Day hiking The Narrows at Zion National Park

Day hiking The Narrows at Zion National Park is a must do for visiting the park

Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park is almost synonymous with the park’s name. When you think of Zion National Park one of the top images that come to mind is a person wading through the narrow slot canyon along the Virgin River.

One of the great things about day hiking The Narrows at Zion National Park is that you can choose to hike as much or as little as you want.

Day hiking The Narrows at Zion – the entire section

The Narrows is a part of Zion Canyon and is the narrowest portion with walls that can reach up to 1,000 feet and be only 20- to 30-feet wide. To hike the entire section of The Narrows requires a permit. You can either day hike The Narrows or backpack it, but either way you to choose to do the entire 16-mile stretch of river you must obtain a permit.

A slot canyon is shown in The Narrows

To hike the entire stretch of The Narrows, hikers begin upstream and hike downstream to the Temple of Sinawava. This is known as hiking it “top down.”

Want a FREE packing list for The Narrows? Click here!

However, for those of us who don’t want to spend that much time in The Narrows or don’t have the energy for all that hiking, we can day hike The Narrow at Zion by hiking an out-and-back hike from the Temple of Sinawava.

Other options for day hiking The Narrows at Zion

Like I said before, one of the great things about day hiking The Narrows at Zion National Park is that if you hike out-and-back from the Temple of Sinawava, you can choose to hike as little or as much as you want.

Upstream hiking and hiking without a permit are not permitted beyond Big Spring, which is about five miles upstream from the Temple of Sinawava. This means if you choose to hike to Big Springs, you are in for a 10-mile out-and-back hike.

A large wall is shown in The Narrows in Zion National Park

I used the Falcon Guide “Hiking Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks” guide book. In that guide book, the author details a hike to Orderville Canyon, which is about a six-mile out-and-back hike. I wasn’t feeling up to taking on a 10-mile hike and Orderville Canyon sounded like a great turnaround point for me.

Riverside Walk

You begin your hike along the paved walkway of the Riverside Walk for one mile. The easy walking takes you through life along the river in a canyon in the desert. Cooler temperatures and reliable water bring this part of the desert to life, having canyon wetlands, grassy bottoms, trees, and vines.

The Riverside Walk is shown at Zion National Park

The end of the Riverside Walk to Orderville Canyon

At the end of the paved walkway of the Riverside Walk, steps lead hikers into the river. When hiking to Orderville Canyon, you have four miles (out-and-back) of hiking through, not along, the Virgin River.

The Virgin River is shown

At this part, you really are wading and not hiking. And wading through the Virgin River comes with its challenges. You have four miles of walking over river rocks instead of a beaten down path of a trail. Also, wading through water can make it hard to see your footing.

You quickly come to the mouth of Mystery Canyon, which is elevated and provides a wonderful waterfall into the Virgin River.

The Virgin river is shown in The Narrows

From Mystery Canyon, the river soon cuts sharply to the southwest making a large u-turn. From here the walls close in and you really get the feel of The Narrows. From here the river makes several other u-turns on the way to Orderville Canyon.

Just before the mouth of Orderville Canyon, the walls become extremely close and narrow, but not so much that it feels claustrophobic.

Day hiking The Narrows at Zion National Park wraps you with the rock

Orderville Canyon is the first distinct opening to your right when heading upstream. You can hike into Orderville Canyon a little way, but upstream travel is prohibited after about a quarter of a mile. However, that quarter of a mile is full of beautiful and fun waterfalls.

The mouth of Orderville Canyon is shown while day hiking The Narrows Zion National Park

Past Orderville Canyon

If you choose to continue hiking past the mouth of Orderville Canyon, you come to a place called Wall Street. Here the canyon is narrow and long, and the river almost tunnels through the rock.

efore turning around and backtracking to the trailhead, go upstream from the mouth of Orderville Canyon a little way to get a taste of Wall Street.

What to wear and bring

Hiking The Narrow at Zion National Park isn’t like your average every-day hike. In fact, it’s really more of a wade than a hike. The first thing to consider is simply to accept the fact that you are going to get wet, at least up to your waist. You also want to consider walking over river rocks, which can be slick, and places that have odd or difficult footing.

The water is cold and because you are hiking The Narrows through Zion Canyon, you will be in the shade a great deal and away from the hot desert sun.

Clothing

You want to stay far away from cotton, especially in the cooler months. Cotton does not dry quickly and can leave you wet for hours. Moisture-wicking and quick-drying clothes are best for hiking The Narrows at Zion.

Standing nearly waist deep while day hiking The Narrows at Zion National Park

I wore my swimsuit bottoms and a sports bra with moisture-wicking, quick-drying shorts, and a t-shirt.

You will also want to consider throwing in a dry shirt or sweatshirt for the shuttle or car ride back to your campsite. But anything you want to stay dry in your backpack, you’ll want to keep in a dry bag.

Footwear

Wearing proper footwear is extremely important. The park service recommends closed-toed shoes, but you also want shoes with a good grip since you are going to be walking through water.

