Article Overview: The Narrows Hike in Zion
Yep, I don’t recommend the Narrows Hike in Zion – but my reasoning is sound. Zion National Park visitor numbers surge with each new season.
Known as the park with one of the most dangerous hikes in the country (Angels Landing), it’s also globally known for its slot canyon, called the Zion Canyon Narrows, or more formally “The Narrows.”
Steep canyon walls line the Narrows, with some spots no wider than 30 feet. It’s a respite from the relentless heat of Zion from late spring through early fall. The Narrows also come with certain safety risks and different preparation tactics to enjoy this unique experience along the Virgin River.
Being a tad claustrophobic, I was initially worried about the narrowness of the Narrows. I had also recently watched the based-on-a-true-story movie 127 Hours, where Aron Ralston was trapped in a Bluejohn Canyon in a slot canyon not too far from here.
My anxiety about things like this has always been the motivator to be as safe as possible. Are the Narrows scary? Not when you get there fully prepared to experience this incredible place on Earth. I’m going to help you get there.
Hike the Narrows in Zion
Table of Contents: The Narrows Hike in Zion
Table of Contents: The Narrows Hike in Zion
- Hike the Narrows in Zion
- Things to Know Before You Try the Narrows Hike in Zion
- Where to Stay in Zion
- Hiking the Narrows in Zion
- The Narrows Hikes
- Bottom Up Hike of the Narrows
- Top Down Hike of the Narrows
- Video of The Narrows & Zion National Park
- Zion Narrows FAQs
- How Dangerous Is The Narrows Hike Really?
- Map of the Narrows Hike in Zion
- Summary – Is Hiking the Narrows Worth It?
Things to Know Before You Try the Narrows Hike in Zion
$35 per vehicle or $20 per person hiking or biking in. The best value purchasing an America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more, including 2,000 sites for free after a one-time $80 fee. More than a dozen of those are in southern Utah alone!
NOTE: All required permits would be above and beyond the admission price.
Use it. Lots of it. Especially this one, with a high SPF rating and eco-friendly ingredients. The Narrows trek has plenty of exposed land where the sun will beat down.
The Best Guide Book for Zion National Park is this one which we’ve marked up and highlighted quite a bit.
The Best Map: I like this map best for Zion National Park.
National Parks Checklist Map: This beautiful National Parks Checklist Map can be ordered to your house.
Framed National Parks Map: We’re a sucker for maps; this framed national parks map is the best.
Where to Stay in Zion
Planning a trip to Zion but haven’t found the right place to stay? This is our favorite hotel for Zion National Park.
Hiking the Narrows in Zion
The Narrows hike in Zion is the most popular trail in the park. This nine (or 16 mile – more on that below) trail follows the Virgin River through the narrow canyons of the park.
That means you’re going to get wet. At times, it’s a trickle of water. Other times, it’s a roaring wall of water filled with debris.
Successfully hiking the Narrows in Zion comes down to four things:
- Respecting the Weather Forecast
- Having the right gear for a watery walk
- Being physically fit enough to walk against a river current for many miles
- Understanding the unique safety risks of this region
Is the Narrows Hike in Zion Crowded?
Oh you sweet summer child, you… Queue the *laughing hysterically* gif. If you’re envisioning your experience hiking The Narrows as one of where it’s just you and red rock canyon serenity, you’re in for a bit of an awakening.
For starters, Zion National Park as a whole is woefully overcrowded and has been for at least the past five years. Did you know that Zion is the third most visited national park in the US? In fact, more people visited the 15 mile stretch known as Zion Canyon last year than all of Yellowstone’s 3,472 square miles!
You’re only chance at having a remotely uncrowded experience hiking the Narrows is by catching the first shuttle down the canyon in the morning.
If you’re set on hiking the Narrows then your best bet is to get there early and embrace sea of humanity you’re bound to encounter. Perhaps now is a good time to pick up meditation?
Shuttle Ride to the Narrows Trail
Zion offers a free shuttle at nine stops throughout Zion Canyon. The Zion Canyon shuttle service will also close off vehicle traffic to the road from mid-March through late November.
The Narrows hikers will use Shuttle Stop #9 at the Temple of Sinawava. This stop is almost eight miles from the entrance and takes about 45 minutes to arrive at Stop #9.
If you miss the last shuttle of the day or the shuttle is full, you’ll have to walk all the way back in the dark. This is something that’ll definitely taint your experience on the Narrows hike in Zion so be sure to plan ahead.
