Hiking The Zion Narrows
The Zion Narrows route is the most popular hike in Zion Park, and one of the world's best canyon hikes. It is pure fun and can be tailored to suite any ability level. The trail is the Virgin River. Plan on being wet. In fact, the cool water makes this hike particularly pleasant during the hot months of summer.
Most people hike in casually from the bottom, going as far as they feel comfortable or have time and then turning back. Serious hikers start at the top and do the entire 16 miles as a long day hike or an overnight backpack. (Permits are required if you start at the top.)
Plan on spending 60% of your time in the water and the remaining time walking on the riverbank. For most of the hike the water is less than knee-deep, but there is always the chance you'll step into a pool that is waste-deep or deeper. The longest exposure to waist-deep water is usually only about 20 yards.
Location: Zion Canyon
Difficulty: Easy to strenuous
Length: Variable, up to 16 miles
Weather: Hiking is not permitted when the river is high from runoff or flash flooding. Runoff mostly occurs in April and early May. Late summer thunderstorms occasionally produce flooding. Check at the visitor center for current conditions. Hiking is usually very pleasant during summer and fall. Few people hike during winter and spring, when the water is cold, but some go in wearing wet or dry suits.
3 WAYS TO HIKE THE NARROWS
BOTTOM-UP. The best way for first-time river hikers and those with only a short time in the park. Depending on water flow, this hike is easy to moderate in summer and ok for most kids 4 feet or taller. You can hike in as far you would like and turn back at any time. From the parking lot, it is usually only 2-3 hours into the section of Narrows known as Wall Street. Return hikers find it takes 2/3 the time to hike back as it did to hike in. Early Spring yields higher water due to snow melt. October and November visitors find less people in the river. Best light for photography is between 10 am and 3 pm, May-Sept. Average hikers travel 3-4 miles up canyon and then 3-4 miles back. Bottom-Up hikers are only permitted to hike as far north as Big Springs. Accessible almost all year. Starting point is the Temple of Sinawava. You'll need to ride the shuttle into Zion Canyon, to Temple of Sinawava, and that takes about 45 minutes during the summer season.
TOP-DOWN - ONE DAY. This 16 mile hike as a one day event is the most strenuous option. For athletic people who are very agile hikers. Best done May through September when days are longer. Usually a 10-14 hour hike for most athletes. Very scenic if you take time to look up. Permit required. Max group size is 12 persons. Starting Point is Chamberlain's Ranch.
TOP-DOWN — OVERNIGHT. With the only disadvantage being the extra weight of overnight gear, this is the way to have the full Narrows experience. Spend one night under a blanket of stars in the canyon in one of 12 designated sites. Plan on hiking 6-8 hours each day with enough time to check out Deep and Kolob Creeks on day one, and Orderville Gulch on day two. Permit required. Max group size is 12 persons. Make sure to pack light (under 25 lbs.). Best time is May-September. Starting point is Chamberlain's Ranch, 1.5 hour drive from Zion Canyon.
LEAVE NO TRACE
Take care! Zion National Park belongs to no one and everyone. One of the greatest dilemmas facing the Park Service is managing visitation and preservation. As a visitor to the Zion Narrows and anywhere else in the Park, it is your job to keep Zion as clean and natural as possible by following these simple steps:
- Carry out everything you carry in. The Virgin River is a water source for you in your campground and hotel. Do not throw cigarette butts, feminine products, diapers, or ANYTHING else ANYWHERE but into appropriate trash cans.
- Stay within 10 feet of the River's edge to protect the fragile vegetation and soft hillsides. Wet shoes carry sand and slowly destroy the canyon ecology.
- Carry out all human waste. Do not leave piles of poop or toilet paper on the shoreline. Stop by the Zion Park Backcountry desk or Zion Adventure Company to pick up a carry out bag for your waste. An environmentally friendly human waste disposal bag, complete with use and disposal instructions, is be provided to all party members with every Narrows overnight permit. The bag is called Restop 2. It is a lightweight, sanitary way to pack out waste. The bag within a bag design and ziplock closure securely contains waste and odor, while the special blend of polymers instantly breaks down waste and turns it into a deodorized gel.
- Obtain a walking stick before entering the river from Zion Adventure Company or the rack at the end of the Riverside Walk. Do not break trees or branches because you did not plan appropriately.
- Please be reasonable during your visit.
- Restrain yourself and party members from chasing or feeding animals, catching fish, frogs, or lizards, or forging new trails.
- Hypothermia is a risk any time of year. Prepare for cold water with dry gear and warm footwear, and stay hydrated and well fed throughout your hike.
- Be aware. Be open minded. Thousands hike the canyon every year, and YOU are one of "them." Learn as much as possible before your trip to be low impact in all ways.
AVOID A FLASH FLOOD
Flash floods are common during heavy rains, particularly when preceded by excessively dry periods (which tend to bake the plateau like a clay pot) or after 2-3 days of rain (which saturates the plateau, thus forcing run-off). These storms mostly occur in July-September, but it is not uncommon for storms to drop rain any month of the year and cause the river to rise very quickly. The actual flash or sudden build up of water, rocks, logs and other debris may force a wave of water to come rushing through a narrow canyon like Orderville, then junction with excessive run-off in the Wall Street corridor of the Narrows causing what is known as a roll-thru. This roll-thru carries the greatest density of debris and can be deadly. Stop by anytime for a Zion Adventure Company flash flood clinic and:
- If you know of incoming storms and the river is already unusually high, do not make this hike.
- While hiking, if you experience heavy rain, see the river color get murky, or the flow and depth increase, seek any kind of high ground 6 or more feet above river level.
- If no further changes occur, hike down canyon to next high ground area. If conditions do change, stay put until high water passes. This may be 24+ hours.
- Hike out only when water has receded.
- If you have a doubt, Wait. Wait. Wait. You cannot out-run, out-swim or out-hike flood waters. Stay put.
- Keep an eye out for high ground locations while hiking!
- If you cannot get out, help cannot get in. Do not expect a rescue. Bring provisions in case of a forced overnight.
- Your safety is your responsibility!
Information courtesy of Zion Adventure Company.
Additional information can also be obtained by contacting the Travel Regions for the different park entrances:
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