Summer’s winding down…but it’s not over yet! Not by a long shot. If heading out to one of Utah’s national parks is still on the agenda in the coming weeks, enjoy your trip. The weather is warm, the trails are open, and the rangers aren’t too tired yet of answering the same five questions all day long.
Sometimes, memorable trips are made all the more so by unexpected adventures. Say, tons of blisters because those new boots just weren’t broken in. A sprained ankle from tripping over that rock, maybe a broken wrist from tumbling head over heels and catching yourself with your hand. Some incidences are just common sense to avoid, of course. But some things are unique to summertime in southern Utah. Here are the top 5 summer hiking safety tips to keep your trip memorable only for the fun reasons.
1. Beware the mercury. Summer in southern Utah is pretty toasty. Daytime temps can scooch into the low 100s at any of the state’s national parks except Bryce Canyon (because of its 9,000 foot location). The most southerly of the parks, Zion National Park can get especially warm. Water, water, and more water is your friend. Drink it throughout your physical activities, especially if you’re out all day. A hydration system you wear on your back can be the most efficient way of getting that precious liquid into your body during your summer adventure.
2. On the flip side, southern Utah produces a uniquely Southwestern U.S. weather pattern every summer – monsoon season. Severe thunderstorms can rage through the entire lower portion of the state, drenching places within minutes and causing awesome waterfalls and flash floods. Very exciting to see. Not so exciting to experience firsthand if you’re unprepared, underprepared, or simply far out on the trail in a potentially dangerous situation. Be especially aware of the weather if you’re contemplating entering a narrow canyon. See these more detailed tips on how to keep safe during monsoon season. Your best bet? Check with the rangers before you head out! They know the area, are on top of the latest weather forecasts, and will give you the straight scoop on whether right this moment is time to see Canyonlands National Park in all its glory, or time to study the interpretive displays inside the visitor center until the storm safely passes.
3. Decide on the right time of day. Midday is great for some hikes that offer more shade. But most hikes in these southern Utah national parks are fairly exposed. Choosing an early morning departure time (I’m talking as early as 6am in some cases!) or a sunset or even twilight hike is often the safer option, heatwise. Not to mention you’ll get those spectacular lighting situations that make for amazing pictures. If you’re in Arches National Park and want to see world-famous Delicate Arch, for example, hike it early; that trail is not shaded. Some great midday hikes in Zion National Park that are cooler include Hidden Canyon and Lower Emerald Pools; in Bryce Canyon National Park, head for the popular evening Full Moon Hikes or Mossy Cave.
4. Know your physical limits. Maybe you hike all the time. But do you usually hike at high elevations, or in a state as arid as Utah? Some Bryce Canyon trails top out over 9,000 feet. But even 2,500 feet above sea level can cause altitude sickness in some people. If you feel dizzy or nauseated, take a break, drink your water, and slowly go back down to the trailhead.
5. Protect your body’s largest organ: your skin. Sunscreen with at least 30 SPF, a broad-brimmed hat, long sleeves and long pants can all go a long to protect you from that the power of that fiery ball up in the sky. Remember to wear loose, light clothing if you can. Yeah, I know, hiking in shorts and a tank top seems far preferable, not to mention possibly cuter depending on your fashion ideas. But a glowing red sunburn and dehydration will definitely not add to any cuteness factor you or your kids might be envisioning.