Zion National Park is one of the most popular parks in the US, with roughly four million visitors each year. At the top of their bucket list is hiking the Narrows.
The Narrows is a 16-mile gorge carved by the Virgin River, and the narrowest part of the slot canyon. During the hike you will undoubtedly find moments when you stop and drop your jaw in amazement. The majestic sandstone sculptures rising hundreds of feet above you will gently remind you why Mother Nature is one of the greatest artists of all time.
Planning ahead is essential if you are taking a trip to the Narrows especially during the peak season, which spans April through October. There is no permit required to do the popular one day hike upstream (bottom-up) from the Temple of Sinawava but you cannot go past Big Springs. Hiking it downstream (top-down) does not require a permit either, but it’s also a twelve hour hike and requires more planning.
Prior to embarking on your hike, make sure to book your rental canyoneering shoes, neoprene socks and a walking stick at Zion Outfitter which is located just next to the park entrance. Back when we hiked the Narrows, one of our friends fell (she WAS wearing the canyoneering shoes) and ended up with a pretty gnarly cut. We had to tweeze out little pieces of rock from her knees — I know, gross. So do yourself a favor and get the rental gear. It’s inexpensive and worth it since the rocks are super slippery.
The length of the hike all depends on you, your hiking ability and how comfortable you are with the rising water levels. Make sure you pack enough water (at least a liter or more), food, and snacks. The most popular area the majority of people aim to reach is the mouth of the Orderville Canyon. It’s also known as “Wall Street” and the narrowest part of the canyon at about 20 – 30 feet wide!
We hiked for roughly three to four hours upstream (bottom-up), then stopped to have lunch at a nice spot we found under the shade. After lunch and some photo sessions, we made our way back down. The whole hike took about six to seven hours round trip. You are wading through a river upstream for most of it so it’s quite exhausting and strenuous. You’ll be happy to get back, take a warm shower and enjoy a nice campfire under the stars.
Labor Day weekend was not the most ideal weekend to hike the Narrows but since we planned far in advance and booked our campsite and equipment we were well prepared. The weather could not have been more perfect and the water levels were relatively low. It never came up past our waists at the deepest points, and the water temperature was just cold enough to cool us down from the hot desert sun. If you are planning to do the hike in the cooler months, it would be worth renting wetsuits, since the water temperature can get quite cold.
My advice is to start as early as possible if you want to beat the crowds and the unforgiving midday desert sun. It’s also the best time to capture epic photos. The light is the best early in the morning, and you’ll have the place all to yourself. Winter is off season with less people so if waking up at the crack of dawn to wade thru freezing waters is not your thing, you can snooze a little longer.
It is important to note flash floods are always a possibility and often happen without warning whenever you are in a gorge. Always check the Zion National Park website for any closures, alerts or warnings before hiking, and do take them seriously. Lastly but most importantly, always practice “leave no trace” ethics while enjoying the outdoors to prevent and minimize our impact so all can enjoy the park for years to come.
Photo by Young Lee @nakslee