Hiking in Zion National Park is great for families or those looking for an adventure. With hikes and canyons to fit any experience level people flock here for the amazing scenery and landscape like nowhere else on earth. Due to the varying conditions it is important to be smart while hiking which will ensure a safe trip for everyone.
Have Plenty of Food and Water-
Zion National Parks temperatures can rise to extreme levels in the summer so it is very important to carry enough water. There is no magic number for how much water you should carry but some people say about a half liter of water per hour of hiking. If you are going on a longer hike like the West Rim Trail you can fill up with water at one of the springs. Make sure you have a water filter and read if the spring has water in it before you go. DO NOT DRINK unfiltered water from any source in Zion National Park. Sports drinks are also a great option because they will replenish your body with needed nutrients that are lost during sweating during your hike. Personally I carry a water filter on any of my longer canyoneering trips for emergencies.
You should also bring some high energy snacks with you on your hike like beef jerky, trail mix, dried fruit, and energy bars. These are light weight and can help keep you full throughout the day.
You should always pack extra food and water on your hikes, especially if they are in one of the remote areas of Zion National Park. I recommend bringing enough food for an extra day in case you get stuck in a canyon overnight. Again I can’t stress enough if you are doing remote canyons you NEED to get a water filter.
Have Good Footwear-
Having good footwear is very important while hiking many of the Zion National Park trails. Many of the shorter hikes in the main canyon have a well defined trail from dirt or concrete but not all of them. Many people have rolled their ankles out hiking. Get a shoe that provides stability and ankle support. Make sure if you get new hiking boots that you have worn them in. If you don’t know what type of hiking shoes to get go to REI or another outdoor store and have them help you. I have Chocos sandals for water and less strenuous hikes and Merrill hiking boots for the longer rougher hikes. Socks are another vital part of footwear care, make sure you have good socks because they can help prevent rubbing and blisters on your feet.
Don’t Hike Alone-
Have you ever seen the movie 127 Hours?If you haven’t you should. Aaron Ralston was out hiking in a remote area of Canyonlands National Park alone when he had a rock fall on his arm. He was stuck for days and the only way out was to cut his arm off. He did not tell anyone where he was hiking. He was stuck for over 5 days alone and almost died.
It is very important to always let someone know where your group is hiking and what time you expect to get back. This step is a MUST for anyone canyoneering. You should also make sure your contact has the Zion Search and Rescue number handy.
Bring a First Aid Kit-
At least one hiker in your group should carry a first aid kit with emergency supplies. Also add blister kit, Ibuprofen, and an ACE bandage to your first aid kit. These items have saved someone in our group more than once. You may also want to add calamine lotion and allergy medication for bug bites or for poison ivy.
Know the Weather-
The weather can vary wildly in Zion National Park. The weather can soar to above 100 degrees during the summer which can cause a lot of problems for unprepared hikers due to heat.
During the months of July and August afternoon thunderstorms can cause any canyon to quickly flash flood and turn into a death trap. Make sure to know the weather before you go into any slot canyon.
If you are canyoneering make sure to check with the Zion Canyon Wilderness Desk for current conditions and flash flood potential for the day. During the day pay attention to the sky and look at what types of clouds are rolling in. (For a lesson on the different types of clouds and what to look out for click here.) If it looks stormy try your best to hurry to get to safety. If you are close to the end of the canyon try to quickly exit to safety. If you are in the middle of a slot canyon and the water level is rising quickly look for the highest ground possible and stay there until the water level recedes.
Bring a Map-
If you are doing any type of backcountry hiking in Zion make sure you have a map either on you or saved on your phone. Most of Zion’s trails are well marked but some aren’t. A map can save your life in these situations. You should also bring a compass or use the one on your phone to help out to know exactly where you are if you get in trouble.
If you get lost and don’t know where you are remain calm and try and get your bearings. Try and figure out what way you are headed by looking at how the sun is moving. Turn on your cell phone and see if you have reception, try locating yourself on Google Maps, and if you need to call for help. If these options don’t work stay put, try and make a fire and build a shelter. Make it easy for Zion Search and Rescue to find you. Zion Search and Rescue typically does not send out a search party until you have been reported missing for 24 hours.
Bring your Cell Phone-
In most of Zion National Park your cell phone will not work, however in some of the higher elevations you can get enough signal to send a text or make a call. Turn your phone on airplane mode to save battery and then if you face an emergency turn your phone off of airplane mode get to the highest point while looking for service to get help.
Star Early and End Before Dark-
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can happen with the hot temperatures in Zion. To help protect yourself it is recommend to hike early in the morning and finish in the early afternoon before the hottest part of the day. Also during July and August it is very common for late afternoon thunderstorms. You do NOT want to be hiking in a slot canyon if it starts to rain because of flash flood danger.
You should always carry a flashlight or headlamp in your backpack for emergencies or an unexpected after dark arrival. This may seem unnecessary for short hikes but it is a good habit to always have one in your backpack. You can get really cheap headlamps or flashlights from Wal-Mart or get nicer ones that are waterproof and have more features are REI.
Make sure you go at a steady comfortable pace for everyone in your group. Don’t go to fast or burn too much energy at the beginning of a long hike. Take breaks as needed. Some people like to go as fast as your slowest group member but this doesn’t always work because you may need to pick up the pace to get out of the canyon before dark. If someone is struggling let them catch their breath and then help them by taking their pack and setting goals to break after a certain amount of time.
Don’t Approach the Wildlife
As part of your trip to Zion you will most likely encounter a few different animals in the main canyon. The most common animals that people see are mule deer and squirrels. These animals are very used to people but they are still wild. Do not feed them or try and touch them. Enjoy them from a distance and let them go on their way. Also watch out for poison ivy in the park especially near the waterfall in the Narrows.
A lot of these safety tips may seem like common sense for anyone that has hiked a lot but it is important to review them and put them into practice, in doing so your trip to Zion will be safer and more enjoyable.