Canyoneering Route Description

Shelf Canyon - 3A I
Zion National Park, Utah.

Quick Facts

08-13-10, 2 people, 1 Day (Travel time in route 3.75 hours) Pictures Icon

Time Required - 3.5
Distance - 2.0 miles Total, 0.4 miles Technical
Rappels - 1 Rappels, Longest Rappel 200 feet.
Elevation Range - 5158 - 6100 Feet
Shuttle Required -No Vehicle - Passenger Permit Required- Yes

Gear Used for Canyon

Rappelling and anchor gear, Ropes and or pull cords for rappels up to 200 feet and 70 feet of 1 inch webbing for sling placement.   The 70 feet of webbing should be in one piece, since the entire length will be used for the anchor of the only rappel.

General Comments

Shelf Canyon is usually advertised as a hike in from the bottom.  It is possible to hike almost all the way to the head by starting in from the bottom and is likely the best way to see Shelf Canyon.  The hike in will end at a dead end with a series of shelf like ledges going up a tight narrow slot.  

This route description is for those of you that want to see it from the top down.  The approach follows part of the Canyon Overlook Trail then uses part of the alternate approach for Spry Canyon.  From the head of the canyon to the first rappel is just over 200 feet.  The only rappel drops 200 feet and lands exactly where the hike in from the bottom stops.  So there is very little of the canyon you miss by hiking in from the bottom.  

This route may be good if you want something short on time and other canyons have filled the permit quotas of the day.

Driving Directions

To get to the Trailhead

The trailhead starts from the parking area about 600 feet north of the Canyon Overlook Trailhead.  To get there drive east on highway 9 (in Zion) about 4.5 road miles east of the turn off for the "Floor of the Valley Road".  Just after passing through the long tunnel, you will find a parking area on the right with an outhouse.  Continue about 600 feet to the next parking lot on the left where the road makes a hard right.  This parking area (pkShelfCyn) is at the lower end of Shelf Canyon.

To leave the Exit Vehicle / Escape Pod

No exit Vehicle needed.  This is done as a loop route.


GPS coordinate information listed at the bottom.  For information about waypoint naming and map symbols, refer to the Glossary page.

Map Link Icon
Click the links for maps of the route.
Map of the entire route.


The Approach:
From the parking lot (pkShelfCyn), walk about 500 feet south on highway 9 toward the tunnel and the Canyon Overlook Trailhead (tCnynOvrLk).  

Follow the Canyon Overlook Trail about 0.3 miles.  Look for a spot where the trail turns right and becomes wider, flat and sandy.  Near the end of this corner look to the right (north) side of the trail for a path leading through the vegetation to the north (jAltSpryRte).  This is only about 650 feet from the end of the Canyon Overlook Trail.  If you pass this turn you will only be able to get off course by about 650 feet.   Follow the path about 300 feet to where a beehive shaped rock comes into view.  Shortly before reaching the beehive rock the trail will fork as it gets to some steep rock.  Follow the path to the right (east) then back left to the base of the beehive rock (wSpryAltRP-01).  

Continue around the left (west) side of the beehive rock and stay high on the ledges to continue north.  About 300 feet after the beehive rock will be a good view north up the long steep slick rock slope up toward a saddle.  To the left of the saddle will be the East Temple with some hoodoos near the saddle.  

Find whatever line works best for you to get up to the saddle at the top of the slick rock.  There are multiple lines that will get you where you want to go.  Staying right (east) seems to be an easier route but anything works.  

As you continue up the slick rock toward the saddle you will have some large out croppings on your right (east).  Near the base of the reddish out cropping which is the largest one will be a section that is a bit more level (wSpryAltRP-02).  

Continue up the slick rock to get to the saddle (wSpryAltRP-03).  This saddle is about 0.4 miles after leaving the Canyon Overlook Trail.  

Travel down drainage on the other (north) side of the saddle.  To avoid a few down climbs, travel down the worn path on the right (east) side for about 300 feet.   

Almost 700 feet down from the saddle will be a view down to a sandy wash about 100 feet below.  When you are about 100 feet above this sandy wash is what is marked on the map as the junction to Shelf Canyon (jShelfCyn).  

To continue down to Shelf Canyon, drop down to the sandy wash (wShlefRP-01).  Follow the wash about 1000 feet to a pour over (wShelfRP-02) that drops down into Shelf Canyon.   There is no need to walk over to the pour over for the route but it does offer a fun view since you are so close.  

From the pour over the head of the canyon is obvious about 450 feet to the left (north).  Traverse over to the head of the canyon (yShelfCynTp).  

On the way over to the head, take time to enjoy the wave like lines in the rock.  It is very reminiscent of “The Wave”.

The Canyoneering / Technical Section:
From the head of the canyon (yShelfCynTp), scramble down the slope which starts of rocky then goes to a slick rock slope.  

About 200 feet from the head the slope levels off and traverses along the right (west) side of the canyon.  On the right side of the canyon is a deep tight dark slot.   

Rap 1 (dShlefR1) drops down into the slot from RDC of the slot rather than the head of it.  The anchor we chose was a medium sized pine about 40 feet back from the drop.  The tree had been knocked over by something (maybe snow) but was still rooted.  The sheer weight of the tree made a good anchor even if it were dead and not rooted.   

