If you are an outdoor enthusiast, hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park is most likely on your bucket list, and for a good reason. The Narrows, or more precisely the Narrows of the North Fork of the Virgin River, draws hikers from all over the world with its outstanding scenery and the unique way of trekking it – in the river. When planning this adventure, you will face many questions, for instance, is hiking the Narrows dangerous, is it suitable for me, do I need any special equipment to take the hike. Additionally, you may ask yourself how to get there and how many hours to devote to this adventure. In this post, you will get your questions answered. Here is the guide on how to hike the Narrows in Zion.
HIKING THE NARROWS IN ZION NATIONAL PARK – ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW
There are many reasons why Utah is the best place for nature lovers, with Zion National Park being one of the primary ones. I visited the park two times, and both times I felt overtaken by its incredible beauty. A prominent feature of the park is Zion Canyon, 15 miles (24 km) long and up to 2,640 ft (800 m) deep. It can easily be seen from many overlooks accessible from Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway (Utah 9).
What is the Narrows?
The Narrows is essentially a slot canyon, the narrowest section of Zion Canyon in Zion National Park, situated on the North Fork of the Virgin River, upstream of the main canyon. For 13 million years, the Virgin River has carved through the red sandstones of Zion National Park to create some of the most unforgettable scenery in the world. The walls fo the canyon, a thousand feet tall, are only twenty feet apart in some places. The hike requires walking in the river.
Who can hike The Narrows?
Almost anyone can explore the Narrows to some degree, depending on the level of experience and mobility. Here are the choices.
Gateway to the Narrows Walk
This paved path, one mile each way, can be negotiated by strollers and assisted wheelchairs. It starts where The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive ends, at Temple of Sinawava. Parking is full in high season by 8:30, so arrive early. A park shuttle is also available but you can expect long lines.
Hiking the Narrows for beginners – Bottom-Up hike and back
Unlike the Grand Canyon, where you stand on the rim and look down, Zion Canyon is usually viewed from the bottom looking up. The hike begins at the Temple of Sinawava. You will then take Gateway to the Narrows walk. After a mile on the paved path, you can wade up the river as far as you feel comfortable. A permit is not required. This is the hike I took along with three of my friends. It was an unforgettable experience.
Hiking the Narrows for experienced hikers – Through-hike
If you are looking for a challenge, hike the entire Narrows from top to bottom, from Chamberlain Ranch down to Temple of Sinawava. You’ll need to shuttle to the trailhead, located along the North Fork Road, on private property on the east edge of Zion Park. The through-hike can be done in a day, under favorable conditions, an average of 12 hours. Hiking in the river is strenuous, so many visitors prefer staying overnight in the canyon. There are twelve numbered campsites available. A permit is required to hike the entire Narrows,16 miles (26 km) long. Overnight permits can be hard to get on holiday and summer weekends, so act early. Learn more about the permit here.
Is hiking the Narrows dangerous?
Under favorable conditions, hiking the Narrow is not dangerous, but the canyon is susceptible to flash flooding. During storms, water rushes rapidly into the Narrows and rises almost instantly. Flash floods are frequent in Zion and can come without warning. Even experienced hikers lost their lives in the Narrows. With nothing but sheer cliffs around, finding a place to hide is nearly impossible. Make sure to check the water forecast before you venture into the canyon.
Another danger that hikers face in the Narrows is slippery rocks. Make sure to have at least good hiking boots and a solid walking stick to help keep your balance.
How high is the water?
The water level fluctuates from year to year and day to day, depending on rainfall and snowmelt. Walking is moderately difficult, from ankle-high, through knee-deep crossings, to a few pools up to waist high.
What is the best time to hike the Narrows?
Most people hike The Narrows in the late spring and summer when the water tends to be at its warmest, and the water level drops. However, this is also the time of year when storms can cause life-threatening flash floods. I took the hike in late October when the air was warm, and the water level was high enough for fun but not too challenging to navigate.
How many miles is the Narrows hike in Zion
How long does it take to hike the Narrows in Zion
The Bottom-Up hike takes about only 2-3 hours into the section of Narrows known as Wall Street, the narrowest part of the canyon, and a turning point for most of the hikers. You can hike in as far as you want and turn back at any time.
The Through-Hike can be done in one day, but many visitors stay overnight. You can stay only one night, and you will need a permit for that.
How to prepare for the Narrows hike
- Check the weather and flash flood potential with a ranger!
Flash floods are life-threatening in Zion. Make sure to check the weather before the hike.
- Rent gear (or not?)
If you are fit, experienced, and do not mind cold water, you can hike The Narrows without renting anything. During the hot summer months, many people venture out in their regular clothes. But again, rocks are incredibly slippery. Wearing inappropriate footwear often results in twisted ankles and crushed toes. Also, have a solid walking stick with you.
If you prefer to feel comfortable during your adventure, rent the Narrows package at Zion Adventures. I opted for rubber boots, socks, pants, and a walking stick. In October, the air was still warm, but the water was not. I did not get wet or cold, and that let me enjoy the hike to the fullest.
- Start early
During the high season, drive up early to secure a parking spot or take the first shuttle of the day to beat the crowd and the heat. Learn more about Parking and shuttles in Zion.
- What to bring
Bring extra sets of clothes in case you get wet or cold. Make sure to have garbage bags and ziplock bags to keep your things dry (you can also rent a dry pack). Have some food and water. And of course, bring your phone and/or camera to capture the beauty around you, but make sure to keep them protected from becoming wet. For a through-hike and an overnight hike, you would need backpacking essentials.
Another fabulous hike in Zion National Park – Angels Landing
Another epic hike in Zion National Park is Angels Landing. This hike is quite the opposite of the Narrows, as it goes all the way to the top of the mountain. According to the legend, in 1916, one of the explorers to the region, Frederick Fisher, made a remark that “only an angel could land on it.” I happened to be one of the angels that landed there, and let me tell you, the hike was absolutely fabulous.
Where to stay in Zion National Park
Zion Mountain Ranch
You will find plenty of great places to stay when visiting Zion National Park, but let me recommend one of my favorite ones, Zion Mountain Ranch. The ranch delivers upscale western-style accommodation and spectacular views.
Holiday Inn Springdale
Another accommodation that I really like in the area is Holliday Inn Express Springdale Zion National Park Area. The hotel is ideally situated just outside of Zion National Park and is tucked among the towering red rock cliffs of Zion Canyon. I loved the outside area with incredible views of the mountains.
Holiday Inn Springdale delivers excellent accommodation and beautiful views.