Your guide to hiking The Narrows in Zion: tips, trails, and safety for an epic adventure.
Ready to trade dry land for a river trail that winds between towering rock walls? The Narrows in Zion National Park is where you ditch the trail map and let the Virgin River lead the way.
With cliffs that stretch sky-high and a path that’s often no wider than a few feet, this hike is a natural labyrinth that’s both a challenge and a chill-out zone.
This guide isn’t just about getting your feet wet. We’re taking you from prep to trek, detailing what to pack, when to go, and how to navigate The Narrows safely.
Whether you’re in for the short Riverside Walk or taking on the whole shebang, we’ll make sure you’re geared up and ready to gape at the awe-inspiring scenery that’s been millennia in the making. We’ve also scouted out the other must-see spots in Zion to round out your adventure.
So, lace up your water shoes, folks. We’re about to take a dive into the ins and outs of hiking The Narrows.
What Exactly is The Narrows?
To truly appreciate The Narrows, one must delve into the layers of its creation. Imagine a timeline spanning over 18 million years.
That’s how long the Virgin River has been at work, patiently chiseling away at the Navajo Sandstone, forging a canyon whose walls now soar up to 1,500 feet tall.
The result? A slot canyon, one of the most dramatic in the world, where sunlight filters down in ethereal beams, creating a play of light and shadow that dances on the canyon’s walls.
This dance narrates a story – of floods, erosions, and the relentless march of time.
Historically, The Narrows has been a place of wonder and exploration. Ancient inhabitants of the region, the Ancestral Puebloans, once treaded its paths, leaving behind traces of their existence.
They, like modern visitors, were drawn to the spiritual allure of the place, finding solace and sustenance within its walls. Fast forward to more recent times, explorers and geologists like John Wesley Powell have chronicled their journeys through The Narrows, contributing to its lore.
Geologically speaking, The Narrows is a marvel of sedimentary formations. The reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone, prominent in the canyon, tells tales of ancient deserts and dunes.
The very rocks underfoot have witnessed epochs come and go, from the age of dinosaurs to the rise of mammals.
Yet, for all its grandeur, The Narrows remains humbling. It’s a reminder of nature’s might and our transient existence.
Each curve, each carved alcove, each shimmering pool, holds secrets – some revealed, and many still hidden in the heart of the canyon, waiting to be discovered.
Our View – The Narrows isn’t merely a slot canyon in Zion National Park; it’s a living testament to Earth’s history, a muse for adventurers, and a sanctuary for souls seeking connection with the wild. It’s where stories of the past meet memories of the present, creating a timeless allure that’s impossible to resist.
Preparing for Your Narrows Adventure
Embarking on a journey through The Narrows in Zion National Park is not just about taking a hike; it’s about immersing oneself in nature’s untamed beauty.
However, to truly savor the experience and ensure safety, it’s crucial to come prepared. Here’s your guide to mastering The Narrows.
When is the Best Time to Hike The Narrows?
Summer and early fall: This season offers warmer temperatures, making water wades refreshing rather than chilling.
The advantages include more extended daylight hours, giving you ample time to explore, and generally clearer waters.
However, summer also comes with potential challenges. It’s the peak tourist season, so expect crowds.
More critically, summer months, particularly August, are monsoon season in the Southwest, increasing the risk of flash floods.
Winter and early spring: The canyon transforms during these months. Ice formations glisten on the rock walls, and there’s a serene stillness, a stark contrast to the bustling summer months.
The cold can be biting, with water temperatures plummeting, but it offers a unique, less-crowded experience. The most significant advantage is solitude; the canyon is less frequented, allowing for a more personal experience.
Remember, though, water levels might be higher, and hypothermia is a real risk without the right gear.
Safety First: Understanding The Narrows’ Conditions
The Narrows isn’t just about beauty; it demands respect. Nature here is unpredictable, and awareness is your best defense.
Water height and flow rate: Before you set foot in The Narrows, always check the current conditions, especially the water’s height and flow rate.
