The rugged landscapes that make Zion and Bryce Canyon such beautiful destinations can also be hazardous. Because many areas in the parks are isolated, there may be no one there to help in an emergency. The trick is to be prepared, like any good Boy Scout. The most important thing you can do to help ensure your safety is to check with park offices and park rangers about current conditions before heading out.
Southern Utah's extremes of climate -- from burning desert to snow-covered mountains -- can produce health problems, if you're not prepared. If you haven't been to the desert before, it can be difficult to comprehend the heat, dryness, and intensity of the sun. If you're prone to dry skin, moisturizing lotion is a must; even if you're not, you will probably end up using it. Everyone needs to use a good quality sun block, wear a hat, and wear sunglasses with full ultraviolet protection. Hikers and others planning to be outside will also need to carry water -- at least a gallon per person per day is recommended.
The other potential problem is elevation. Bryce Canyon National Park rises to over 9,000 feet, and a side trip to Cedar Breaks National Monument will take you to over 10,000 feet. These elevations are high enough to produce health problems for those not accustomed to them -- there's less oxygen and lower humidity up there than many visitors are used to. In fact, the most common complaint at the first-aid station at Bryce Canyon Lodge is shortness of breath. Those with heart or respiratory problems should consult their doctors before planning a trip to these parks, Bryce Canyon in particular. If you're in generally good health, you don't need to take any special precautions, but it's advisable to ease into high elevations by changing altitude gradually. Also, get plenty of rest, avoid large meals, and drink plenty of nonalcoholic fluids, especially water.
State health officials also warn outdoor enthusiasts to take precautions against hantavirus, a rare but often fatal respiratory disease, first recognized in 1993. About half of the country's confirmed cases have been reported in the Four Corners states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. The droppings and urine of rodents usually spread the disease, and health officials recommend that campers and hikers avoid areas with signs of rodent occupation. Symptoms of hantavirus are similar to flu, and lead to breathing difficulties and shock.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.