If I had to choose one experience as a “must” for Zion National Park, then hiking The Narrows would have to be it.
The Narrows features the, ahem, narrowest part of Zion Canyon; the part of the Virgin River just upstream from the Temple of Sinawava.
One of the most incredible hikes on earth, The Narrows will have you wading in pristine river water — it’ll often hit just around your ankles, but will get up to your waist in some sections — and catching views of towering red rock with deep, shadowy crevices. On summer days, the rushing water is refreshing; but on cooler days, be sure to brace yourself for the chill!
If you hike the trail as a day trip from the bottom up (meaning, starting at the Temple of Sinawava), then The Narrows can be as long as 8 km out and back (~15km total), or as short as you’d like it to be. However, if you’re planning an overnight hike, then allot two full days for the experience, and keep in mind that you will need a permit to camp.
While a lot of the tips in this article can be used no matter how long you plan to hike for, I did write this specifically for day-hikers, as that’s the experience I had and the only one I can speak to.
My top 10 tips for hiking The Narrows at Zion National park will tell you how to get there, what to bring, and more!
10 Tips for Hiking The Narrows
Tip #1 – Plan Your Hike for the Warmer Months
While The Narrows is generally open for hiking year-round, the most common seasons in which to visit are Summer and Fall. Personally, Garrett and I did this hike mid-October and found it absolutely perfect. The water was warm yet refreshing, the outdoor temperature wasn’t too hot or too cold, and the hike wasn’t packed, but we weren’t alone either.
In choosing a time to hike The Narrows, keep in mind that Zion can get absolutely sweltering in the summer, and while the water is indeed refreshing, storms up the risk for flash floods. Likewise, in the Spring, the opening date for The Narrows is entirely controlled by the water level and how much snow fell in the high country. When the water is high, you won’t even be allowed through the entrance, so my recommendation is to stay flexible and remember – safety first!
Tip #2 – Start Early in the Day
Given that this hike will take you an entire day, I highly recommend starting bright and early.
Not only will this give you ample daylight hours, but you’ll also skip the midday hiking rush near the start of the hike. In the warmer months, shuttles start running to the Temple of Sinawava (which will be your shuttle stop) at 6 AM, so getting there is easy peasy.
To get to the trailhead, AKA the Temple of Sinawava, I recommend parking your car in Springdale and then taking the shuttle to the Zion National Park entrance. Once you’re in the park, hop on the shuttle bus and ride it to Stop 9.
While this wasn’t the situation when I was there, I’ve since learned that due to the pandemic, the shuttle at Zion costs $1 to ride, and is offering timed-entry tickets only. Double-check this on the Zion website for your trip, but definitely keep it in mind and plan ahead. The website books well in advance.
Further, private vehicles are not allowed on the scenic route.
Tip #3 – Be Prepared With Gear
I wish Garrett and I had headed this advice a little better when we hiked The Narrows, as we were almost comically unprepared (well, I was — my brother seemed to be just fine).
In order to hike The Narrows with ease, I highly recommend bringing along a pair of sturdy closed-toe water shoes with excellent grip, a waterproof bag for all of your day-hike stuff, and a pair of wooden hiking poles. I should mention that all of these items are available for rent at the gift shop near the entrance to Zion National Park, however, you can only rent them when it’s 100% safe to hike The Narrows. Shocker — the day we chose to hike it there was an itty bitty chance of a flash flood, and so we couldn’t rent gear.
Did it flood? No. But did I almost wipe out and go free-sailing down the river because my water shoes had no grip and I had no wooden poles with which to balance myself? Yes.
I had a couple of close calls where, if I hadn’t been rescued, I would have been a goner.
I would also like to mention here that the only reason I made it okay was that my brother often helped me when it felt like I was going down and that a VERY VERY nice lady gave me one of her poles for the hike back. Hikers are always superb human beings, are they not?
I did come prepared with a dry bag and a plastic phone bag though, so I wasn’t totally out to lunch. As far as your day bag goes, I’d recommend bringing food, a headlamp, plenty of water, and eco-friendly sunscreen.
