It is easy to understand how Zion got its name. During my first trip here, I was taken aback by the incredibly steep walls. Unlike Red Rock in Las Vegas, the walls are virtually featureless save for a few crack weaknesses. Given this reality of the geology, it is no wonder why the rock climbing in Zion feels otherworldly and exposed. Zion is often referred to as the sandstone Yosemite, as the positions are often reminiscent of the valley but instead offer desert surroundings. Zion contains just about every style of climbing, including free, aid, bouldering, single pitch and multi-pitch climbing. Zion also can please any visiting climber whether you are here for a day or several. I recommend the later!
The land of the gods is a playground for climbers
Zion was long referred to as a sacred place where gods lived and was known as Mukuntuweap. It’s the native land of ancestral Puebloan, Fremont and other tribes and eventually the Paiute. In addition to being rich with history, add the flowing waters of the Virgin River underneath you, and it is little wonder why Zion is so popular. Fortunately for the visiting climber, your route often bypasses the hikers.
You won’t want to miss my first ‘big wall’ climb in Zion
For many, the biggest draw for climbing in Zion is the big walls that you can achieve in one or even two days with limited aid experience. While only eight to ten pitches long, routes like Moonlight Buttress, Prodigal Sun and Touchstone Wall are typically referred to as Grade IV or Grade V. These routes are graded challenging because of their difficulty going free (5.12+) or their need for moderate aid climbing. My first “big wall” in Zion was Moonlight Buttress. My partner and I hauled up a crappy old Metolius portaledge and spent a fantastic night on our ever tilting platform watching the sunset. Truly a majestic experience from the start to the finish!
Some of my favorite routes to climb around Zion
For a less committing time, The Headache (5.10) on the Mt. Carmel Tunnel area is an excellent three-pitch route that is mostly a hand crack of varying sizes from start to finish. Certainly not worthy of its name, this route is anything but a headache! Navajo sandstone does not often lend itself to amazing cracks, so don’t pass this one up.
Zion also has an incredible single pitch as well. Located in Kolob Canyon, the Namaste Wall was discovered to be an ideal spot for climbing by Conrad Anker. It is the quintessential hueco climbing area. Otherwise blank, red and purple sandstone with dark black streaks from millennia of running water has created an otherworldly series of huecos that just beg to be climbed. The routes here range from 1/2 Route (5.10+ with a 3 bolt 5.11 extension) is 80 feet tall. The nearby namesake route, Namaste, stands at 140 feet tall at 5.12a.
How to get the most out of your time climbing Zion
As a national park, Zion requires an entrance fee just like any national park that is good for seven days from purchase. My personal preference is to purchase the interagency pass at any entrance station for $80 that is good at any land managed by the Dept. of the Interior or Forest Service. Between March and November, no cars are allowed past the visitor center, so be ready to take the reliable shuttle busses into the canyon. If the visitor center is full, the nearby town of Springdale has paid parking for reasonable prices. If bivying a big wall overnight, then a fee of $15 for a permit is needed either purchased online and picked up at the ranger station/visitor center or purchased there.
How to find camping near Zion
Zion has become very crowded due to increased popularity, so be prepared to either pay for camping in Springdale or Rockville. I recommend campgrounds in areas such as Watchmen Campground or drive over to nearby Virgin to find BLM land, which can be found on apps such as iOverlander. Zion Pizza and Noodle Company certainly have my favorite atmosphere for rest day eats.