If you have a chance to visit Zion National Park among the millions of other visitors every year, you CANNOT miss your chance to make the Narrows hike. Seriously, 2019 is racking up close to 4.5 MILLION visitors and although the park is insanely busy in high season, the Narrows is your chance to step away from crowds and enter a secluded, slot canyon dream hike. Seriously, on this hike, I had to keep reminding myself that this was in fact real life! So, naturally, I needed to write this massive blog post and complete guide for preparing and hiking the Narrows. You’ll probably want to pour that cup of coffee now because we’re about to dive into over 6,700 words of detailed Narrows guide.
In this guide, I am going to cover the best time to hike the Narrows, the three different routes, how to obtain a Top-Bottom permit, transportation options, hiking details, photos of the trail, detailed trail descriptions, a Narrows packing list, and FAQ’s about the trail! Oh yeah. I’ve covered literally everything and slaved over this blog post for so long that it feels weird finally completing it, but here she is in all her glory!
This post may contain affiliate links for the products I mentioned, but as always, all opinions are my own. I make a small commission, at no extra cost to you, when you make a purchase or booking through these links. This helps to support this space and keep me blogging, which I am so extremely thankful for.
Planning a trip to Utah? Check out these other exciting destinations!
- 10 Jaw-Dropping Bryce Canyon National Park Hikes You CANNOT Miss
- Tower Arch Trail: The Best Hike In Arches National Park
The Best Time To Hike The Narrows
The best time to make The Narrows hike is in May, June, late September, and October. You don’t need to completely avoid the months of July and August, but they are the hottest months and have the highest risks of thunderstorms and flash flooding in the area.
I hiked the Narrows in mid-August and I made sure to double-check the water levels and weather reports in the area before heading out and the hike went fantastic! One thing I did note was that on the morning we hiked, the water levels were slow and shallow in the morning, around 6:00 am, and once we made our way out of the canyon, around 12:00 pm, the water levels were over a foot higher and significantly faster than what we encountered early on. For this reason, I recommend boarding the first shuttle to be one of the first hikers in the canyon. This will make the hike 100000x easier and less crowded in July and August.
You can make this hike during the Spring and Summer months, but renting or bringing along some type of drysuit is essential as the cold water temperatures can quickly cause hypothermia.
Choosing Your Route For the Narrows Hike
Whether this is your very first blog post about the Narrows that you’ve read, or if you are using this to help plan your hike, you’ll want to know that you have some options when it comes to tackling this slot canyon. In my opinion, the best part about these three different options is that there isn’t one that is better than the other. More adventurous? Maybe, but not “better”. Choosing your route is all based on what you’re comfortable with and what your experience level is, so let’s dive into these options so you can choose the best route for you.
Option 1 | Bottom-Up Route (No permit required)
The Bottom-Up Route is the best option if you aren’t interested in backpacking, pressed on time for your visit to Zion National Park, or if you don’t want to make the strenuous 16-mile day hike via Top-Bottom. The trail begins at the Temple of Sinawava on the north end of the Riverside Walk Trail. To access the trailhead, you’ll need to use Zion’s free park shuttle service and get off at the Temple of Sinawava. It’s the last stop.
One of the best features of this hike is that you can make it as easy or as difficult as you’d like. The best way to tackle this is to board the very first shuttle in the morning to make sure you’re one of the first people on the trail. In the late-mornings and afternoons, especially in the summer months, there are families and tourists absolutely everywhere, so getting their earlier allows you to enjoy the most beautiful parts of Zion Canyon without all the distractions. If you do happen to get to the canyon late and are hesitant for crowds, just know that the further you hike into the canyon, the fewer people there are.
If you’re adventurous and up to get absolute solitude, I highly recommend hiking up to Big Springs. When I made the Narrows hike, my friend and I turned around about 1/4 of a mile before Big Springs and we were more than satisfied with our experience. We started the trail at around 6:30 am and made it back to the bus stop at around 12:30 pm. If you have that kind of time to spend, I highly recommend it, but if not, at least make your way to Wall Street, the narrowest part of Zion Canyon and arguably the most beautiful. You’ll know you’re at the beginning of Wall Street once you spot Mystery Falls on the right side of the canyon. It’s not so much a waterfall, but more of a gentle trickle down the canyon wall. It’s hard to miss, but keep an eye out for it to keep track of where you are on the trail.
