To say that Zion National Park is beautiful would be an understatement. The never ending beauty goes from the macro to the micro. From the 2,0000-foot cliffs sculpted of Navajo sandstone by nature to the tiny creatures you’ll see while hiking or having lunch, Zion is also an extremely vertical oasis. A slip or misstep on the various hiking trails going up unto the canyon could prove fatal. Many spots in the park can be dangerous if the wrong selfie strikes the imagination of the photographer.
The fact that all of Zion’s hiking trails goes up cannot be stressed enough. The park sits in a canyon, meaning all of the overlook points are thousands of feet high.The following list, ordered from low to high risk locations, depicts five spots around the park you shouldn’t get caught taking a perilous selfie or family holiday photo.
1. Observation Point
Observation Point has one of the most beautiful views from the top of a steep hike with more than 2,000-feet in elevation gain. The time commitment can be expected at around 4-6 hours round trip. There are drop-offs along the entire hike, and the high point of your hike is met with a huge cliff drop. This is a spot for the perfect “Kodak moment,” but also one to be careful of wet sandstone when standing near the edges. There have been two recorded deaths at Observation Point. As long as you pay attention and keep to the trail, you should be on your way to enjoying a beautiful view.
“Safety is up to every individual visitor,” says John Marciano, Zion’s public information officer. “It’s on them.”
This is key when visiting national parks, especially Zion. National Parks are not play-grounds and caution should be taken in high-elevation areas.
2. Hidden Canyon Trail
Watch your step on this 2.2-mile hike through what is known as a “hanging canyon,” the Hidden Canyon Trail. A danger to watch out for on any trail in Zion, especially Hidden Canyon Trail, is the slippery sandstone. Zion is notorious for its beautiful sandstone, which is all over the park and forms the colorful 2,000-foot cliffs surrounding the park. The sandstone, when wet, can be extremely slippery and can lead to people slipping to their deaths. Hidden Canyon trail is a dangerous place to stand near the edge for a selfie or photo.
3. Slot Canyons
On Sept. 14, 2015, seven hikers began the strenuous hike through Keyhole Canyon, one of the slot canyons at Zion. All members of the hiking party were friends and had hiking experience. Although they checked the weather prior to the hike, they were caught in the canyon during a surprise flash flood. All seven were killed. This is a grim reminder to all who visit Zion that you can never be too careful. Abort a hike if you believe there to be flash-flood dangers or storm clouds approaching.
The Narrows, another slot canyon, is the most narrow canyon in Zion National Park. There is no high ground – only a walk through a skinny but beautiful canyon that is very susceptible to flash floods. Flash floods are easy to avoid if you follow park service instructions and warnings, as well as check the weather before hiking in. The Narrows are not a place to stop and rest for more than a few quick selfies. Flash floods can occur at anytime, according to Marciano.
“Flash floods can happen any time of the year in any of the slot canyons.” Marciano says. “Right now I look up and there is blue skies and 75 degrees four hours from now there could be a targeted thunderstorm where it blows right over a slot canyon and fills the thing up. If you’re in there, and you don’t realize it, it’s too late.”
4. Emerald Pools
These pools may look like a scene out of Fantasia but more deaths have occurred from falls in the Emerald Pools trail area than Angels Landing. People fall while trying to get a good view of the beautiful green pools or trying to get a selfie with their backs to the slick edge of the drop off. In fact more deaths have happened here than any other spot in the park. A sad story of an Emerald Pools death occurred in 1997 when 12-year-old Tyler Eggertz slipped on wet algae and fell 100 feet to his death.
“You don’t have to fall far,” says Marciano.
Standing too close to the edge for a photo or quick selfie could prove fatal at the Emerald Pools. Algae and water soaked rocks create a very slippery deck next to the edge. The drop from the second pool is 100 feet, which is clearly high enough for the fall to be fatal.
5. Angels Landing
Angels Landing has been recorded as one of the most dangerous public hikes in the United States. The top of the trail peaks off at a plateau, which is more than 1,000 feet high. But the most dangerous part of the hike involves a skinny land-bridge with a metal chain for guidance. The sides of the bridge (which leads you to Angels Landing from Scout’s Lookout) drop 1,000 feet down. Angels Landing is the location with the second most deaths in Zion after the Emer-ald Pools. Some have slipped while trying to get a good view of the edge or a good picture on-ly to meet their demise.
“Someone sent me a photo of a guy doing a handstand at the edge of Angels Landing the other day,” says Marciano. “That is the kind of stuff that is just nutty. It is not something you should be doing in the park or anywhere actually.”
Marciano has advice for anyone thinking of taking a daring holiday card photo this year.
“If people saw what a body looked like after it fell 600 to 900 feet down, then they would really rethink where they are taking these pictures,” says Marciano. “We have even had a deer fall – a mule deer that live here in the park who are so used to the high elevations. We had one fall this spring, 800 feet. It basically exploded.”
Alex Teufel is an editorial intern for National Park Trips Media and a junior at the University of Colorado Boulder, studying Journalism. He is an avid snowboarder and lover of the outdoors.