Almost everybody loves to hike. Many of us love to camp. Some of us even like to rappel and rock climb. And then there’s the rare breed that can’t decide on just one of these activities, but wants to combine them into a truly unique harmony of adventure. These are the canyoneers.
For those of you who don’t know, canyoneering is a term for technical hiking through the remarkable slot canyons of the Colorado Plateau. Carved by violent flash floods that cut quickly through the soft sandstone, these canyons are deep, narrow, and full of various obstacles that require highly technical skills to pass. These obstacles include boulders and log jams, potholes, stems, swims, and (of course) rappels. If you are new to this sport, it is highly recommended that you go out only with highly experienced teams! That said, let’s talk about some of the best places to find these unique treasures.
Arches National Park
Located in Moab, Utah, Arches National Park is just perfect for your next adventure. Featuring over 2000 different sandstone arches, rock fins, natural bridges, and other interesting and unique formations, this national park is ideal for a thoughtful journey. Popular canyons include Uncover, The Fiery Furnace, and Lost Spring. Keep in mind, these require permits that are difficult to obtain.
Zion National Park
Located close to Saint George, Utah, Zion National Park features a vast array of mountains and cliffs to provide a picture-perfect view. Additionally, there is even a lake to swim in if you are feeling up to it. There are dozens of slot canyons sprinkled throughout the park. One of the most popular is Pine Creek, which can be accessed right from the road, and includes many spectacular rapels. Mystery Canyon is a longer, more challenging hike that includes a 120-foot rappel down a waterfall directly into the Virgin River Narrows. I’ve also done Echo, Keyhole, and Mineral Gulch, which were all excellent.
Grand Canyon National Park
No canyon list would be complete without the grandest canyon of them all! Located in Arizona, the Grand Canyon has numerous hiking trails. You can spend days exploring the vast nooks and crannies of the canyon and it still might not even end up being enough. While not technically a Slot Canyon, I would recommend the Havasupai trail in a canyon tributary in the Arizona Strip. But (and I’m speaking from experience), make sure you bring a lot of water!
Bryce Canyon National Park
Image Credit: Bryce Canyon Country
Located in Utah, Bryce Canyon National Park is known for its awe-inspiring, spire-like boulder formations that cover the gigantic reserve. Covering over 55 miles of area, it would take some time for even the most experienced canyoneers to explore Bryce Canyon National Park to the fullest extent. Willis Creek Canyon is one of the least technical hikes on this list, but it’s nearly as picturesque as Antelope Canyon.
Grand Staircase Escalante
Image Credit: Utah.com
Technically this one is a national monument, not a national park, but there are many beautiful and remote canyons that are accessible. In fact, there may be even more canyons that become available, depending on what happens with the lawsuit. Though it’s not nearly as technical as some of the canyons listed, my personal favorite is Coyote Gulch. Nearby Calf Creek is better-known, but it’s too popular for my tastes.
These are just a few of the top national parks available to canyoneers of all ages and levels of experience. While some may be for more serious skill levels than others, you should research the parks you are interested in further before visiting. Once again, never attempt one of these canyons alone, and never go without an experienced team! That said, have fun out there!