Get up close and personal with Utah’s slot canyons. Really, really up close.
Ever peer into the depths of a narrow canyon and think: I would like to hike, scramble, swim, rappel, grope, shimmy and slurp my way through THAT. Well, my friend, you should try canyoneering! It’s the art of getting from point A to point B using whatever it takes — ropes, harnesses, stepping on the faces of friends — often in a sensual full-body wetsuit.
Here’s our list of Utah’s best canyoneering adventures that range from non-technical scrambling to advanced climbing and rappelling.
Know Before You Go
Canyoneering is inherently dangerous, and we don’t want to send you into the beautiful unknown unawares. Follow these tips so that you can return with honor, and all your limbs intact.
- Watch the weather. Rain can become a flash flood in minutes — not enough time to escape a technical canyon.
- Research the area and bring a map with escape routes clearly marked.
- Humble thyself before rock. Does your skill level match the difficulty rating?
- Bring the right gear. Warm clothes, a water filtration system, the correct length of rope...
- Invite (competent) friends. Canyoneering often requires groups of two or more to create anchors and belays.
- Practice local canyoneering etiquette.
- Leave a detailed map, contingency plan and emergency contacts with a responsible person back home.
- Hire an experienced guide.
Non-Technical Routes | No Sweat
What to expect: Easy scrambling requiring the occasional use of your hands for balance and support. Bring the kids!
Equipment needed: A map or GPS and hiking shoes. And the backcountry basics: water, snacks, warm clothes, first-aid kit, cell phone or satellite phone, etc.
New to canyoneering? Don’t sweat it. Utah has plenty of slot canyons to go around. Non-technical routes are more akin to hiking than canyoneering, but hey, you gotta start somewhere! Beginners should stick to canyons that stay dry as standing water makes everything more complicated. These canyons are a good place to get your feet wet … err… dry.
- Zebra Slot Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante
- Little Wild Horse Canyon, San Rafael Swell
- Spooky/Peek-A-Boo Gulch, Grand Staircase-Escalante
Basic Routes | Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
What to expect: Scrambling with some easy climbing/downclimbing. Wading/swimming in cold water may be required. Bring the older kids!
Equipment needed: The backcountry basics, a map, GPS, short rope for lowering and raising packs and sticky shoes.
So you’ve done the easy stuff and you’re ready for more. Basic routes involve scrambling, using your hands to hoist yourself up or to shimmy down, and possibly getting wet. The risk factor for injury goes up significantly, but you probably won’t die. No need for harnesses and ropes, although a short rope is nice for lowering your backpack so it doesn't throw you off balance on the trickier stuff.
- Black Hole Of White Canyon, Cedar Mesa
- The Narrows, Zion National Park
- Orderville Canyon, Zion National Park
Intermediate Routes | Breakin’ a Sweat
What to expect: Rappels or technical climbing/downclimbing. Wading/swimming in cold water is highly likely.
Equipment needed: The backcountry basics, ropes, helmet, harness, sticky shoes, rappel device, locking carabiner, safety tether and rappelling gloves, a map, GPS, and an experienced leader.
We see you risk taker, and we understand. You want to be thrilled and challenged. Luckily, most of Utah’s canyons fall under the intermediate rating so the world is your pothole. As long as you have experience with sandstone climbing techniques and equipment and can withstand cold water for long periods of time, you’re good to go.
- Halls Creek Narrows, Capitol Reef National Park
- The Subway, Zion National Park
- Bluejohn Canyon, Canyonlands National Park
Advanced Routes | Blood, Sweat and Tears
What to expect: Multi-stage rappels and/or complex rope work, difficult pothole escapes, serious squeezing, extensive high-risk downclimbing, and difficult-to-establish natural anchors. Wading/swimming in cold water is pretty much a given.
Equipment needed: The backcountry basics, ropes, helmet, harness, sticky shoes, rappel device, locking carabiner, safety tether and rappelling gloves, an experienced leader and team, a map, GPS, extra warm clothes, and an extra rope or pull cord.
Well, it was really nice knowing you. You are the ultimate risk taker, the one who has worried your mom to death. But you are also competent. Obviously you are very experienced in all of the above, you are in great physical shape and you want to peer into the depths of the earth's soul. So double check your climbing gear, your maps, your cold water stamina and the competency of your canyoneering partner. Let us know when you make it back.
Well that should whet your appetite for wet-suit shenanigans! But if not, check out these other wet and wild adventures, like river rafting, kayaking and paddle-boarding. And if you just want to take the damn thing off, read up on dry-ish slot canyons in Utah.