Bryce Canyon Country’s slot canyons are evidence of the extraordinary powers of moving water. Powerful flowing rivers, heavy thunderstorms, and spring run-off from snow-covered mountains have all had a hand in chiseling, shaping, and smoothing the narrow sandstone canyons.
Flash floods, caused by a sudden rush of water filling a narrow space, are also a powerful force in a slot canyon’s formation. During a flash flood, rapidly moving water can be heavy with rocks, tree limbs, and other debris which can crash into the canyon walls and congest passageways. Water levels can rise swiftly, taking the past of least resistance into the slot canyon and cascading in raging torrents over the canyon walls, especially during spring run-off and heavy rains. Flash floods are a serious risk for the many explorers drawn to Bryce Canyon Country’s scenic slot canyons each year. Fortunately, flash floods can usually be avoided with common-sense safety practices and an understanding of the conditions that cause them.
First, never hike or canyoneer alone, and always let someone know which slot canyon you will be exploring. Register for backcountry permits when required; they are mandatory for a good reason.
Always check the local weather forecast before heading out. If possible, start watching a few days ahead of time—just because the weather is good the day of your planned hike doesn’t mean there aren’t risk factors associated with the past several days. Even if it’s been extremely dry in recent weeks, a sudden rush of water may not absorb quickly into the arid landscape, causing water levels to rise even quicker. Storms that cause flash flooding can actually occur several miles away from a slot canyon, so check the forecast for surrounding areas as well. Even time of day can be a factor, as heavy afternoon thunderstorms are not uncommon in summer and early fall.
Always research the slot canyon ahead of time so you’re aware of potential trouble spots. Evidence of past floods can sometimes be seen on canyon walls. Pay attention to your surroundings during the hike—look for rock ledges, strong tree limbs, and exit points in case you need to make a quick escape. Knowing an escape route ahead of time can save lives.
Remember, never enter a slot canyon on a rainy day. Water accumulates and rises quickly. The longer and deeper the slot canyon, the riskier it can be. Be prepared with proper permits, safety equipment, and other gear. Physical conditioning and simple preparation can help make your exploration safe and successful so you can truly enjoy Mother Nature’s sculpted grandeur.