A Guide To: Hiking The Narrows in Zion National Park

While on my road trip exploring the Southwest, I had planned to make a stop at Zion National Park in Utah. A place where ancient native people and pioneers walked. Where massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red soar into the brilliant blue sky. Somewhere I could absorb the rich history of the past while enjoying the excitement of present day adventures. Upon arriving I read up on the the many trails, from easy to strenuous and I immediately gravitated towards hiking The Narrows!

WHAT IS THE NARROWS?

The Narrows is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. This section of the park has walls a thousand feet tall and a river  that sometimes is just twenty to thirty feet wide, it has become known as one of the most popular areas in Zion National Park. The Narrows begins with hiking along the paved Riverside Walk for one mile from the Temple of Sinawava. For the more adventurous, it continues by walking in the Virgin River. It can involve walking upstream for just a few minutes or it can be an all day hike.

HOW CAN I HIKE THE NARROWS? 

A hike through The Narrows requires that you get your feet wet while hiking in the Virgin River. There are two primary ways to do this hike, either the more popular bottom up hike from the Temple of Sinawava which requires no permit. Or the top down hike from Chamberlain's Ranch which requires a permit. The bottom up hike requires that you hike in The Narrows upstream as far as Big Spring. Doing it this way allows you to see some of the most spectacular and narrowest parts of the canyon. You can hike in the river for an hour and have a great experience, or you can hike as far as Big Spring. Hiking from the top down requires that you hike sixteen miles downstream over one or two days, ending at the Temple of Sinawava. Those who choose this option must get a permit and arrange transportation for the 1 1/2 hour drive to the start of the hike just outside of the park at Chamberlain's Ranch.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO HIKE THE NARROWS?

The most popular time to hike The Narrows is 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 that storms can cause life-threatening flash floods. Winter and early spring commonly means cold water and higher water levels, sometimes even closing The Narrows due to snowmelt raising the river. Fall brings more stable weather, but days get shorter and the water temperature drops. Always check Zion Weather and Climate prior to trip to ensure a safe and pleasant trip.

WHAT ABOUT FLASH-FLOODS?

A flash flood is a rapid flooding of washes, rivers, dry lakes and basins. It can be caused by heavy rain due to severe thunderstorm, hurricane, tropical storm, or meltwater from ice. During a flash flood the water level rises almost instantly in the Narrows and have been known to strand, injure, and even kill hikers venturing into narrow, flood prone canyons. Always check the weather forecast and the flash flood potential before you start your trip., even if the day seems perfect!

THINGS TO KNOW

  • Footwear | The Narrows is like walking on slippery bowling balls. It requires balancing on algae-coated rocks in the middle of a swiftly flowing river. Sturdy footwear is essential, so a nice pair of hiking boots with good ankle support would be best. Sandals and bare feet are not appropriate and can results in twisted ankles or crushed toes. Oouch!
  • Clothing | Even in mid-summer The Narrows can be cool. The water is cold, breezes blow steadily, and very little sunlight penetrates to the canyon floor. Although you'll probably hike in shorts, take extra warm clothing. Clothing made of wool or synthetic fibers has the best insulation.
  • Waterproofing | Even the most experienced hikers occasionally fall in The Narrows, so you'll probably want to waterproof your belongings. Many hikers line their packs with large plastic garbage bags. Smaller resealable bags provide extra protection for cameras and other valuables.
  • Flashlight & Headlamp |  Every week, canyoneers spend unintended nights camped in the wilderness of the park. A headlamp could make the difference between spending the night in the canyon and making it out.
  • Drinking Water | Untreated water from the river and its springs is not safe to drink. It has passed over rangeland and may be contaminated with bacteria. Treat the water you collect by filter, tablets, or by boiling. Hikers are should carry in all of their water and try to drink at least one gallon of water per person per day.
  • First Aid Kit | Even a minor injury can cause major problems in the wilderness.
  • Extra Clothing | Could you spend an unexpected night in the canyon?
  • Extra Food | Food keeps your energy up and helps you stay warm if you remain out overnight.

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About the Founder of The Modern Day Explorer   About The Author

In 2015, Founder of TMDE Paul Martinez left a career in sales for a life of exploring. In just a matter of months he had visited over 10 countries, 30 cities, 10 states, countless national parks, taken thousands of photographs, and did a ton of soul-searching. His search uncovered a deep passion for exploration; which he now believes to be the essence of the human spirit, and led to the birth of The Modern Day Explorer. You can follow him on his personal journey by visiting his Instagram, and hopefully continue to support TMDE by following us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.