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Pine Creek Canyon - Zion National Park

Summary: A popular and beautiful technical canyon with possible water and icy swims. To complete this hike you will need: 200 ft of rope, a harness & descender, helmet (very important - the canyon travels right below the Pine Creek Overlook Trail, it is not uncommon for tourists to throw rocks down into the canyon from the trail above without realizing that you might be below), webbing, dry bag and possibly a wet suit (the Backcountry Office should be able to provide an update on water conditions). All technical canyons in Zion N.P. require a permit (available for $5 at the Backcountry Office of the Visitors Center). Do not attempt this hike if heavy rains threaten.
Directions: From the Visitors Center in Zion N.P. drive east on Highway 9 past the turn off for Zion Lodge. Park at the third switchback as you ascend towards the tunnel, there is a large pull off on the west (right hand) side and a low wall on the east side (you will have a view up the lower drainage of Pine Creek to The Great Arch). Hitchhike, or with a car shuttle drive, to through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel to the small Ranger booth and parking lot at the east side of the tunnel. The entrance to the canyon is located at the back of the parking lot near the rest room.
Road Conditions: Passenger Car - paved all the way
Navigation: Easy
Length: ~1.5 miles
Date Hiked: June, 2001 & April 2002
Weather Conditions: Cool
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the parking lot at the east side of the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel walk past the rest room and down the slope into the canyon. Turn right & head down canyon under the bridge. A short walk will bring you to a down climb and two potholes which will likely be full of water. There is a bolt and hanger on the right hand side of the second pothole you can rig for a 20' rappel (followed immediately afterwards by a down climb on a log). If you do not want to swim the potholes you can climb around on the left hand side and follow a fairly well established trail as it leads 150' down canyon to a large pine tree that can be used as an anchor for a 40' rappel into the canyon bottom. Which ever route you take, continue down canyon. The next obstacle is a 15' drop from a log (use rope for a hand line or rappel), followed by a very cool 40' rappel from two bolts with hangers and chains on the left into a nicely sculpted room with twin arches overhead. Shortly below you'll reach a 15' rappel off a log followed by a deep, dark section of narrow canyon. The canyon soon opens up allowing some sun to reach the bottom and providing a chance to warm up if you've had to do some swimming. You'll hike under a few really large choke stones before the canyon opens up and you'll have a view of one of the windows in the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel high on the left hand wall (which explains the low rumbling noises you've been hearing throughout your hike). There is a short scramble across a few boulders, then look for two bolts and hangers on the right which allow you to perform a 40' rappel down a steep slope. Your last rappel lies just beyond. Look for webbing tied around a bolt and hanger and small arch leading to a very scenic 100' rappel to land beside a small pool and spring. The last person in your group should be extra careful about placing the ropes to avoid getting them caught in one of several deep grooves in the rock located immediately below the anchor. After pulling your rope, take off your harness and begin route finding your way down the drainage through a field of house sized boulders. As you descend, keep an eye out for the road and a fairly well defined use trail which will lead up a slope to the road at the switchback you left your car at earlier.
Rating (1-5 stars):
Pine Creek is probably the most popular technical canyon in the Park, and for good reason. It is very pretty with sculpted walls and arches and provides enough of a technical challenge to prove interesting. The canyon is quite dark, which makes getting good photos a challenge, a tripod may be desireable. The author and his wife completed this hike on two occasions in about 4 hours.
Maps: Trails Illustrated - Zion National Park, Zion N.P. Park Map
Books: Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau - Michael Kelsey
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
Rappel at the
twin arches.
The dark narrows.  The final 100' rappel.