The Bottom-Up route for hiking the Narrows is the most popular hiking option in the park as it requires minimal pre-planning and it’s accessible for everyone. Since this is the hike that I was able to complete during my visit to Zion National Park, keep reading for what to pack for hiking the narrows, trail details, and tips for hiking the Narrows!
NOTICE: You CANNOT hike the entire 16 miles of the Narrows via the Bottom-Up Route. Once you make it to Big Springs, or campsite #12, you have to turn around.
Option 2 | Top-Bottom Day (or multi) Day Hike (permit required)
If you’re feeling adventurous and ready to take on one of Zion National Park’s greatest hikes, then the Zion Narrows Top-Bottom route is the route for you. What a lot of people don’t realize is that you can start at the top of Zion Canyon and hike all the way down into Zion National Park via the Harrows Top-Bottom route. This is a whopping 16-mile hike that can be conquered as a day hike, or divided between two days. I wouldn’t say that one is better than the other, but if you have more time to spare in Zion, then I recommend taking it slow and doing this hike as a multi-day backpacking trip just so you’re not exhausted when you explore other hikes in the park. However, if you’re ambitious and love to take on a challenge, you can do all 16-miles of the trail in one day. The average time for the day hike is roughly 12-15 hours, but it depends on your fitness levels and how fast you hike. I’ve heard some people complete this trail in 8.5 hours, but that doesn’t allow for many rest stops, additional exploration, or a leisurely hiking pace, so that is why I recommend making this an overnight backpacking trip.
The huge perk of this hike is that you’re going to see very few day hikers for around 2/3 of the entire trail. This route takes you to the widest and narrowest parts of Zion canyon that is truly a spectacular site to accompany your hike. Zion National Park has over 4 MILLION visitors every year, so to have an entire portion of Zion Canyon all to yourself is definitely something you’ll want to savor.
The trailhead for the Top-Bottom Route is outside of Zion at Chamberlain’s Ranch and you’ll need to book a shuttle to get to the trailhead as this hiking trail is one way, so if you drive your own car, you’ll have to carpool back out of the park once you arrive at the Temple of Senawava, inside Zion National Park. You can book your shuttle with any of the four companies that offer a shuttle service out of Springdale. For more in-depth information, read the section below this one for more information about booking a shuttle.
How To Obtain Your Narrows Hiking Permit
*Top-Bottom Hikers Only*
You need to book it through the National Park Service website. The permits are available exactly 3 months before the day you plan on hiking The Narrows. The permit reservations open on the fifth day of the month at 10 MST. A permit for a day hike and backpacking trip are two different permits, so make sure you differentiate between the two so you don’t accidentally book the wrong one.
When To Reserve Your Zion Narrows Permit
January 5 | for a trip in March
February 5 | for a trip in April
March 5 | for a trip in May
April 5 | for a trip in June
May 5 | for a trip in July
June 5 | for a trip in August
July 5 | for a trip in September
August 5 | for a trip in October
September 5 | for a trip in November
October 5 | for a trip in December
November 5 | for a trip in January
December 5 | for a trip in February
For reserving your backpacking permit, you also need to choose which campsite you’re going to set up at. You can view all the campsites here for the top-bottom route. There aren’t really any bad campsites, per se, so look at the photos and where they’re located on the trail to determine which one works best for you. Keep in mind that if you choose the first campsite, you’re going to have a longer hike for your second day in the canyon.
To make your reservation for your backpacking permit, go to Zion’s Wilderness Reservation Website. You can view all the available campsites from the drop-down menu and the parenthesis is the maximum group size for that campsite. On the website, you’ll see that there are only six campsites available to be reserved, but there is twelve campsites total in The Narrows. By looking at the drop-down menu you can see that there are only reserved permits open for sites 1,3,5,7,9 and 12, which means that 2,4,6,8, and 11 are for the first come first served walk-up permits.
If there are dates available for the reservable campsite that you want, all you need to do is click on the date and follow through with the booking process and you’ll have your permit. It’s only $5.00 USD to get the permit.
If there aren’t dates available for reservable campsites, you can test your luck with a walk-up permit for the other six campsites. Walk-up permits open the day before you intend on hiking at 7 am when the Permit Office opens in the Zion Visitors Center. If you didn’t snag the online reservation, then the walk-up permits are the perfect alternative for snagging one. You want to make sure you’re the first one to that office in the morning, especially in high season, so it’s a good idea to show up a little bit before 7:00, so your chances are better, or even higher. You’ll want to be the first in line.