A higher flow rate means stronger currents, which can be challenging and dangerous for hikers.
Flash floods: These sudden surges can be deadly. They’re most common during the monsoon season but can occur anytime.
Always check the weather forecast, not just for Zion but the entire region – a storm miles away can send torrents rushing down The Narrows.
Park rangers also provide daily flash flood potential ratings, which are a must-check.
Toxic Cyanobacteria: In recent times, the presence of toxic cyanobacteria has been a concern. This bacteria can be harmful, especially if ingested.
Always purify river water before drinking and avoid submerging your head.
Gearing Up: What to Wear and Pack for The Narrows
Your experience in The Narrows can be greatly enhanced with the right gear.
Clothing and footwear: Quick-drying clothes are a must. Consider wearing a light, long-sleeved shirt and shorts or convertible pants.
Sturdy, closed-toed canyoneering shoes or hiking sandals with good grip are vital – the riverbed is rocky, and regular shoes won’t cut it.
In colder months, a wetsuit or drysuit becomes essential.
Essential gear: A walking stick can aid stability in flowing water. Waterproof bags or backpacks will keep your items dry.
Depending on the season, pack extra food, layers of clothing, and always carry a reliable water purification method.
Different seasons dictate different gear. While you might want a sun hat and sunscreen in the summer, thermal gear becomes essential for winter hikes.
Top Tip – The Narrows promises a breathtaking adventure, but its raw beauty demands respect. Proper preparation ensures that you can focus on the canyon’s wonders, with the peace of mind that you’re ready for whatever the journey holds.
Hiking the Narrows
Journeying into the heart of Zion National Park, The Narrows offers a one-of-a-kind experience that marries the raw, untamed beauty of nature with the thrill of exploration.
The towering walls of Navajo sandstone have stood witness to millennia, sculpted by time, erosion, and the persistent flow of the North Fork Virgin River.
In this guide, let’s unravel the mysteries and nuances of this iconic trail, ensuring you’re equipped with the knowledge to make your hike both memorable and safe.
Often described as Zion’s masterpiece, The Narrows is a testament to nature’s artistry, where water has carved its way through sandstone, creating a stunning pathway beneath colossal rock walls.
Their fluted and whorled forms showcase centuries of erosion, making it one of the most visually striking destinations in the American Southwest.
Distance: The Narrows’ flexibility is part of its allure. Depending on your stamina and time constraints, the round-trip hike ranges between 5 to 9.4 miles (8 to 15.1 km).
Hiking Time: Prepare for a hike that could last anywhere from 3 to 7 hours, contingent on how deep you venture into the canyon.
Best Seasons: The warmer months of June to July and September to October present ideal conditions, balancing pleasant weather with safer river conditions.
Difficulty: This is different from your regular trail. The Narrows is moderately strenuous, demanding both physical stamina and mental preparation.
Hazards: The beauty of The Narrows isn’t without its perils. Primary hazards include potential flash floods and near-constant wading through unpredictable waters.
Recommended Equipment: Equip yourself with:
- Proper hiking shoes: Avoid river sandals. Your shoes should be comfortable, provide good grip, and drain well.
- Waterproof clothing: You’re going to get wet, but your clothes should not retain water. Avoid cotton at all costs.
- Wading staff or hiking pole: These are indispensable for stability on the river’s slippery cobblestone bed.
- Dry bag: Keep essentials safe from water.
- Headlamp: You never know when you might get caught in reduced light.
Trail Information: Your journey commences at the Temple of Sinawava parking area, the endpoint of Zion Canyon Road, accessed via tram. The trailhead GPS coordinates are 37.285178, -112.947518. Your path will guide you alongside the North Fork of the Virgin River, drawing you deeper into the embrace of The Narrows.
Your journey starts with a paved walkway from the Temple of Sinawava parking area. As you proceed, the river becomes your trail.
The spectacular fluted walls of The Narrows begin to envelope you, and constant wading becomes the norm.
