The Narrows hike is deceptively challenging. Instead of features that are typically considered challenging — like intense inclines or super high altitudes — hiking the Narrows looks fun and serene even. But in reality, it can be difficult, depending on when you go.
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As the name suggests, The Narrows is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. It’s a natural marvel consisting of two 1,000-foot sandstone walls and a river that’s 20 to 30 feet wide. Since it was introduced to pioneers and European settlers in the mid-1800s, it’s been a popular tourist destination.
Today, the Zion Narrows hike continues to be one of the most popular trails in the park. Although there’s no actual trail — you just walk along the Virgin River and through it — there are two routes to follow: a bottom-up hike from the Temple of Sinawava or a top-down hike from Chamberlain’s Ranch.
According to the National Parks Service, the bottom-up hike from the Temple of Sinawava is the most popular route to take. It’s about nine miles upstream and back. And unlike some other hikes in Zion National Park, like Angels Landing or a 16-mile top-down hike from Chamberlain’s Ranch, you do not need a permit to hike the Temple of Sinawava route.
Additionally, each trip to the Narrows is different because water levels in the Virgin River vary as well as the conditions of the water. If the water is too rough, the Narrows can be closed and the parks service strongly recommends that you do not attempt to hike the Narrows if it is closed.
Hiking the Narrows from the Temple of Sinawava entails hiking through the water against the current, which can be challenging on days when the water levels are high and the currents are fast. The rocks below the water are not always sturdy and foot placement is incredibly important if you want to ensure your safety in the water.
- Length: 9.4 miles
- Difficulty: Hard
- Time: 1 to 8 hours
- Elevation: 334 feet
After doing some more intense hikes, we decided to head to the Narrows around noon to cool off from the heat of the day. We had taken the tram up to the final stop, the Temple of Sinawava. From the tram station, it’s roughly a mile-long, paved path that takes you to the trailhead. It’s categorized as an easy-moderate and will give you a nice view of the Virgin River as you get to the Narrows.
In the heat of the day, hiking the Narrows was a refreshing change after sweating on the trails all morning. There was a slight breeze and the sun was still out, making for a busy trail, but there was still plenty of space to explore the Narrows without feeling like you were on top of the group in front of you.
When we reached the trailhead, we changed into water shoes and walked down a short set of steps, which brought us to the water almost immediately. During my trip to the Narrows, the water in the Virgin River wasn’t very high but it was moving fast. The current in some areas was intense. We saw a number of people fall into the water and many more slip on rocks, even in the earliest area of the hike.
Because of the conditions on the day we went to Zion, we found the water to be too tough to maneuver confidently. We often watched where other people stepped and then either followed behind or chose a different direction depending on how it went for those in front of us. After watching other hikers struggle and feeling meek in a number of my chosen steps, we decided to stop near a shallow edge before a waterfall.
After hiking for 45 minutes and making it about a mile out, we traveled through the water and against the current as well as a few shallow beach areas and some areas that were more dirt than water. Getting back to where we entered the Narrows was a significantly easier feat, as we got to walk with the current, helping propel us forward. Though hiking the Narrows was difficult and a little scary at times it was definitely worth the trip and I am glad I can say that I did it.
If you look at reviews on sites like AllTrails, you’ll find similar experiences. A lot of people report not completing the entire trail but rather following the path until they reach a point where they don’t feel completely comfortable. However, the people who do complete it prepare for an assortment of obstacles ranging from hiking to scrambling to swimming.
As long as the conditions weren’t worse than they were when I hiked it this time, I would definitely hike the Narrows again. It’s a unique experience that you won’t get to experience in a lot of other places.
Tips for Future Hikers
Essential Gear and Supplies
Though not a necessity, trekking poles are really helpful to have on this hike. As someone who is known for being a bit of a klutz, having the extra stability of the trekking poles while walking through the rushing water made me feel secure and helped me find the most secure spot to place my feet when I was walking through the water.
Pro Tip: When you’re using trekking poles your arm should make a 90-degree angle. If they aren’t you’ll want to adjust accordingly. My trekking poles were not at a 90-degree angle during my trip in the narrows and it made travelling through significantly more difficult.
Technically you could probably go into the Narrows in any closed-toe shoe or water shoe, but if you’re planning on doing other hikes afterward, you will not want to be in wet shoes and socks. There were definitely people who went in with sandals like Tevas or Chacos, I would advise against having your feet out like that in case of moving rocks or debris in the water.
A Change of Clothes
The water levels in the Narrows can vary when you go, but it can be deep in areas and very hard to see where you’re placing your feet and poles when you’re out there. Placing your feet can feel like a strategic game, in those waters, and sometimes, you may not win. You’ll want to make sure you have a change of clothes, just in case you fall in. It’ll add a little bit of extra weight to your pack, but in the end, I think it’s worth it to know you’re covered in case you fall in.
Plastic Bags or Dry Bags
I’ve made it a habit in recent years to always pack a few plastic bags when I go on a trip; whether I’m protecting my extra gear from a dirty pair of shoes, or holding a wet bathing suit, they’re really good to have around. As someone who always travels with their camera, I didn’t want it to get wet if I fell into the water, so I used a plastic bag to keep it protected.
If you’re a more well-versed outdoor traveler, dry bags will do the same thing, but if this is your first trip, plastic bags are less expensive, and you probably have them right in your own home.
Phone Pouch or Waterproof Case for your Phone/Camera
We had waterproof phone pouches when we hiked the Narrows, so I opted for that rather than my camera during my trip, but if you’re dying to get that perfect shot no matter what the conditions, you’ll want to make sure your phone or camera are completely protected in the waters.
This may seem a bit obvious, but if you go into the Narrows, you’re coming out wet. Whether it’s just to your knees, or up to your waist, when you come out, you’re going to want to dry off (especially if you choose to change back into your hiking shoes right away). You could also add a towel to the bottom of your pack to soak up any splashing water.
Best Way to Trailhead
Most of the year, you can drive to the trailhead by car, but in the summertime, you’ll have to take a bus all the way to stop nine, the Temple of Sinawava, and get off.
From there, you follow a one-mile paved trail to get you to the water. The path to get to the Narrows is mild and walks you next to the river for the majority of the stroll.
When you reach the end of the paved path, there are benches for you to change out of your trail shoes and into waterproof shoes.
The Narrows Hike is Worth a Trip to Zion
If you’ve been looking for hiking experiences you don’t get every day, the Narrows is a great option to add to your list. Though it can get crowded and the water can be unpredictable at times, the experience is like no other and is definitely worth making the trip to Zion National Park. Spending even a limited amount of time in the Narrows will leave you feeling refreshed and like a true adventurer.