as a destination for big-wall climbers. In 1967, Fred Beckey and company completed the park’s first big wall ascent. They climbed the northwest face of The Great White Throne. Since then, big wall climbing in Zion has only grown more popular. On fall days, it’s quite common to see the tiny dots of wall climbers making their slow way up any number of the park’s monstrous sandstone faces.
Additionally, Zion has an abundance of other climbing spots, many of them roadside locations.
Extensive information is available on sites like MountainProject and SuperTopo, but quite a bit of beta is right here on SP through this page on Zion free routes
The Streaked Wall
Zion National Park has three entrance stations:
The main entrance is located on Highway 9 at the east end of Springdale, Utah.
The park’s east entrance can be found about 10 miles west of Mt. Carmel Junction, Utah, also off Highway 9.
And the park’s third entrance, lending access to the Kolob Canyons section of the park, is found off Interstate 15 north of St. George, Utah.
Additionally, the Kolob Terrace [Reservoir] Road, found off Highway 9 in the small town of Virgin, gives access to the Kolob Terrace section of the park. You can also reach Kolob Terrace Road from the north from Highway 14 near Cedar City.
Consult the park’s SP mountain pages for specific directions to a peak (or climbing spot) of interest. Or click on one of the park contact links found on most of the mountain pages for more information.
As of 2016, the fee per vehicle, good for a week, was $30. Annual and interagency passes are available as well.
For much of the year, access to Zion Canyon is by foot or shuttle bus only except for Zion Lodge guests (who are only permitted to drive to and from the lodge, with no stops).
For details about park regulations, see the NPS page
for the park.
Camping and Lodging
The park has two campgrounds in Zion Canyon. One of them has reserveable sites.
Xanterra operates the Zion Lodge, which is inside Zion Canyon as well.
Zion is great all year long, but spring and fall are the best. Summer can be very hot, so climbing is better when done on shorter routes early in the morning. It is the best time of year for exploring slot canyons, but one has to be wary of flash floods resulting from thunderstorms.