If you get lucky enough to get a walk-up permit, you’ll want to make sure you call the Zion Shuttle Service ASAP to reserve a shuttle to Chamberlain Ranch.
If you plan on hiking The Narrows via the Top-Down route in one day, then you’ll need a canyoneering permit that you can reserve online here. From the drop-down menu select ‘Virgin Narrows Dayuse Trail From Top’ and the process is the same for the backpacking permit. Just remember that this permit is for hikers starting at the top of The Narrows starting in Chamberlain Ranch, outside of the park. If you are taking a shuttle within the park to the Temple of Sinawava, aka starting from the bottom (now we’re here lol), you do not need a permit.
If there are no reservations left for the day hike permit, you can put your name into the Online Last Minute Drawing. This is a luck-of-the-draw system that is open from 2 days (until noon), to 7 days before you intend on hiking The Narrows. The drawing takes place 2 days prior to your hiking day at 1 pm MST. It costs $5.00 USD to put your name in the drawing.
To put your name in you need to visit the Online Last Minute Drawing and select the ‘Virgin Narrows Dayuse Trail From Top’ from the drop-down menu and it’ll take you to a new screen that tells you what dates are available, how many permits are available, and the amount of people that have already entered the lottery system. All you need to do is select your date and permit and then pay the $5 USD to put your name in the drawing. The fee isn’t refunded even if you don’t get the permit, so cross your fingers!
If you miss out on the permit to hike The Narrows from the Top-Down Route, going from the Bottom is still an incredible hike. You cannot go the entire length of the canyon, but you can see some of the most beautiful parts on this hike. My tip is to board the very first shuttle to get there as earlier as possible to avoid crowds! If you happen to get there later and it’s a bit crowded, just remember that the farther you get into the canyon the fewer people there are! In my experience, once you pass Wall Street, you’ll only see a few people on the trail.
Transportation For The Narrows Hike
If you’re planning on hiking the Narrows in the summer months, you’ll have to take a shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava to get to the Bottom-Up trailhead. It’s the last stop on the Zion Shuttle Service. There are no cars allowed in Zion during this time, so you won’t be able to drive to get to the trail early, so you need to make sure you’re on that first, butt-crack-of-dawn leaving shuttle so that you maximize your experience in Zion Canyon. Once you’re done with the hike, you’ll meet back at the bus stop you were dropped off at so you can go back to your car.
The trailhead for the Top-Bottom hike is actually located outside of the park at Chamberlain’s Ranch, so once you secure your permit for this hike, you need to contact the Zion shuttle service to schedule a ride to the trailhead. There are four main Zion adventure companies that offer shuttles to Chamberlain Ranch, so you can compare these prices below to find what works for you. Technically, you can drive your own car, but you’re not going to want to find transportation back to the top to pick your car up. It’s best to book the shuttle as it only costs around $37-40 USD / person.
Zion Guru | ($45 / person) | 435.632.0432
Red Rock Shuttle | ($40 / person) | 435.635.9104
Zion Rock Guides | ($40 / person) | 435.772.3303
Zion Adventure Company | ($37 / person) | 435.772.1001
The drive time to the trailhead is around an hour and a half, and as you can probably guess, I recommend getting on the first shuttle offered with the tour company you book. Most shuttles leave around 6:00 am and then another at around 9:00 am. It’s important that once you secure your permit, you need to contact one of the shuttle services to secure your spot on the shuttle as they fill up very quickly. If you’re unable to book your shuttle, you’ll have to find alternative transportation.
Understanding Flash Floods + Flow Rates
(MUST Know before you go)
With great adventures comes great potential risks that you’ll want to know about before you head out to hike the Narrows. There are two things you need to check for before beginning your hike through this canyon: flash flood risks and the flow rate of the Virgin River.
No matter when you plan to hike the Narrows, it’s important that you know that flash floods are possible and something that you want to be educated on before you head out. A huge thing to note is that even if the weather forecasts are clear, flash floods are still probable even if there are storms miles and miles away. When you arrive in Zion, I recommend speaking with one of the park rangers about the current conditions and flash flood probability. There have been times where flash floods have happened even on days they weren’t expected, but it’s always important to stay informed and know the signs:
– Any change in weather conditions
– Build up of clouds and/or thunder
– Sudden changes in watercolor from clear to muddy
– Floating debris like leaves, sticks, and logs
– Rising water level and stronger currents
– An increasing roar of water up the canyon.
