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Insider's Guide To The Narrows of Zion National Park

Author: Mark Wade
Narrows Zion National Park

Hiking the Zion Narrows offers an unforgettable adventure through one of Zion National Park's most iconic landscapes. For hikers starting from the Temple of Sinawava, this hike immerses you in a stunning slot canyon where towering walls rise dramatically on either side, and the Virgin River winds its way around your feet. As you wade through the waters of the Virgin River and navigate the smooth riverbed, you'll encounter breathtaking rock formations, lush hanging gardens, and the serene beauty of this natural wonder.

Virgin River Narrows
Narrows Zion National Park
Narrows Zion National Park in Virgin River

Answers to these questions:

  • Where is the Zion Narrows In Zion National Park?
  • How do I get to the Zion Narrows in Zion National Park?
  • When is the Narrows accessible?
  • How long is the Zion Narrows?
  • Can beginners hike the Narrows?

Location and Directions

Where is the Zion Narrows in Zion National Park and how do I get there?

From the South Entrance (Springdale, Utah):

  1. Enter Zion National Park: From Springdale, Utah, enter Zion National Park through the South Entrance.
  2. Zion Canyon Visitor Center: Follow signs to the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. Park your vehicle here or in designated parking areas, especially during peak season when the main canyon is accessible only via the shuttle system.
  3. Shuttle to Temple of Sinawava: Board the park shuttle at the visitor center and take it to the last stop, the Temple of Sinawava. The shuttle operates from spring through fall, and personal vehicle access is restricted during these months.
  4. Riverside Walk Trailhead: Disembark at the Temple of Sinawava and begin your hike on the Riverside Walk Trail, a paved, easy trail that follows the river for about a mile to the gateway of the Narrows.
Narrows Map

When is the Zion Narrows Open To Hike?

Where is the Zion Narrows in Zion National Park and how do I get there?

Hiking The Narrows in Zion National Park

Summer Season:
  • Availability: Open

  • Water Temperature: Ranges from 60-70°F (15-21°C)

  • Water Flow: Generally lower, but can be affected by late melting snow or monsoon rains, causing sudden increases.

  • Gear/Preparations: Lightweight, breathable clothing, and sturdy water shoes are recommended. Be prepared for flash floods; always check weather conditions and water levels before starting. A dry bag for valuables and plenty of water are essential.

Winter Season:
  • Availability: Open, but with caution

  • Water Temperature: Ranges from 40-50°F (4-10°C)

  • Water Flow: Generally lower, but snowmelt can occasionally increase flow.

  • Gear/Preparations: Neoprene socks, dry suits, or wet suits are necessary to protect against cold water temperatures. Trekking poles for stability, layers of warm clothing, and extra dry bags for gear protection are crucial. Be cautious of ice and slippery conditions.

Spring Season:
  • Availability: Open at times, but may be closed depending on water levels from melting snow.

  • Water Temperature: Ranges from 50-60°F (10-15°C)

  • Water Flow: Can be high due to snowmelt, making conditions more challenging.

  • Gear/Preparations: Water shoes, neoprene socks, and layers of quick-drying, warm clothing are recommended. Check flow rates and weather conditions carefully before hiking, as high flow can make the hike dangerous.

Fall Season:
  • Availability: Open

  • Water Temperature: Ranges from 50-60°F (10-15°C)

  • Water Flow: Generally moderate, but can be affected by early winter storms.

  • Gear/Preparations: Similar to summer; lightweight and breathable clothing with water shoes. Be prepared for cooler temperatures, especially later in the season. Carry extra layers and check weather and water conditions regularly.

General Tips
  • Always check the current weather forecast and river conditions before starting your hike in The Narrows, of Utah's Zion National Park.

  • Permits may be required for longer hikes, especially for the top-down route.

  • Be aware of the risk of flash floods, especially during the summer monsoon season.

  • Ensure you have the proper gear for the season, including appropriate footwear, clothing, and safety equipment.

Narrows Zion National Park Slot Canyon
Narrows Zion National Park Canyon Walls

What Will I Experience Hiking Up The Zion Narrows?

Exploring The Narrows: From Riverside Walk to Orderville Canyon

Starting Point: Riverside Walk Trailhead, Zion National Park

After completing the one-mile Riverside Walk, you’ll arrive at the gateway to The Narrows. Here, the paved trail ends, and the true adventure begins as you step into the Virgin River. This iconic hike leads you upstream through a stunning and narrow gorge with towering canyon walls and a flowing riverbed.

The First Mile: Initial Immersion

  • Wading through the River: Almost immediately, you’ll be wading through the shallow waters of the Virgin River. The river’s depth can vary from ankle-deep to waist-high, depending on the season and recent rainfall.

