Zion National Park is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
I know I say that a lot, but for real, the rugged and wild landscape is incredible. Seriously, stupidly photogenic sights.
If you’re planning a trip out to the Narrows in Zion National Park then stay tuned for loads of good information and FOMO inducing scenery!
Like most ultra badass places the photos don’t even come close to doing the Narrows justice.
What a pity, guess you gotta see it for yourself 😉
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Written by: Stephanie
Zion National Park Narrows hike
- Distance: 5 miles one way
- Length of time to complete: 4-10 hours
- Elevation gain: gradual ascent
- Difficulty: strenuous
- Permits necessary: depends
- Trailhead: stop 9, Riverside Walk
The “bottom-up” hike is permit free and takes you along the Virgin River back to Big Spring.
This is about 5 miles one way, including the one mile Riverside walk that begins at the Temple of Sinawava.
The “top-down” permitted hike is for more experienced hikers/backpackers. They will start at Chamberlain’s Ranch and hike 16 miles downstream finishing up at the Temple of Sinawava.
Length of time to complete:
One of the first questions I had when planning this was “How long is the Narrows hike?” And I couldn’t really find a good answer.
But the answer is- this is totally at your discretion because you can turn around whenever you want.
That’s the beauty of the Narrows – if you get a couple hours in and start flippin your sh** because walking on rocks is hard yo, just turn around.
If you’re going all the way back to Big Spring, which is as far as you’re allowed to go without obtaining a wilderness permit, then you’ll need about 9 hours round trip.
I’d say the average length of time, however, is about 6-8 hours…because, you know, it’s hard.
There is no real elevation gain as the hike takes place in or along the banks of the Virgin River.
The strenuous and challenging part of the hike is from the depth of water, how fast it’s flowing, and managing your balance over the rocks and boulders.
So if you’re like me and are as graceful as a walrus you definitely want to have hiking poles!
This is a tough hike, for sure. The bottom-up approach is suited for the general public while the top-down approach is appropriate for experienced hikers and backpackers.
The nice part about this hike is you can go around a couple bends to get a feel for it and take a few pictures or hike all the way back for the full 5 miles.
Trailhead/entrance to the Narrows:
The Narrows officially starts at the end of the one mile Riverside walk. You’ll want to catch one of the earliest shuttles at the visitors center and ride that all the way back to stop 9- Temple of Sinawava. This should take about 40 minutes.
Zion does not allow cars into the park during busy seasons, but the shuttles run about every 15 minutes. You can pick them up at various points throughout the park. During the busy seasons, the buses will run at a faster pace. So, there is no rush in trying to catch one.
If you are in Zion early enough there is a parking lot, but it’s just as easy to park somewhere in Springdale. If you do this you can take the free Zion shuttle, which also runs frequently.
When to visit the Narrows:
Late spring to summer is going to be the best time to hike the river because of the comfortable water temperature. However, the hike is sometimes closed in the springtime and early summer due to snow runoff that can cause flash floods.
Late summer is also flash flood season so just be mindful. Winter hiking is also available with the proper gear like a wetsuit or drysuit.
Zion National Park: The Narrows
Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park is like the thing to do. Totally legit.
It is one of the two marquee hikes- the other being Angels Landing. And if you summit Angels Landing – you go, glen coco!
But the Narrows is such a cool hike that people are like bees to honey and come from all over the world to visit Zion in hopes of hiking the river.
So what’s all the hype about? What are the Narrows?
The Narrows is simply the narrowest part of the Zion Canyon, well that’s aptly named. In fact, it is so narrow that some places are only 20 feet wide and 2000 feet deep!
This strenuous and very extra hike will take you upstream along and in the Virgin River through the canyon. It’s seriously one of the coolest and most bucket list worthy hikes I’ve ever done!
Zion Narrows day hike
Like I mentioned in the facts above, there are two options for hiking the Narrows, one requires a permit and one does not.
The easiest way is the bottom-up from the Temple of Sinawava on the Riverside Walk and then into the river. The Riverside Walk is the easiest trail in the park and is
Because it is so easy and offers
At the end of the Riverside Walk are a few stairs that take you to the banks of the Virgin River. The area here is likely to be full of people playing in the water and taking photos so make your way past them and start hiking!
The Narrows doesn’t really have a set endpoint, other than the permitted area. So, hike however long you wish and then turn around. Though most people try to make it at least two hours up to Orderville Canyon. If you hike out at least the two hours you are allowed to classify yourself as a stone-cold badass.
I’d definitely recommend going a bit further though. About the 3-4 hour mark, as you’ll see some of the prettiest portions of the canyon that far back. Do it for the ‘gram, obviously.
You can hike permit free until you reach Big Spring which is about 5 miles or 4.5 hours up the river. If you make it this far you’ll be rewarded with a nice (maybe?) waterfall.
We’d met a few people the day prior who said the waterfall was super basic and not worth the hundreds of extra curse words you’ll utter along the way.
Most people spend about 3-4 hours hiking up the river. This will get you through the narrowest spots of the canyon known as Wall Street and up to a pair of boulders sitting right in the river.
About a mile an hour is average timing. Sometimes you can move at a much quicker pace, other times it’s pretty tough to go that fast. This is absolutely a tortoise race. All in all, round trip I’d say you should allow 6-8 hours to see the nice areas, move at a steady pace, and take a couple breaks.
Zion Narrows multi-day hike
The second option is the top-down which is easily a 12-hour hike even for experienced hikers. There is a campsite about halfway through for those wishing to take the Narrows at a slower pace. Plan this hike in advance because you will need to obtain a wilderness permit and arrange for transportation to the start of the hike at Chamberlain’s Ranch.
