Hiking The Narrows in Zion National Park

A few years ago, I started getting the hiking bug. Slowly but surely I’ve started planning more outdoor adventures, and including destinations like the Grand Canyon, Sedona, and Lake Tahoe.

Late this spring I added southern Utah to the list, where I had a chance to hike The Narrows in Zion National Park.  I had never been to the park before, but a friend I was traveling with knew of this one of a kind hike, and I was just lucky enough to tag along. My parents visited Zion last year, and after hearing their first-hand account of the majestic mountains, rustic lodge and steep canyon walls, I knew it was a place I had to visit.

The Narrows is the narrowest section (not just a catchy name) of Zion Canyon. In this gorge the walls can be over a thousand feet tall and the river in some areas is only about twenty to thirty feet wide.

Yes, I said river.

For this hike, visitors gear up and hike in the canyon through the rocky terrain in the Virgin River. I had definitely never hiked in a river before, but I was up for the challenge.

You can hike the Narrows from the top down or bottom up.

Top Down

The trek from the top down from Chamberlain’s Ranch is 16 miles long and requires a permit in advance, taking visitors one to two days to complete. We saw folks with large backpacks who had camped overnight doing the top down route. This leads you down to the Temple of Sinawava where the hikers exit. I wouldn’t recommend this for those who are new to hiking, or aren’t in good physical shape.

Bottom Up

If you are looking for something a little bit shorter but just as beautiful, you can simply hike from the Temple of Sinawava upstream as far as you feel comfortable, and then hiking back down to Temple of Sinawava.

On our trip, we took the route from the bottom up, hiking a bit over 5 miles roundtrip, and taking several hours to complete (and I spent lots of time stopping to snap photos along the way).

Zion National Park is located in Springdale, Utah. A few years ago the park started limiting vehicle traffic into the park, so unless you are camping in the park, staying in the lodge on site or happen to have a special red permit, parking within the park is extremely limited and most people will not be permitted to drive into the park.  Instead park near the entrance of the park in Springdale and taking a free shuttle service throughout the park.  I’ve included a link to the free shuttle service schedule HERE.

We happened to score a special red permit that day and were able to drive into Zion and park directly at the lodge between 8 – 9 am, where we jumped on the bus and rode for several stops taking in the scenery until reaching the Temple of Sinawava stop. (Use the restroom when you get off the bus because there is no private place to find one once you start this hike.) Hikers will find a one mile paved pathway down to the entrance of the riverbed, where the more difficult part of the hike will begin.

Before driving into Zion, we stopped at a local outdoor gear shop in Springdale to pick up what we needed for the hike. During the warmer summer months when the water and outdoor temperatures are warmer, you will need to pick up some special neoprene socks, waterproof hiking boots, and a large hiking stick with a with a large rounded end (like Rafiki in The Lion King would have).  In the cooler months, tall rubber waders are recommended, but we didn’t need them when we hiked in early May.  A few local options for your gear are Zion Outfitter and Zion Adventures.

The temperature was cooler in the morning and by mid-day in the park was in the 70s, with the water somewhere around 47 degrees. If hiking during the warmer season, I recommend wearing shorts and a long sleeve shirt or sweatshirt over a tank so that you can shed layers easily, and bringing a small backpack to keep some water, snacks and your camera dry. Be sure to bring a pair of dry shoes and bottoms to change into after the hike – those shoes get real cold an soggy pretty quickly, and you will want to get them off right away.  The water can get up to waist deep in places.

If you are a social media hound, note that your phone won’t work in The Narrows or many other areas of the park, so you will need to save all of your Facebook updates and Instagram stories for later.

The terrain on the hike is filled with medium sized smooth rocks all over the river bed, which makes solid hiking shoes and a large hiking stick a necessity for balancing. You will be hiking in and out of the water at some points, though I found the hiking in the water helped balance me more when walking upstream.  I also liked finding the deeper darker green waters because those areas typically had a more sandy bed and the deeper water made it even easier to find my balance.

I was surprised by the height of the canyon walls and the plant life growing out of every nook and cranny. With every new corner we turned, it was a new adventure.

Before hiking The Narrows, you should visit the National Park Service website to check out local weather conditions, current flow of the river, and confirm there are no flash flood warnings.  Click HERE for a link for the NPS website.

We passed this hiker who was backpacking from the top down with some friends.

As for where to stay, there are lots of options just outside the park in Springdale, though we stayed in Saint George, Utah about 45 miles away. The drive from St. George is on a major highway and there are stunning views of canyons and desert landscapes to look at on the entire drive so it is a nice route to travel by car.  Next time I visit Zion, I would love to stay in one of the cabins in the park so I can watch the sunrise and watch the light hit the mountains first thing in the morning. Lodging in the park fills up quickly, so visitors should plan to book early and can visit the NPS website for details.

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