Where ever you are canyoneering in the world, please look into the regulations of Canyoneering in that specific area. There is no blanket free pass to do any canyon that you want for free (See Module 12 - "Canyon Access - Land Issues" for more info)
Yes, some management areas (National Parks and State Parks) require a permit in order to do canyoneering. Not all, but some. That's why you will need to check their website or call in to see what their rules are.
Below are all of the canyons and routes in Utah that require permits or have rules for Canyoneers:
Bighorn Canyon - limited to 10 people/group; free self-registration form at Visitor Center or online.
Dragonfly Canyon - limited to 10 people/group; free self-registration form at Visitor Center or online.
Elephant Butte - limited to 10 people/group; free self-registration form at Visitor Center or online.
Fiery Furnace canyons "Your entire party must come to the (Arches) visitor center front desk to get a Fiery Furnace permit ($6 per person). Fiery Furnace permits are limited to 75 persons a day, and they often sell out during the busy season." Source.
Lomatium - limited to 6 people/group. $6/person (read paragraph above.)
Krill - limited to 6 people/group. $6/person (read paragraph above.)
Not Tierdrop Canyon - limited to 10 people/group; free self-registration form at Visitor Center or online.
Tierdrop Canyon - limited to 10 people/group; free self-registration form at Visitor Center or online.
U-Turn - limited to 10 people/group; free self-registration form at Visitor Center or online.
Capitol Reef N.P., Utah:
Cedar Mesa: None (for now)
Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument, Utah:
Goblin Valley State Park, Utah:
Chamber of the Basilisk/Goblin's Lair - $2/person. Print permit from State Park website and bring to park.
Lake Powell: None (for now)
North Wash: None (for now)
Snow Canyon State Park, Utah: (Source)
Johnson (Arch) Canyon - Open from Fall to Spring. $8/permit - up to 6 people. Register online here.
Island in the Sky - Open from Fall to Spring. $8/permit - up to 6 people. Register online here.
Zion NP, Utah:
- Every canyon within the Park's boundary REQUIRES a permit, even they are not explicitly listed on the Zion permits website (see the picture below). The minimum permit fee ranges from $5 up to $25, based on number of people in your party. Canyon limits are determined by the specific canyon, but generally most in Zion are held at 12 people in a group. Other canyons that are a long-day, have difficult obstacles, or are "primitive" areas, are limited to 6 people per permit.
- Pipe Spring Canyon, although it edges along National Park boundaries, the entire approach, canyon, and exit are on Private Property. See below for more information.
- In addition to getting a permit from Zion NP, any canyon that exits the MIA exit (e.g. Kolob, Boundary, Pipe Spring, etc.) you will need to contact the property owner via email. - and request a Recreation License Agreement (RLA) form.
- The entire "MIA exit" is on private property and if you do not fill out a RLA form you will be liable for trespassing along with prosecution. Legality aside, the worst part is if canyoneers do not comply with the request, future access and descents of those fantastic canyons for the whole community would be in jeopardy! There would be no more access to those canyons. It truly would be a tragedy to lose access. It's simple. Just send email to the email address above.
The canyon highlighted in RED means it is closed, for some reason or another that's listed (e.g. snow, flooding)
The number that is in parantheses after the canyon name, tells the maximum number of people you can have in a permit. For example:
"Upper Left Fork (Das Boot) (6)" means you can only have 6 individuals on that permit.
"Virgin Narrows Dayuse Trail from Top (12)" means you can only have 12 individuals on that permit.
If going to Zion National Park, for first timers and veterans alike, I would strongly encourage every canyoneer to signup for the "Zion Wilderness Reservations" account. In the past this wasn't necessary, but now it appears to be that way. It allows you create a "profile" page where you can manage your reservations (permits), to cancel them, or even change the number in your party to a lower number (can't go up in number). It's a move that is going from a legacy approach of calling in or talking to the rangers in person to a modern approach of doing it online.