The Narrows Hikes
There are two ways to hike the Narrows in Zion. The Bottom Up is the most popular, and the Top Down is the most challenging.
|9.4 miles roundtrip
|16 miles one way
|Up to 8 hours
|Up to 14 hours/overnight option
The Narrows closed in mid-April of 2022 due to the aftermath of the historical storms the previous winter. Hiking is allowed in the Narrows when the river goes above 150 cfs (cubic feet per second). Since April, the level has been nearly seven times higher than that at 1000 cfs. It will not reopen until the 150 cfs is reached for at least 24 hours.
Understanding Water Flow Levels at the Narrows in Zion
Knowing what the different cfs levels mean will help a lot for first-timers looking to hike the narrows in Zion. It’s not a matter of just “150 cfs is too dangerous.” At 100 cfs, the hike is exponentially more challenging.
Remember, you’ll be walking upstream against the currents on this trail from the start, and then you’ll have a current pushing you forward on the way back.
Here’s a beginner’s guide to cfs levels and what they mean:
- 0-49 cfs: Great for beginners. Very little current pressure is noted. Water will be knee-deep at the deepest points.
- 50-99 cfs: You’ll feel the current, but it won’t be too taxing most of the time. Waist-deep water is inevitable. Anything lower than 70 cfs will include wet and dry spots on the wider part of the trail.
- 100-149 cfs: Great effort will be required to move forward, and rocks will become more slippery and mobile under your feet. Water will get chest-deep in some spots.
- 150 cfs or greater: The Narrows will be closed, and any slot canyon you ever hike should be avoided at this level. Even if you can handle the intense current, the debris in the water can cause injury or easily knock you over.
One of the biggest misconceptions for first-timers is that flooding won’t happen if the skies are clear. Desert weather can develop quickly, especially during the summer monsoon.
Know the Signs of Danger in the Narrows
The fast-moving summer monsoons pose risks for all aspects of being outdoors, especially those attempting to hike the narrows in Zion. I am a desert rat, having lived in Arizona and Nevada. You start the day with pristine blue skies. One little cloud begins to form, and the next thing you know, you’re in a severe thunderstorm.
Not all rivers in the desert have water, which is why they are most often referred to as washes. When these storms drop large amounts of rain, the washes become raging rivers for an hour or so. After dark, the river beds are empty again and will be dry by morning.
Now, imagine that in a narrow canyon, where water can only go downhill to the lowest spot. That’s what you face in the Narrows. It just takes six inches of water to knock a person off their feet.
Signs that a flood is coming include:
- A sudden increase in the current
- Rising water
- Muddy water/color change of water
- Increased debris
- Roaring sound echoed through the canyon
Zion has a flash flood potential rating system that includes Not Expected, Possible, Probable, and Expected. I won’t go into a slot canyon above the Possible risk because I know my limits and tendency to panic.
Best Time to Hike the Narrows in Zion
The best time to hike the Narrows in Zion is as early in the day as possible since storms usually form in the afternoon. If you want to visit the Narrows at the best time to reduce risks, go in the fall.
The snow melt won’t be an issue, and the worst of monsoon season is over. That’s not a guarantee, but it does put the odds in your favor.
Plan for Wet, Cooler Weather
It makes sense that the Narrows will be cooler than the exposed sections or mountains of Zion, but you really don’t realize how much colder it is until you’re soaking wet and shivering. Bring a jacket with you, even if it’s 100°(F) or higher outside.
When the water levels are 70 cfs or lower, you’ll have many places where you decide how wet you get. Whether you walk the dry side, balance against the wet side canyon wall, or take the river right down the middle, you should determine if you’re okay walking while wet or if you just want to stay in the water as much as possible.
Avoid putting your head underwater at all times on the Narrows hike in Ziondue to possible toxins in the water. We’ll talk more about that in a bit.
SAFETY TIP: With the risk of bacteria in the water, I was concerned about a wound on my leg. I decided to use a liquid bandage underneath a Band-Aid.
Bottom Up Hike of the Narrows
The Button Up Narrows bike starts at the Temple of Sinawava (“sin-uh-WAH-vah”), a “natural amphitheater carved by the Virgin River’s incredible power and persistence.”
I’m a self-admitted backpack fumbler, always trying to get it “just right” on my back, leading to great photo ops for my patient friends. I stared up at the wall of Sinawava and said, “We’re not climbing that, right?” My fear of heights was about to be tackled from a different vantage point, but WOW, this was beautiful.
We walked the two miles of the Riverside Walk, which was wide with wonderful views. The boardwalk is accessible and definitely worth it for those who might not like mountain climbs or have limited mobility. This trail is ideal for families with small children as well.
The Bottoms Up Narrows Section
When the boardwalk ends, the Narrows begins. This first part of the trail offers dry and wet places to walk with another 2/10 of a mile before water is inevitable. As you turn the corner into Mystery Canyon, look up to see climbers working their way up or down the cliff.
We arrived at the Orderville Canyon intersection, where two of our group veered off to go canyoneering.
