From Flash Floods to Rockslides: How to Stay Safe in Zion National Park

Every year, more than 4.5 million people visit Zion National Park. And every year, at least a few dozen people leave the park with injuries. While these injuries are sometimes the result of unpreventable accidents, many are avoidable. From flash floods to rockslides and everything in between, keep reading to learn how you can stay safe during your Zion adventure.

Flash Floods

One of the most dangerous threats in Zion National Park is flash floods. Occurring rapidly, with little to no warning, flash floods can cause existing streams to swell to dangerous levels and turn the normally dry ground into a raging river in mere seconds. 

While flash floods can be deadly anywhere they strike, Zion is particularly dangerous, thanks to its many canyons and low-lying trails. Slot canyons, in particular, can trap unsuspecting hikers when a flash flood occurs.

Flash floods can occur with almost no warning. But in most cases, with a little research and planning, you can predict when a flash flood is likely and stick to higher grounds to stay safe. To avoid getting caught in a deadly flash flood:

  • Check weather forecasts before setting out for the day, and as often as you can throughout the day. 
  • Sometimes rainstorms occurring miles away from the park can spark flash floods in Zion. Check the weather in surrounding areas and use weather maps to look at the overall forecast for the region.
  • Park officials post a daily flood rating that will let you know how likely flash floods are on any given day and in various parts of the park. Stop by the Visitor Center before entering the park to talk with rangers about the day’s flood risk. Understand that this flood risk can change; if the weather seems to have changed, check back to see if park officials have updated the flood risk.
  • Especially during the late summer months, rainstorms can pop up unexpectedly. If it looks like rain clouds are forming, head for higher ground.
  • Stick to trails on higher elevations if rain is likely. Avoid slot canyons, dry creek beds, and existing streams during rainstorms.

Rockslides

Just this past week, three hikers were injured and several more were stranded in a rockslide near Weeping Rock. Rockslides can be just as sudden and deadly as flash floods. Unfortunately, there is very little that you can do to avoid or predict them.

One thing you can do is avoid being the cause of a deadly rockslide. Never get too close to the edge of a cliff, as you could accidentally dislodge fragile rocks and other debris. Stacking rock cairns, a popular activity in the park is not only illegal, but also very dangerous. If rocks are stacked on cliffs or hillsides, they could fall and injure hikers below.

Whether you’re hiking or sightseeing in the park, being aware of your surroundings can help save you from many dangerous situations, including rockslides. If you choose to stop for a break or to eat lunch on the trail, look around before choosing a spot to sit. Resting below a rocky overhang or a trail high above could put you in the path of falling rocks. When camping, try to set up tents away from rocky overhangs or dead tree branches.

Thunderstorms

Thunderstorms can prompt flash floods, but that’s not the only threat they pose to hikers. Lightning strikes can also be dangerous, especially when you get caught in a storm while on a lengthy hike.

Obviously, the best way to stay safe is to check weather forecasts ahead of time and make sure that you’re close to a safe shelter when a thunderstorm is likely to occur. But if you get caught in an unexpected storm, there are a few things you should do to stay safe:

  • Find a low-lying spot and crouch down. You don’t want to seek shelter in a dry creek bed or canyon that could flood, but instead in a small ditch or other low areas. The goal is to be lower than the surrounding rocks and trees, which will lessen the likelihood of getting hit by a lightning strike.
  • If you are camping, get out of your tent. Metal tent stakes and poles are targets for lightning strikes.
  • Avoid any bodies of water, like streams or ditches that have filled with rainwater. Water is a great conductor of electricity, which can make contact with it deadly in the event of a lightning strike.

Extreme Heat

During the summer months, temperatures in Zion often reach triple digits. Add in hot sun and little shade, and dehydration and heat exhaustion become serious risks. Whether you are hiking or exploring the park in a different way, staying hydrated is a must.

Always pack more water than you expect to use. In general, a healthy, active hiker will consume an average of one liter of water every two hours to stay properly hydrated. Bring more water than you expect to need, as you may drink more than that or get stuck on the trail longer than you planned. You should never take on any of Zion’s strenuous or even moderate trails without some practice and exercise in the weeks and months leading up to your trip. If you aren’t used to hiking or used to hiking in hot temps, it’s better to stick to several shorter trails and aim to hike them early or late in the day when temperatures aren’t as hot.

Wildlife Encounters

Several recent incidents at Yellowstone National Park ended with tourists getting injured by bison. In each of the incidents, the tourists had approached, harassed, or otherwise gotten too close to the wild animals, prompting the attacks. While Zion may not have buffalo, it does have plenty of other wildlife that can attack or injure visitors when provoked.

Never approach wildlife of any kind, even if it appears harmless. If you are hiking on a trail and come upon a wild animal, there are a few things you should do to avoid provoking an attack. For a relatively harmless animal, like mule deer or bighorn sheep, simply stay put and let the animal move away from you. If you encounter a mountain lion stay calm and still. Avoid any sudden movements, and take a moment to assess the situation. If the cougar is within 50 yards of you, put your arms up and make yourself appear larger while making loud noises. If the animal is more than 50 yards away, back away slowly.

Staying Safe in Zion National Park

Staying safe during your visit to Zion starts with properly preparing for your adventure and understanding the risks. While some accidents are unavoidable, many can be prevented by simply being aware of your surroundings and understanding what to do if disaster does strike.