If you plan to hike in the cooler months, then I would also recommend bringing an insulated wetsuit for warmth.
Tip #4 – Check the Water Level & Flow Rate
Water level and flow rate are the two variables that will determine not only the difficulty of your hike through The Narrows, but also how safe it will be. Water level is exactly what it sounds like – it’s how high the water is, and flow rate is how fast the water is moving through the canyon. Too high of a water level and you won’t be able to hike The Narrows. Too high of a flow rate and, shocker, you won’t be able to hike The Narrows.
The flow rate and water level of The Narrows will be posted near the entrance to Zion National Park, so if you plan on hiking this, then either check there or look online beforehand. On this note, don’t expect to hike The Narrows if it is raining, or has recently been raining.
Tip #5 – Research the Route
While there is truly no ugly part of The Narrows hike, I do recommend knowing exactly what you’re getting yourself into before you start the trek. Know what to look out for in terms of landmarks, understand just how deep the water can get in places, and pace your hike so you know how far you can get in one day.
A little bit of research (and carrying along a map) will go a long way into knowing where you are on your hike at all times.
Tip #6 – Know Your Limitations
Here’s where I tell you that I did not make it the entire length of The Narrows.
I mean, my brother and I made it pretty far, and he definitely would have kept going if it hadn’t been for me slowing us down with my crappy water shoes. Admittedly, after a couple of hours, I got tired of my sole mission being staying upright, and we decided to turn tail.
I’m not sure if Garrett was okay with that, but given the situation, I certainly was. I would have loved to have kept going, but the circumstances just didn’t call for it. So, with that, know your limitations, listen to your body, and don’t feel bad if you don’t pass the metaphorical baton to the person at the end of the trail.
This is also the section of the article where I tell you that this hike isn’t for everyone. Not only will you need to have a certain level of fitness to hike this trail, but you’ll also need to be tall enough to keep your head above water and strong enough to not get swept away by the current.
Tip #7 – Book Accommodation Close By
Given that hiking The Narrows can be a long, strenuous endeavor, I recommend finding accommodation not too far from Zion National Park, if not inside the park itself.
When we visited Zion, Garrett and I booked ourselves into a hotel in Panguitch, which was about an hour and a half drive away. The upside to this was that we got to base ourselves in a great, cheap, place for a lot of area-exploration, but if you can swing a closer stay, then it would be worth it. There are plenty of accommodation options in nearby Springdale and some really picturesque camping options in the park.
Tip #8 – Be Camera Ready
Fun fact, all the photos in this article were taken with either my iPhone or Garrett’s Samsung. In almost every other post on this blog, the photos were taken with my DSLR, but given the facts that a big chunky camera wasn’t logistically-friendly, and that I lost my GoPro the week prior, we were all about the smartphone photography.
All that oversharing to say, no matter how you do it, you’ll definitely want a way to take photos on your trek! Just DO NOT forget a dry bag for your phone. Photos aren’t worth taking if your phone goes for a swim in the process.
Tip #9 – Bring Extra Clothes
The whole point of hiking The Narrows is to hike in a river, and SURPRISE — you’re going to get wet. If you hike during a warm sunny day as we did, then drying off afterward won’t be too much of an issue. But if you hike on a cloudy day or a cooler day, then definitely bring a backup set of dry clothes.
Even hiking the trail in October, I wished I had an extra set of pants and underwear for afterward. TMI? Maybe. But if it saves your tush, it’s worth it.
Tip #10 – Soak It All Up!
During my hike through The Narrows, I was often so all-consumed in balancing myself and making it to the next dry area that I often stopped focusing on the incredible experience I was having.
The Narrows is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in the world, not to mention one of the most memorable hiking experiences, and the moments when I took a beat to breathe in the fresh air, feel the water rushing around me, and express gratitude for being able to hike with my #1 brother are the moments that stick with me the most.
That’s it for my 10 essential tips for hiking The Narrows in Zion National Park!
Have you been to Zion? Or are you planning a visit in the future? Let me know in the comments!