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Hiking The Narrows, Zion National Park

Tucked away in the rugged cliffs of southern Utah lies one of America’s most iconic national parks. Zion National Park attracts over 4 million visitors each year, drawn to its soaring sandstone cliffs, winding canyons, and lush landscapes.

Of all the incredible hikes in Zion, there’s one that particularly stands out – The Narrows. This world-famous hike takes you right into the Virgin River, flanked on all sides by towering canyon walls. It’s an unforgettable wilderness experience and our favorite hike to date but does require some planning and preparation.

Read on for everything you need to know before embarking on this breathtaking Zion adventure.

About Zion National Park

Zion National Park protects over 229 square miles of distinctive rocky cliffs, narrow sandstone canyons, and striking rock towers and mesas. With elevations ranging from 3,666 feet to 8,726 feet, the park encompasses diverse ecosystems including deserts, forests, hanging gardens, and the free-flowing Virgin River.

Along with amazing geological formations, Zion is home to a variety of plant and animal species. Deer, squirrels, and numerous bird species frequent the canyon floors and plateaus, while bighorn sheep traverse the steep slopes. As you are hiking you are likely to see many of these animals, be careful not to disturb them.

Zion’s most famous attraction is the red and white sandstone cliffs that soar up to 3,000 feet into the sky – as you pass these by look up and you will often see rock climbers scaling these massive cliff faces.

Zions most famous hikes include Angels Landing, which requires a permit that can be obtained through the lottery system, The Narrows and The Subway which is also requires a permit. But there are also plenty of other activities, such as rafting and kayaking, horseback riding and canyoneering that can be enjoyed in the park.

Changing weather conditions can affect these hikes and if they are open so make sure to check the latest conditions on the NPS website here.

About The Narrows

Carved by the Virgin River over millions of years, The Narrows is Zion’s quintessential slot canyon hike. Instead of hiking along a trail above the river, you’ll be wading and walking right in the river between the towering canyon walls.

In some spots, the canyon reaches just 20 to 30 feet wide but soars over 1,000 feet tall. It’s an immersive, intimate experience unlike any other hike.

The most popular section of The Narrows hike begins at the end of Riverside Walk and runs about 6 miles upriver to Big Springs and Orderville Canyon. The towering walls around you are a mix of smooth sandstone and rocky outcroppings hanging over the river.

Sections range from wide and open to tighter slot canyons where you slosh through calf-deep water surrounded on all sides.

Which Narrows hike should you do?

There are two ways to hike The Narrows.

The first is bottom up, an out and back hike starting at the Temple of Sinawava (Zion Canyon Shuttle Stop #9), along the Riverside Walk all the way up to Big Spring. To hike the full trail is a 10 mile all day hike and you do not need a permit. You do need to do the entire hike, there is not a special spot you need to reach, the entire journey is beautiful so go as far as you want and then double back.

We recommend setting yourself a time at which you will return back. For example, if you think you can only do two hours total, set a reminder after 1 hour to start making your way back. We agreed to go for 2-3 hours out and then head back. Note, in this article we are focused on tips for hiking the bottom up route.

The second option is top down, the 16-Mile Through-Hike from Chamberlain’s Ranch, which does require a permit. The route begins at Chamberlain’s Ranch and ends at the Temple of Sinawava. (Zion Canyon Shuttle Stop #9). If you want to take this route you will need to arrange your own transportation to Chamberlain’s Ranch as there is no shuttle stop.

This is a more challenging option for more experienced hikers that takes at least 12.5 hours. There are options for wilderness camping if you want to break up the hike, these must be reserved in advance.

LandmarkTime to Reach
Chamberlain’s Ranch0:00
Bulloch’s Cabin1:00
First Narrows3:30
Waterfall4:15
Deep Creek5:00
Kolob Creek5:45
Goose Creek6:35
Big Springs7:20
Orderville Canyon10:00
North End of Riverside Walk11:50
Temple of Sinawava12:20
Source: NPS

Planning Ahead For The Hike

The Narrows offers an adventure unlike any other hike, but you need to be well prepared before embarking.

This is a technical hike that requires specific gear, the right timing, and reasonable fitness levels. Here are some key tips:

  • Rent wetsuits and specialized footwear – The Narrows means walking for hours in near-freezing river water so renting wetsuits, canyoneering shoes, neoprene socks, and walking sticks are essential for comfort and safety. Personally, we did not rent a wetsuit, we wore shorts and a warm outer wear which was fine, but the boots and socks are essential. I would not recommend wearing regular trainers or hiking shoes as your feet will get very cold and will make traversing through the river with is uneven with large stones much harder. You can rent boots and walking poles (also essential) either online ahead of time or from 3pm at Zion Outfitters which is close to the visitor center.
  • Check weather and flash flood risk – The Narrows is prone to dangerous flash flooding, especially in the summer monsoon season and spring snowmelt. Always check Zion’s weather and flood risk reports before heading out on the hike.
  • Start early – Beat the crowds by catching the first shuttle of the morning to The Temple Of Sinawava. That way you will be amongst the first to arrive making the hike far more pleasant. The first shuttle is at 6am May 21 to September 17 and 7am / 8am at other times of the year. You can find the schedule here. The earlier you start, the more of the hike you can enjoy before the crowds arrive in the afternoon.
  • Pack food and water – Bring plenty of water and high-energy snacks to fuel this strenuous 6-10 mile hike. We brought some light lunch with us to have at our half way point before making our return hike.
  • Dry bags – Keep belongings safe and a change of clothes dry in a dry bag.

