Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park
Updated: Mar 23
For me, hiking the Narrows has been a bucket list item. From hiking through the Virgin River to seeing unforgettable slot canyons that so many people will never see. And it lived up the the hype. Here are a few tips to make your hike through the Narrows as fun and comfortable as possible.
We hiked the narrows in early December (December 5, 2020 to be exact), which turned out to be a pretty good time to plan this trip. A few things you will need to check prior to executing the most epic hike of all times include:
Grab rental gear (the water was near freezing and if you want to be even remotely warm you'll want the neoprene socks and canyoneering shoes)
Check the water levels and how fast the river is flowing
Check the weather - any indication of precipitation is a serious flash flood risk, you're hiking through a river bed through slot canyons, don't put yourself in a life threatening predicament.
Pick which way you plan on hiking! There's two ways to hike the Narrows - top down or bottom up. Top down is a through hike (you'll need two cars or bus tickets), the bottom up is a there and back hike, which this blog post will touch on.
Rental Gear - at the time of this blog post, there are two companies that provide rental gear in Springdale - Zion Outfitters and Zion Adventure Company. I randomly chose Zion Outfitters and had a great experience - they're right outside of the park, I believe it was about $40 for an all day rental for cold weather gear (this included neoprene socks, canyoneering shoes, waterproof pants and a walking stick). Don't turn down the walking stick - we almost did and as dorky as it may look it was necessary.
During the time we visited, the shuttle was not running and the Canyon Junction was open to private cars. We got to the parking lot before sunrise (probably a tad earlier than we needed to) but the parking lot is small, and we were hiking at sunrise which was pretty impressive.
Side note: During COVID the often have a shuttle as cars are often prohibited on Canyon Junction. During this time, tickets must be reserved well in advance. They sell out quickly.
If you chose to hike this early, you will need to pick up your rental gear the evening before. Zion Outfitters knew their stuff, ask them how far you should hike up. The water levels vary and we were told after about 4 miles one way, the falls are completely dried up so not to waste our time.
Check the water levels and how fast the river is flowing here:
Per Zion National Park website, the park closes the Narrows hike when the river is flowing at 150 cubic feet per second (CFS), or during spring snowmelt.
Below is the river flow for the morning we went, it peaked just about 60 CFS (maybe 65 ish). This was totally manageable to hike through, a few trickier spots but that's where the hiking stick really comes in to play.
If you have not picked up on the gist of this hike, you are hiking through the Virgin River in Zion National Park. Like wading through the water, crossing the river and could be waist deep in the water. These are slot canyons and the weather is the most important factor of this hike - check the weather prior to this hike. Check it, double check it and triple check prior to your hike. If you have 4 days at Zion - don't keep this hike until the last day just in case the weather turns and you miss out on this hike!
The route (we hiked bottom up) - This route is a there and back hike starting at the parking lot at the Temple of Sinawava, you follow the Riverside Walk Trail until the end (about a mile) and this is when you'll start following the riverbed north. The beauty of this trail is that you can hike as far or as short as you'd like. We ended up hiking about 8.5 miles roundtrip based on the recommendations of the employees at Zion Outfitters (the water got like chest deep after that, chest deep in freezing water seemed aggressive). This took us about 6 hours.
The alternative is the top down through hike - I believe this is a 16 miler and for advance hikers, in the summer months you can spend a night if it's dry enough otherwise you need to complete the full 16 mile hike during the daylight hours. I did not research this or have experience doing this but I did see a few bloggers out there that have and recommend researching this option!
If you're nervous about your belongings getting wet, Zion Outfitters also rented waterproof backpacks for $10 a day! We brought lots of snacks and I recommend gloves or hand warmers during the winter months as it's a hard hike to keep your hands in your pockets.
Overall - this was an unforgettable hike. Wading through the water of the Virgin River in an incredible National Park is a bucket list item for sure. Don't be deterred by the research that needs to be done, it's worth it if your conditions allow for you to hike! I could see this being even more enjoyable in the hot summer months as the water will keep you cooler!