Zion National Park is the 3rd most-visited park in the country. For anyone who knows just how diverse the park is, that should come as no surprise. The park truly has something for everyone, including everything from beginner hiking trails to strenuous backpacking routes, rock climbing to horseback riding, and plenty in between.
But with so much to do and so many people trying to do it all, accidents are bound to happen. From falls and broken bones to wildfires, visitors experience a range of risks. Luckily, a little smart planning and a few handy tips can help you and your family stay safe, no matter how you choose to enjoy Zion.
1. Check the Weather Before You Set Out
Zion National Park is known for its sometimes unpredictable weather conditions. With varying elevations throughout the park, temperatures may change drastically even within the same hiking trail. Even in the heat of the summer, when temperatures can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit, nighttime can bring chilly temps. In the winter, snow and ice closes trails and causes hazards for unprepared hikers and other visitors.
When you first start planning your National Park adventure, research the weather conditions you can expect so that you can pack the right gear. Check weather forecasts each morning of your trip before you enter the park and start your day. Even if the forecast promises warm temperatures and mild weather, pack layers that you can add if things change.
2. Watch Out for Wildlife
Wildlife is plentiful in and around Zion National Park. For many visitors, spotting a Bighorn Sheep, a gray fox, or any of the other 68 species of mammals that call the park home may well be one of the highlights of their trip.
While wildlife is great for viewing or snapping treasured pictures to take home, it can also be dangerous. Even smaller mammals can attack if provoked. Always maintain a safe distance. Pay attention to their movement; even if you are viewing from a safe distance, they may begin to move closer to you, in which case you should also back away. Never try to touch or pet, or otherwise taunt or harm wildlife of any kind.
3. Practice Fire Safety
Camping in and around Zion National Park is a great way to get up-close-and-personal with nature and see a side of the park that few of the millions of people who visit the park each year get to see. But camping brings with it its own set of dangers. Using a pocket knife to whittle kindling or an axe to chop wood can lead to serious accidents. Staying in a tent or RV and failing to seek shelter during a storm can be deadly.
Perhaps the biggest threat for campers though is building a fire. Distracted or unsuspecting campers leave fires burning and go to bed, believing that the fire will die out on its own. But dry grass or a light wind can cause that fire to jump from its ring and spread rapidly, becoming a wildfire in the blink of an eye. This not only puts campers at risk, but can cause widespread damage throughout the park and neighboring regions.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, wildfires burn through more than 6 million acres of Federal land each year. While many wildfires are sparked naturally, often by a combination of dry conditions and lightning strikes, man-made fires are also common and just as deadly.
Like many risks associated with camping, there are plenty of things you can do to prepare and prevent potential accidents. When it comes to fire safety, always building fires in a containment ring, keeping a water bucket close by, and never leaving a fire unattended are all important. You should also pay attention to warnings from the National Park Service about fire risks. If conditions have been very dry, even a well-contained campfire is a mistake.
4. Store Your Food Correctly
Another important tip to remember when camping in or around a National Park or other wilderness area is to store your food properly. We’ve already mentioned the risk that wildlife can present; don’t invite those risk into your campsite by leaving food or drinks scattered about for bears, coyotes, or other wild animals to find.
5. Know Where You’re Going
With more than 300 million visitors a year, it may seem as though National Parks are packed with people. But with millions of acres of land, every park offers its own secluded trails, no matter the time of year you travel. While it’s great to escape the crowds and check out the less-visited parks and out-there parts of more popular parks, you should always go with a plan.
Even if you plan to stay on marked trails, accidents happen. If you don’t know a trail’s distance or terrain, you may end up stranded at sundown. In extreme conditions, you might overestimate your hiking abilities and run out of water or overexert yourself.
Before you hit the trails, always make sure that you know exactly where you’re headed and what the trail is like. Choose a hike that is well within the abilities of everyone in your group. Pack more water than you expect to need, and extra layers in case temperatures drop or a rainstorm pops up.
6. Stay on Marked Trails
Every year, at least a few tourists make the news after being injured or even dying in a fall in a National Park. Many of these visitors fall after straying from designated trails and paths. Some even climb over safety barriers to get a better view of canyons, waterfalls, or other sights.
Zion National Park has its share of beautiful overlooks and stunning vistas, all of which can quickly turn deadly. Under no circumstances should you ever leave a marked trail. Not only could you fall, but it’s also easy to get lost, which can be just as dangerous.
7. Learn Basic First Aid
It’s not always a major fall or a run-in with wildlife that can put an end to your fun day. Even a minor sprain or a cut can put you in a sticky situation if they occur while you’re on a lengthy hike. Before you lace up your boots, it’s a good idea to learn some basic first aid. Take a course or even do some research on your own. Learn how to clean and bandage cuts and scrapes, tape ankles, and how to tell when an injury needs more serious medical attention. Pack a small first aid kit with the essentials to bring along, even if you’re only planning to do a short hike.
Bonus Tip: Bring a Buddy
Some of the risks you might experience in the parks can’t be avoided, even with careful planning and plenty of preparation. Storms blow in unexpectedly. You can roll an ankle walking on a flat surface or experience an allergic reaction to a bug bite.
Having someone with you can not only make a scary situation a little less so, but could also save your life. Together, you can watch out for wildlife, plan the best hikes for both of you, and take care of each other if something goes wrong. Always plan to enjoy Zion and any other National Parks you plan to visit with a friend. Not only is it safer, but it’s also a lot more fun!