Pine Creek is one of the most popular technical canyoneering routes in Zion National Park and exemplifies the beauty of "subterranean" slot canyons. Starting at the Canyon Overlook parking lot and ending at the Route 9 switchbacks in the main canyon, Pine Creek is one of the few beautiful slot canyons that features such easy access. Although it is one of the easier technical canyons in Zion, it is still serious business with several rappels, downclimbs, and many swims through cold water.
WARNING: This route is not suitable for hikers who have no technical canyoneering experience.
You must get a canyoneering permit to do this route. The National Park Service limits access to Pine Creek to 50 people a day, which shouldn't be a problem except on the busiest of weekends or holidays, but Pine Creek is popular so be prepared to share the canyon. For more information on permit reservations, please see the Zion Permits website. The route starts at the Canyon Overlook Trail parking lot in the Upper East Canyon and ends at the second switchback in Lower Pine Creek in the main canyon, so you will need to arrange a car spot or a ride to the trailhead. (No hikers or bikes are allowed through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel.)
|Rating:||Fairly strenuous canyoneering route|
|Access:||Starting at the Canyon Overlook Trail parking lot (at the mouth of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel in the East Canyon), ending at Route 9's second switchback in the main canyon.|
|Time Required:||3-6 hours|
|Length:||1.5 miles (very slow miles)|
|Elevation Change:||900-ft descent down the Pine Creek slot and Lower Pine Creek.|
|Technical Challenges:||Numerous downclimbing obstacles and approximately 5 rappels. Longest rap: 95 feet. Multiple cold swims are likely, including several floating disconnects from rappels.|
|Equipment Needed:||Enough rope for a 100' rappel (preferably two 100+' ropes), climbing harness and rap device, climbing helmet, webbing and rapid links, drybag. Wetsuits are recommended even in the summer as the water is perpetually cold.|
|Seasons:||Late spring through fall for the general public.|
|Flash Flood Warning:||The entire Upper East Canyon drains through Pine Creek. Do not do this canyon if there is a forecast of rain!|
Pine Creek is a strenuous, but fairly short canyoneering route that may take between 3-6 hours to complete. Starting at the Canyon Overlook parking lot, hike down the designated path right under the Route 9 bridge into into Pine Creek wash below. Turn right and hike downstream underneath the bridge and within moments you will reach the first obstacle: the "intimidator pool" -- a 7-foot drop into a pothole. To avoid dropping right into the deep end of the pool, traverse the left side and then chimney down to lower yourself into the more shallow section. If you are new to canyoneering and this spot looks overwhelming to you, turn around now; the rest of the canyon doesn't get any easier!
Just beyond this pool is Rappel 1 (roughly 60 feet) off of bolts in the right (north) wall: rappel into the pool below, stay on rope, and continue the rappel into the final pool below. Depending on water levels, this may be a swimmer with a floating disconnect from the rope. Continuing downcanyon are a few minor downclimbs and a swim, and then Rappel 2 (10 feet): a short rappel off of a jammed log into the usually chest-deep water.
Just around the corner is Rappel 3--The Cathedral (roughly 60 feet) into the golden section of the canyon: the large double-arch chamber known as "the Cathedral." Take the time to really appreciate this room; it is one of the most amazing spots in all of Zion National Park! After you get off rappel, head under the beautiful arch formation to head down canyon. (Depending on conditions, the Cathedral can be a complete swimmer or even bone-dry with a sandy floor.) Put away the ropes for now as the next rappel is quite a ways off.
The next section of canyon is spectacular: dark and subterranean with barely any direct light making its way inside. Aside from several short downclimbs, in "full" conditions there may also be a handful of long swims thought beautiful narrow slot sections. Look up to the sky to see the amazing rock formations as you float on by! Soon enough you will come to a large chockstone boulder obstacle; depending on conditions and current log debris in the canyon, you may scramble underneath the boulder or climb on top to do Rappel 4 (optional, roughly 20 feet) into another short swimming pool.
Just around the corner, the canyon opens up a bit and you will be hiking more in the open with the sounds of traffic coming from the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel windows far above. After scrambling down and around the boulder-littered canyon, you will reach Rappel 5 (roughly 65 feet), a straightforward rappel off of two easy-to-find bolts on a shelf on the right (north) side of the canyon. (Be careful with the rope pull to avoid it getting snagged in the corner.) Continue downcanyon a bit and soon enough, you will reach an impassible drop. To find the final rappel, retreat up canyon a bit and you should be able to easily spot the bolt station at a ledge overlooking the final deep slot just before the canyon opens up. Note: Be careful hiking around here as the floor is a big boulder jam and may have holes and be unstable in parts!
Rappel 6--The Grotto (95 feet): This is the rappel that gets your attention. If you are using two ropes, you must know how to properly tie them together, set a biner block, and make sure they touch bottom. The rappel is an almost 100-ft tall free rappel down into the final narrow slot section. This rap can be quite intimidating, but if you keep your wits about you, be sure to enjoy the great views of the dark slot that surrounds you. Once your feet touch the ground, hike down the short remaining section of slot, slide down the wall into the grotto, and you are back in the world of the living! The grotto is a perfect spot to remove wetsuits and have lunch.
Now it's time to pay the piper! The hike out is less than a mile, but lower Pine Creek is littered with hundreds of large boulders, so the going is relatively slow. Each obstacle is like a little puzzle where you can find the path of least resistance either going over or around the rocks. As you make your way past the Great Arch, the canyon does open up and get a bit easier; several emerald pools will also be inviting for swimming! Soon enough, you will see the brick wall of the second switchback and a short hike up the path takes you to the road. IMPORTANT: You may see several signs of old trails of use that go up to the 3rd switchback, but this is highly discouraged in order to minimize erosion. If you think it's time to exit, but you can't see the brick wall of the road not too far above, you are not at the right spot yet.
Pine Creek is a Zion classic: wonderful scenery, interesting rappels, fun swims, and fairly easy access. How could anyone not love this route? Just be prepared to share it with others!