HomeOutdoorsParksZion National Park Safety: Toxic Cyanobacteria, Desert Safety, Cliffs and Other Best Practices to Stay Safe

Zion National Park Safety: Toxic Cyanobacteria, Desert Safety, Cliffs and Other Best Practices to Stay Safe

by Jon D. B.
Photo credit: Getty Images, Outsider

Zion National Park is one of the most beautiful sanctuaries on earth, but safety is paramount as the park hosts numerous unique dangers.

Ready to walk amongst massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red that soar into a brilliant, ever-changing sky? One of America’s most-visited national parks, the heavenly Zion stands true to its name. It is also, however, one of the most dangerous national parks in the nation.

As with any venture, safety in Zion depends on your own good judgment, adequate preparation, and constant awareness. Rangers respond to over 250 medical incidents in Zion NP every single year. And personal responsibility is the only way to avoid ending up a part of the park’s Search and Rescue statistics yourself.

Below, you’ll find the most crucial NPS safety information pertaining to Zion National Park (including the park’s ongoing struggle with toxic cyanobacteria in their waters) condensed into easy-to-digest sections.

*Health Watch Advisory For All Waterbodies in Zion National Park Due to Toxic Cyanobacteria*

  • Toxic cyanobacteria caused the death of a pet in Zion National Park in 2020
  • Since, staff have been actively monitoring for the presence of harmful cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins in three major tributaries of the Virgin River within the park: North Fork of the Virgin River, North Creek, and La Verkin Creek
  • Colonies of cyanobacteria can appear yellow, tan, green, brown, or black in color (See images)
  • Do not drink stream water anywhere in the park at this time
  • Avoid primary contact recreation – do not swim in park water or submerge the head
  • Children are especially vulnerable to cyanotoxins
  • Keep dogs on a leash while in Zion NP and out of the water
  • Please remain vigilant for cyanobacteria mats (see images)

Symptoms of cyanotoxin poisoning include: Skin rash, salivation, drowsiness, tingling, burning, numbness, pain, incoherent speech, seizures, vomiting, and diarrhea. Everyone reacts differently, so please remain vigilant for yourself and your party.

If you have concerns of cyanotoxin poisoning while in Zion, please contact the Utah Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222. Always call 911 in the event of a medical emergency. For more information on Zion National Park cyanobacteria safety, please see their NPS website.

Lightning & Flash Floods: Water & Weather Are Unpredictable in Zion National Park

  • Monsoon season is from July to September and is due to an increase in atmospheric moisture and summer heat, which leads to strong thunderstorms, a frequent occurrence in the desert southwest and Zion NP
  • Flash floods can occur at any time in Zion National Park and in the desert southwest, and are a sudden increase in depth and speed of water in rivers, streams or washes due to heavy rain from thunderstorms. Flood waters carry large debris like tree trunks and boulders

Desert Safety: Carry Enough Water, Heat Stroke & Exhaustion Symptoms

  • Carry Enough Water: The desert is an extreme environment. Carry enough water, one gallon per person per day, and drink it. Water is available at visitor centers, campgrounds, Zion Lodge, and some shuttle stops. Do not drink untreated water.
  • Heat Exhaustion occurs when the body loses more fluid than is taken in. Signs of heat exhaustion include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, headaches, pale appearance, stomach cramps, and cool clammy skin.
    • If a member of your party begins to experience any of these symptoms, stop your hike immediately. Find a cool, shady area and have the victim rest with their feet up to distribute fluids throughout the body.
    • It is important to drink fluids, but it is also important to eat. While suffering from heat exhaustion, drinking fluids without eating can lead to a potentially dangerous condition of low blood salt.
    • If heat exhaustion symptoms persist for more than two hours, seek medical help.
  • Heat Stroke is an advanced stage of heat exhaustion. It is the body’s inability to cool itself. Symptoms include confusion, disorientation, behavioral changes, and seizures.
    • If you believe that a member of your party is suffering from heat stroke, it is imperative to cool them using any available means and obtain immediate medical assistance.

Zion National Park Terrain Safety: Steep Cliffs Require Caution

Falls from cliffs on trails have resulted in death in Zion NP. Loose sand or pebbles on stone are very slippery, so pleas be careful of edges when using cameras or binoculars. Never throw or roll rocks in the park, either, as there may be hikers below you. These best practices may save yourself and others from injury and death:

  • Stay on the trail
  • Stay back from cliff edges
  • Observe posted warnings
  • Please watch children

In addition, Rockfall Hazards occur throughout the park and are especially high near any cliff face. If you witness a rockfall, quickly move away from the cliff. If you are near the base of a cliff or talus slope when a rockfall occurs and cannot quickly move away from the base of the cliff, immediately seek shelter behind the largest nearby boulder and pull your backpack over your head. After rocks have stopped falling, move quickly as far away from the base of the cliff as possible. Be aware that rockfalls can occur at any time. Pay attention to your surroundings, stay off of closed trails, and, if unsure, keep away from cliffs.

Hypothermia is Always a Risk Outdoors: Know the Signs

In Zion National Park, hypothermia is a hazard in narrow canyons because immersion in water is the quickest way to lose body heat. To prevent hypothermia, avoid cotton clothing (it provides no insulation when wet) and eat high energy food before you are chilled.

Hypothermia occurs when the body is cooled to dangerous levels. This condition is responsible for the greatest number of deaths among people engaging in outdoor activities, no matter the location. Hypothermia is completely possible in warm weather, too, and typically occurs without the victim’s awareness. The signs of hypothermia include:

  • Uncontrollable shivering
  • Stumbling and poor coordination
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion or slurred speech

If you recognize any of these signs stop hiking and immediately replace wet clothing with dry clothing. Warm the victim with your own body and a warm drink, and shelter the individual from breezes. A pre-warmed sleeping bag will also prevent further heat loss.

For up-to-date, daily Zion National Park safety notices, please see the park’s NPS website. For information on how to best plan your stay in Zion, see our Zion National Park Camping: Tools, Gear, and Everything You Need to Plan a Trip next.

Happy trails and stay safe out there, Outsiders!