The Zion Narrows is, after Angels Landing (which I’ve done on the previous day), one of the “must do” hikes of Zion National Park and has been described as “the quintessential Zion experience” (Greg Benchwick in Zion & Bryce Canyon National Park). It’s the the narrowest section of Zion Canyon in Zion National Park. Being a popular hike, I’m starting early to hopefully get ahead of the crowds…
The Zion Narrows hike starts at the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop, which is the last stop on Zion Canyon Road. It starts as an easy, paved walk along the Virgin River (this section used to be called “Gateway to The Narrows”).
The Riverside Walk continues about a mile (1.6km) as it follows the river, with steep canyon walls on both sides and some hanging gardens.
The Zion Narrows
The trail eventually reaches a point where the canyon is so narrow that there is no river bank on either side, which is the start of The Narrows. From here there is no trail – you just follow the river upstream. I’m doing the “Botttom Up” day-hike which is about 10 miles (16km return). You can also do the “Top Down” Narrows hike by taking a shuttle to Chamberlain Lodge and hiking down in one day or overmight, which is 17 miles (28km) one-way.
The hike consists of mostly wading up the river, which alternates between a sandy bottom and large pebbles, with an occasional boulder or obstruction..
It’s incredibly serene and beautiful, with only a handful of other people in sight as I make my way up the river.
After about 0.5 miles (0.8km) from the start of The Narrows is Mystery Falls, which is also a popular “turn back point” for day-hikers just wanting to experience the nature of this hike. (It’s not the most spectacular waterfall, which is probably a good thing – if there was a torrent of water cascading down the cliff face you probably shoudn’t be doing this hike!)
Far more spectacular is the Zion Narrows Alcove, an enormous rock overhang that’s been carved out by river.
The canyon is still fairly wide, and there are some stretches where you can walk on the river bank, under towering cliffs.
In a narrower section of the Zion Narrows is House Rock, a distinctively shaped rock in the middle of the river about two miles (3.2km) in.
At the three mile mark (4.8km) is the junction with Orderville Canyon. I venture up a short way, before encountering a few obstacles; Orderville Canyon can be done as a semi-technical day hike, and is narrower and darker than the main Narrows.
The junction with Orderville Canyon is also the start of the Wall Street section in the Zion Narrows, the most picturesque and photogenic section. With the canyon narrowing significantly, this section involves wading through water – mostly knee-height, as the river level is fairly low.
The official end of the Wall Street section is Floating Rock, a large rock in the middle of the canyon, but it;s still fairy narrow and dramatic with towering cliffs as I continue upstream.
The canyon starts to open up at Big Springs, where multiple springs cascade into the Zion River. It’s also the start of twelve campsites, which stretch over a mile along the river.
This is far as you’re supposed to go if donig a day-hike from the bottom; I continue another half a mile or so as I’ve got plenty of time, but it’s far less dramatic or photogenic than the rest of Zion Narrows hike!
There’s not a soul in sight as I turn around near Campsite 10. I stop on the way back to take a few more photos of Wall Street, although it’s hard to capture the beauty of this section.
As I get further downstream, I encounter an increasing number of people. Near Mystery Falls – which I had to myself in the morning – is now a crowd of people. An early start for this hike is well worth the effort!
I’ve travelled about five miles (8.1km) up the river (so about ten miles / 16km return), and it’s taken me around six hours. It would be a little slower if the river was higher – and it’s been a spectacular hike.
What to bring to hike the Zion Narrows
The Zion Narrows is not too unlike any other hike when the river levels are low… other than you will get wet feet! But a few things will make your journey slightly more pleasant…
- Wool Socks – the best one sare neoprene socks (aka Wetsuit Socks), but a good pair of wool socks, or even better merino wool socks, will dry quickly once you’re out of the water and keep your feet warm.
- Waterproof backpack or dry bag – you may not need this… but if you slip in one of the deeper sections it will keep your phone and any other equipment dry
- Camera Tripod – essential to get great photos in the darker sections of the canyon.
- Trekking poles – I ever use these and they certainly aren’t essential, but many people find they help given the uneven surface you’ll often be hiking on.
If you’re look to rent gear, including wet suits, canyoneering shoes, neoprene socks or waterproof pants – which really aren’t necessary in summer – the place to go is Zion Outfitter or Zion Adventures. Athough it will cost a bit more, renting what you need on the previous day means you can get an early start.
When to go
The hiking season for The Narrows is generally Summer and Fall/Autumn, when the river levels are lower and the water and canyon temperatures are a bit warmer. You can hike in winter, but the cold water temperature means you’ll need a wet suit. Between mid-March and late May (sometimes up to late June depending on the snow levels) the Zion Narrows is typically closed to hiking due to high river levels from the snow melt.
The difficulty of hiking the Zion Narrows is generally determined by the water flow, measure in cubic feet per second (cfs); a flow below 50cfs indicates relatively easy hiking conditions, while above 100cfs makethe hike more challenging an potentially and dangerous. Permits for the top-down hike are not issued if the water flow is above 120cfs.
Getting to the Zion Narrows
The Zion Narrows hike starts at the end of Zion Canyon Road (the Temple of Sinawava stop). So during the optimal hiking period, access to the trailhead will be via the Zion Shuttle only as cars aren’t allowed along this road. If you can, get the first shuttle from the park entrance, or from Zion Lodge if staying inside the park.