‘Tis the Season: Late Summer Adventures in Zion

Ahhh, August is here. The desert is still hot, the thunderstorms are coming and going, and for many it is the last chance for a summer adventure. I offer this post as a guideline on how to maximize this time in Zion and the surrounding area.

Preparing mentally for another departure from the horizontal world.

Climbing, for me, is the most important form of recreation, so I will start there. There are few sports that offer such extreme physical challenge and such inspiring rewards. Even when it is 100 degrees outside, climbing in the shade is amazingly reasonable. Shady cragging opportunities exist all through the main canyon for those who can find the right aspects and times of day. One of my favorite summer climbing areas, Kolob Canyon’s South Fork of Taylor Creek, features cool temps and shade most of the day. Perhaps the most exciting and challenging summer climbing I have done is in Kolob on Huecos Rancheros (5.12c) and Namaste (5.12a). Also, Last Rites (5.10+) is a super-fun single pitch finger crack with a bolted start.

St. George also has some fun summer climbing opportunities. Enjoy the novelty of Veyo’s Crawdad Canyon Climbing Resort; if you go, don’t miss “The Fly” (5.11c), right off the pool deck. Snow Canyon’s Island in the Sky has great shade climbing in the morning; I recommend Cloudwalker’s first pitch (5.6 trad), Living on the Edge (5.10c sport), The Doghouse Arete (5.11b sport), and The Richness of It All (5.12a sport, 4 pitches) Also, Atomic Indian (5.11a) is a splitter trad gem on the opposite side of the canyon, and features good afternoon shade.

Deep in Pine Creek Canyon

If you are looking to be downright cold in the midst of the desert summer, canyoneering is the perfect activity. Put on your bathing suit, grab a harness, a short rope, and splash your way through Keyhole or Echo Canyon. For something a little bigger and more committing, Pine Creek and Mystery Canyon can be done in a half day (ideal when afternoon thunderstorms threaten). Orderville Canyon and The Subway are also perfect summer adventures, boasting amazing landscapes, enough swimming to keep you cool, and only brief technical obstacles.

Any true Zion triathalete must conquer heights, depths, and speed. Thus, the final piece of the summer recreation trinity is cycling. Mountain biking on the mesas can be done quite comfortably early in the morning or in the cool(er) hours between 7 pm and sunset. I highly recommend the technical slickrock riding on the Guacamole Trail and Gooseberry Mesa. One of my favorite rides on Gooseberry is The White Trail. Riding this doubletrack route back to the parking lot from The Point is best done at full speed and with many jumps over significant rock obstacles. The singletrack biking on the JEM Trail outside the town of Virgin is another spectacular ride, again best ridden at high speeds.

There are many great ways to enjoy Zion in the summer. I have very fond memories of late afternoon hikes on the West Rim, camping overnight, and hiking out with the sunrise. Surviving the summer in the desert has also depended on frequent visits to the swimming hole below the Diversion Dam on the Virgin River between the Human History Museum and Canyon Junction.

Enjoying the Diversion Dam Massage

To anyone visiting Zion for the first time, I also recommend biking up the Zion Canyon in the morning , and, of course, hiking The Narrows. As we approach three million annual visitors this year, it is clear the summer is not scaring folks away from Zion. There are many ways to get out into Zion’s landscape, and my suggestions cover only a small part of the recreation opportunities. If you have other suggestions, please share.

Now get out there, stay hydrated, and have fun!

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About Calvin

Calvin Laatsch guides canyoneering, rock climbing, and mountain biking trips at Zion Adventure Company; he also consults staff and clients alike on Norwegian customs, smooth dance moves, and the latest in dirtbag fashion. Bring your binoculars with you on the Zion Scenic Drive, and there’s a good chance you’ll see Calvin WAY up a wall, testing his mettle in form-fitting jeans.
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