A flash flood can cause water levels to increase dramatically within seconds and even send a 12-foot wall of water down the canyon. The best thing you can do in this instance is to seek higher ground immediately, even if it is a couple of feet. If you have any other questions and concerns, speak to the rangers at Zion and check out the National Park Service’s Flash Flood page and the Narrows safety information page.
Understanding flow rates is actually quite simple, so don’t feel underwhelmed if you’re not a geological guru. The Narrows hike is unconsidered unsafe and will close if the flow rate of the river exceeds 150 cubic feet/second and ideal conditions are below 70 cubic feet/second. You are able to check flow rates on the US Geological Survey Website and you’ll see a graph that looks something like this:
The blue line is the current flow rate while the small yellow triangles are the average for the last 31 years, indicated by the graph labels. I hiked the Narrows in a flow rate of around 50 cubic feet/second in August for reference. If you’d like additional advice about the flow rate of the river, you can get more information from the park rangers at the Zion Visitors Center.
The Narrows Hiking Details (Bottom-Up)
Best Hiked | Summer Months (late May, June, mid-August, + late September)
Trail Length | 1-5 miles one way
Trail Difficulty | easy – strenuous
Trailhead Location | Temple of Sinawava
Hiking Time | 6 hours if hiking to Big Springs RT
Permits | No
The Narrows Hiking Details (Top-Bottom)
Best Hiked | Summer Months (late May, June, late September, + August)
Trail Length | 16 Miles (one-way trail)
Trail Difficulty | strenuous
Trailhead Location | Chamberlain Ranch
Hiking Time | ~12 Hours
Permits | Yes
Leave No Trace | Hiking The Narrows Responsibly
When planning and hiking through the Narrows it’s important to practice the Leave No Trace Seven Principles presented by the National Park Service so you can be a responsible and sustainable traveler. The Narrows is one of the most popular hikes in Zion National Park that brings in people from all around the world, and even more notably, those that do not respect nature. Vandalism and graffiti are seen mostly at the beginning of the canyon where most travels tend to hang out. What is careless and “not a huge deal” to some, is considered illegal vandalism to the Zion Rangers. Don’t make stone cairns. Don’t carve your name and year into rock and the canyon walls. Don’t leave your human waste on the trail. Don’t use the mud to splash it all over the walls of the canyon. It’s disrespectful. If you see any of these things happening, or any other acts of vandalism, ask them politely to stop and consider reporting them to the park rangers.
The Seven Principles
Plan Ahead + Prepare
Travel + Camp on Durable Surfaces
Dispose of Waste Properly
Leave What You Find
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
On The Narrows Hike (Bottom-Top Route Hiking Details)
The best way to hike up the canyon is in a zig-zag pattern up the canyon. There are small patches of land on some sides of the canyon, so make it your goal to cross one to get to another. The river is going to be flowing down the canyon in the opposite way you are hiking so a technique that helped me was using my stick almost as a crutch against the flowing water. It only takes 6″ of water to knock you off your feet, so this helped me keep my balance and I’m glad I had one.
The Narrows hike is relatively straightforward but unmarked, so you need to pay attention to these eight markers that will help you identify where you are on the trail.
The hike begins at the Temple of Sinawava, the last stop on the Zion Shuttle as I have mentioned before and you’ll hop off the bus and see the Riverside Walk Trailhead as well as some bathrooms to use before you head out. The Riverside Walk is a mile-long, paved trail that will take you to the beginning of the Narrows. It’s relatively straight forward so just follow the path and it’ll take you to the opening of the canyon and into the water.
From this point forward, you’re going to encounter calf to knee to waist-deep water up for the majority of the hike although you may encounter chest-deep water in some pockets and even water deep enough for a short, but sweet, swim. The flow rate of the river is generally mild, but it only takes 6 inches of water to knock you off balance and there are some parts of the river that are deeper than others. If you find yourself in a deep pocket, use your stick to poke around and find a more shallow, alternative route as they’re generally close to the deep pockets. Since the water is always flowing, the base of the canyon is made up of various sized, rounded rocks that can be difficult to walk on since they can be quite slippery and awkward to step on. If you have the stick rental or trekking poles, they make it drastically easier to balance and feel your way around the rocks, so I highly recommend bringing them along.
