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Exploring The Narrows: Zions Spectacular River Hike

What to Do in Zion National Park

One of the most unique and captivating hiking experiences in the world: The Narrows. This 8.9-mile out-and-back trail is not just “a walk in the park” – it’s an adventure through a breathtaking slot canyon carved by the Virgin River. Renowned for its sheer walls, narrow passages, and riverine challenges, The Narrows is a journey that merges the beauty of nature with the thrill of exploration.

Considered a challenging route, The Narrows invites hikers to traverse its water-soaked paths, often requiring a trek directly through the river itself. This “water hike” is a key part of its allure, offering a hiking experience unlike any other.

However, the water can be surprisingly cold, particularly in the cooler months, making it advisable to rent a drysuit gear – including bibs, hiking stick, neoprene booties, and shoes – for around $55 plus tax. Local outfitters, conveniently located just outside the park, provide these rentals. To make the most of your day, consider picking up your gear after 3 pm the day before your hike. This strategy not only saves precious morning hours but also ensures you are fully prepared for the early start.

Remember to pack a hearty lunch – there are several small rocky beach areas along the route that make perfect spots for a well-deserved break. Refueling is essential as the hike can be both calorie-burning and physically taxing.

As you delve deeper into The Narrows, aim to reach the famed “Wall Street corridor.” This section of the hike, characterized by its particularly narrow passageways flanked by towering walls, is a highlight not to be missed.

Planning Your Hike Through The Narrows

As someone who has hiked the Narrows several times in my life, I think it is important to underscore the importance of coming prepared. Hiking poles or a solid walking stick might be the most important thing you can bring in addition to good footwear. Unfortunately, it’s not rare to see visitors who get injured on a busy day at the Narrows.

Additionally, be sure to bring plenty of drinking water and snacks to refuel along the way. With proper planning and caution, The Narrows can be an unforgettable and rewarding experience for anyone who visits Zion National Park.

Here’s what you need to know to prepare for this unique adventure:

  1. Best Time to Visit: Timing is key for hiking The Narrows. The ideal months are typically late spring to early fall, when water levels are generally lower and temperatures are more comfortable. However, it’s important to check current conditions and weather forecasts before your trip, as flash floods can be a risk.
  2. Permits and Reservations: While the Bottom-Up hike from the Temple of Sinawava does not require a permit, the Top-Down hike starting from Chamberlain’s Ranch does. Make sure to check the Zion National Park website for permit requirements and availability.
  3. Gear and Clothing: Since The Narrows is primarily a water hike, appropriate gear is essential. Renting a full gear set-up, including a drysuit, neoprene booties, and a hiking stick, is highly recommended. Wear quick-drying clothes and layer up to adjust for the cooler temperatures, especially in the early morning and in the shaded canyon. Don’t forget a waterproof bag for your essentials.
  4. Footwear: Proper footwear is critical. While rental gear includes specialized shoes, ensuring a good fit and comfort is vital for navigating the rocky, uneven riverbed.
  5. Food and Water: Pack a substantial lunch and snacks. The physical exertion, coupled with the need to stay warm, will increase your calorie requirements. Also, bring enough water to stay hydrated throughout the hike.
  6. Physical Preparation: The Narrows is a challenging hike involving walking against the current on an uneven riverbed. Physical fitness is important, so consider some preparatory hikes and exercises to build endurance and strength.
  7. Understanding the Trail: Familiarize yourself with the trail map and key landmarks. Knowing the route, particularly the distance to the “Wall Street corridor” and turnaround points, is important for time management.
  8. Safety Considerations: Always check the weather forecast and park alerts for flash flood warnings. Be aware of the signs of hypothermia, especially when hiking in cooler temperatures, and know the basics of wilderness first aid.
  9. Time Management: Start early to avoid crowds and give yourself ample time to enjoy the hike without rushing. Remember, hiking in water can significantly slow your pace.

It’s important to note that dogs are not allowed on this trail, ensuring the preservation of its delicate ecosystem and the safety of all hikers.

