If you go to Zion National Park during a Utah road trip, you will have unforgettable experiences and go on unbelievable hikes. We have already described the thrilling experience of climbing to Angels Landing and the long hike that leads to the most beautiful viewpoint in the whole park (Observation Point). Today we will discover a very special hike, one of the most famous and adventurous in the area called The Narrows, a route that takes place in the Virgin River in the narrowest, darkest and most scenic area in all of Zion Canyon.
Since most of the way you walk in the river, The Narrows hike is not for everyone and requires careful planning. Also, you should know that there are two different ways to explore The Narrows. While we will describe and give tips for both, we will focus on the most popular one, known as Narrows Bottom Up, which follows the canyon route from the south (Temple of Sinawava) to the north (Big Springs). In this article, I will give you some advice on how to tackle it and describe the hike in detail so that you can arrive prepared.
The Narrows: Map, Length, Difficulty and Trailhead
The first part of the hike takes place along the Riverside Walk, a very easy flat path that follows the course of the river until you arrive at a point where you must continue in the water. We talked about the Riverside Walk in our article about the things to do at Zion, also indicating the length, starting point of the trail and highlights along the way. At this point, the paved path ends and you have to enter the river. Here are the details about The Narrows (Bottom Up):
- Length: 8 miles (round trip)
- Elevation: about 330 ft
- Difficulty level: Difficult
- Duration: 4-8 hours (depending on where you go back)
- Shuttle stop: Temple of Sinawava
The Narrows (Bottom Up)
There are many factors to take into account before tackling this part of the hike:
- The water level may vary depending on where you are on the trail. It is possible, though it is a rare occurrence, that the water will be above your waist.
- Clearly, one factor to take into consideration is the time of year. During some seasons, the water can be higher than usual. In the spring, the water can get so high that from runoff from melting snow the trail remains closed.
- The current is generally gentle, but in some places,you have to be a bit careful not to lose your balance due to the excessive force of the water.
- Where there is no sand, it is often the case that you will be walking on wet smooth rocks, so there is a risk that you may slip in the water or get injured. Make sure to bring the appropriate clothing (see dedicated section).
- You could ask what is the water temperature in The Narrows. In the winter, the water is especially cold (around 37°), so you need to wear a full wetsuit. In the summer, the water can get up to 66°, so you may choose to wear shorts.
Those who venture into this canyon should consider reaching the area called Wall Street (about 2 miles after the beginning of the trail, where it meets Orderville Canyon). Here the walls are up to 1476 ft high and the canyon is only 7 m wide. Though you may be filled with fear and awe by the heights of the rock walls, you will keep walking and reach the junction with Imlay Canyon and then continue to Big Springs (5 miles one way), but few reach this point, because the level of difficulty increases and there are some points where the course of the river is hindered by large boulders that force you to look for an easier way to continue.
Hiking The Narrows for Beginners
If you don’t feel like going all the way but just want to walk a short distance of the Narrows, you can just reach the Mystery Falls (small waterfalls about half a mile from the beginning of the path) inside the canyon that bears the same name and then head back.
The Narrows Top Down: A Complex Alternative
The Narrows Bottom Up is not the only way to walk in The Narrows. There is also the so-called Top-Down Zion Narrows Hike, thanks to which it is possible to follow the course of the gorge in the opposite direction (from north to south), up to the Temple of Sinawava. In order to walk the full route (15.5 miles), you need to obtain a permit and take a shuttle bus to the Chamberlain’s Ranch Trailhead in Glendale (about 1 hour from Springdale). The hike is very difficult and recommended only for experienced hikers who are equipped to camp overnight and, most importantly, have plenty of time available (1-2 days).
When to Hike The Narrow in Zion? Best Time of the Year
If you plan on hiking the Narrows, there is one fundamental thing you must do. As soon as you get to Zion National Park, ask the rangers about the feasibility of the hike, because even in summer, which is one of the best times of the year for this hike, it might be inadvisable to walk in the river because of the risk of sudden flash floods due to summer storms.
As mentioned above, during the spring (usually from March to late May), hiking is prohibited due to the increase in the water level of the river from the snow that has melted and rainfall.
The best period to hike the Narrows remains, in my opinion, the fall, from September to the first half of October, but the summer months (from the second half of May to August) are also ideal, because of the pleasant temperature of the water, even though there is still the risk of flooding.
In the summer, you can easily wear shorts, a pair of sturdy and resistant hiking boots and walking sticks, but you must bring a sweatshirt or an anorak to shield yourself from the cold winds in the narrowest parts of the canyon. In the fall and winter, due to the low water temperatures, it is practically compulsory to get a full wetsuit, which can be rented in Springdale in one of the stores that sells hiking gear and apparel.
Where to Stay
For tips on accommodations, read our article on where to stay in Zion. The best solutions are either Springdale or the Zion Lodge within the park, but there are other options in the vicinity of the park.