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Many people got their first glimpse of Utah’s other-worldly terrain while watching James Franco cut off his arm in 127 Hours. But that gory scene only served to whet the appetites of adventurers who seek thrills in Utah’s varied and challenging landscapes.
More and more each year, particularly in the summer and fall, Utahns take on the challenges of extreme outdoor sports. And there’s no better place to pursue activities like canyoneering, rock climbing and bouldering than the Beehive State.
If you like climbing into caves, or kayaking on one of the state’s many tributaries, you’re also in luck. What often brings vacationers to Utah, and sometimes keeps them here as they relocate, is the vast variety of outdoor activities our state provides.
“There are thousands of different opportunities for hikers, climbers, river runners or just about any other outdoorsman,” says Kevin Lewis, director of sports and adventure marketing for the St. George Area Convention and Tourism Office. His office often fields calls from around the world about Utah outdoor activities.
“Utah is really one of the Meccas for this,” he says. “We have such a wide variety of locales for so many outdoor adventures. And in Southern Utah in particular, they can run year round.”
Rock climbing is quickly becoming one of the state’s most popular draws. Certainly the offerings of Zion and Arches National Parks have been on the radar for climbers for decades, and Utah offers perhaps the greatest variety of rock climbing in the nation.
In the Salt Lake Valley, the granite found in Little Cottonwood Canyon is second only to that in Yosemite National Park in California in terms of density and popularity. In neighboring Big Cottonwood Canyon, there are hundreds of potential quartzite climbing areas. And Utah boasts many kinds of rocks in addition to granite and quartzite, including slate, gneiss, marble, shale, limestone, sandstone, siltstone and conglomerate. Estimates put the ages of these rocks at somewhere from 24 million to over 1 billion years old.
Rock climbers, and those into canyoneering, will find a plethora of playgrounds. Southern Utah’s famous slot canyons offer what Lewis calls “a unique perspective on nature. You can’t find anything like them anywhere else.”
Many of these canyons are so narrow that you can touch both sides of the walls with outstretched arms. Getting to some of them might involve trudging through waist-deep water, or even climbing and then rappelling.
Most adventurers think it’s worth it.
“We can combine a lot of our favorite activities when we’re in the canyons of Utah,” says Ron Shelbourne, a Montana native who found his love of climbing and rappelling embellished once he moved to Utah in the late ‘90s. “There are so many variations of environments here. In the morning, you can be freezing; by midday, you feel like you’re in an oven; and then the evening cool is very welcomed. It’s amazing.”
An Adventurer’s Paradise
Not to be missed is kayaking and canoeing, sports that people of all ages can enjoy. In Southern Utah, you can escape for the day along the Green River, paddle to your heart’s content on Lake Powell, or take an extended trip down the Colorado River. Up north, seasonal offerings include reservoirs, man-make lakes or rivers such as the ones in Provo and Weber Canyons. And of course, there’s the Great Salt Lake.
Don’t discount caves, either. We hear about accidents when people climb into caves and get injured because they are accidents—exceptions to the rule. Caving has long been popular in Utah, and there are dozens of caves locally and throughout the state to thrill the Batman or Batwoman in you.
“Cave climbing is really incredibly safe,” Shelbourne says, “as long as you use common sense.” That means use of proper footwear (there are slick spots in some caves, so traction is important), flashlights, clothing, etc. And having emergency supplies or equipment (beckons or locators) is also a smart move.
Among the most popular spots: Lehman Caves, Minnetonka Cave and, of course Timpanogos Cave east of American Fork—a longtime favorite, but be physically prepared for the initial ascent to its entrance.
“Utah is truly an outdoor adventurist’s paradise,” Lewis says. “From mountains to deserts to lakes and streams and everything in between, if you can’t find what you’re looking for here, you may not be looking in all the right places.”
So look harder—your outdoor extreme adventures await, and the weather’s getting better every day.
Head into the Great Outdoors