Backpacking Safety and Regulations

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SAR rangers carry a litter down a rocky trail
 

Safety

Plan Ahead and Prepare

Traveling into the wilderness, even on short trips, can be challenging and risky and requires careful planning before you begin. Your safety depends on your own good judgement, adequate preparation, and constant observation. Speak with park rangers at park visitor centers or visit the links below for current conditions, weather forecasts, and flash flood potential ratings.

  • Take action to ensure that your group is self-reliant and aware of the risks involved with backpacking in the Zion Wilderness.
  • Be aware of the weather and the flash flood potential rating. Continuously evaluate the weather and adjust plans to keep you and your group safe. Have a back-up plan.
  • Have a route description, map, compass, and the ability to use them.

  • Familiarize yourself with the water sources in Zion. Carry enough water, one gallon per person per day, and drink it. Do not drink untreated water.

  • Plan your wilderness transportation to and from the trailhead. Upstream travel to campsites in the Narrows is prohibited.

  • Everyone in the group should have the proper equipment, skill level, and physical ability to successfully complete each overnight trip.

  • Know that rescue is not a certainty. Your safety is your responsibility.

Flash Floods

All narrow canyons are potentially hazardous. Flash floods, often caused by storms miles away, are a real danger and can be life threatening. By entering a narrow canyon you are assuming a risk.

During a flash flood, the water level rises quickly, within minutes or even seconds. A flash flood can rush down a canyon in a wall of water 12 feet high or more. You cannot outrun or outswim a flash flood.

Know the weather and flash flood potential forecasts before starting your trip. If bad weather threatens, do not enter a narrow canyon. Whether hiking, climbing, or canyoneering, your safety depends on your own good judgment, adequate preparation, and constant attention to your surroundings. Your safety is your responsibility.

Watch for these indications of a possible flash flood:

  • Any deterioration in weather conditions
  • Build up of clouds or sounds of thunder
  • Sudden changes in water clarity from clear to muddy
  • Floating debris
  • Rising water levels or stronger currents
  • Increasing roar of water upcanyon

If you observe any of these signs, seek higher ground immediately. Even climbing a few feet may save your life. Remain on high ground until conditions improve. Water levels usually drop within 24 hours. Flash floods do occur in the park during periods of low flash flood potential. A moderate or higher flash flood potential should be a serious cause for concern.

Wildlife

You will encounter wildlife while in the wilderness. Be aware that wild animals can be unpredictable. Do not approach or attempt to move sick or injured wildlife. Please report any encounters with aggressive, sick, or injured animals to a park ranger.

Please keep all animals wild and healthy by viewing them from a safe distance. Do not feed or touch wildlife. Store food and trash responsibly.

Mountain Lions
Mountain lions are wild animals and can be dangerous. They have been seen in the park. An attack is unlikely, and the park has never had a reported attack on people or pets. However, mountain lions have attacked in other wilderness areas.

  • Watch children closely, and never let them run ahead or lag behind.
  • Solo hiking is not encouraged.
  • Never approach a mountain lion. Most will avoid a confrontation. Always give them a route to escape.
  • Do not run. Try to look large and put your arms up.
  • If a mountain lion approaches, wave your arms, shout, and throw rocks or sticks at it.
  • If attacked, fight back.

Steep Cliffs

Falls from cliffs on trails have resulted in deaths. Loose sand or pebbles on stone are very slippery. Be careful of edges when using cameras or binoculars. Never throw or roll rocks, as there may be hikers below you. Trails can be snow and ice covered in winter.

  • Stay on the trail.
  • Stay back from cliff edges.
  • Observe posted warnings.
  • Please watch children.

Water

The desert is an extreme environment. Carry enough water, one gallon per person per day, and drink it. Water is available at visitor centers, campgrounds, and the Zion Lodge. Water flow at natural springs can vary, check for information at visitor centers. Do not drink untreated water. Water collected in the wilderness is not safe to drink without treatment.

Water Treatment Methods

CDC Guide to Water Treatment for Backcountry & Travel Use
Except for boiling, few water treatment methods are 100% effective in removing all pathogens.

  • Boiling can be used as a pathogen reduction method that should kill all pathogens. For most elevations in Zion, water should be brought to a rolling boil for 3 minutes.
  • Filtration can be used as a pathogen reduction method against most microorganisms. Manufacturer’s instructions must be followed.
  • Disinfection can be used as a pathogen reduction method against microorganisms. However many factors can impact the effectiveness of chemical disinfection. The length of time and concentration of disinfectant varies by manufacturer and effectiveness of pathogen reduction depends on the product. 100% effectiveness may not be achieved.
  • If boiling water is not possible, a combination of filtration and chemical disinfection is the most effective treatment method for drinking water in the Zion Wilderness.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses more fluid than is taken in. Signs of heat exhaustion include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, headaches, pale appearance, stomach cramps, and cool clammy skin. If a member of your party begins to experience any of these symptoms, stop your hike immediately. Find a cool, shady area and rest with your feet up to distribute fluids throughout your body. It is important to drink fluids, but it is also important to eat. Drinking lots of fluids and not eating, while suffering from heat exhaustion, can lead to a potentially dangerous condition of low blood salt. If heat exhaustion symptoms persist for more than two hours, seek medical help.