However, this is NOT the same thing as a "Zion Express Membership". This Express permit, while similar to the Zion Wilderness Reservations account, is still free, but allows for canyoneers who frequent Zion often, a better handling of permits. The biggest perk of it is that it allows you to PRINT your permit up to 3 days in advance before your trip.
If you DO NOT have the express membership, then your only option is to pick them up one day before your trip or the day of. With picking them up, you now have to wait until the Visitor Center opens (7 am), followed by waiting in line at the backcountry visitor desk, and wasting more precious minutes with the administration part when you could either be sleeping a bit longer, or driving to the trailhead and getting a start hours earlier!
Below is where you go on zionpermits.nps.gov, to create an "Zion Wilderness Reservations Account":
The ONLY way to get an Express Membership is to go to the Zion Visitor Center IN PERSON, watch 3 canyoneering-related videos (of DOs and DONTs), followed by the park creating an account for you there. Again, it is free so don't worry about the price. Also, I would encourage everyone in your group who canyoneers often in Zion to get one. One last thing, I believe the Express Membership is valid for 2 years, followed by renewing it person again. But hey, that's all worth the hassle in my opinion.
Go to the Park's website at, zionpermits.nps.gov - to login with your new Express Membership login information. AGAIN, PLEASE ensure that you are logged in BEFORE you reserve a permit. Otherwise, your permit will force you to wait in line at the visitor center to either 1) pick-it up in person the day before or 2) pick it up the day of your trip.
The Express Membership allows you to print it at your house 3 days before your trip.
There is another nuance about the Zion National Park permit system that you will need to be aware, specifically for two canyons: Mystery Canyon and the Subway (which is called "Left Fork of North Creek").
These two technical adventures are the most requested permits of the Zion area! Mainly, they are great for beginners, both have flowing spring water, and offer an incredible adventure that is the 'essence' of Zion. They are gems that need to be respected and treated well.
As such, Zion N.P. has set up a lottery system for these two canyons, which they call the "Advanced Lottery". This lottery is one that takes place 3-months in advance. What that means is if you want to go in the month of May, the "advance lottery" will be available 3 months prior. To make it more simple, it means that in March is when you will need to apply for the Advance Lottery to *possibly* do it in May. Put in April for June, May for July, June for August, July for September, and August for October.
That catch is that they draw the lottery on the 5th of each month. So if you put in before March 5th, you will have an equal chance as everyone else to be selected for the days that you would like in May. Anything after March 5th and you will need to put in a permit in April for you trip in June. Don't miss it!
The "advance lottery" will cost $5, which is non-refundable. This is a decent approach or barrier of taking only the serious canyoneers only. And if you are one of the lucky ones chosen for that month, that $5 WILL go towards your permit.
For clarification on the Zion lingo around the word "permits" and "number of people":
A "permit" is the legal ticket that allows your group to go through a technical canyon, where either its for 1 person, 6 people, or 12 individuals.
The "Number of people" is how many are in your group. Each person does NOT need a permit. But, one person in the group DOES.
For example, Mystery only allows "12 people" a day through the canyon! The number of permits given for Mystery can vary, since the number of people in a permit can vary.
The specific canyon you are doing in Zion N.P. limits the number of people you can have in your group. For example, the Subway allows 12 individuals per permit. Mystery Canyon only allows 6. So, 2 permits of 6 people is all what it would take to fill up that canyon for that day! Another scenario for Mystery Canyon is that there could be 4 permits of 3 individuals. That way more groups can go through, but less individuals. YOU can decide how many individuals will go through on your permit. Zion determines WHICH group or permit holder goes via their lottery system.
Mystery Canyon and the Subway aside, all of the other canyons in Zion, do NOT have this advanced permit system.
You will simply select your canyon, choose your day if it's available, pay the fee, and get your permit. Easy as that! The only frustrating part is that these permits goes extremely fast. Gone within a matter of minutes. However, cancellations do occur regularly so what I do is check daily for the canyons I am interested in the morning and snag them quickly before someone else does.
Below is a screenshot of what the "Advance Lottery Application" looks like when you submit yours for either the Subway or Mystery Canyon.