Flash Flooding in Zion National Park


I’ve got a nemesis and its name is Telephone Canyon.  My brother’s and I have tried to do this canyoneering route three times.  I drove up from Phoenix this weekend, specifically to do Telephone Canyon and we got rained out in spectacular fashion.

I’ve hiked in Zion National Park for years and have never been lucky enough to see it in full flash flood mode.

I did today and it was unreal.  I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life.

Once we realized Telephone Canyon was out we decided to do the old standby of Angel’s Landing.  As we were driving to the park this morning we keep seeing lightening and quickly decided that being on the highest point might not be such a great idea.  So Emerald Pools was our next choice.

The hike to Emerald Pools is very easy .6 mile hike.  We were just goofing around and having fun.  We didn’t have a clue how crazy the weather was going to get.

Bridge over Virgin River in Zion National ParkThis is our group as we started hiking over the Virgin River.


Zion National Park

This is looking east towards the Weeping Rock/Hidden Canyon area.  There were waterfalls literally everywhere we looked.

It rained on us the whole time, but I still wasn’t prepared for the amount of water coming over the waterfall.  We turned the final corner and all of us just stood there in awe.

Zion National Park - Lower Emerald Pool

I’ve seen flash flooding before, but nothing at this level.  Typically you hike behind the falls and then hike up and around towards the upper pools.  The water spray was so intense I had to close my eyes and hold onto the rail to make it through.

Zion National Park - Lower Emerald Pool

This is my brother David walking underneath the waterfall.

Zion National Park - Emerald Pools - Heaps Canyon

This is my favorite shot from the day.   The third waterfall in the middle is the outlet for Heaps Canyon.  Heaps is a two day canyoneering route that ends with a 485 foot rappel next to Upper Emerald Pools.  It is typically completely dry.  It really give you an idea of the scale when you realize it is a such a large drop.

We wanted to hike up to the Upper Falls after seeing this view.  The trail goes to the left of the waterfalls and usually you can cross the little trickle of water and continue up the trail.

Zion National Park - Emerald Pools

Our little trickle had become a full blown stream.  My brother’s helped this gentlemen get back across after being stuck on the other side for almost an hour.  The water was starting to recede at this point, so about half of our group crossed (I fell in the water and got completely soaked).  Just as we were getting ready to head for the Upper Pools it started to rain again.  We all booked it back across the river and started heading for the trail head.

It was a wise decision – since this is what the rest of the trail was like.

Zion National Park - Emerald Pools

It did manage to get this shoot looking back towards the falls on our way out.

Zion National Park - Emerald Pools - Heaps Canyon

This was taken looking down stream towards the visitors center.

Zion National Park - Emerald Pools

This is looking upstream towards the Weeping Rock, Hidden Canyon and Observation Point

Zion National Park - Emerald Pools

Once we got to the Grotto Trail Head we waited around for a northbound bus to visit the Temple of Sinawava and Weeping Rock.  After waiting for almost 30 minutes we finally gave up and hiked to the Zion Lodge to find out that there were 3 landslides that had closed the road.  We lucked out and only had to wait for 2 hours for the park service to clear the road.

Originally we had planned to drive to the east side of the park, but that part of the park was closed as well.   At this point we were all soaking wet and cold, so we decided to call it a day.  I got this last shot of the Virgin River just outside of the park boundaries.

Zion National Park - Virgin River

It was an amazing trip, but a good reminder of how dangerous flash flooding can be in desert environments.  I’m very, very glad we didn’t go into Telephone Canyon.

If you are interested in reading about flash flooding and deaths in Zion National Park check out this post.

To see more pictures of the trip check out Flickr or Facebook.


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