After about 1/2 mile from the Gateway of the Narrows, you’re going to come across Mystery Falls. What may seem like a powerful, and a magical waterfall pouring down the side of the canyon is really, as what our shuttle driver described, as a soft, sad-looking trickle down the side of the canyon on the right side. The name can be a bit misleading, in my opinion, which can make hikers question it whenever they arrive at it, so if you see that small flow of water on the right, that is the infamous, yet underwhelming Mystery Falls.
After passing Mystery Falls, you’ll hike around 2.5 miles, passing two alcoves, to the beginning of Wall Street, the narrowest part of the canyon. This is where you’ll be in the water till the Wall Street ends, about a mile until you reach Big Springs. This is an area that you DO NOT want to be in the event of a flash flood since there is no way to take shelter, just something to note. Right up the way from Wall Street is an optional detour through Orderville Canyon to see Veiled Falls.
Optional Detour Through Orderville Canyon to Veiled Falls
You will see the opening to Orderville canyon on the right side of the Narrows a stone’s throw away from Wall Street. This is an optional detour that has less flowing water taller canyon walls, and a dark aura that is just magical. Although it does require some obstacles like rock-climbing and light swimming to navigate in order to reach the falls. The waterfall is only a 1/2 mile up Oderville Canyon and you cannot hike any further past it. If you are an experienced climber, there is the option to go up the waterfall and explore a little bit more, but it is way more difficult to go back down than it is to go up, so if you don’t have experience climbing I don’t recommend it. Once you admire the falls, you can make your way back down the 1/2 mile back to the beginning of Wall Street. It should be a right turn out of the Oderville Canyon Tributary.
Continuing up Wall Street, the canyon stays dark and narrows with no options for seeking higher ground in the event of a flash flood. Once you hike about a mile up Wall Street, that’s when the scenery cools down and most people turn around to head back into the canyon. However, if you’re up for an adventure, then you can take on the next section that entails navigating and climbing over huge boulders that block parts of the river. If you want to avoid deeper pockets of water, then you can search for alternative routes. There is always a way around or over the boulders, so don’t let a puzzle turn you away. You’ll know you arrived in this section when the canyon opens up and you’ll see a massive boulder ahead that looks almost the size of the width of the canyon. This is where my friend and I stopped to eat our sandwiches and then we turned around to make it out of the Narrows by around 12:00-12:30 pm.
If you choose to take on the boulders and make it past them, the trail mellows out and then it’s around 1/2 a mile to Big Springs. This is an area of the canyon where there are small waterfalls coming out of the sides of the canyon with small springs you can splash around in. Big Springs is campsite #12 for Top-Bottom hikers and the mandatory stopping point those of you taking the Bottom-Up route. You can not travel any further upstream. After you’ve relished in the scenery, relaxed, and snapped some photos, you can turn around and head back to the Temple of Sinawava where you’ll board the shuttle back to the car.
The Narrows Day Hike Checklist
- Dry Bag or Waterproof Backpack
- Walking Stick or Trekking Poles
- Lightweight (Close-toed) Trail Runners or Boot Rental
- Neoprene Socks (comes with boot rental)
- Longsleeve Thermal Baselayer
- The Perfect Pair of Hiking Shorts
- Hydro Flask
- Lunch + Snacks
- Camera or Waterproof Action Camera
- Phone (no signal the entire way)
- Trail Map
Special Gear For The Narrows Hike
To Rent or Bring Along If you have it
Waterproof Backpack or Dry Bag
No matter how far into the canyon you may be hiking, you’ll want to consider bringing along a dry bag or waterproof backpacking to keep your gear dry. Especially if you have any type of technology with you. I didn’t end up bringing a waterproof backpack and I kid you not, the whole way through the canyon I was wishing I had one in case I had to swim further than I had, or if I fell.
You can pick one up whenever at any of the outfitters in Springdale listed below. You don’t need to reserve it so you can walk in and pick one up, or grab one while you’re getting your boot rentals.
Walking Stick or Trekking Poles
The giant, ‘forest dweller‘ walking stick may seem a little excessive, but it actually helped A TON while navigating the Narrows. On the entire way up, you’re crossing unstable, slippery rocks against the flow of the river, so I enjoyed having this huge stick to help me keep my balance along the way. At times, it did get in the way, but I would have been miserable had I not had one.
