ZION NATIONAL PARK
“The Narrows” is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon in Zion National Park. Its walls can reach up to 1000 feet high and can sometimes be only 20 or 30 feet apart – it’s an amazing visual experience and is one of the most popular destinations in the park. It can be accessed via a mile-long maintained, paved path that starts at the Temple of Sinawava. For the more adventurous, you can literally hike up the Virgin River for a few minutes or you can make a memorable day hike out of it, which is exactly what we did on our trip to Zion in 2017.
The Narrows Trail Info
Note: the AllTrails map above is reporting incorrect elevation data. I suspect the narrow canyon is messing with the GPS points and elevations.
- Check the weather report for flash flooding forecasts. Don’t assume it won’t flood because the weather looks nice.
- If you are going to hike in the river, trekking poles will make your hike much more enjoyable.
- If you bring a camera, make sure it is waterproof or you have something waterproof that you can put it in.
- If it’s colder, you can rent wet suits, neoprene socks, and “water boots” from outfitters in Springdale.
- If you are going to day hike the river, plan on bringing water and food. You will need to pack all waste out.
How to Hike The Narrows
The National Park Service specifies two methods to hike The Narrows: bottom-up and top-down.
Bottom-Up – No Permit Required
As its name implies, this hike starts from the bottom – Temple of Sinawava to be exact. The first mile of the trail is maintained pavement and is handicapped accessible. In the busy season (Spring-Fall), it will require a short shuttle ride to the temple since the NPS does not allow private vehicles past Canyon Junction. This hike can take you an hour if you only do the maintained portion of the trail or it can be a strenuous all-day hike, taking you as far in as Big Spring – any further and you will need a permit. This is the most common way to hike The Narrows and it is what we did.
Top-Down – Permit Required
This method will require you to secure a permit from the NPS and a ride to the trailhead, which is actually outside the park at Chamberlain’s Ranch. Many that hike this route elect to spend one night in the canyon, although it can be done in one day if you push. The exit point for the hike is the start of the Bottom-Up hike – the Temple of Sinawava.
Before You Go
Before embarking on this epic hike, make sure you are prepared. Check the weather and flooding reports that are updated daily. If rain or flooding is possible, don’t go. Check what the water temp and volume are and plan accordingly. If you aren’t sure, ask a Ranger, they will be more than happy to answer your questions.
Getting There – Start Early
Zion National Park does not allow private vehicles in Zion Canyon during the busy months (Spring-Fall) so you will need to get in line for a shuttle in order to get to the trailhead. We were fortunate enough to be staying in Watchman Campground, which is just a short walk to the shuttle stop at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. We got in line at about 9:00 AM and ended up waiting 45-60 minutes before getting on a shuttle. The next time we do this (and there will be a next time), we will get there earlier in order to lessen the wait.
Due to the unique nature of this hike, I had researched extensively prior to our trip regarding what equipment is recommended for The Narrows. There were many consistent suggestions but after experiencing the hike, I feel that the equipment you need depends on when you go and how long you are going (a half-hour in vs an all-day hike).
- Trekking Poles – This will make your hike so much more enjoyable – and safe. We highly recommend bringing them, or at the very least, rent a hiking stick from a local Springdale outfitter. We saw many people without poles that were struggling and or falling as they tried to navigate in the current and over slippery, algae-covered rocks.
- Clothing – We hiked the Narrows on a historically hot day – it was 105 degrees – but even so, the temp in the canyon was easily 10-15 degrees cooler, which was nice. We hiked in shorts, shirts, and sun hats but we each packed a hard shell (rain), and a midweight layer, just in case. If hiking in cooler temps, a wet/dry suit may even be warranted – the outfitters in Springdale rent them.
- Water Sandals or Shoes – Really, anything that you don’t mind getting wet, protects your toes and handles well in water will be fine. We used Keen Newport H2O water sandals, which worked great. In cooler water conditions, neoprene socks would probably be desirable – you can rent them from outfitters in Springdale.
- Pack or Dry Bag– bring one that you don’t mind getting wet. We put our food, water, extra layers, emergency supplies, and trash in them. If you are bringing anything that you don’t want to get wet such as a camera, wallet, etc., a dry bag is recommended.
- Food/Water – I guess this is dependent on how far/how much time you plan on hiking. If you only going to hike the Riverside Trail or a very minimal amount of the Virgin River, you might not need much. Regardless of what our plan is, we always bring food (usually Clif Bars), a water bottle/reservoir, and a water filter with us. Remember, you need to pack out ALL of your waste!
- First Aid Kit – Bring one – we have one packed no matter where we go. We ended up using it when our youngest, Makena, got some sand stuck between her sandal and her foot and created an abrasion/blister that became painful. I ended up covering the wound with Moleskin and wrapping in first aid tape. Remember, bring something that can deal with the water – a standard band-aid or similar is going to come off quickly.
