Zion National Park is a 147,000-acre national parkland that protects and preserves a spectacular landscape of sheer canyons and mountains composed of sandstone.
Zion Canyon, the heart of the national park, is lined with towering big walls that range from 600 to 2,200 feet high, including famed cliffs like the Great White Throne, Angels Landing, Temple of Sinawava, Red Arch Mountain, and The Court of the Patriarchs.
Zion Offers Big Walls and Cragging
Zion offers hundreds of climbing routes, most following crack systems, from one pitch long to multi-pitch routes up big walls.
The big wall routes on the cliffs, composed of Navajo Sandstone deposited over 200 million years ago in one of the largest sand dune fields in the history of the earth, are long, serious, and sometimes dangerous with loose rock. Shorter routes jam cracks along the bases of many tall cliffs, giving climbers an opportunity to improve their crack climbing techniques and to sample Zion’s unique climbing challenges.
Bring Solid Traditional Climbing Skills
Zion National Park, a sandstone version of Yosemite Valley, is an adventure climbing area. Most of the routes are not suitable for beginner climbers or for sport climbers who like bolts spaced every few feet. Zion’s routes require solid climbing skills, including placing gear for protection and anchors, rappelling and descending down complex faces and gullies, safely dealing with loose and rotten rock, good crack climbing techniques and experience with cracks of every size from fingers to gaping chimneys, and skill at routefinding up tricky and deceptive rock faces.
Zion Divides into 3 Sectors
Zion National Park naturally divides into several sectors for rock climbers—Zion Canyon, Kolob Canyons, and the east part of the park.
Zion Canyon is the main climbing area with hundreds of routes on most of the park’s classic big wall routes, including Spaceshot, Monkeyfinger, Moonlight Buttress, Touchstone Wall, and Prodigal Sun.
The Kolob Canyons on the west side of the park by Interstate 15 has lots of adventure climbing and some wild big walls.
The east side of the park offers slab routes up big domes above UT 9 and the east park entrance.
Zion’s Best Big Wall Routes
The best classic Zion big wall routes are:
- Iron Messiah (III 5.10) 10 pitches. Excellent free route up a big dihedral on The Spearhead.
- Shune’s Buttress (III 5.11c) 6-8 pitches. Long classic free climb up stunning splitters at the top.
- Touchstone Wall (III 5.11 C1 or 5.9 C2) 8 pitches. Steep, sunny, and popular route up Cerberus Gendarme.
- Prodigal Sun (IV 5.5 or 5.8 C2) 9 pitches. Popular big wall route up East Face of Angels Landing.
- Moonlight Buttress (IV 5.13a or 5.9 C1) 10-12 pitches. Zion classic with a stunning line and loads of exposure.
- Space Shot (IV 5.10 C2) 8 pitches. Steep, spectacular, and exposed aid route up thin cracks.
- Monkeyfinger (III 5.12) 9 pitches. The Astroman of Zion with steep and difficult jamming.
Zion National Park Visitor Center GPS Coordinates
N 37.200168 / S -112.986875
Zion Climbing Equipment
A standard Zion rack includes a set of Stoppers or other wired nuts; one to two sets of TCUs; two to three sets of cams like Friends or Camalots; and big crack gear to protect off-widths. Also bring 10 or so quickdraws, free carabiners, and several two-foot slings. For big wall routes consult route descriptions for more detailed gear needed for aid climbing. Aid routes require multiple sets of aiders or etriers and ascenders. Bring extra webbing for rappel anchors.
A 165-foot (50-meter) rope is standard for all routes, but a 200-foot (60-meter) rope is great for running pitches together. Many routes require double ropes to rappel off.
Southwest Utah. Zion National Park is 43 miles east of St. George and Interstate 15.
Distances to Zion from major cities:
- Las Vegas NV: 160 miles.
- Salt Lake City UT: 303 miles.
- Phoenix AZ: 394 miles.
- Los Angeles CA: 429 miles.
- Denver CO: 635 miles.
- San Francisco CA: 727 miles.
National Park Service.
Restrictions and Access Issues
- Certain cliff areas are closed for raptor nesting in spring and summer. Check the park website or ask at the Backcountry Desk in the park visitor center for closure details.
- Climbers do not need to register to climb. All overnight climbers must register at the visitor center and obtain a backcountry permit.
- Fires are permitted only in campgrounds in approved grills. No wood gathering.
- Keep off sandstone cliffs are rain or snow to avoiding damaging friable wet rock.
- Practice minimum impact by using a Leave No Trace ethic. Follow existing climber trails. Avoid stepping on or damaging vegetation. Pack out all trash. Use a closed container or wag bag for human waste. Carry out toilet paper too.
- Practice clean climbing techniques. Do not bring a hammer and pitons. Use of pitons scars the rock and damages cracks. Many Zion big walls go clean without pitons and a hammer.
- Park only in designated pullouts or ride the shuttle to the cliffs.
- Avoid damaging or climbing near archeological ruins and sites.
May through October. Weather can be extreme in summer and winter. Expect hot temperatures—over 100 degrees—in summer. Climb in the morning and evening or find shaded cliffs. Watch for severe thunderstorms. Flash flooding often occurs in side canyons and in Zion Canyon after heavy rain.
Spring and autumn are the best times, with highs between 60 and 90 degrees. Cool and rainy spells occur. Winter days are often cold and snow regularly falls. Sunny warm cliffs can be hard to find in winter.
Zion Guidebooks and Websites
- Rock Climbing Utah by Stewart M. Green, FalconGuides 1998, details the best routes at Zion National Park.
- Zion Climbing by Bryan Bird, Supertopo.
The best camping for climbers are the two park campgrounds at the south entrance to Zion National Park. South Campground, with 127 sites, is open on a first-come first-served basis spring through autumn. Watchman Campground, with 162 sites, is open year round but by reservation from March through November by calling 877-444-6777 or reserving at recreation.gov. Campgrounds are very busy on weekends, holidays, and all summer. Get there early or reserve ahead.
All services in Springdale, including motels, restaurants, and shops, at the south entrance to the park.
For More Information
Zion National Park, Springdale, UT 84767. Telephone: 435-772-3256