Zion’s grandeur is evident in the mineral-striped cliffs, shaped over millennia by seeping water. Orderville Canyon, a significant offshoot on the right, presents a detour worth exploring, though further travel requires specific equipment and permits.
Two miles beyond this junction lies Big Springs, a 10-mile round-trip journey that promises unparalleled scenic beauty.
The Narrows can be approached in three distinct ways:
Each journey through this breathtaking canyon offers its unique blend of challenges and rewards.
Here, we explore three distinctive paths to traverse The Narrows, ensuring that every adventurer finds the route that resonates with their spirit and stamina.
1. Bottom-Up Hike from the Temple of Sinawava:
Duration: This trail offers flexibility, allowing hikers to decide how deep they venture into The Narrows.
Most opt for a day hike, with durations ranging from 3 to 7 hours for a round-trip journey.
The trail’s length can be anywhere between 5 to 9.4 miles, depending on your chosen turnaround point.
Highlights: Beginning at the Temple of Sinawava, this trail gradually introduces hikers to the awe-inspiring grandeur of The Narrows.
The path starts with a paved walkway, luring you in with panoramic views of the surrounding cliffs.
As you proceed deeper, the towering walls begin to close in, encapsulating you in their embrace.
The further you go, the more you are rewarded with the stunning beauty of the canyon, the sounds of cascading water, and glimpses of the unique flora and fauna of the region.
Permit Requirements: One of the primary appeals of the bottom-up hike is that no special permit is required.
However, always check for flash flood warnings and current trail conditions before embarking.
2. 16-Mile Through-Hike from Chamberlain’s Ranch:
Duration: This is a full-day commitment, typically taking around 10-14 hours.
Spanning approximately 16 miles, it’s an experience meant for seasoned hikers or those with a strong spirit of adventure.
Highlights: Starting at Chamberlain’s Ranch, this top-down route offers a comprehensive experience of The Narrows.
The journey introduces hikers to varied terrains and vistas, from wide valleys to the tightest sections of the canyon.
Along the way, the pristine waters of the Virgin River and the sheer cliffs adorned with mineral streaks offer a constantly evolving backdrop.
Additionally, this trail features several river crossings, making it both challenging and exhilarating.
What You Need to Know: This hike requires a permit, given its length and the potential risks associated.
It’s imperative to check conditions and obtain the necessary permissions before heading out.
Also, a shuttle or transportation arrangement is essential, as Chamberlain’s Ranch is about an hour’s drive from Zion’s main entrance.
3. The Option for an Overnight Top-Down Hike:
Duration: Spreading the journey over two days allows for a more leisurely pace, soaking in the magnificence of The Narrows without the rush.
Preparations: Unlike the other two options, this hike necessitates camping gear. Choose lightweight, waterproof equipment, and be prepared for variable temperatures.
As space within the canyon is limited, there are designated campsites that need to be reserved in advance.
What to Expect: This immersive experience offers the chance to witness The Narrows in a different light – quite literally.
Imagine the golden hues of sunset reflecting off the sandstone walls or waking up to the gentle gurgle of the Virgin River by your campsite.
The extended time allows for detours, like exploring side canyons or capturing the perfect photograph.
Nightfall introduces a serene silence, punctuated only by the sounds of nature.
Permit Requirements: Given the overnight nature of this hike and its potential impact on the environment, permits are mandatory.
These are limited, ensuring minimal disturbance to the canyon’s fragile ecosystem.
The Narrows offers a range of experiences, each with its unique allure. Whether you’re looking for a short yet intense encounter, a full-day immersion, or a multi-day adventure, this majestic canyon promises memories that will last a lifetime. All that’s left is to choose your path, prepare accordingly, and let The Narrows work its magic on you.
Enhancing Your Zion Experience: Other Must-See Attractions
Zion National Park, with its colossal sandstone cliffs, verdant valleys, and mystifying canyons, remains one of America’s most beloved national parks.
While The Narrows is undeniably an attraction of great magnitude, this natural wonderland hides many more treasures waiting to be uncovered by the discerning traveler.
