Hiking The Narrows – The Ultimate Guide

The Narrows is an iconic slot canyon where the path is the Virgin River itself, surrounded by colossal walls that seem to hug the sky. The very first time I went hiking the Narrows, with water up to my knees and the echoing sound of every step, I felt like I was walking through nature’s most magnificent corridor.

That feeling stuck with me. I recall the awe of looking up and feeling so incredibly small, shoes squelching and heart racing with every twist and turn. The towering walls seemed to tell stories of ancient times, and the cool waters whispered secrets of the canyon’s depths. If Zion National Park is nature’s grand gallery, then The Narrows is its pièce de résistance. If you haven’t experienced it yet, get ready, because this guide is about to take you on an unforgettable journey!

hiking the narrows

Understanding the Trail

Imagine a trail where the path is mostly the river itself. Yep, you’re wading through the cool waters of the Virgin River for a good chunk of this adventure. It’s a unique kind of hike, where instead of dodging tree roots, you’re navigating through water currents and slick river rocks.

Now, in terms of topography, The Narrows is all about dramatic contrasts. As you make your way, you’ll be flanked by towering sandstone walls that can rise up to a thousand feet. These walls have been carved and sculpted by eons of water flow, creating awe-inspiring patterns and textures. At some points, the canyon becomes so narrow (pun intended!) that it feels like you could almost touch both sides.

Key features? Well, aside from the river itself, there are a few narrow sections, like Wall Street, that’ll truly make your jaw drop. You’ll also come across spots where the sunlight filters down in these ethereal beams, creating perfect photo ops. And let’s not forget the hanging gardens, seeping springs, and the occasional sandy banked areas where you can take a break and soak it all in.

In essence, The Narrows isn’t just a hike; it’s a dynamic, ever-changing experience, with every step offering something new. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just looking for something a bit different, this trail promises a dance between challenge and wonder.

What’s the Best Time to Hike the Narrows?

Wondering when’s the best time to tackle The Narrows? Zion National Park has its moods, and each season gives The Narrows a unique touch.

Spring brings melting snow, which means higher water levels and cooler temperatures. It’s a tad chilly, but hey, you’ll witness the park bursting into life. Summer? Ah, it’s popular with sun-soaked days, but watch out for those unexpected thunderstorms. They can cause flash floods – not something you want to mess with. Fall offers a more temperate climate and those gorgeous autumn hues, while winter, though serene and less crowded, can be quite cold, and parts of the trail might be inaccessible due to ice or snow.

Now, about those water levels – they’re crucial. Higher water means deeper wades, sometimes even swims. While this can be exhilarating for some, it can make hiking the Narrows challenging for others. Lower water levels in late summer and early fall offer easier treks, but always, always check the daily water level reports. They’re your best buddy in ensuring a safe and enjoyable hike.

Seasonal Hiking Guide for The Narrows

SpringPark bursting into life; fresher tempsHigher, colder water from snowmelt; potential closures
SummerWarm, longer days; vibrant park lifeCrowded; risk of flash floods from thunderstorms
FallCooler temperatures; beautiful foliageWater levels can still be unpredictable
WinterFewer crowds; serene landscapesVery cold water; parts may be icy or inaccessible

Hiking the Narrows – Getting Prepared

Before you dive into The Narrows’ unique environment, there’s some prep work to consider. Let’s break it down, shall we?

Getting Physically Prepared to Hike the Narrows

Hiking the Narrows isn’t your everyday stroll in the park. It’s a river hike, meaning you’ll be fighting the water’s current, maneuvering around or over rocks, and sometimes wading waist-deep (or deeper!). Having a good fitness level ensures you not only enjoy the hike but do so safely. Plus, trust me, your legs will thank you afterward for prepping them.

Thinking about where to start? Begin with some cardio – brisk walking, jogging, or even stair climbing. This will help boost your stamina. Add in some leg strength exercises like squats and lunges. For balance (because slippery rocks are real!), try incorporating yoga or simple balance exercises. Remember, consistency is key. Start training a few weeks before your hike, and you’ll be in great shape!

Getting Geared Up to Hike the Narrows

Your feet are your best friends on this hike. So, investing in good water-resistant shoes is a must. Think about it: soggy shoes can turn a magical hike into a miserable experience. You’ll want something with good grip for those slippery rocks and that can drain water efficiently.

Dress according to the season. In summer, opt for lightweight, quick-drying materials. Spring and fall? Layer up, as it can get chilly, especially in the water. Winter demands thermal wear if you’re brave enough to face the cold. Always remember, the keyword is quick-drying.

The backpack you carry should have the essentials but remain light. Hydration is crucial, so water’s a must. Energy bars or trail mix will keep those energy levels up. And don’t forget a first aid kit – better safe than sorry! Ziplock bags or waterproof pouches for electronics can be life-savers, too.

