This week, two park visitors, in two separate incidents, had to be rescued by emergency crews while hiking in Zion National Park.

The first, a 20-year-old man from Springdale, Utah, had to spend a night on the Watchman with his two climbing partners after he injured his ankle. He was not hiking on a trail at the time. The next day, after the young man was rescued, a second call for help was placed. This time, a middle aged woman hiking on Canyon Overlook Trail fell and suffered a serious injury to her lower leg.

Besides the added danger of close contact between emergency crews and visitors during the outbreak of COVID-19, a search and rescue situation is never a good thing. While accidents happen and are sometimes unavoidable, that’s not always the case.

Each year, more than 250 emergency incidents are reported in Zion National Park. Rescue operations are often dangerous for the crews involved. They pull resources, which can be dangerous if multiple incidents occur at once. They’re also costly for the park service.

Every visitor to the park has a duty to do what they can to avoid getting into a situation that requires rescue. Keep reading to learn 7 essentials tips you should always follow to help you stay out of a sticky situation.

1. Stay on the Trail

Zion National Park covers almost 230 square miles. The park’s trail system can help you cover a number of those miles. But like most national parks, Zion also has its share of unspoiled wilderness. 

As tempting as it may be to wander off the trail, this is perhaps the biggest mistake any visitor could make. With no trails to follow, you’ll be crossing treacherous terrain. Cell phone service is limited enough in the developed areas of the park; in the backcountry, you’re unlikely to ever see a bar. Which means if you do get into trouble or even just get turned around, you won’t be able to call for help or use your GPS.

Whether you’re looking for an afternoon stroll or a challenging multi-day trek, stick to established trails. Not only will you be keeping yourself safe, but you’ll also be doing your part to protect Zion’s natural resources.

2. Check a Trail’s Difficulty Rating First

Each of Zion’s hiking trails features a difficulty rating, ranging from easy to very strenuous. These ratings are designed to help hikers determine which trails are right for their skill level. 

If you’re new to hiking, have trouble walking long distances or traversing uneven ground, or are hiking with older adults or children, sticking to easy trails is best. Only experienced hikers with the right gear, plenty of stamina, and experience hiking in the park should take on its most difficult trails.

Always check a trail’s difficulty level, as well as the distance, before you start a hike. You can find this information at the trailhead, or by stopping by the park’s visitor center.

3. Start Your Hike Early to Get Off the Trail Before Dark

Besides letting you know whether a trail might have obstacles that you aren’t quite ready for, checking the trail rating and length can also help you better judge how long you’ll need to hike it. Catching a sunset from a trail overlook is a great addition to any itinerary.

But even if you’re an experienced hiker and have a flashlight with you, staying on a trail past dark can be dangerous. With so many steep cliff faces and uneven, rocky trails, you could suffer anything from a rolled ankle to a serious fall. If you plan to start a hike late in the day, make sure that it’s one you’re confident you can get off of before dark. If the hike takes longer than you expected, turn back at dusk or pick up the pace.

4. Wear the Right Gear

A safe hike starts with the right gear. From wicking materials to keep you cool and dry, to a pair of sturdy hiking boots, you should always hit the trails prepared, even if you only plan to take on a few of Zion’s easiest trails.

Even as temperatures begin to heat up later this Spring, Zion could still experience a few late-season winter storms. If snow and freezing temperatures are in the forecast, make sure that you’re prepared to prevent hypothermia on your hike

5. Bring More Water Than You Need

Dehydration is one of the biggest causes of emergency responses in Zion. The park is, after all, a desert. Summer in the canyon brings sweltering heat. But steep, difficult trails can leave you dehydrated on a freezing winter day as well.

An active, healthy hiker on a moderate trail needs to drink an average of one liter of water every two hours. If you are hiking a more difficult trail, temperatures are high, or you drink more than average, you may go through much more. Always pack more water than you plan to use. Refill your bottles before you start a new trail. And remember to keep drinking as you walk, even if you don’t feel thirsty.

6. Understand the Danger of Flash Floods

For a desert, Zion sees more than its share of rain, especially during the spring and early summer. Sudden, heavy downpours running down canyon cliffs into narrow gulches have one serious consequence; flash floods.

Flash floods are a yearly occurrence in southern Utah. Understanding when and where they occur, how to spot them, and how to avoid them, is a must. If you do get caught, you may face hours or even longer of waiting before emergency services can get to you. And even then, you may all face a dangerous rescue.

7. Hike in Pairs

One of the easiest ways to keep yourself safe during your visit is to always hike with a buddy. Having someone else along means you’ll have help performing basic first aid, another set of eyes when you need to read the map, and a helping hand if you get in a bad situation. 

Staying Safe During Your Visit

It’s up to each visitor to Zion to do their part to stay safe during their visit. While emergency services is always waiting and ready to lend a hand, a visit from them is never a good way to end your vacation!

By keeping yourself safe, you’ll also be doing your part to preserve Zion. Check out this piece next to learn other tips to help you protect the park we all know and love!