- Emergency Supplies – No matter where we are planning on hiking or for how long, we always have our emergency supplies with us. This consists of a first aid kit, headlamp, fire starter, multi-tool, emergency blanket, water filter, food (usually energy bars).
We happened to arrive in Zion during a historic heatwave in late June 2017; it was 108 degrees the day we arrived and was 105 the day we hiked the Narrows. This was a blessing in disguise – it made the canyon hike very enjoyable; the water temp was great and the canyon was noticeably cooler than the main canyon area by our campground and the visitor center. However, I suspect that if it was 80 degrees in the main canyon, it might be quite cool in The Narrows.
I will reiterate that if you are planning on hiking the river, trekking poles will make your hike much more enjoyable. We spoke to a few Rangers that had remarked that it was common to see twisted ankles and broken or sprained fingers from this hike. Trekking poles will help with this.
Out of the trailhead at the Temple of Sinawava, the first half mile of the hike is a paved handicapped-accessible trail called Riverside Walk. There were people of all ages in this section and it was a very easy hike with lots of places to stop along the way or, if you are up to it, access the Virgin River below. Not surprisingly, it was very crowded when we left on the hike and it was just as crowded when we returned, some 7-8 hours later.
Once you get to the end of the Riverside Walk, you can either turn around and head back to the trailhead or you can hike on, which means you will be hiking in the Virgin River for most of the remainder of the hike. This was the beginning of what we felt “The Narrows” really is; a truly unique and awe-inspiring experience.
As you start out, the canyon is still relatively wide, letting plenty of light in, and there was quite a bit of exposed land and rock to walk on – this will obviously change if water levels are higher. It was very crowded for the first half mile or so but traffic dropped off pretty significantly past that, which was nice.
We moved at a slow-but-steady pace, stopping every so often for a photo, a snack/drink, or for the kids to swim a bit in a deeper pool. We eventually came to where Orderville Canyon meets Zion Canyon – there was a park Ranger stationed there answering questions and talking with hikers. We noticed a number of people venturing up Orderville Canyon so we decided to take a quick side hike to see where it led.
We ventured up Orderville for a bit, which required climbing over a few obstacles and boulders that required lining up behind other hikers that were looking to move past. There were some sections of this slot canyon that were no more than 10 feet wide, which made for a very interesting feeling. We only hiked for about 15-20 minutes before turning around to get back into Zion Canyon.
NOTE: As of 2020, according to the NPS, hiking up Orderville this is prohibited. I don’t recall if it was the case in 2017 but I am assuming not, since the park Ranger that was stationed there was allowing it.
We kept our slow-and-steady pace past Orderville Canyon to the entry of “Wall Street” – the name of the section of Zion Canyon that narrows significantly and offers some amazing views. There were now far fewer people – it seemed to us that quite a few people turned around at Orderville Canyon.
As we entered “Wall Street”, it felt like the canyon walls got noticeably higher and narrower. There was little to no direct light, even though it was early afternoon, and it seemed to get just a bit cooler. It was quieter too, fewer people equals less yelling, splashing, etc. – it was very zen-like.
We kept on until our youngest, Makena, started saying that she thought she had a blister, which surprised us because she had put a lot of miles on her Keen sandals. We stopped to take a look and found that she had a bit of sand that had gotten stuck between the neoprene of the sandal and her skin, causing an abrasion and blister. We put moleskin on it and I wrapped waterproof first-aid tape all the way around her foot to ensure it didn’t come loose. After a short break, we decided to head back.
We quickly learned that going downstream is much faster and easier than going upstream. Without pushing at all, I estimate that we covered the distance back to the trailhead in half the time it took us to get in, although we had fewer stops. As we got closer to the Riverview Trail, more and more people were on the trail and we found it to be just as crowded in the late afternoon as it was in the morning. I suppose if you aren’t going to go in far, it really doesn’t matter.
Things We Loved
- The uniqueness and surreal feeling of this hike – especially past Orderville Canyon, into the Wall Street section. It is easily one of our favorite hikes of all time.
- How much cooler it was in the canyon compared to our campsite in Watchman Campground. That being said, we were there in historic heat. If it would have been cooler, we may have had a different experience.
- The shuttle system. If you can get to a shuttle before long lines develop, it’s actually a nice system that gets you to where you need to be.
All things considered, it’s tough to find anything to be critical about but if we have to be picky…
- It is very crowded at the trailhead through the end of the Riverview Walk but that really didn’t bother us since we knew we were going in further.
- It is still fairly crowded for the first mile or so of the water section. After Orderville Canyon, there were far fewer people.
- Lines for the shuttle are crazy-long between 9:00 AM and 3:00 PM. Be prepared to wait.