Beyond The Narrows: Zion’s Other Gems
Nestled amidst the rust-red cliffs and sweeping plateaus of Utah, Zion National Park extends its invitation to an array of enchanting spots that every traveler should include in their itinerary.
One of Zion’s most iconic treks, Angels Landing promises a thrill for adventure-seekers. A five-mile round-trip hike leads you atop a narrow ridge, offering panoramic views of Zion Canyon.
This challenging trail demands resilience, with steep drop-offs and a rugged pathway, but the vistas from the top are unparalleled.
Witnessing the shadowed valleys, glowing red cliffs, and meandering river below is a transcendent experience.
Zion Shuttle Stops
The park’s shuttle system, more than just a convenience, offers a guided tour of Zion’s beauty.
Stops include the ethereal Emerald Pools, the solemn Court of the Patriarchs, and the Weeping Rock with its perpetual tears of trickling spring water.
Each station introduces a different facet of Zion, making the shuttle ride a journey of exploration in itself.
Every twist and turn within Zion presents a photo-worthy moment.
The park’s expansive Watchman Trail displays stunning sunsets, while the Kolob Canyons area showcases finger canyons, towering cliffs, and crimson landscapes, a testament to nature’s artistry.
The Checkerboard Mesa, with its unique criss-cross pattern, stands as a geological marvel, embodying the surreal beauty that Zion so effortlessly flaunts.
Adventures near the Narrows and Zion
A trip to Zion invariably positions you at the heart of the American Southwest, a region awash with natural marvels.
Close to Zion lie attractions that each, in their own right, can redefine your understanding of nature’s grandeur.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Just a short drive from Zion lies the fairytale landscape of Bryce Canyon. Unlike any other, this park is famous for its hoodoos—limestone spires that rise in a dizzying array of colors and shapes from the canyon floor.
Sunrise and sunset paint the amphitheaters in hues of orange, pink, and red, offering a spectacle that dances between the realms of dream and reality.
Whether you gaze from Sunrise Point or trek down into the Queen’s Garden, Bryce promises an otherworldly experience.
Familiar from countless movies and adverts, Monument Valley’s red mesas and buttes, standing tall against the azure sky, epitomize the American West.
The Valley Drive, a 17-mile dirt road, loops around these iconic formations, transporting visitors to a world that seems suspended in time.
The guided tours, often led by Navajo guides, delve deeper into the history, culture, and myths of this sacred land.
Bonneville Salt Flats
A stark contrast to the rugged beauty of Zion and Bryce, the Bonneville Salt Flats present an expanse of hard, white salt crust.
This surreal landscape, spanning over 30,000 acres, looks like a frozen sea, especially under the moonlight.
Renowned for land speed records due to its flat terrain, it’s not uncommon to see vehicles testing their limits here.
But beyond the adrenaline, the sheer vastness of this salt pan, especially after a rain when it turns into a giant mirror reflecting the sky, is something to behold.
Hidden amidst the rocky terrains of the Arizona-Utah border is a gem that has captured the imagination of travelers worldwide.
Known as The Wave, this sandstone rock formation, characterized by its wave-like patterns and rich red hues, is both a photographer’s dream and a hiker’s delight.
Given its delicate nature and the desire to preserve its beauty, access is limited and often requires participation in a lottery.
But those fortunate enough to visit will find an experience that’s both humbling and awe-inspiring.
Our Tip: While The Narrows serves as a magnet drawing countless individuals to Zion, the surrounding region, with its tapestry of canyons, mesas, valleys, and natural formations, amplifies the experience manifold.
Whether it’s the vertiginous thrill of Angels Landing, the serene beauty of Bryce, or the timeless aura of Monument Valley, the American Southwest promises memories that linger long after the journey concludes.
So, while you chart your path through The Narrows, remember, a wider world of wonder awaits just beyond the bend.
Planning Essentials for The Narrows Adventure
As the adage goes, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” Navigating through the breathtaking canyons of The Narrows in Zion National Park is a dream for many.
Still, it’s essential to have every detail mapped out for a seamless and memorable experience.