PERMIT REQUIRED: You need a permit for canyoneering in Zion
This is where the trail really got narrow, and the walls seemed to close in a little more as I meditated my way out of my own mind. This section is known as Wall Street. The canyon walls can be just 30 feet wide.
TURNAROUND POINT: Some people chose to go as far as Wall Street and then turn around, making it a six-mile round trip hike. If you have the energy to see it, it’s well worth the effort.
I was glad we pushed through the last mile to Big Springs since I’m a sucker for waterfalls. This is the last place you can hike without a permit. From here, you turn around and follow the same path out, working against the current.
Top Down Hike of the Narrows
The Top Down Hike is next level—an epic opportunity to cover 16 miles in one day or make an overnight trip out of it. The trek goes from Chamberlain’s Ranch and meets up with the Top Down route before taking you back to the Temple of Sinawava.
Permits are required for this trail. You do not use Recreation.gov to purchase these permits. All purchases go through your Zion Wilderness Reservation account.
- For those who do the full 16 miles in one day, you’ll need a canyoneering permit. Permits can be granted through a lottery two months out, a calendar selection one month out, or a last-minute drawing two to seven days before.
- If you plan to backcountry camp and split the Narrows into two days, you’ll need a wilderness permit and NOT a canyoneering permit.
This is not a marked trail, but the first three miles run parallel to the river. You’ll cross through the Deep Creek Wilderness region before you get to Zion National Park land. The wilderness permit will come with an assigned campsite for the night. There are 12 available just north of Big Spring.
From there, you’ll follow the river back through the Narrows to the Temple of Sinawava.
Video of The Narrows & Zion National Park
Zion Narrows FAQs
For the Narrows hike in Zion you’ll want hiking boots that support your ankle with a good grip at the bottom, neoprene socks (they protect your feet from getting wet), a walking stick, and possibly waterproof pants or a bib, depending on what season it is.
If you don’t have that gear and will only use it this one, it’s more cost-effective to rent gear than purchase it. Zion Outfitter in Springdale rents Narrows gear for every season and every size.
Experienced trekkers will tell you that rentals are a waste of money, and you can buy your own gear for almost the same price. That’s up to you, but you have options either way. Whatever you do, don’t enter the Narrows with opened-toed shoes or tennis shoes.
No. You cannot safely drink the water from the river on the Narrows hike in Zion. The Virgin River experiences blooms of cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins— really dangerous toxins in novice terms. Zion will always keep an updated list of river sections impacted. The naked eye can usually see these toxins as green foam, but the water that looks clean could also be contaminated.
Don’t eyeball it. Trust the park. No amount of boiling, treatment, or filtration will kill these toxins.
Can I get drinking water in the Narrows?
Potable water is available at the Temple of Sinawava, where the Bottom Up trail begins. Bring at least one gallon of water with you for the hike.
The climate here, especially in the heat, gives a false sense of hydration levels. Since it’s so arid, sweat evaporates quickly. You might not feel like you’ve sweated that much. Meanwhile, dehydration is setting in.
You should have good hydration levels going into the narrows hike in Zion, so spend a day or two before drinking a couple of liters of water and avoid alcohol.
How Dangerous Is The Narrows Hike Really?
One thing I admire about the National Park Service and especially more strenuous places like the Narrows hike in Zion, is the transparency of dangers ahead of time and releasing information about accidents as they happen. The “Narrows Zion Deaths” is a popular Google search.
You have all the information available to have a safe and exciting hike through the Narrows. The accidents and deaths that happen here are usually due to not being prepared for the conditions, not checking or respecting the weather forecast, or not being experienced enough to handle the hike.
Here are a few examples of recent tragedies at the Narrows:
- NOVEMBER 2022: Below-average temperatures led to the death by hypothermia of a 31-year-old woman in the Narrows.
- AUGUST 2022: A 29-year-old woman is swept away by flash flooding in the Narrows. Her body was found four days later.
This is not meant to scare you off the hike. It’s just a reality check. Heed the weather forecast. Learn about monsoons. Talk to park rangers about the daily risk.
Map of the Narrows Hike in Zion
Summary – Is Hiking the Narrows Worth It?
No. The canyon walls are too striking. The experience is too memorable. The scenery is too beautiful. The Narrows hike in Zion is just too much fun.
In all seriousness it’s one of the best hikes in the national park system but is suffering from some serious overcrowding. Every step is the destination. There’s a humbling aspect to walking through the canyon carved out by the water beneath your feet. You get plenty of shade in the hot summer months, and you get stunning views looking a thousand feet up a canyon wall.
The “circle of life” beats slowly in your mind as you realize this water will eventually carve away the canyon walls. For the one day you visit the Narrows, it will never look *exactly* that way again.
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