Extend the webbing about 30 feet from the tree to get the rope past some possible snag points in some bushes.  The rope pull for rap 1 is difficult since the top of the rap rolls off and creates a lot of drag which is another reason to extend the webbing.  

Rap 1 rolls over the slick rock then goes vertical and drops over a lot of small ledges on the way down.  As you drop down the ledges the canyon gets deep and dark feeling.  A drop of 200 feet puts you down onto some ledges about 20 feet up from the canyon floor.  The ledges at the bottom of the rap are easy to down climb to get to the canyon floor.  

If your rope is a little short you can traverse up canyon while on rappel to get to other ledges that are higher up.  These ledges can still be down climbed fairly easy.  

The bottom of rap 1 lands you right where the hike in from the bottom stops.  This is why I recommend hiking in from the bottom to see the canyon rather than do this route.  The additional portion of the canyon this route allows you to see is minimal and does not warrant the approach and hauling gear.  

After cleaning up the ropes from rap 1, travel down canyon and enjoy the narrow sections along the way.  As you get farther down canyon there is more vegetation, a few easy down climbs and it is a little wider.  If you look close you will likely see a lot of animal tracks of various kinds in here.  

About 0.4 miles down canyon of rap 1 is the last slick rock slope down to the sandy wash.  This is marked as the bottom exit of the canyon (yShelfCynBt).

The Exit:
After the last slick rock slope down to the sandy wash (yShelfCynBt), the road is about 250 feet away.  A path LDC leads up to the road by a sign.  After getting up on the road, turn right (west) and walk about 250 feet back over to your vehicle where you started (pkShelfCyn).

GPS Waypoint Information

Downloadable GPX files available at BG-Gear Store (easier than manual entry and a great way to support Bluugnome).
Waypoint naming convention and map symbol information can be found on the Glossary page.  Elevations are approximate.
manually entering coordinates set your system to WGS84 datum and Lat/Lon hddd.ddddd° coordinate format
Inconsistent datum's and coordinate formats will result in location errors.

Click to show / expand the list of waypoints below........
Shelf Canyon (1) - Approach
  1. tCnynOvrLk          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 37.21352   W -112.94056        Elev: 5,150 Feet
    Canyon Overlook Trail Head.
  2. jAltSpryRte          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 37.21267   W -112.94422        Elev: 5,225 Feet
    Junction where the alternate entry to Spry Canyon leaves the Canyon Overlook Trail. Trail rounds a corner and becomes more wide open with lots of sand.
  3. wSpryAltRP-01          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 37.21317   W -112.94439        Elev: NaN Feet
    At the base of a rock out crop that looks like a beehive.
  4. wSpryAltRP-02          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 37.21524   W -112.94523        Elev: NaN Feet
    A more level section near the base of the largest out cropping on the ridge. The reddish one not the white one farther up.
  5. wSpryAltRP-03          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 37.21788   W -112.94492        Elev: 6,105 Feet
    Saddle at the top of the ridge with the large out croppings. Looking northwest toward the East Temple are some white hoo doos between here and the base of the East Temple. Follow down the RDC side toward spry to bypass a couple drops just down from the saddle.
  6. jShelfCyn          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 37.21936   W -112.94425        Elev: 5,840 Feet
    About 100 feet up from a flat sandy wash below. To continue toward Spry Canyon, traverse left (northwest) toward a saddle near the base of the East Temple. To go to Shelf Canyon, continue down the slope to a flat sandy wash.
  7. wShelfRP-01          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 37.21952   W -112.94363        Elev: NaN Feet
    Slope down levels off here in a sandy wash heading eastish.
  8. wShelfRP-02          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 37.22035   W -112.94069        Elev: NaN Feet
    A view over the side wall into Shelf Canyon.
  9. yShelfCynTp          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 37.22161   W -112.94090        Elev: 5,640 Feet
    Top entry Shelf Canyon. From here you can see the first 100 or so vertical feet as it drops down a steep sandy rocky slope.
Shelf Canyon (2) - The Canyon and Exit
  1. yShelfCynTp          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 37.22161   W -112.94090        Elev: 5,640 Feet
    Top entry Shelf Canyon. From here you can see the first 100 or so vertical feet as it drops down a steep sandy rocky slope.
  2. dShlefR1          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 37.22106   W -112.94060        Elev: NaN Feet
    Rap 1 - Shelf Canyon. Anchored from a large pine RDC of the deep dark slot about 40 feet back from the drop and drops about 200 feet over ledges to the canyon floor.
  3. yShelfCynBt          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 37.21540   W -112.93929        Elev: 5,190 Feet
    Slick rock slope drops down to a sandy wash the rest of the way out.
  4. tOverlookCyn          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 37.21487   W -112.93887        Elev: 5,160 Feet
    Trailhead for the lower portion of Overlook Canyon (temporary name). Trail drops from road a couple hundred feet east of the parking area.
  5. pkShelfCyn          Lat/Lon (WGS84):  N 37.21464   W -112.93977        Elev: 5,160 Feet
    Parking lot near the lower end of Shelf Canyon. This is about 600 feet north of the Canyon Overlook Trailhead.