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Capitol Reef Begins Requiring Permits for Canyoneering and Rock Climbing in the Park

Dec 29, 2019 | Capitol Reef National Park, Things to do in Utah | 0 comments

Nearby Zion National Park might continue to hold the title of the most-visited national park in Utah. But Capitol Reef has been growing in popularity in recent years. So much so that park officials are now seeking to regulate popular activities in the park. New measures aim to avoid overcrowding and reduce the impact that visitors have on the natural landscape. Keep reading to learn more.


New Year, New Changes

One big change that is coming to Capitol Reef with the start of the new year is the addition of permits for climbing, bouldering, and canyoneering.

Permits for Canyoneering

Canyoneering is a sport that combines hiking and rappelling to allow you to explore narrow canyons and slot canyons. Hikers wear a harness and helmet, and, using a rope system, descend into a canyon. Once there, they may hike for a while until they need to again descend into lower elevations. It takes more skill than hiking, requiring endurance and strength to get from point A to point B, not to mention plenty of equipment and knowledge.

The outdoor activity was once practiced only in Zion and Arches. But recent growth in the popularity of canyoneering, as well as an increase in visitation to Capitol Reef, spread the sport to the park as well. 

The biggest issue with canyoneering is that it’s done in narrow canyons, where overcrowding can not cause slow-downs, but could also be very dangerous. Beginners attempting canyoneering on their own may find themselves trapped in an area that can be incredibly difficult to rescue them from. And flash flooding poses a deadly threat.

These dangers, in addition to the environmental impact of canyoneering, has led park officials to begin to require a permit to go canyoneering in Capitol Reef. The new pilot permit system will help park officials track how many people are canyoneering, as well as where they are doing so. Down the road, they predict that this will help them better preserve and protect Capitol Reef for future generations.

In most cases, canyoneering group sizes are limited to 8 people, including any guides. There are a couple of exceptions to this rule. On the Cassidy Arch Canyon and Beaver Bay, groups can consist of up to 12 people.

Permits for Rock Climbing and Bouldering

Rock climbing is another popular sport in Capitol Reef. And like canyoneering, it can be dangerous, and destructive to the natural environment. Because Wingate sandstone, which is found in much of the park, features long vertical cracks, it is attractive to climbers. But it can also flake easily, making climbing dangerous.

Climbers in the park will now need to get a permit, helping rangers track who is out climbing and where they are going. There are also rules that have to be followed to climb in the park, including:

  • Only free climbing or clean aid equipment is allowed, including climbing using removable protection gear like stoppers, chocks, and camming devices.
  • Fixed pitons and bolts cannot be drilled or hammered into the rock. The only exception is those that are replacing existing anchors that are deemed unsafe. 
  • Climbing in or on any arches with an opening larger than 3 feet, within 300 feet of a known archaeological site, or within a quarter-mile of a known hawk, eagle, or falcon nesting site is prohibited.
  • You may not use white chalk, power drills, or any other tools that alter the surface of rocks.
  • Overnight climbs are not allowed.

These rules help protect the existing rock faces. They also prevent new climbing routes from being made in areas of the park that might be home to sensitive plant and animal life. 

Getting a Permit

If you want to go canyoneering in Zion National Park, you’ll need to attempt to get one of the highly coveted permits. These become available for reservations up to 3 months in advance and are snatched up very quickly. Because of the popularity, the park has implemented a lottery system for permits for The Subway and Mystery Canyon.

Luckily, the permits to go canyoneering in Capitol Reef National Park are far easier to come by. For rock climbers and canyoneers alike, there is no daily limit on the number of permits that can be obtained. You can even pick up your permit on the day you plan to go climbing in the park.

To get your permit, you can either stop by the Visitor Center or register online. You won’t need to give any personal information; with the pilot program, these permits are solely designed to help park officials better understand visitor use of the park. The permits are free of charge.

Planning Your Outdoor Adventure

Capitol Reef National Park and the surrounding area have no shortage of outdoor activities to choose from. If rock climbing or canyoneering isn’t your style, check out these 6 other activities you could enjoy in Capitol Reef this winter.


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