  • Canyon Walls: As you venture further, the canyon walls start to close in, reaching heights of up to 1,000 feet. The sandstone cliffs are adorned with streaks of red, orange, and pink, creating a visually captivating environment.

  • Natural Features: Keep an eye out for unique rock formations, hanging gardens, and small waterfalls. The lush vegetation clinging to the canyon walls adds a touch of green to the rocky landscape.

The Second Mile: Into the Heart of The Narrows

  • Deeper into the Gorge: As you continue upstream, the canyon narrows even more, and the sense of being enveloped by nature’s grandeur intensifies. The water may get deeper in sections, and the current can be stronger.

  • Changing Light: The lighting within the canyon changes dramatically as the sun moves across the sky. Early morning or late afternoon light creates beautiful reflections and shadows, enhancing the canyon’s mystical atmosphere.

  • Rock-Hopping and Wading: This section requires more rock-hopping and careful navigation over slippery rocks and through deeper pools. Hiking poles can be particularly helpful for maintaining balance.

Approaching Orderville Canyon In The Narrows
  • Scenic Landmarks: About 1.5 miles in, you’ll encounter some notable landmarks like Mystery Falls, a small but picturesque waterfall cascading down the canyon wall of The Narrows.

  • Confluence with Orderville Canyon: After roughly two miles of upstream hiking, you’ll reach the confluence with Orderville Canyon. Here, a narrower tributary canyon joins The Narrows, creating a striking junction of two majestic gorges.

    • Orderville Canyon Features: Orderville Canyon is narrower and often has less water flow compared to The Narrows. It features its own set of unique rock formations and slot canyon sections, offering an enticing side trip for adventurous hikers in Utah's Zion National Park.

Wildlife and Natural Beauty
  • Flora and Fauna: Throughout your hike, you may encounter a variety of wildlife, such as mule deer, birds, and lizards. The hanging gardens and lush riparian vegetation provide habitat for many species, adding to the biodiversity of the area.

  • Geological Wonders: The layered rock formations reveal millions of years of geological history. The colors and textures of the canyon walls tell the story of ancient environments and natural forces that shaped the landscape of Utah's Zion National Park.

Summary

Hiking the first two miles of The Narrows from Riverside Walk to the confluence with Orderville Canyon is an unforgettable experience. You’ll traverse a pristine river within a dramatic slot canyon, encounter awe-inspiring natural beauty, and feel the thrill of exploring one of the most iconic hikes in Zion National Park. This section of The Narrows offers a taste of the wilderness and geological wonders that make Zion a cherished destination for hikers and nature enthusiasts.

Narrows Zion National Park Temple of Sinawava
Narrows Zion National Park

Gear and Preparation for Hiking the Zion Narrows

Hiking the Zion Narrows is a unique adventure that requires specific gear and preparation to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Here’s a comprehensive list of what you may need for The Narrows hike:

Essential Gear
  1. Footwear:

    • Canyoneering Shoes: These provide excellent grip and support on slippery rocks. Renting canyoneering boots from local outfitters is recommended.

    • Neoprene Socks: Keep your feet warm in the cold river water. These can also be rented along with the canyoneering shoes.

    • Closed-Toe Shoes: If you prefer not to rent, wear sturdy, closed-toe hiking shoes with good traction.

  2. Hiking Poles:

    • Trekking Poles: These help maintain balance and provide stability on uneven and slippery terrain. Consider renting collapsible poles from local outfitters if you don't own a pair.

  3. Clothing:

    • Quick-Dry Clothing: Wear synthetic or wool layers that dry quickly and provide insulation even when wet.

    • Waterproof Jacket: A lightweight, waterproof jacket is essential for protection against unexpected rain, splashes from the river, or wind down the Narrows canyon.

    • Swimsuit: Consider wearing a swimsuit underneath your clothing for added comfort.

  4. Dry Bag or Waterproof Backpack:

    • Dry Bag: Keeps your essentials like snacks, maps, and electronics dry.

    • Waterproof Backpack: Alternatively, use a waterproof backpack to keep your gear safe from water exposure.

  5. Hydration and Snacks:

    • Water Bottles or Hydration Bladder: Ensure you have enough water to stay hydrated. Water filters or purification tablets can be useful if you need to refill from the river.

    • High-Energy Snacks: Pack lightweight, non-perishable snacks like trail mix, energy bars, and dried fruit.

  6. Emergency Essentials:

    • First Aid Kit: A small, portable first aid kit with bandages, antiseptic wipes, and any personal medications.

    • Whistle: Useful for signaling in case of an emergency.

    • Headlamp or Flashlight: In case you get caught in the canyon after dark.

  7. Navigation Tools:

    • Map and Compass: Always carry a map of the area and a compass, even if you have a GPS device.

    • GPS Device: Helpful for navigation, but not a substitute for a physical map and compass.

