The Complete Guide to the Narrows

The Narrows: A 16 mile span of running water surrounded by steep cliffs up to 2,000 feet high. The winding Virgin River, shallow enough to wade through in most places, demands to be explored by visitors to Zion.

Perfect for keeping cool in the summer, this hike involves walking through water the whole time. You can expect to see waterfalls, hanging vegetation, and beautiful multicolored rock. There are two ways to hike the Narrows. You can either explore from the bottom up as a day hike, or from the top down which requires a permit and encompasses the whole 16 miles. Whatever you choose, this guide has got you covered with everything you need to know.

Zion-Narrows-4376- copy

When to visit

Because this hike is in the Virgin River, the water is likely to be cold, even in the summer. July and August will yield the warmest temperatures, making the hike refreshing instead of frigid. If you choose to come between the months of November and May, you will need a wetsuit or drysuit.

Make sure to pay attention to the weather when you’re planning your trip. Rain can cause the Narrows to flood, which can be life threatening for anyone caught inside. Zion National Park will close the hike if there are any flash flood warnings, but it’s wise to keep an eye on it yourself.

What to bring

Depending on the season and the hike you choose, your equipment might be a bit different. Here are some suggestions to take into consideration.

  • Food and water. If you’re hiking from the bottom, the amount of time you spend on the hike is up to you, so make sure you have enough fuel to last. If you’re doing the whole 16 miles over a two day span, plan accordingly.

  • Water shoes and neoprene socks. For the day hike, hiking boots will serve your purpose, but shoes and socks specifically made for water hiking can enhance your experience. Gear is available to rent or buy in Springdale.

  • Walking sticks. These can also be rented at shops outside Zion and will help you keep your footing on the slippery rocks.

  • Dry bag. You’ll want to be sure that any food, cameras, phones, or other items are kept in a waterproof bag to prevent damage or a soggy sandwich.

  • Wetsuit or drysuit. Keeping warm is essential in the winter, early spring, and late fall when the water will be especially chilly.

  • Clothes that can get wet. The river can get waist or even chest high at times, and there are portions where you may be swimming in it, so make sure you wear proper attire.

Where to go

During the late spring and summer months, the park shuttle takes visitors through Zion, and the rest of the year you are able to drive your own vehicle into the park. For the day hike, the Narrows is accessible from the last shuttle stop, called the Temple of Sinawava. This is the end of the road if you are driving in yourself.

When you get off the shuttle or park your car, make sure you use the restrooms, as there are none on the trail. From there, follow the Riverside Walk down to the river and the opening of the Narrows, where you will step into the water and trek up the river.

The top down hike requires that you start from Chamberlain’s Ranch, just northeast of the park itself. Since you will be starting from there and ending at the Temple of Sinawava, it is necessary to take a shuttle or park a car at the bottom and take a separate car to the top.

What to expect

Starting from the Temple of Sinawava, you will follow the Riverside Walk, a paved trail alongside the Virgin River leading you right to the Narrows opening. From there, you will enter the river and let yourself be surrounded by the soaring canyon walls. The algae covered rocks underfoot may be slippery, and the current could be strong depending on the season, so take your time.

As you walk, you’ll see waterfalls running down the side of the canyon and little streams of water trickling overhead. Trees and foliage grow in seemingly impossible places and the stone walls have many multicolored facets. The farther you go, the more beautiful the contrast between the turquoise water and red rock becomes.

About two and a half miles from the shuttle stop is Orderville Canyon, a stream that feeds into the main river. This is the turnaround point that many hikers aim to reach. Another 2.5 miles from this junction is Big Spring, making it 10 miles round trip from the shuttle stop and back. Travel past Big Spring is prohibited.

Zion-Narrows_4433-A copy

If you choose to do the 16 mile hike, it is possible to either do it in one day or to camp in the Narrows overnight. The one-day version takes up to twelve hours and can be grueling even in perfect conditions. For the overnight hike, there are twelve campsites around the eight mile mark and sites fill up quickly so make sure to reserve ahead.

Hiking from the top to bottom, you can expect to see several waterfalls and gorgeous gardens throughout your journey. You may have to scramble over some obstacles and potentially swim through chest deep water.

Whether you hike to Big Springs and back or start at the top and emerge at the Temple of Sinawava, you have conquered the Narrows! You won’t want to leave the red cliffs behind.

Learn more

For another option, check out the Complete Guide to Angels Landing. This strenuous hike takes you up a steep and thin path to a gorgeous 360 degree view of Zion Canyon.

If you want more ideas for the next time you’re in Zion or more information on the Narrows, download our free ebook, The Insider’s Guide to Zion National Park.

No matter how you customize your adventure, you will be blown away by the beauty and immensity of this part of Zion National Park. The Narrows is calling your name! Come explore!

Leave a Reply