You will want a little more protection than hiking sandals like Chacos or Tevas offer. If you’ve ever had small river rocks lodge in between your foot and the sole of your sandal, you know what I’m talking about when I say you’ll want a little more protection. I debated wearing my Brooks running shoes. But I decided against them because the miles on the pavement have worn down their grip. Because of this, I feared they wouldn’t have enough grip for hiking through the water.

Day hiking The Narrows you want to be sure to protect your feet

I ended up borrowing a pair of my mom’s closed-toed hiking sandals, like these. They worked perfectly for me. I did have one instance where a small rock worked its way under my foot. But I was able to get it out quickly.

Zion Rock & Mountain Guides in the adjacent town of Springdale rent canyon shoes with neoprene socks. These provide ankle stability and won’t weigh you down when they get wet like hiking boots will.

Trekking poles and dry bags

When hiking The Narrows, you are going to get wet. When I hiked it, there was only one part where my backpack got wet. Oh, and there was also the time I fell in, landing on my back and submerging my backpack into the water.

Fortunately, I was prepared for everything to become soaking wet and kept things – like my camera lens, food, and dry clothes – in dry bags inside my backpack. This insured that if I came to a part where I had to swim, or if I fell in, my valuables could stay dry.

A deep pool is shown in The Narrows

And speaking of falling in, I fell in another time and banged my knee, which makes for a total of twice I bit it while hiking The Narrow at Zion National Park.

Trekking poles or at least a hiking stick will help you keep your balance through the uneven and slick terrain. That is one piece of equipment you don’t want to leave behind.

Snacks and the essentials

Day hiking The Narrows is still a hike, so you want to be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks, or even a lunch. Don’t forget to apply Leave No Trace Principle 3 – Dispose of Waste Properly – and pack out all trash.

A waterfall is shown in Orderville Canyon

One thing I didn’t pack was sunscreen. I mistakenly thought I was going to be in an almost-cave environment the entire time. That was not true. There are several places where the sun shines down into the canyon, leaving me wishing for my sunscreen.

You will also want to pack other essentials, such as first aid.

Flash floods and flow rates

Hiking into a slot canyon is not without risk. Checking the flow rates and the weather beforehand is a must.

Most people hike The Narrows in late spring through fall. However in high summer, an afternoon thunderstorm can pop up and cause flash floods, so you’ll really want to be sure to keep a close eye on the weather.

When I hiked The Narrows at Zion the flow rate was around 50 cubic feet per second (CFS). I felt this level was perfect for my ability. Most of the wading I did was ankle or calf-deep and some of the pools I crossed were waist-deep. The National Park advises that hiking when the level is above 70 CFS can be difficult and can get up to chest-deep in places.

Sun shines illuminating the rock in The Narrows

Hiking upstream was a little more challenging for me. I noticed my thighs burning after a while as I was pushing against the current. The current of the river can also cause you to having less stability on your feet.

Zion National Park closes The Narrows when the Virgin River flow is more than 150 CFS. The river can reach this flow frequently in the spring because of snowmelt. To check the current flow rate of the river click here. You can also click here for the weather forecast and here for the flood potential. All three of these are extremely important as you utilize Leave Not Trace Principle 1 – Plan Ahead and Prepare.

Zion National Park Shuttles

If you decide to hike The Narrows at Zion National Park during peak season, you must take a free shuttle to and from the trailhead. However, as awful as that sounds, sitting bumper-to-bumper just to get to the trailhead sounds worse. I got to the Visitor Center shuttle stop early in the morning. There was a line to get on the shuttle, but I didn’t stand there for more than 10 minutes.

The trailhead for day hiking The Narrows at Zion National Park is at the last shuttle stop, the Temple of Sinawava. After I finished my hike, I rode the shuttle down a few stops and explored other areas of the park. I never had to wait in line for another shuttle.

Day hiking The Narrows at Zion National Park and the crowds

If you travel to Zion National Park, you need to spend some time hiking The Narrows. It is a truly unique and beautiful stretch of canyon. When I visited Zion National Park, it was mid-August and there were still tons of people in the park. The Narrows was crowded in places, but dealing with the crowds was worth it to see world-class canyons. Also, the further I hiked into The Narrows, the more the crowd thinned.

If you want to avoid the crowds as much as possible, get up and go early. Also, hike far into the canyon, or apply for a backcountry permit and make it a two-day hike. If you are up for a long hike, apply for a Top Down permit and take on all 16 miles.

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Pin it! Day Hiking The Narrows at Zion

Day hiking The Narrows at Zion National Park is a wonderful way to explore the slot canyons, the Virgin River, and the wonders of the park.
Day hiking The Narrows at Zion National Park is a wonderful way to explore the slot canyons, the Virgin River, and the wonders of the park.

One comment

  1. I did the Narrows at the end of January. Yes – it required renting a drysuit/boots, but it was SO worth it to be in there with a total of about 6 other people over all of the 10 total miles we did. It was a gorgeous, sunny day. We were very warm and comfy in our drysuits (which also help you float when you want to in the deeper sections). The boots and neoprene socks they provided gave us excellent traction. Plus they give you a handy walking stick 🙂 We had the whole canyon to ourselves most of the time. Water levels/flows were about the same as they are right now (in August). Plus, no shuttle bus! We just drove up, parked and walked into the river.

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