How to hike the Narrows in Zion National Park

August 22, 2019

Zion National Park in Utah, part of the “Mighty 5” of Utah’s national parks, is famous for many renowned hikes — you may have heard of the Angel’s Landing, a hike that thrusts you on top of the canyon, hanging on to a bolted chain, or the sparkling waterfalls of the Emerald Pools. But none of these hikes are quite as idyllic as the photos of hikers ankle deep in water in “The Narrows.” The infamous hike gets its name from being in the narrowest part of Zion Canyon, along the Virgin River bed, so you’re often wading through water as well as hiking on the river rock.

The Narrows has long been a must-do experience while in the park, but with its uniqueness comes many overwhelming questions, from “What do I bring?” to “What’s the hike like?” to the most important of them all: “What do I wear?” Read on to find out all you need to know about this special hike.

First off ...

First, you need to know that there are two ways to hike the Narrows: you can do the day hike, or you can opt for an overnight (which requires a permit). Let’s chat about the day hike.

So, how do you get there?

What’s great about Zion is the fact that it operates on a shuttle bus system, to avoid congestion and pollution within the park. You’ll hop on the shuttle system in nearby Springdale just outside the park, or you’ll hop on at the parking lot. Think ‘theme park’ line up, the shuttle experience is very reminiscent of it. You’ll be riding on the shuttle all the way to the end - to the Temple of Sinawava stop, about 45 minutes from the start of the journey. There are restrooms and water there, but that’s your last chance before you head into the canyon.

What is the hike like?

After you leave the bus stop, you’ll be walking on a path alongside the river for about a mile until you reach the ‘trail’. Once you’re there, you’ll start by walking in the riverbed itself, on stones that aren’t even, and depending on the water levels, water ankle, knee or even hip deep. You’ll want to try and hike to at least “Wall Street”, which is about 3 miles into the canyon (approximately 6 miles roundtrip). Here is where the walls of the canyon tower over you (about 1500 ft tall) and the river itself is quite narrow.

Since you come back the way you came, if you can’t make it that far, you can turn back at any time. It takes about two-thirds of the time it took to travel in as it does to travel back to the start.

What should you bring with you?

A sense of adventure! Beyond that, at least two litres of water, a pair of closed-toe old running/tennis shoes, neoprene socks (this is key!), a walking stick, a waterproof camera if possible, or a dry bag to put your belongings in. Clothes that are quick-drying are also the best option. It will be cool starting off early in the morning, so even if it’s calling for a hot day, an extra layer will be very much appreciated.

You can also rent gear like canyoneering shoes, walking sticks, etc. from nearby operators which is helpful, but not required (although those neoprene socks are a must, in my opinion).

Avoid open-toed sandals or heavy hiking shoes — you will be walking on rocks, and getting wet, and neither of these are good options for you.

If you are going to stop for lunch, make sure you pack up all of your garbage and hike it out.

When should you go?

Like most National Parks in the States, Zion is busiest in the summertime. If you want to opt for less crowds, then the cooler months is ideal for you. However, if summer is the only time you have to travel, make sure you get up early and start the hike first thing in the morning. By early afternoon, the crowds will have descended into the canyon, and you will be thankful that you got a head start. Again, the early bird gets the worm! If photography is what your after, usually the best light is between 10am and 3pm.

What’s really important to keep in mind - flash floods are a very real threat. Be aware, and be mindful of warnings — if there’s even a chance of rain, do not hike in the Narrows.

The Narrows is easily one of the coolest hikes you’ll ever go on, and you can experience it for yourself on one of our Utah tours.

Getting there

Ready to take on The Narrows? G Adventures can get you there. Check out our small group tours to the United States of America here.

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