The Narrows is probably one of the most legendary canyons to hike. The majestic walls of the main canyon close in to form a tall and narrow canyon with beautiful dark corners and the Virgin River flows through. This is the slot canyon that all other slot canyons are compared to.
The Narrows at Zion National Park
The Narrows is probably one of the most legendary canyons to hike. You will find the entrance of the Narrows at the Temple of Sinawava (this is the end of the road up the main canyon). Here, the majestic walls of the main canyon close in to form a tall and narrow canyon with beautiful dark corners and the Virgin River flows through. This is the slot canyon that all other slot canyons are compared to.
For the casual hiker who wants to see the best of the Zion Narrows, you will want to start at the Temple of Sinawava. The shuttle buses will get you close to the point of entry. It is the last stop on the free Zion Canyon shuttle. Hike up the Riverside Walk trail and then continue hiking right up the river to see some of the best “narrows” sections of the North Fork of the Virgin River. Hike up as far as you want to go and then turn around and retrace your steps. You will not be alone, you will see many coming and going from the Narrows. As a round-trip hike, this can be as leisurely or strenuous as you wish to make it. A wilderness permit is NOT required for this hike.
What this hike looks like
*This information is gathered from others, "My Next Adventure" has NOT hiked the Narrows. Please research and go at your own risk.
For the majority of the day, you will be hiking in knee to waist deep water with the riverbed alternating between sections of sand and sections with a lot of loose rocks and boulders. Hiking poles (or a stick) as well as good footwear will be invaluable. (Please see the equipment recommendations to the right.) While the water is usually less than waist deep, you may encounter a handful of pockets of chest-deep water or even a swimmer. And while the water current is generally mild, many narrow crossings can be strong enough to challenge your balance. (If the water where you are standing is very deep, usually you can move to your left or right to find a more shallow alternative route.)
Less than half-a-mile from the Temple of Sinawava, you will pass Mystery Falls a beautiful spot where water rolls down the sandstone walls from the canyon above. Roughly 2 miles from the Temple of Sinawava is the beginning of the section that many Springdale outfitters call "Wall Street” -- the start of the narrowest section of canyon where you will now be hiking in the water almost all of the time. And soon after, you will pass the mouth of Orderville Canyon on the right (east) side of the river.
Continuing up the Zion Narrows, the canyon remains dark and impressive with no high ground to climb up to in the event of the thunderstorm or flash flood. Most hikers will continue hiking up through this section and then turn around when the scenery mellows out a bit. But if you have the time and the energy, the next section is more difficult as the canyon is littered with large boulders that block parts of the river. You may have to search around a bit to find the easiest way to scramble over and around the obstacles and avoid a few short deeper sections of water. No obstacles are insurmountable, so always look for alternatives.
Once through the "boulder field of broken hearts", the going gets a bit easier and in half a mile you will reach Big Springs, another magical spot where a beautiful set of springs and small waterfalls come right out of the canyon walls. This is the manditory turn-around spot for dayhikers; no travel is permitted upstream from here. When you have had enough, turn around and return the way you came back to the Temple of Sinawava. (Most people turn around a mile or so upstream of Orderville Canyon.)
Seasons, Water Levels, and Difficulty
The hiking season for the Zion Narrows is typically summer and fall, but the start of the season is controlled by the spring runoff and water levels. The Zion Narrows is typically closed to hiking between mid-March and late May, depending on how much snow fell on the high country in winter. IN record snowfall years like 2005 and 2011, hiking in the Narrows didn’t open until mid-July.
Note that it is possible to hike the Narrows in fall and winter, provided you are adequately prepared for the cold water; farmer-john wetsuit bottoms or even drysuits may be called for, depending on the temperatures. If you want to do the top-down Narrows in the winter, keep in mind that the NPS Service will not issue a one-day top-down permit because there is not enough daylight to complete the hike safely. Snowfall or heavy rains may also make the dirt road to Chamberlain's Ranch impassible.
The difficulty of hiking the Zion Narrows is greatly affected by water flow. A flow below 50cfs indicates relatively easy hiking conditions while flow above 100cfs can be difficult and dangerous. The Wilderness Desk will not issue a permit for the Zion Narrows if waterflow is above 120cfs. Also note that hiking is much more difficult when the water is murky (like chocolate milk) several days after flash floods. Not being able to see rocks under the water's surface can really slow you down.
Flash Flood Warning
Flash Flood Warning: No description of the Narrows would be complete without a stern warning about the danger of flash foods. Many tourists are callous about taking the weather seriously, but please do not do this hike if the forecast calls for rain. A strong enough rain storm can quickly turn a calm and shallow stream into a deadly wall of rushing water. Please check the weather forecast and the Wilderness Desk for current conditions and for any advisories. Remember that it doesn't have to be raining directly above you for a flash-flood threat to be possible.
Equipment Recommendations (this is for the easier bottom-up hike starting at the Temple of Sinawava. For all other hikes in the Narrows, that require permits, please seek more detailed information for these more strenuous hikes).
Beyond what you would take on any other hike (food, water, map, etc.), below is a list of some of the essential equipment you will need for any of the Zion Narrows hiking routes. If you don’t have your own equipment, many of the outfitters in Springdale sell or rent equipment.
Footwear: Since you will be hiking in knee-deep water almost all of the time, strong water-friendly footwear with toe protection is a must. Some of the stronger models of Keen sandals are okay, but even better are any trail runners that do *not* have GORE-TEX, so they can breathe and drain. Also, a good pair of neoprene socks will be much better than cotton to keep your feet warm and blister-free.
Footwear to avoid: light sandals or water shoes like Tevas. They will likely not hold up until the end of the day. Also avoid heavy hiking boots.
Hiking poles: You don’t need anything too fancy, but hiking poles or even just a hiking stick will be invaluable! Since you will be in the water almost all day and many river crossings have fairly strong currents, poles or a stick really help with keeping your stability. Tip: IF you have only one stick, use it on the upstream side – this really makes balancing easier! Note: If you come to the trailhead unprepared, you may be able to find a walking stick at the unofficial walking stick exchange area at the end of the Riverside Walk trail.
Drybag: Very useful to stow your wallet, camera, and other items that don't like to get wet. While most of the Narrows hike is knee to waist deep, there are a few chest-deep sections and very occasionally you may get seasonal swimming sections.
Clothing: Any clothing that doesn't mind getting wet. Quick-drying/moisture-wicking material is the best, neoprene socks are a good (and not too expensive) alternative to cotton socks. A fleece would be a great to keep you warm as direct sunlight is sparse. If you are hiking in the cold off-season (October through April), a wetsuit or even a drysuit would be beneficial, especially when water temperatures are in the 30s and 40s (Fahrenheit).