| Home | Warning | Gear | Books | Photography | Hikes | Links | Flora & Fauna | Etiquette | About Me | What's New |


Mystery Canyon - Zion National Park

Summary: Mystery Canyon is one of the most popular technical canyons in Zion NP. You will need a permit from the backcountry office and there is a use restriction of 12 people per day (which will make getting a weekend permit difficult). Except for the unpleasant approach, your efforts to obtain a permit will be rewarded with some great scenery, fun rappels and the opportunity to impress the folks hiking in the Virgin narrows. To complete this hike you will need: enough rope to perform a 120 ft rappel, harness w/ descending gear, webbing, and helmet. There are two short & chilly swims, so a wet suit is nice in all but the hottest weather.
Directions: Mystery Canyon lies off of the East Mesa Trail. You can do this trip as a loop hike from Weeping Rock or with a long car shuttle as a through trip.
Loop hike: Take the Zion Shuttle to the Weeping Rock trailhead. Using a map, hike up the East Rim, then East Mesa Trails past the Observation Point turn off to the head of Mystery Canyon.
Through Trip: From the east entrance to Zion National Park, drive east 2.4 miles on highway 9. Turn left at onto North Fork Road and drive 5.2 miles to the Zion Ponderosa Resort. Turn left and enter the Zion Ponderosa (stay right at the immediate fork in the road). Many junctions are signed and you will be heading towards Observation Point. Drive 0.7 miles to signed Cable Mountain, Observation Point road fork. Turn right and drive 0.7 miles to a tee in the road. Turn right, and drive 1.1 miles until road forks around a large pine tree. Stay right and drive 0.2 miles to a rough road on the left. Turn left and drive 0.1 miles to the end of the road and park at a fence with brown gate and signs for 'No Hunting', 'No Biking', 'Closed to All Vehicles' and 'Wilderness Boundary'.
Road Conditions: Passenger Car - if hiking up from Weeping Rock
High Clearance Vehicle - if driving to the upper trail head
Navigation: Moderate
Length: ~7-9 hours
Date Hiked: September, 2003
Weather Conditions: Warm & sunny
Required Skills:
Hike Description: I have not performed this hike from Weeping Rock, so I will describe the hike from the upper East Mesa Trailhead.
From the parking area described above, walk left through the fence and begin hiking on the flat, well maintained trail on the other side. After about 10 minutes, the trail will near the edge of a canyon which will be off to the right. Beware - this first canyon is NOT Mystery and has gotten several groups in trouble! Continue hiking until you have walked 40 minutes from your car park to a prominent and well worn trail which extends right from a patch of sand that is lighter in color than the ground you have been walking on. Walk to the canyon rim (
UTM: 12 N 328943mE, 4128635mN) and if you are in the right place you will see a distinct trail which drops steeply down the slope to the right into the trees below. Begin a careful descent on this steep and loose trail using branches, trees, roots and the few secure rocks available to prevent and uncontrollable slide. As you descend you will encounter several choke stone drop offs (the first has a single bolt and hanger for use as a belay) that you can either down climb or bypass (on the right). Finally the path levels out where it meets a steep sandstone wall which will be on your right. Continuing down canyon, there are two more choke stone bypasses (also on the right), one of which will cliff out if you follow the bypass too far (you can either rappel back down into the canyon or backtrack to find the hiking route down). Finally, you will reach rappel #1 and the start of the fun.
Rap #1: 50 ft from 2 bolts and hangers (B&H) on the left, walk 60 ft to
Rap #2: 40 ft from 2 B&H on the right
Rap #3: 40 ft from 2 B&H on the left
Rap #4: down climb a log or rap 15 ft from 2 B&H on the right
Rap #5: down climb or rappel 50 ft from 2 B&H on the left
The canyon then begins to open up and you will likely be in the sun as you reach
Rap #6: 20 ft from 2 B&H on the right or bypass with a little exposure by climbing around on the right and down at a tree.
Rap #7: 50 ft from 2 B&H on the right
Rap #8: 20 ft from 2 B&H on the right or down climb
This will bring you out into the sun as the canyon widens. A 10 minute slog through the sand will bring you to a large breakdown pile composed of red sandstone blocks (reportedly a small lake can form behind this rock pile during a very wet season). Follow the footprints up and over this hill & drop down the sandy slope on the other side where you will encounter
Rap #9: a 50 ft sloping rappel from 2 B&H at the top, or a sketchy down climb (I did it, but not really recommended)
You will enter the trees after this rappel and have to negotiate a few easy down climbs before the canyon enters a short slot and an easy down climb to rappel #10.
Rap #10a (recommended): is rather unique. It involves a short traverse (a hand line will likely be fixed here for you) followed by a 120 rap into a spring fed pool. There is a big staging area at a choke stone on the right that provides the perfect place to take pictures. The rap takes you down to the top of a large choke stone, then down into a short pool (if you're good on rope, you might be able to get around this pool with a short wade, otherwise it's a full swim).
Rap #10b (the boring way): alternatively you could rappel directly down the water course using the large choke stone at the top as an anchor. The rappel will take you underneath the choke stone those performing Rap #10a land on top of, where you will find a B&H to rappel the rest of the way into the pool.
After pulling your ropes and gathering your gear, continue down canyon. You will soon encounter the one mandatory swim in the canyon (the second swim for those of us not clever enough to swing around that first pool). You can climb down into the pool on the right or simply jump off the choke stone into the deepest part of the pool. Beyond this, a short stroll will bring you to your final rappel from 2 B&H on the left into the narrows where you will likely have an audience of narrows hikers to marvel at your descent (be aware that the slope you will be rappelling is covered with algae and is quite slick - this is your big moment, don't blow it by falling on your butt ). Ok, you're in the narrows and you've retrieved your ropes, taken off your harness & wet suit and stored your gear. Simply walk downstream 10 minutes to the paved path which you can follow for another 1/2 hour to the Zion road end and the shuttle bus stop.
Rating (1-5 stars):
The author and his wife completed this canyon on two occasions, both times we parked at the upper East Mesa trailhead. On the second trip our group of 7 took 7.5 hours to complete the hike.
Maps: Trails Illustrated - Zion National Park, Zion N.P. Park Map
Books: None
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
Rappel #1 Rappel #3 Rappel #10
The mandatory swim. The final rappel into
the Virgin narrows.
The final rappel as
seen from below.