Safety Precautions

One of the golden rules? Always check the weather forecast before hiking the Narrows. Zion’s weather can be a bit unpredictable, especially during monsoon season. A sunny morning can quickly turn into an afternoon thunderstorm.

The Narrows is prone to flash floods, especially during the summer. These can be extremely dangerous. So, always check the flood forecast at the visitor center. If there’s even a slight chance, reschedule your hike. Remember, nature’s beauty is best enjoyed safely!

Navigating the Narrows

Navigating The Narrows is part of the fun – the journey, the landmarks, and the ever-changing views. But a little insider knowledge can go a long way to enhance that experience. Let’s break it down!

Starting Points and Routes

If you’re new to The Narrows or just looking for a less intense experience, the Temple of Sinawava is your go-to starting point. It’s the main jump-off spot for most hikers and offers a scenic, paved Riverside Walk for about a mile before the real wet adventure begins. It’s the perfect teaser and warm-up rolled into one.

So, there are two main ways to conquer The Narrows – the bottom-up and the top-down hikes. The bottom-up doesn’t require a permit, and you decide how far you want to go. A few hours in, and you can turn back whenever you feel like it. The top-down, on the other hand, is the full deal. It’s a 16-mile challenge that can be done as an intense day hike or a two-day camping experience. But heads up, you’ll need a permit for this one!

Navigating the Majestic Landmarks of The Narrows

Every trail has its highlights, but The Narrows? It’s like a treasure trove of natural wonders. As you wade through its waters, certain spots stand out not just for their beauty but also for their distinct character. Let’s dive into some of these iconic landmarks that make The Narrows an unforgettable experience.

Wall Street: No, we’re not talking about NYC. The Narrows’ Wall Street is a breathtaking section where the canyon walls draw in super close. It’s one of the narrowest spots, giving you that awe-struck feeling of being entirely enveloped by nature. Plus, the ambiance here? Absolutely unmatched.

Orderville Canyon: As you wade further, you’ll hit a junction – to your right is Orderville Canyon. It’s a bit more rugged and narrower than the main path, but if you’re up for a mini-adventure and some cool obstacles, this detour is totally worth it. Just remember, it’s a side canyon, so you’ll need to backtrack to continue on the main Narrows path.

Big Springs and Beyond: Big Springs is a magical spot, marked by cascading waterfalls and vibrant vegetation. It’s about the turnaround point for most bottom-up hikers. But if you’re on the top-down route, this marks roughly your halfway point. Past this, you’re heading into the deep, pristine sections of The Narrows, where fewer feet have trodden and nature’s majesty truly unfolds.

Tips for Hiking the Narrows

Want to make the most of your Narrows escapade? Of course, you do! Let’s spill the beans on some tips and tricks that can take your hiking game from cool to legendary.

Here are 15 tips for hiking the narrows:

  1. Start Early: Beat the crowds and capitalize on cooler temperatures and the soft morning light.
  2. Check Weather Forecasts: Always ensure there’s no risk of flash floods, especially during monsoon season.
  3. Wear Sturdy Footwear: Shoes with good grip and water-resistance are a must. Your feet will likely be submerged for most of the hike.
  4. Dress Smart: Opt for quick-drying clothes. Layers can be beneficial as the canyon’s temperature can vary.
  5. Stay Hydrated: Bring enough water with you. Even though you’re surrounded by water, the river water isn’t potable.
  6. Use a Hiking Pole: Trekking poles help maintain balance, especially in deeper sections and on slippery rocks.
  7. Pack Essentials: Besides water, carry energy snacks, a first aid kit, and waterproof bags or pouches for electronics.
  8. Hike on Weekdays: If possible, aim for a weekday to avoid the heavy weekend crowds.
  9. Stay Informed: Before heading out, check if you need any permits, especially for the top-down hike.
  10. Mind the Environment: Stick to the main paths, pack out all trash, and leave no trace to preserve the beauty of the canyon.
  11. Take Breaks: Find sandy banks or alcoves to rest. The journey is strenuous, so pacing is crucial.
  12. Capture Moments: Bring a camera or phone to capture the incredible scenery, but ensure they’re waterproofed or in a protective case.
  13. Be Prepared to Turn Back: Especially for bottom-up hikers, know your limits and turn around if needed. Safety first!
  14. Travel Light: A lighter backpack can make wading through water easier. Only pack the essentials.
  15. Stay Aware of the Time: Keep track of the time to ensure you’re not hiking in the dark, especially if you’re doing a day hike.

Remember, hiking The Narrows is an adventure. With the right preparation and mindset, it can be one of the most memorable experiences of your life.

Jim Murphy

Jim's love for camping started at an early age. His parents would take him camping every summer, where he'd spend his days getting quality time in with his dad and his nights eating too many smores.

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