Canyons open Earth's surface like a ripple in the continuum, where reality shifts and a landscape's apparent form drops suddenly away into a tangential universe. The horizontal world turns vertical, light reflects at odd angles, and temperatures change. In a parched desert, canyons may be cold and wet. In chilly mountains, their canyons may be warmer and drier.
To explore a canyon, prepare to step into an alternate reality. Because they can be so dramatically different from surrounding terrain, canyons require special equipment and skills not used on a typical hiking trip.
Not all canyons are so extreme, of course. Many factors dictate the difficulty, and they all occur along a spectrum. Therefore, as with other outdoor activities, there are adventures suitable for beginners to build skills and work up to more advanced levels. This guide to canyoneering describes the safety, skills, and equipment you should learn about, some good places to start, and also some intermediate canyons to aspire toward.
Most canyons are water-carved, and the powerful force of water is ever active. The narrower and deeper a canyon, the more dangerous it is in the event of a flash flood. Floods are more common in some canyons than others, so you should always weigh the risk before you go and make smart decisions.
Canyoneering can be dangerous in other ways as well. Mechanical injuries, rockfall, getting lost, dehydration, hypothermia, and heat exhaustion are all real risks depending on the terrain and weather. Be sure to research any canyon you intend to visit, and go with an experienced group if you may be getting in over your head.
Non-technical canyons are easier than technical ones, but they may still require special preparation and skills. Rock scrambling, route finding, or swimming may be necessary. You should know before entering a canyon what obstacles you may face and what conditions you may encounter.
Basic gear needed for any canyoneering trip, even non-technical, dry canyons:
Non-technical, dry canyons to try:
Wet-canyon gear, additionally needed for non-technical or technical canyons that require moving through water:
Non-technical canyons to get your feet (or more) wet:
Technical canyoneering gear, which also requires expertise to safely use:
If you are already experienced with rock climbing and familiar with all the above gear, you could jump right in with an easier technical canyon. Difficult ones may require canyoneering-specific skills and equipment not covered here, however, so be sure you know what you are getting yourself into. The following technical canyons are a good place to start:
Here are some more guides on Outdoor Project to help you learn more about canyoneering destinations, skills, and safety: