Zion Narrows: The Ultimate Hiker’s Guide

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With 16 miles from sandstone walls up to 3,000 feet above the riverbed and hanging gardens draped over the swift, clear water, Zion National Parks Zion Narrows is a hiking experience that has earned its spot on every hiker’s bucket list. However, if you’re going to tackle it, you’ll need to prepare a little differently than a route with more garden variety: slot canyons require different skills and preparation than most other hikes, however, and the Route through theNarrows has some special considerations. Our guide tells you how, when and why to hike the Zion Narrows

What are the Narrows?

As you might guess from the name, the Narrows are a long, narrow section of Zion Canyon, sometimes only 20 to 30 feet wide, bordered by vertical sandstone walls. Unlike most other hikes in Zion National Park, there is no trail in the Narrows. Instead, hikers wade straight up the clear Virgin River. For this reason, it is important for visitors to be aware of the weather: when it rains heavily, the water levels in the Narrows can rise dangerously.

Sometimes the walls of the Narrows are only 20 to 30 feet apart.
Famous hike in the Narrows, Virgin River, Zion Canyon National Park, Utah, USA (Photo: Matteo Colombo/Moment via Getty Images)

The Route: Zion Narrows

Some people do the Narrows as a day hike (be sure to bring a headlamp if you choose this option; you’ll start early and end late), but extending the trip to two days is a great way to really enjoy the canyon. start at Chamberlin Ranch, then hike three miles through pine trees and bright red dirt. Enter the Virgin River at mile three and begin wading upstream. Another 3.5 miles will bring you to The Squeeze, where the canyon walls narrow to just 20 feet apart. A few miles later, at mile 8.6, Deep Creek joins the Virgin River and the water level is rising. There’s also a campground here, right on Deep Creek, which is the best even split between the two days of hiking (although there are 11 other backcountry sites in the Narrows if you prefer a long day and a short one).

The next major marker is Goose Creek which arrives at mile 10.6. Deeper water, stronger currents and slickrock drops will make you slower past this point. So plan your expected travel time accordingly. A mile below is a stretch of long, straight sandstone ‘walks’ where the gorge stops most of its meandering for a while (you may have to swim here). After that, however, you are free at home; Mile 13.3 marks the end of seriousness slot canyon and it’s easy to walk to the 3,000-foot redrock walls of the Temple of Sinawava and then to the parking lot.

Zion Narrows permits

Reservations are required for both day hikes and backpacking in the narrows, and a wilderness permit is also required for backpacking. reservations open on the 5th of each month for the following month and fill up extremely quickly; they are also specific per campsite. There are also a limited number of walk-in permits available on the day or prior to a trip on a first come, first served basis. Caveat: If the river has too high a flow (over 120 cfs) all permits will be canceled.

Zion Narrows hike
Hikers in the Narrows walk upstream in the Virgin River rather than on a trail.
(Photo: Dean Mayo/500px via Getty Images)

The Narrows is a real slot canyon, and require skills not often used in hiking. Be prepared to swim – not only with physical fitness and knowledge, but also with equipment preparation. Make sure your backpack is fully waterproof with liners, dry bags or bin liners and double pack your sleeping bag. Bring hiking poles to check the depth and bottom conditions of the pools along the way, and to help with river crossings. Make sure your shoes dry quickly and have grippy soles ready to cling to sandstone drops and wet boulders.

Avoiding flooding in the Zion Narrows

Slot canyons like the Narrows are particularly vulnerable to a hazard desert hikers don’t have to face: flash flooding. Because there are no easy escape routes (particularly in the narrowest sections or in places with particularly steep walls), hikers in a slot canyon cannot avoid rising tides, and any flood can end in disaster. Check the weather forecast for several days around your trip as well as during your planned hike, and don’t just check the weather in the gorge itself — runoff from upstream catchments can just as easily cause flooding. Know the signs of a flash flood so you have a better chance of finding an escape route as you come through the canyon: sudden increase in water depth or speed, the river becoming muddy or dark, and a roaring noise like a jet engine. If you see storm clouds piling up above you, even without these flood signs, find your way to a high ground or out of the canyon as quickly as possible. The Narrows don’t have rescue points after you enter the canyon, but some of the side canyons reach higher ground.

The Narrows in Zion National Park is a section of the gorge on the North Fork of the Virgin River. The Narrows hike is one of the best hikes on the Colorado Plateau. (Photo: Bas Vermolen/Moment via Getty Images)

When to hike the Zion Narrows

The monsoon season in the southwest falls between June and August, so spring or fall are the best chances for a good weather window. Although Zion is in the desert, temperatures at the bottom of the canyon can be chilly, especially in the fall when the summer heat eases: bring warm layers, a windproof jacket, and if you expect particularly chilly temperatures, a Farmer John wetsuit for swimming and deeper wading sections.

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