Where to Rent Gear To Hike The Narrows

Zion Outfitters is centrally located in the heart of Springdale and rents top-quality neoprene gear and hiking equipment for The Narrows. We recommend renting your gear here, either booking this in advance or the day before you plan to hike.

What To Bring

In addition to renting the crucial gear, come prepared with:

  • Dry bag for camera, snacks, phone
  • Hiking poles useful for stability
  • A headlamp if you are starting early or finishing late
  • Extra socks & clothing so that you can change into dry clothes afterwards.
  • Hydration backpack
  • Snacks and lunch
  • Extra layers, even on a warm day it can be very cool / cold as the sunlight does not reach into the canyon

When To Start The Hike

To beat the crowds and allow time to make it up to Big Springs or further, start as early in the morning as possible. The shuttles start running at 6am, 7am or 8am depending on the time of year and the trailhead gets significantly busier from 9am onward.

While not ideal, starting as late as 11am can still give you several great hours in The Narrows before turning around. We do recommend starting earlier than this, on the return hike we found it to be far more crowded as more people had arrived later in the day and were starting the hike. This made it less enjoyable and also in certain areas you can get stuck behind other slower hikers.

Getting Around Zion

The free Zion Canyon shuttle system is the only public transportation within the park. Driving private vehicles is prohibited beyond the visitor center so you will need to take the shuttle to the start of the hike.

The shuttle leaves from the Visitors Centre where you can park your vehicle, assuming you are taking one of the earliest shuttles before the lot fills up.

The shuttle stops at 9 points along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive at ends at Temple of Sinawava. (Zion Canyon Shuttle Stop #9) where you will exit to start the Riverside Walk.

The Hike Itself

From the Riverside Walk trailhead, it’s 1.1 miles on paved and sand trails along the Virgin River to reach the entrance to The Narrows. You can either put on your canyoneering shoes and gear as soon as you leave the shuttle or can put them on here. Then enter the river and the adventure begins!

The main hike runs 6 miles upriver to Big Springs. There are sandy slopes along the banks in some sections allowing you to exit the water for short periods, but you will often be zig zagging across the river to each side. For the full experience, stay in the river as much as possible!

You will need to walk carefully over slick rocks using poles for stability. Take it slowly, as it can be very easy to slip on the rocks or get a foot caught between.

The canyon walls overwhelm in their enormity, often leaning inward and blocking out the sky. Sections range from wide open to incredibly narrow slots. Upstream near Orderville Canyon, the walls close in to form a series of tight slots known as “Wall Street.”

We recommend that you challenge yourself to reach this iconic spot, as it truly is breathtaking and if you are up for it, go farther if you want to do the full hike.

Where to Stay

Camping inside Zion National Park often books out months in advance. Nearby Springdale offers abundant lodging from budget motels to luxury resorts. Watchman Campground and Zion Canyon Campground are walkable from the main canyon shuttle stops.

We stayed at the Zion Canyon Campground which was perfect place to park the campervan, had excellent amenities, a pool and also has cabins to rent.

Cliffrose Lodge and Cable Mountain Lodge offer upscale suites with views, while the Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn Express provide reliable mid-range chains.

The Narrows FAQ’s

When is best time of year to hike The Narrows?

You can generally hike The Narrows year round, but it is affected by weather and flash flooding so you should always check the latest information. In general, summer or fall, typically September or October are considered good times to hike The Narrows.

Is The Narrows beginner friendly?

Yes, if you are well equipped then the hike is very manageable for beginner hikers. The elevation gain is not significant and is over a long period of time so in general it feels like a falt route. The main challenge is traversing over the rocks.

Should I train for the Narrows Hike

Nope! We don’t think it is necessary to train for this hike. Since you can go for as long or short as you want you don’t really need to train for this. And also there are not many hikes quite like this where you hike through the river so finding similar conditions to train would be difficult!

How long does it take to hike The Narrows?

This depends on your physical ability, own fitness levels and whether you are a good hiker in water. Rebecca is actually better in water hikes such as The Narrows than on land (!) so she can traverse quickly through the uneven riverbed meaning we kept a fast pace.

It also depends on how long you want to hike for. You can go all the way to Big Spring which is 9.4 miles and 334 ft of elevation which can take around 8 hours there and back. But you don’t have to go all the way and can make the hike a short as 1 hour if you only want to do a small part of the beginning of the hike.

Do you need a permit to hike The Narrows?

You do not need a permit to hike the bottom up route from the Temple of Sinawava, but you will need a permit if you want to do 16-Mile Through-Hike from Chamberlain’s Ranch. You can apply and reserve the permit here.

Is it safe to hike solo?

This depends on which hike you plan to do. For the bottom up hike, yes, it is perfectly safe to hike solo, there are many people hiking so you will likely only be completely alone for short periods of time before someone comes wading through the river.

Can you go to the bathroom in The Narrows?

There are public bathrooms and portable toilets at the Temple Of Sinawava so plan ahead and make sure to use the facilities before you start the hike.

If you must go during the hike then you can duck behind a rock to do your business, but you must pack this and take it away with you.

The Hike of a Lifetime

For those seeking a truly unique outdoor experience, hiking The Narrows from bottom up is an unparalleled adventure. The chance to traverse through a narrow canyon carved over eons, wading in the Virgin River surrounded by thousand-foot walls, is like no other.

With proper preparation and precautions, it’s an incredible journey accessible to most reasonably fit hikers. We hope this guide equips you with everything needed to embark on this Zion highlight.

An early start and the right gear will set you up for an unforgettable trek into this natural wonderland, that is one of our favorite hikes in the US!

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