Here, we’ve streamlined the essentials that every intrepid traveler should consider.
Permits, Rentals, and Real-time Conditions
Securing Permits: One cannot merely wander into the mystic canyons of The Narrows without official permission. Depending on the route you choose, you may need a permit.
The day hikes from the Temple of Sinawava, taking you through the bottom-up trail, do not necessitate a permit.
However, if you opt for the top-down approach, be it for a day hike or an overnight expedition, a permit is indispensable.
These are limited, owing to the park’s aim to preserve the pristine environment and ensure a quality experience for all hikers.
Applications for these permits can be submitted online and are typically available in a lottery format, given their high demand.
Ensure you apply well in advance and are familiar with the procedure to maximize your chances of acquisition.
Importance of Current Conditions: The enigmatic allure of The Narrows is matched only by its unpredictability. Flash floods are a stark reality.
The canyon’s constricted nature makes it susceptible to rapid water level rises, even if rain is miles away.
Therefore, it’s of utmost importance to check the weather forecast and keep an eye on real-time conditions. Zion National Park regularly updates river flow rates, and the threshold for safety is set at 150 cubic feet per second.
If rates exceed this, the park service will close access to The Narrows. Additionally, inquire about flash flood predictions: “not expected,” “possible,” “probable,” or “imminent” to make informed decisions about your hike.
Where to Get Rentals: Not every traveler comes equipped with gear tailored for river hikes. Luckily, Zion has you covered.
Several outfitters in Springdale and the park itself offer rental equipment, tailored specifically for The Narrows.
From waterproof footwear to wading staffs and dry bags, these facilities ensure that you’re well-equipped for the journey ahead.
Additionally, they offer specialized gear for different seasons. For instance, during colder months, renting a dry suit might be essential to prevent hypothermia.
Always consider your comfort and safety when deciding what gear to rent or purchase.
Helpful Resources for Your Trip
Zion National Park Website: Before venturing into the depths of The Narrows or any part of Zion, the park’s official website is a must-visit.
It offers a wealth of information, from real-time conditions to essential safety tips.
The site is also the primary portal for permit applications and provides details on shuttle services, campgrounds, and park regulations.
Trail Guides: While The Narrows is reasonably well-trodden, having a detailed trail guide can significantly enhance the experience.
These guides provide comprehensive maps, showcase points of interest, and often detail the geology and history of the regions you traverse.
They become particularly useful if you’re venturing into lesser-known sections of the canyon, ensuring you don’t miss any hidden gems.
Park Rangers & Visitor Centers: There’s no substitute for local expertise. Zion National Park’s rangers are wellsprings of knowledge, not just about trail conditions, but also about the flora, fauna, history, and geology of the park.
Before setting off on your hike, it’s a good idea to stop by one of the visitor centers.
Here, you can attend ranger-led programs, get answers to specific queries, and gather insights that might not be available in printed guides or online.
Online Forums and Traveler Reviews: In the age of the internet, connecting with fellow travelers has never been easier. Platforms like TripAdvisor, AllTrails, and various hiking forums provide firsthand accounts of The Narrows experiences.
These reviews can give you a clear picture of what to expect, tips that might not be available in official resources, and recommendations for things like where to rent equipment or which sections of the trail offer the most spectacular views.
The Narrows isn’t just another hiking trail; it’s a testament to nature’s artistry, a corridor of time etched by water and wind, framed by towering walls that tell tales of millennia gone by.
Every step taken within this ethereal passageway is a communion with nature, a reminder of our transient presence in the face of enduring beauty.
But with such splendor comes responsibility. This is not merely a space for photo opportunities and leisurely walks; it’s a sanctuary that demands reverence.
As visitors, it falls upon us to tread lightly, ensuring our footsteps do not disrupt the delicate balance of this ancient landscape.
Carry with you only memories and leave behind no trace. Let’s pledge to keep The Narrows pristine so that generations after us can marvel at its untouched beauty, just as we have.
In the echo of the flowing waters and the whispers of the winds against the stone, let’s listen to nature’s plea: respect, preserve, and cherish.
