Canyoneering is the quintessential Utah experience, an intriguing blend of hiking, scrambling, climbing, and rappelling that takes you deep inside narrow desert canyons and demands just as much mental energy as it does physical exertion. And for a sport pioneered right here, you truly haven’t experienced Zion until you’ve been through one of her canyons.
After an incredible day exploring Ladder Canyon earlier in the week, we were stoked to join another tour with East Zion Experiences, this time to spend a full day travelling through their most challenging backcountry canyon. Both in terms of scenery and adventure, it blew nearly everything we’ve done in Zion out of the water.
All the details: Canyoneering with East Zion Experiences
Cost | East Zion Experiences offers a truly epic full-day (7-9hr) Backcountry Canyoneering Tour for $225USD. The price includes transport to the canyon, all technical canyoneering gear, cold water, and the absolute best guides, who live and breathe Zion’s canyons!
Getting there | The East Zion Experiences office is located at 20 E Frost Ln, Orderville, UT (about 25min north of Kanab). You’ll need to check in here prior to your tour and then the EZE guides will transport you to the canyon trailhead by Jeep and UTV (the ride there is half the fun)!
Where to stay | Rodeway Inn Kanab offers basic but comfortable rooms right in town starting at $45/night. There’re also SO many amazing free campsites in and around the area; check iOverlander for up-to-date info, but we particularly like Hog Canyon and various spots off the 89 near Mt Carmel Junction.
Top tips | I’d recommend wearing an athletic shirt, pants/tights, and athletic shoes or hiking boots with good grip (approach shoes are the best, if you have them). Also be sure to bring a small backpack with your camera, extra water, and a big lunch to enjoy in the canyon!
A big thank you to East Zion Experiences for hosting me on their awesome full-day backcountry canyoneering tour in exchange for an honest review of the experience. As always, all opinions in this post are entirely my own!
We arrived at the East Zion Experiences office in Orderville just after 8am, meeting our guide Tanner out the front to begin gearing up for our full day of canyoneering. Familiar with the equipment from our first tour, we were ready within minutes and, soon after, we rolled out in the company Jeep, excitement levels incredibly high.
Eventually, the road became difficult to manage in the car and we transferred into the UTV for the final leg of the rough ride out to Rock Canyon.
The scenery transformed with every passing minute, colourful sandstone swirling into the distance under sporadic pine cover— adventure aside, we were in for a real treat today with the perfect weather and unbeatable views!
Arriving at a rocky outcrop near the canyon, we unloaded from the UTV and set off on a small hike to reach our final destination, passing an impressive wall of ancient petroglyphs and crossing a roaring creek along the way.
Finally, we descended a steep sandstone slope and approached the first drop into the canyon, all the more excited by the build-up of the journey to reach this remote spot.
Immediately, Rock Canyon was unlike Ladder Canyon with its easy approach and short rappel. This time, we were faced with a series of massive potholes, some 10ft deep, which we’d need to navigate through before we could even get into the main part of the canyon.
Tanner described these as a canyoneer’s worst enemy, and we could quickly see why— after rappelling into the first hole, we had the seemingly impossible task of trying to climb out of a polished sandstone bowl with no footholds and not so much as a nubbin to pinch between two fingers.
In the end, we choreographed a convoluted series of moves to get through the potholes: Tanner wedging a backpack into the crack and then running up into a narrow slot between the two largest potholes, me using both guys to get up, Tanner jumping down the other side, Dan grabbing my hand to get up, Tanner lowering Dan to the ground, both guys grabbing my feet to ease the long fall…
We were instantly aware of just how involved we’d need to be in getting through Rock Canyon. This wasn’t a matter of being lowered down on a rope by the guide; this route would require climbing, scrambling, and genuine problem solving. And we were up for the challenge!
Over the next several hours, we descended through the canyon on a series of rappels and down-climbs, each more complicated (and rewarding) than the last.
Lucky enough to have Tanner all to ourselves on what was essentially a private tour, we were also able to spend much of the day learning how to set up anchors, eight blocks, and safety belays— all essential knowledge for canyoneering on our own.
He was a veritable wealth of knowledge and we were blown away by just how well he knew the canyon and every quirky manoeuvre required to navigate it, as well as every piece of gear you might possibly use to your advantage.
Not only was the day an awesome crash course in canyoneering, it was also a massive leap forward in difficulty from the last canyon we’d done and therefore a much more “real” experience in many ways.
Although incredibly fun, Ladder Canyon was a low-risk, beginner tour through a beautiful slot canyon, while this was real backcountry canyoneering— the demand on each of us was much higher as we had to climb through massive potholes in the rock, scramble along rough terrain, and down-climb nearly a hundred feet through an incredibly sandy crack.
At many points, there was no margin for error and no safety net, other than Tanner’s assurance that this was the best way through the canyon. Without guidance, we wouldn’t have made it past the first few obstacles, but together with our amazing EZE guide, we managed to experience true canyoneering.
I was also struck by the difference between canyoneering and rock climbing, the most direct comparison we could make in terms of gear and experience.
In climbing a rock wall, there are so many rules— you can’t pull yourself up on the rope, you can’t grab onto a nearby tree, you can’t use your own carabiner as a foothold… in canyoneering, that’s all fair game.
The objective is to get through the canyon by any means, and so we stepped on our own backpack getting out of potholes, we used team climbing to drop 10ft into the next hole, and we counterbalanced each other along the rope.
The lack of structure or “rules” makes canyoneering feel more like a genuine puzzle than a purely technical sport, and it’s much of what we enjoyed so much about Rock Canyon, which was full of tricky moves that necessitated real creativity.
By the time we reached the penultimate rappel, a 110ft blind drop into the heart of Rock Canyon where a (dead) baby rattlesnake awaited us, we felt like we’d been on a real odyssey.
And as with any good adventure, it was fraught with peril and full of obstacles, the likes of which we’ll be exaggerating for years to come.