The Narrows in Zion National Park is one of my all time favorite Utah hikes. The route is actually in the Virgin River so plan on being in water well over half of the time, probably more. Most of the way you will find ankle to knee-deep water with some stretches on dry land and some short stretches of deeper water. But don’t worry, the water only adds to the adventure.
You can get a taste of the hike by hiking up from the Zion Canyon shuttle drop for a couple of miles. This is by far the most popular option but it feels kind of touristy and it can be hard to get immersed in it (no pun intended). I prefer to have a definite starting and ending point rather than a “turn around whenever you like” situation. No permit is required.
In my opinion the best way to experience the Narrows is to do the full 16 mile hike from Chamberlain Ranch to the bottom. It is often slow going so plan on a long day (10 hours minimum), but it is worth every minute. Walking in water can be very tiring so be ready for a full body workout. Chances are that most, if not everything you bring will come into contact with water at some point. Wear quick drying clothing, shoes that are comfortable when soaked and wrap everything else in a dry bag. The water can be cold so bring some warm, water-resistant clothing just in case hypothermia rears its ugly head. On the other hand, the water can feel great on a sweltering southern Utah summer day. Bring lots of water, sunscreen and a good pair of sunglasses. There is enough light bouncing around down there to cook you if you aren’t prepared. It is possible to do the hike as an overnight, but unless you are a superlight hiker the hassle of carrying the extra gear just isn’t worth it to me. Permits are required to hike the full length whether you choose one day or two. The permit area is much less crowded, so even though I’m not a fan of permits to use land we all technically own, it’s bearable here.
Since this is a long point to point day hike, you either need to leave a car at the finish and drive a second to the start, or use the commercial shuttle service. The shuttle service has limited space, but will cut your travel time in half so I think it is a good way to go. You can find out more on the Zion website listed at the end of this story.
Even though the entire hike is extremely scenic, many people come out at the bottom feeling they missed something. Why you ask? Because river hiking requires more of your attention than hiking on dry land. You can’t just put your feet on auto pilot, so your eyes are often pointed down just a few feet ahead of you. Do yourself a favor, at regular intervals take a moment to stop, do a 360 degree turn to appreciate what is around and above you. You will see awe-inspiring canyon walls and hanging gardens under a shocking blue Utah sky.
Flash floods are a real possibility so be vigilant. The park service keeps an eye on river conditions and only issues permits when the flow is manageable. However, a 10+ hour hike leaves a lot of time for conditions to change. Any rain near the canyon is a red flag. Just about any rainfall that falls in the region ends up in the canyon. A quarter-inch of rain falling on the hard ground above can turn into a churning monster in the river. If you see the flow of water increase or change color, head for high ground. Don’t try to outrun or out swim a flood, you will lose.
For permit information, weather conditions, shuttle service and other useful information, visit the Narrows page on th Zion National Park website. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions at the Visitor’s Center. The staff is very friendly and they would much rather help you now than rescue you later!
With a little prior planning and persistence, the Narrows will easily become one of your all-time favorite outdoor adventures.