Heat stroke is an advanced stage of heat exhaustion. It is the body's inability to cool itself. Symptoms include confusion, disorientation, behavior changes, and seizures. If you believe that a member of your party is suffering from heat stroke, it is imperative to cool them using any available means and obtain immediate medical assistance.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia occurs when the body is cooled to dangerous levels. It is the number one killer of outdoor recreationists, even in summer, and it usually happens without the victim's awareness. It is a hazard in narrow canyons because immersion in water is the quickest route to body heat loss. To prevent hypothermia, avoid cotton clothing (it provides no insulation when wet) and eat high-energy food before you are chilled. The signs of hypothermia include:

  • Uncontrollable shivering
  • Stumbling and poor coordination
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Confusion or slurred speech

If you recognize any of these signs, stop hiking and immediately replace wet clothing with dry clothing. Warm the victim with your own body and a warm drink, and shelter the individual from breezes. A pre-warmed sleeping bag will also help prevent further heat loss.

 
Hiker on the West Rim Trail
 

Regulations

You can help preserve and protect the Zion Wilderness for future generations by following these regulations and Leave No Trace principles.

Wilderness Permits

  • Permits are required for all overnight backpacking trips within Zion National Park.
  • Permits may be picked up the day before, or the day of your trip at one of the park visitor centers.
  • Permits are valid only for the campsites and dates shown.
  • Permits must be carried with you and shown upon request.

Group Size Limits

  • The maximum group size limit for the Zion Wilderness is 12 people.
  • A group is any number of people sharing the same affiliation (e.g., school, club, scout troop, family, friends, etc.) on the same trail on the same day.
  • Group size limits are strictly enforced. Permits will be denied and violators will be cited if limits are exceeded.

Leave No Trace

While backpacking in Zion, please show respect for your national park and your fellow visitors by following each of the Leave No Trace principles.

Leave No Trace: Center for Outdoor Ethics

Watch a Leave No Trace video.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

  • In designated camping areas, (e.g., Kolob Canyons, West Rim, The Narrows, and Southwest Desert) camp only within the previously disturbed area.
  • In at-large camping areas, (e.g., Wildcat Canyon and East Rim) campsites should be 200 feet from all streams and trails, ¼ mile from natural springs, and out of sight of all trails. Camping in previously used areas or on bare ground is encouraged.
  • Travel on well-established trails. If you must leave the trail, avoid stepping on biological soil crusts. It can take decades to regrow and can be destroyed by a single step.

Dispose of Waste Properly

  • Be prepared to pack out human waste, toilet paper, and hygiene products. Wilderness permit groups must carry a minimum of one human waste disposal bag per person while in the wilderness.

  • All wilderness permit groups must carry their solid human waste out of the wilderness in waste disposal bags. This includes all Virgin River Narrows trips and all backpacking trips.

  • Pack it in, pack it out. Carry out all trash, including food wrappers, apple cores, fruit peels, nut shells, and toilet paper. Dispose of all waste in a proper trash can or dumpster. Recycle the rest.

Leave What You Find

  • Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them.

  • Protect the park from graffiti and vandalism. Do not build or destroy rock cairns that are used to mark trails and routes. If placed incorrectly, they can mislead visitors, cause unnecessary damage, and lead to potential injuries.

  • Do not build structures including benches, tables, or shelters. Leave the park in a natural state for others to enjoy.

Campfires

Campfires are not permitted in the Zion Wilderness. Use a gas stove to cook.

General Regulations

Pets, bikes, vehicles, discharge of weapons, hunting, and feeding wildlife are prohibited in the Zion Wilderness.

Protect The Wilderness

Wilderness is a rare wild place where one can retreat from civilization, reconnect with the earth and find healing, meaning, and significance. Knowledge, respect, and understanding for these wild and undeveloped places will ensure that they remain spectacular for years to come. To learn more visit the National Park Service Wilderness page and Wilderness Connect.

 
 
 
 

Last updated: July 21, 2019

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Zion National Park
1 Zion Park Blvd.
State Route 9

Springdale, UT 84767

Phone:

(435) 772-3256
Staffed daily from 9 am - 12 noon. Recorded information is available 24 hours a day. If you are unable to reach someone by phone, please email us at zion_park_information@nps.gov.

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