Carefully plan your trip, and you’ll ensure a safer and more enjoyable experience in The Narrows. This hike is not just about endurance; it’s about immersing yourself in the beauty and challenge of one of nature’s most extraordinary landscapes.

the narrows

Getting to The Narrows

To experience the full splendor of The Narrows, knowing how to navigate to and within Zion National Park is essential. Here are the key details to help you start your journey:

  1. Arriving at Zion National Park:
  • Zion National Park is located near Springdale, Utah.
  • The nearest major airports are in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Salt Lake City, Utah.
  • From these cities, you can drive or use shuttle services to reach the park.
  1. Transportation Within the Park:
  • Zion operates a shuttle bus system due to limited parking and high visitor volumes.
  • The shuttle system is efficient and mandatory for accessing key trailheads, including The Narrows.
  • Check the park’s website for shuttle schedules and operating times, which vary seasonally.
  1. The Trailhead for The Narrows:
  • The most common starting point for The Narrows hike is the Temple of Sinawava, accessible via the park shuttle.
  • The trailhead is at the end of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, marked by the Riverside Walk, a paved path leading to the entry point of The Narrows.
  1. Bottom-Up vs. Top-Down Hikes:
  • Bottom-Up Hike: This is the more accessible option and does not require a permit. It starts at the Temple of Sinawava, allowing hikers to turn around at any point.
  • Top-Down Hike: This is a more challenging 16-mile through-hike that requires a permit. It starts from Chamberlain’s Ranch outside the park and ends at the Temple of Sinawava.
  1. Preparing for the Day:
  • Arrive early to secure a spot on the first shuttle buses, especially during peak season.
  • Use restroom facilities at the shuttle stops, as there are limited options along the trail.
  • If you’ve rented gear, wearing it from the start is advisable to avoid changing at the trailhead.
  1. Parking and Accommodations:
  • Parking within the park is limited; arriving early or staying in nearby Springdale, which offers additional shuttle services to the park, is a good strategy.
  • Springdale also provides a range of accommodations, from campgrounds to hotels, catering to different budgets and preferences.

Getting to and starting your hike in The Narrows requires a bit of planning and early start, but the effort is well worth it. The journey to the trailhead is part of the adventure, setting the stage for the remarkable experience that awaits in the heart of Zion National Park.

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Navigating the Trail

Once you’re at the trailhead, the real adventure begins. Here’s what to expect as you navigate The Narrows, from the initial steps into the Virgin River to the breathtaking vistas of the Wall Street corridor.

  1. Starting Your Journey:
  • The hike begins at the end of the Riverside Walk, where you’ll step into the Virgin River and start your trek upstream.
  • Initially, the water is shallow, but be prepared for deeper sections as you progress.
  1. Challenges of the Riverbed:
  • The riverbed is rocky and uneven, so careful footing is crucial.
  • Use your hiking stick for stability and test the ground before each step, as the river’s current can be deceptively strong in places.
  1. Landmarks and Scenic Spots:
  • As you hike, you’ll pass notable landmarks like Mystery Falls and the junction with Orderville Canyon, a popular side hike.
  • Keep an eye out for the “Wall Street” section, where the canyon narrows dramatically, and the walls soar hundreds of feet overhead.
  1. Safety Tips:
  • Watch for flash flood warnings; never hike The Narrows if there’s a risk.
  • Be mindful of water levels, which can rise unexpectedly.
  • If you start feeling tired or cold, don’t hesitate to turn back. It’s important to listen to your body. My motto: “Turn around when you are still having fun”.
  1. Environmental Considerations:
  • Stay in the river to minimize impact on the fragile riparian environment.
  • Avoid stepping on or disturbing the natural vegetation on the banks.
  1. Pacing Your Hike:
  • Remember, hiking in water is slower than on land. Pace yourself and take breaks as needed.
  • The round trip to Big Springs, the turnaround point for day hikers without a permit, is about 10 miles and can take 6-8 hours.
  1. Rest and Refuel:
  • Utilize the small beach areas along the river for rest and to enjoy your packed lunch.
  • These spots are also great for taking in the scenery and capturing photos.
  1. The Return Journey:
  • The hike back is downstream, generally easier but still challenging.
  • Reflect on the experience as you retrace your steps, noticing details you may have missed on the way in.

Navigating The Narrows is as much about the journey as it is the destination. Each step through this remarkable landscape is an opportunity to connect with nature, challenge your limits, and create lasting memories. As you hike, remember to respect this natural wonder and leave it as pristine as you found it, ensuring it remains a treasure for generations to come.

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Zion National Park offers a plethora of other awe-inspiring hikes and activities for nature enthusiasts. Consider exploring other trails, such as Angel’s Landing or Observation Point, or take a scenic drive through the park to discover more stunning vistas.

No matter what you choose to do, Zion National Park is sure to leave a lasting impression on you, beckoning you back time and time again to experience its unmatched natural grandeur. Be prepared and embark on an unforgettable journey in The Narrows – one of the most unique and breathtaking hikes in the world.

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