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Keyhole Canyon - Zion National Park

Summary: A short, narrow, technical canyon with 3 rappels, water and icy swims. To complete this hike you will need: 120 ft of rope, a harness & descender, helmet, webbing, dry bag and probably a wet suit. All technical canyons in Zion N.P. require a permit (available for $5 at the Backcountry Office of the Visitors Center). Do not attempt this hike if heavy rains threaten.
Directions: From the Visitors Center in Zion N.P. drive east on Highway 9 through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel and continue east to the second tunnel. From the exit of the second tunnel drive 1.9 miles and park at the small turnout on the right side of the road.
Road Conditions: Passenger Car - paved all the way
Navigation: Easy - once you find the entry point
Length: ~1 mile
Date Hiked: August, 2001 & April, 2002
Weather Conditions: Cool
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the car park, walk up the road to a small wash that crosses the road. Looking up the slick rock slope of the wash you should see several mounded rock formations that look like a gun site. There is also a fairly well developed use trail leading off the road into the wash. Begin climbing up the slick rock slope just to the left of the gun site formation. There is a steep eroded path leading down the other side into Keyhole Canyon. Once in the canyon bottom you'll see the beginning of the slot to the left. Turn left and head down canyon. There are several down climbs in this first section and some wading. None of the climbs are are terribly difficult, though you may wish to rig a hand line at a 15' dry fall created by several large trees. The canyon soon opens up and makes a 90 degree left turn at a 30' dry fall with a large tree stump wedged in the slot. Good climbers may be able to climb down the dead tree, but it's steep and slippery. A better option would be to use the prominent tree on the right as an anchor. The tree is a little ways from the drop which is why you brought the 120' rope. As you rappel down the chute into the slot swing to the right to a small shelf to avoid a wet disconnect in the pool directly at the bottom of the chute. Wade the pool (staying to the right), pull your rope and continue onward. Your next obstacle is a down climb into a deep pool followed by a 25' rappel. Simply thread your rope through the glue in bolt on the right canyon wall. This is immediately followed by another pool and a 30' sloping rappel (bolt on the right). A few more down climbs will bring you to a long, 3 ft wide, water filled hall way. You'll have to swim, but can use your arms and feet against the walls to propel yourself along. There is a little more walking and a few easy climbs before the canyon starts to open up. There is one more short swim through a twisty section and you're done. Follow the drainage 100 ft to the road, turn left and walk back to the car park.
Rating (1-5 stars):
While this canyon is not particularly photogenic, it is quite nice and a lot of fun. The author and his wife completed this hike on two occasions. The first was right after a rain storm in August and the water was quite warm and no wet suits were worn. The second trip was in April after a dry winter and the water was freezing. Full length wet suits were necessary and welcome. Total trip length was two hours.
Maps: Trails Illustrated - Zion National Park, Zion N.P. Park Map
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
The second rappel. The wet hallway.