A permit can be reserved online, here. Do keep in mind this is a wildly popular hike so plan several months in advance. I’d say once you know you’re going to Zion, then go ahead and apply for the permit. If not, you can try your luck and apply for a last-minute permit which runs 2-7 days in advance.
And if you’re an ultra procrastinator you can try to go for a walk in permit one day in advance. Walk-in permits can be obtained at any of the visitor’s centers. Permits range in price from $15-$25 depending on the size of your group.
The best time to hike the Narrows will obviously be the summer. This is when the water is the warmest, but it will certainly be the busiest time of the year. So if you’re looking for Instagram worthy Narrows photos then you’ll need to get out there really early or hike pretty far upstream.
The further up the river you go the fewer people you’ll have. You sort of weed out the weekend warriors, the kids, and people in flip-flops and jeans right around that one to two-hour mark.
General PSA – DON’T hike in your jeans and flip-flops. I wanted to facepalm every person I saw doing this.
Springtime is also a nice time to hike the river but this is when you need to be extra cautious about the flash flood risk. The snowmelt and storms can cause the river to flood almost instantly.
Hiking in the slot canyons is a bit dangerous so it’s absolutely necessary to check in with the rangers BEFORE going out to be updated on the river conditions. As you’re walking along the Riverwalk you will see a sign that has the day’s flash flood risk so do pay attention to that. If the flow is greater than 150 cubic feet/second, the river will be closed to hiking. Narrows current conditions can be found, here.
And even then, always always always be mindful of the river flow as well as clarity of the water.
Changes in these two things can be an early indicator that you need to get out of there. Like I said above, the best time to hike is late spring and summer because the water temperature is nice, but this is when flooding is most likely. No hike is worth dying over.
Tips for hiking the Narrows:
Dress in layers:
We visited Zion National Park in May and the Narrows
He simply wore a pair of his favorite PrAna shorts and a t-shirt. I’d say if you tend to skew colder then bring along a light sweater or a long sleeve shirt. When you’re deep into the canyon with little to no sunlight it can be arctic cold.
The water was definitely chilly, too. It was about 55-60 degrees, but your body gets used to it after a while. The cold water doesn’t really shock you until you’re at least waist deep, which only happened a couple times for us.
I strongly recommend renting canyoneering shoes from Zion Adventure Company.
It is hard enough to walk along wet rocks for miles on end. You definitely don’t want to be worried about having the wrong shoes. Canyoneering shoes are perfect for this because they have strong thick soles. This helps protect your feet and make walking on the rocks as comfortable as possible. They also go up above your ankles, which is a must.
There is a very good chance you’ll slip at some point and you don’t want to roll your ankle. You will see people who attempt to do this in flip-flops, tennis shoes or even adventure sandals like Chacos or Keens. Those are not good enough, they absolutely must be closed toe with thick soles.
We met several people along the hike that were cursing their stupidity because they didn’t think the shoes were necessary. Besides, you’ll feel like you’re winning at life when you blaze a path around them.
The adventure company rents out different packages depending on the time of year. During late spring and summer, you should just need the shoes which rent for $25 a day. You’ll also get neoprene socks and a walking stick, which will help immensely.
When you call to make reservations you can ask about the water temperature and if they recommend dry pants or not. If so, those will rent for $45 a day including the shoes, socks, and walking stick.
The Zion Adventure Company is located a couple miles from the park entrance at 36 Lion Blvd. You can reach them at 435-772-1001.
The only downside of this is they don’t open until 8 so that leaves you with two options: renting the morning of and just accepting the fact you won’t be in the river until 9:30 or 10 OR rent the gear the day before and eat the extra cost.
We rented the morning of and if I were to do the hike again I’d rent the night before. The stress that being late to the river caused my husband was not worth listening to, haha.
Take your time:
I’ve said a thousand times that the hike is hard, but it’s so stupidly beautiful. You’ll want to slow down and appreciate where you are and what you’re doing.
Don’t worry about people blazing past you. Take it easy and get a feel for walking on the rocks and have fun.
I’ll tell you that even though I *really* wanted to do this hike I was absolutely miserable for the first couple hours. I was grumpy, not taking photos, and not walking next to Pete.
He was doing better than I was and not having any trouble so that was super annoying, haha. We’re only slightly competitive 😉
I was just in my head and couldn’t relax because I was so fearful that I was going to fall. We stopped for a snack around the 2-hour mark which was pretty close to Orderville Canyon. I had already made up my mind that I was going to turn around there. #dramaqueen
We talked for a little bit and Pete refused to go on without me. I didn’t want him to miss out on this because he was having a lot of fun. So, I sucked it up and continued on.
It did get better at that point, I think I just needed to complain, act like a crybaby, eat, and chill the eff out. The worst-case scenario would be falling and so what? It’ll hurt for a little bit and I’d probably be sore tomorrow, but it’s not like falling from Angels Landing and literally dying.
And I’ll have you know that I didn’t fall at all! I got very close a
Cat-like reflexes FOR THE WIN!
Here is one of the times that I almost fell and reached for Pete to save me. Seriously, as graceful as a walrus.
Bring a backpack:
You’ll want someone in your group to carry a backpack with snacks, water, sunglasses, a hat, sunscreen, waterproof camera, etc. Don’t put anything in the bag that can’t get wet so if you want to bring your phone then you should put it in one of these little dry bags.
And the most important tip- JUST HAVE FUN!
So what’d you think, how next level is hiking the Narrows?! What a time to be alive!
Read Next: How to hike and survive Angels Landing!
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Founder of Packing for Plenty in July 2017. Along with her husband, Pete, she is on a mission to visit most countries. And wants to take y’all along as well! On PFP Steff provides travel itineraries ranging from a weekend trip nearby to 2 weeks living abroad like a local…detailed destination specific travel tips that aren’t readily available elsewhere…and unique and interesting bucket list worthy experiences.