Zion Narrows, like Angels Landing, is a hike that is mentioned in nearly every conversation about Zion National Park. It’s one of the most iconic hikes of all hikes at national parks. Unlike Angels Landing, it’s a hike most visitors can do and for this reason it’s one of the most popular. We’ve taken many families through the Narrows including our own.
Utah is famous for its slot canyons with the Narrows being the best known and grandest of them all. Sandstone cliffs tower more than 1,000′ above the Virgin River narrowing to 20-30 feet apart in some sections. You feel as though you can reach out and touch both sides. Each bend in the ever darkening corridors of the canyon heighten our sense of adventure. The mystery and allure of the unknown ahead beckons us to go deeper.
Hiking within the Narrows following a path carved out by the Virgin River creates a feeling of reverence for its power and relentless pursuit in sculpting these magnificent canyons. The Southern Paiute call this place Mukuntuweap, meaning straight up land. Awed by its grandeur, the early pioneers named it Zion, a place of peace and harmony.
In the busy season (mid-March to early November) the only way to get to the Narrows from the bottom is by shuttle. The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is closed to automobile traffic during this time. Take the Zion Canyon shuttle from the visitors center to the last stop, which is the Temple of Sinawava. A reservation is required to take the shuttle. Click here to book your reservations. Restrooms and water filling stations are available here, I recommend using both. To get to the river hike, Gateway to the Narrows, you must first take the one mile Riverside Walk to the trailhead. You’ll know you’ve reach the trailhead when the trail comes to an end and you reach the crowd.
The majority of the hike is in the Virgin River, which is part of the adventure. The best way to negotiate the rocky bottom of the river is to take a walking stick and wear boots with rubber soles. If you don’t have what you need (most people don’t) a good place to rent sticks, canyoneering boots and neoprene socks is at Zion Outfitter located in Zion Canyon Village right at the entrance to the park in Springdale. I highly recommend this. Footing is very uneven in the river with slippery rocks and strong current. Staying upright might be one of the biggest challenges for some.
Go early or go late
Beat the crowd, go very early or go later in the afternoon when early hikers are leaving. Going early you’ll beat the crowd going in and meet it coming out, just like at Angels Landing. We recently started a hike at 3:30 PM and made it to the Wall Street section and back in time for the last shuttle, about four hours in all. The crowd thinned out quickly by going this late, we were some of the last in the canyon. I don’t recommend cutting it this close but I do recommend going later in the day if it isn’t your intention to go that far up the river. You can rent your gear the night before to save time and plan your day accordingly. Do not miss the last shuttle from Temple of Sinawava or you will be walking eight miles back to Springdale!
If you only have a half-day to explore the Narrows, plan on 3-5 hours to see the highlights. Three miles will take you as far as Wall Street, one of the narrowest sections of the canyon.
What to take
Take a daypack and water. I carry a dry-sack to protect my DSLR camera but it’s not really necessary for most hikers. A day pack is sufficient, the lighter the better. Purchase a waterproof case for your camera. One little slip in the river while you have it out could be the end for your expensive smartphone. I know this from experience!
Always take water and depending on how far up the canyon you go, take a lunch and/or snacks in ziplock bags, which aren’t totally waterproof but they keep things dry on the most part. DO NOT DRINK THE RIVER WATER! Don’t take home an unwanted guest (giardia) in your system you’ll later regret.
You will get wet, wear appropriate clothing, dry-fit clothing is ideal. During the summer months, your clothes will be dry by the time you reach the shuttle unless you’re wearing cotton!
Check the weather
Check weather conditions at the visitors center or online at https://forecast.weather.gov/ Flash flooding is a real possibility when thunderstorms are present. I generally check weather conditions for not only Springdale but also for Cedar City, Duck Creek Village, and Kanab. Thunderstorms occur often during the Monsoon season that generally runs from mid-July to mid to late September but it’s well advised to check anytime of the year for stormy weather in the region.
Check river conditions
The Narrows are closed when the river reaches 150 CFS (cubic feet per second) and when flash flood warnings have been issued. During the summer and fall months the river is flowing considerably lower, often below 40-50 CFS, which is shin to knee deep, waist deep in pools for an average adult. At 70 CFS the current can get challenging with water thigh deep to pools chest deep. After checking the weather check river conditions for flow and for warnings.