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How to Prepare for a Desert Trip

Preparation is everything when it comes to desert exploration. While many explore Greater Zion to get out of their comfort zone — from climbing to new heights or setting a personal best to meeting new people or going off-grid — all successful wilderness experiences stem from smart planning. 

Safety is first on the prep list. Backcountry experts and novice recreationists alike should start any planning with the end goal of getting home safe. When responsible travel precautions are taken in advance, two things happen: (1) you focus on the fun, the views, and the magic of the Land of Exploration, and (2) you protect Greater Zion’s ecosystem and infrastructure for the next season of visitors on your desert trip.

Before You Go

Greater Zion is grand, majestic, and unparalleled. It’s an intricate destination where three unique landscapes converge — the Mojave Desert, the Great Basin and the Colorado Plateau. This geological convergence provides striking colors, rough terrain, changing elevations and thousands of species of plants and wildlife. 

It’s undeniably easy to access a wilderness experience from the comfort of nearby cities and towns, but don’t let the ease fool you. On that short drive to off-grid life, you may lose cell coverage, run out of water, or not have access to a restroom when needed. Here’s how to avoid surprises so you can focus on fun.

1. Pack for extreme weather.

Being prepared for any adventure in Greater Zion means preparing for climate curveballs. One hour it’s 100 degrees and sunny, then the next hour could bring a monsoon. Pine Valley Recreation Area and Zion National Park can be 20 degrees cooler than St. George. Bring quick-dry layers and sun protection for all weather conditions and invest in a hydration pack or easy-to-haul water bottles.

2. Go analog. 

Opt for print maps to identify trails, trailheads, ranger stations, and restroom locations. Smart phones are not so intelligent when out of batteries or cell service. Also, not all trails are obviously marked. In the case of more rugged. out-of-bounds exploration, bring along a compass, as well as flashlights (or headlamps) and first aid gear.

3. Build out a loose schedule.

Constructing a rough desert trip itinerary will identify where, when, and how long an activity will take. Consider plenty of time to eat, hydrate, prep your day pack, drive, wander, explore a visitor station, enjoy the sites, take photographs and visit local boutiques and restaurants.

4. Visit off-season or mid-week. 

Lessen your chance of crowds by visiting mid-week, during the winter, or outside of major holidays. Extend a weekend trip to at least three or four days so allow ample time to explore. 

5. Book early.

Lodging fills quickly, especially during holiday weekends in the fall and springtime. Book early for the best selection. Want to hike Angels Landing? In an effort to relieve congestion, the National Park Service initiated a reservation-only permit to enjoy the popular trail. 

5. Think about your pets.

Are pets allowed? It depends. Make it a priority to check if pets are allowed at your first choice of hotel, on shuttles, in restaurants, on trails, in parks, and on or around lakes. If you do bring them, always dispose of their waste. If they can’t tag along, seek out a local doggy daycare.

Once You’re Here

Sure, you’re in the wild, but rules still apply. Trail etiquette provides simple-to-follow guidelines to better the experience for you and the travelers that follow you, even years later.

1. Check for travel alerts often.

National Park Service, Utah State Parks and Greater Zion Travel Alerts regularly update their pages and social media to announce closures, construction, flood watches, shuttle information, and water health. 

2. Leave it as you find it.

Don’t pick flowers, disrupt wildlife, move rocks, damage artifacts or litter. The practice of Leave No Trace focuses on educating people on land protection, instead of relegating the land to costly restoration programs or restricting access altogether.

3. Stay on the trail.

Read all signage when available. While not all paths will be well-marked, stay within the confines of the area and avoid stepping on dark-crusted cryptobiotic soil at all costs.

4. Pass it on to the next generation.

Empower your kids with education in responsible and safe travel. Teach them how to pack for a day in the desert, respect wildlife, check the weather, and hydrate frequently. Teach them to honor Greater Zion’s history and respect the surrounding community on a desert trip.