Backpacking Safety and Regulations

Zion Backpacking Safety and Regulations Navigation

 

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 the Zion Canyon Visitor Center.
  • Permits are valid only for the campsites and dates shown.
  • Permits must be carried with you and shown upon request.
 

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. It is a good idea to be prepared to spend an unexpected night in case of an emergency. Know that rescue is not a certainty. Your safety is your responsibility.
  • Everyone in the group should have the proper equipment, skill level, and physical ability to successfully complete each overnight trip. Have a route description, map, compass, and the ability to use them.

  • Plan your Wilderness Transportation to and from the trailheads. Upstream travel to campsites in the Virgin River Narrows is prohibited.

Weather and Flash Flooding

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. Have a back-up plan in case of inclement weather.

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
  • Buildup 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.

Cyanobacteria and Water Sources

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.

All backpackers should be aware that there may be a risk of cyanotoxin exposure when recreating in water in Zion. In remote Wilderness areas, current cyanotoxin conditions may be unknown. Cyanotoxins may cause illness and/or death if ingested or absorbed through an opening in the skin. The risk of exposure increases during and immediately after any precipitation events. Do not drink from in-stream water; no known filtration methods are effective at reducing toxin levels safe for drinking. Water should be filtered directly from spring orifices. Water flow at natural springs may not always be reliable.

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.

Group Size Limits and Guided Activities

  • Group size in the Zion Wilderness shall not exceed 12 people sharing the same affiliation (school, church, club, scout group, family, friends, etc., or combination thereof) in the same drainage or on the same trail on the same day.
  • This applies to people traveling or camping together, and it applies to day use as well as overnight use.
  • Groups larger than 12, sharing the same affiliation, may divide into groups smaller than 12, provided they do not occupy the same drainage or the same route on the same day.
  • Structured and/or formally guided activities facilitated by educational, commercial, or like organizations are authorized to occur only on frontcountry trails. Such activities are not authorized to take place in park wilderness/back-country areas (Primitive and Pristine Zones).

Protect Wilderness Resources – Leave No Trace

Campfires

  • Campfires are prohibited in the Zion Wilderness.
  • Fuel stoves and lanterns may be used for camping purposes, but should only be lit on bare ground away from all vegetation.
  • In the interest of protection of environmental and scenic values, protection of natural resources, and public safety, these restrictions on fires are necessary.
  • Please do all you can to protect the park from human caused wildfires.

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 No Trace

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

  • Protect the park from all graffiti and vandalism. All graffiti, including words, drawings, and arrows, no matter how small or superficially drawn, carved, scratched, or painted, is vandalism.
  • Do not build rock cairns. 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.
  • Help protect Zion by not leaving your mark. Make memories, take photos, and Leave No Trace.
  • Watch a Leave No Trace video.

Park Wildlife

  • You will encounter wildlife while in the wilderness. Be aware that wild animals can be unpredictable. Please keep all animals wild and healthy by viewing them from a safe distance.
  • Do not feed or touch wildlife. All food and trash must be stored inside a secure hard sided container or interlocking wire mesh bag. Store food and trash responsibly.
  • 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.
  • For the welfare of park wildlife, your safety, and the safekeeping of your equipment, you should make your food items as unobtainable as possible. Your actions can put other people at risk of food pilfering, since animals regularly revisit areas where they easily obtained food. At worst, your behavior may lead directly to the death of a wild animal. These guidelines are meant to protect park wildlife, people, and equipment.

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.

Personal Safety

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.
  • Rock is slippery when wet, snowy, or icy.

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
 
 
 
 

Last updated: June 14, 2021

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Zion National Park
1 Zion Park Blvd.
State Route 9

Springdale, UT 84767

Phone:

435-772-3256
Recorded park information available 24 hours a day. Phones are answered 9 am to 4 pm Mountain Daylight Time. You can also send your questions to us at zion_park_information@nps.gov.

Contact Us