For in safeguarding The Narrows, we safeguard a piece of Earth’s soul.
FAQ Section: The Narrows
Can a beginner hike the Narrows?
Yes, beginners can hike The Narrows, especially the Bottom-Up Hike from the Temple of Sinawava which doesn’t require a permit. However, beginners should be prepared for uneven terrain and wading in cold water. It’s crucial to be aware of the river’s conditions and take necessary precautions before embarking.
Is the Narrows closed in 2023?
No, The Narrows in Zion National Park reopened on June 19, 2023, following a closure caused by high water levels from a record snowpack melt.
This spring closure, which lasted for over 70 days, ranks as the second-longest recorded closure for The Narrows.
Despite its reopening, potential risks persist, such as monsoon seasons which historically have led to temporary closures.
It’s vital for visitors to monitor weather forecasts, river flow rates, and official announcements from Zion National Park to ensure a safe experience.
Prior planning and awareness of current conditions are crucial when embarking on The Narrows hike.
Is it safe to walk the Narrows?
Walking The Narrows is generally safe if you are prepared and aware of current conditions. It’s vital to monitor weather forecasts for flash flood risks and check river flow rates before starting. Proper equipment and adherence to safety guidelines enhance the experience’s security.
How deep do the Narrows go?
The depth of The Narrows can vary, but in some sections, water might be waist or even chest deep. The average depth for most of the hike is ankle to knee-deep. However, water levels fluctuate based on weather and time of year, so it’s essential to check conditions before setting out.
When should you not hike the Narrows?
You should avoid hiking The Narrows during or after heavy rainfall, as this increases the risk of flash floods. Moreover, if the river flow rates surpass 150 cubic feet per second, the National Park Service closes the canyon to hikers coming from the bottom.
How long does the Narrows hike take?
The time required for The Narrows hike varies based on the chosen route. The Bottom-Up day hike can take between 3 to 7+ hours. However, the entire length, such as the Top-Down route from Chamberlain’s Ranch, requires longer, especially if done over multiple days.
How hard is it to get a permit for the Narrows?
Securing a permit for The Narrows, especially for the top-down hike, can be competitive due to its popularity. Permits are distributed via a lottery system, and the chances vary based on the season. It’s recommended to apply well in advance and have flexible dates for better chances.
Can you do the Narrows barefoot?
It’s not recommended to hike The Narrows barefoot. The riverbed is rocky, and there’s a risk of injury from submerged obstacles. Proper footwear, such as hiking shoes that drain well, provide both comfort and safety during the hike.
What is the best month to hike the Narrows?
June through July and September through October are considered the best months to hike The Narrows. These months typically offer warmer weather and lower water levels, making the hike more manageable and reducing the risks associated with higher flows.
Do you need to swim in the Narrows?
No, you don’t need to swim while hiking The Narrows. Most of the water sections are ankle to waist deep. However, there might be deeper sections depending on conditions, but these can usually be navigated without swimming.
How cold is water in Zion Narrows?
The water in Zion Narrows is generally cold, with temperatures ranging from 40°F (4°C) to 60°F (15°C) throughout the year. It’s colder in spring due to snowmelt and slightly warmer in late summer and early fall.
What is the scariest hike in Zion?
Many consider “Angels Landing” as the scariest hike in Zion National Park due to its narrow ridges, steep cliffs, and sections where chains are needed. While it offers breathtaking views, it’s not recommended for those with a fear of heights or children.
Can you drive your car to the Narrows?
No, private vehicles are not allowed past a certain point in Zion Canyon, including the Narrows trailhead. Visitors need to take the Zion Canyon Shuttle, which stops at the Temple of Sinawava, the starting point for The Narrows hike.
How cold is the Narrows hike?
The temperature of The Narrows hike largely depends on the season. Summers can be warm, ranging from 70°F to 100°F (21°C to 37°C). However, the water remains cold year-round, and the canyon’s depth means limited sun exposure, which can make certain sections cooler even during summer.