  8. Permits and Park Information:

    • Permits: A permit is required for top-down hikes starting from Chamberlain's Ranch, but not for the bottom-up hike from the Riverside Walk trailhead to Orderville Canyon.

    • Park Information: Check the latest conditions, weather forecast, and any park advisories before heading out.

When Is The Best Time To Shoot Pictures In The Zion Narrows?

The best time of day to shoot pictures in the Zion Narrows is generally during the late morning to early afternoon. Here’s why:

Ideal Timing for Photography in the Zion Narrows
  1. Lighting Conditions:

    • Late Morning to Early Afternoon: The sun is higher in the sky, allowing light to filter into the narrow canyon. This creates beautiful, indirect light that illuminates the canyon walls without harsh shadows or direct sunlight, which can cause overexposure and washed-out photos.

    • Midday: Light reflects off the canyon walls, creating a warm glow and highlighting the colors and textures of the rock. This soft, reflected light is ideal for capturing the vibrant hues of the sandstone and the clear blue of the river.

  2. Avoiding Harsh Shadows:

    • Early Morning and Late Afternoon: The canyon walls cast long shadows, which can create high-contrast scenes that are difficult to photograph. While these times can produce dramatic lighting effects, they may not be ideal for consistently capturing the details and colors of the Narrows.

Additional Tips for Photography in the Zion Narrows
  • Use a Tripod: The Narrows are often dim, and a tripod can help you take clear, sharp photos in low light.

  • Bring a Waterproof Bag: Protect your camera gear from water exposure while hiking through the river.

  • Wide-Angle Lens: Use a wide-angle lens to capture the grandeur and scale of the canyon.

  • Polarizing Filter: Consider using a polarizing filter to reduce glare and enhance the colors of the water and rocks.

  • Scout Locations: If possible, scout the Narrows the day before to identify interesting compositions and potential photo spots.

By timing your photography session for late morning to early afternoon, you can take advantage of the optimal lighting conditions to capture stunning images of the Zion Narrows.

Narrows Zion National Park Shuttle Temple of Sinawava
Narrows Zion National Park Hiking in River
Narrows Zion National Park Hikers
Narrows Zion National Park In Virgin River

Hiking the Zion Narrows from the Top-Down.

Is it Difficult? What is involved? Are permits required?

Difficulty and Preparation
  1. Length and Time Commitment:

    • 16 Miles Long: The full top-down hike from Chamberlain's Ranch to the Temple of Sinawava is approximately 16 miles.

    • Time: It typically takes 12-14 hours to complete in one day or can be done as an overnight hike.

  2. Physical Demands:

    • Endurance: The hike requires a significant level of physical fitness and endurance due to its length and the challenging terrain.

    • Navigation: Hikers must be comfortable navigating through the river, which involves wading and sometimes swimming.

  3. Logistical Challenges:

    • Shuttle Service: Reaching the trailhead at Chamberlain's Ranch requires arranging a shuttle, as it is located 1.5 to 2 hours away from the park.

    • Weather and Water Conditions: Flash floods are a serious risk, and hikers must be prepared for rapidly changing weather and water conditions.

Permits and Regulations
  1. Permit Requirements:

    • Day Hike: A permit is required for a day hike from the top down. These permits can be challenging to obtain due to high demand and limited availability.

    • Overnight Hike: For those planning to camp overnight, a backcountry permit is necessary. Campsites are limited and must be reserved in advance.

  2. Permits Acquisition:

    • Advanced Reservation: Permits for both day hikes and overnight hikes can be reserved in advance online through the Zion National Park website.

    • Lottery System: Some permits are also available through a last-minute drawing or lottery system, adding an element of uncertainty to planning.

What is Involved in the Top-Down Hike
  1. Trailhead and Starting Point:

    • Chamberlain's Ranch: The hike begins at Chamberlain's Ranch, which is located outside the northeastern boundary of Zion National Park.

  2. Terrain and Conditions:

    • River Navigation: Hikers will spend a significant portion of the hike in the Virgin River, navigating through deep water and over slippery rocks.

    • Canyon Walls: The canyon narrows significantly, with towering walls that create a stunning but challenging environment.

  3. Safety and Gear:

    • Essential Gear: Proper footwear with good grip, dry bags for personal belongings, trekking poles for stability, and appropriate clothing for water immersion are crucial.

    • Safety Measures: Hikers must be aware of flash flood risks and check weather forecasts and river conditions before embarking on the hike.

Conclusion

Hiking the Zion Narrows from the top down is a strenuous and logistically complex endeavor that requires careful planning, physical readiness, and proper permits. The length of the hike, the challenging terrain, and the need for permits all contribute to why relatively few people choose to undertake this adventure. Those who do, however, are rewarded with one of the most iconic and memorable experiences in Zion National Park.

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