If you don’t want to rent a stick, there is the option to bring trekking poles if you have some, but many people advise against it since they could break or get stuck between rocks. However, I know many people that have hiked through the Narrows with trekking poles just fine, though. Choose whatever method is the most comfortable and cost-effective for you. There isn’t really a wrong way to go in my opinion.
Proper Footwear + Neoprene Socks
I saw a lot of people entering the Narrows with those Chaco sandals, or any other type of hiking sandal for that matter and having a VERY hard time getting past the flow of the river and getting over the rocks. You do not want to wear sandals on this hike. You’ll want to bring a pair of close-toed, trail runners and/or boots. I know of lots of people that hiked the Narrows in their own tennis shoes and made it out just fine, sans blisters and bruises, so if you don’t want to rent the boots, just bring along a lightweight pair of trail runners that you have at home. However, I liked renting the boots for a couple of reasons: your regular hiking shoes/boots stay dry, your shoes don’t get waterlogged, and your feet stay warm. I talked to the ladies at Zion Guru and they highly recommended renting the gear for this hike. My friend and I went with their advice and we had a great time.
Where To Rent Narrows Hiking Gear
*= Aaren’s Choice
Tips For Hiking The Narrows
Board the earliest shuttle and get there 15 minutes early.
I’m not kidding when I say there was an ABSOLUTE SWARM of people when my friend and I finished this hike around noon. We made it a point to board the first shuttle and we had the entire canyon to ourselves for the majority of the hike. I don’t know how the crowds would be anytime after that, but this way you’re guaranteeing that you’re the first one into the canyon right off the bat, besides hikers coming from the top. The shuttle system hours change by the season, but you can view the most current schedule here.
There are free walking sticks at the entrance (if you get there early enough).
Waking stick rentals are around $7.00 USD if you rent them, but come to find out you can actually get them at the beginning of the Narrows, at the end of the Riverside Walk Trail. There is a small pile on the right side that you can’t miss. Pick one up that feels right for you and make sure to return it once you make it back!
At the minimum, hike to Wall Street (2 hours in).
Wall Street is known for being the most beautiful part of the Narrows, and little do most people know, if you happen to make it to the Narrows late and want to avoid crowds, hiking to and past Wall Street will give you that secluded canyon experience that you want. Most people hike about a mile into Wall Street and then turn around, so everything past it is game for those seeking a remarkable experience.
Pay attention to the height and flow rate of the river as you hike.
It’s important that you pay attention to these things as you hike so that you don’t end up in danger or dead. As long as you read my section in this blog post “Understanding Flash Floods + Flow Rates” you’ll be just fine. The outfitters will also give you a run down about what to look out for whenever you pick up your rental equipment and you can ask them any other questions that you have.
Take your time + look up.
Need I say more?
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) About The Narrows Hike
What Are The Narrows?
The Narrows is the is the ‘narrowest’ (hah, clever) section of Zion Canyon. The slot canyon is situated on the north fork of the Virgin River and runs 16 miles from top to bottom. The gorge’s walls are hundreds of feet tall while the river is only around 20-30 feet wide. It’s every hiker’s dream to take this hike for its raw beauty and stoke. It’s one of the most popular hikes in Zion National Park and known for being one of the most scenic hikes in the world.
Where are the Narrows located in Zion National Park, Utah?
The Narrows is on the northern side of Zion National Park and can be accessed via the Temple of Sinawava using the Zion Shuttle Service (Bottom-Top hikers) or at the Zion Narrows Upper Trailhead (TOP TO BOTTOM HIKERS ONLY – PERMIT REQUIRED) that is located outside of the park.
Do I need a guide to hike the Narrows?
No, you do not need a guide. The trail is pretty self-explanatory since you hike into the canyon and once you’ve gone as far as you’d like, then you just turn around!
Is The Narrows hike dangerous?
The Narrows is a safe hike, but if the flow rate of the water is high and there are flash flood warnings, then it can become very unsafe, very fast. There are risks to every hike you take, but make sure you check the conditions before you start the trail. I talk more about flash floods and flow rates further down in this blog post. The National Park Service will close the trail if the flow rate of the river is too high (above 150 / cubic feet per second CFS) or if there are flash floods in the area, so you’ll know whether it’s safe or not. You can check the trail conditions here and check the flow rate of the Virgin River here. When in doubt, ask a park ranger and they’ll give you great advice.
How cold is the water in The Narrows?
The water temperature varies from season to season, but it generally stays at or below 50 F. In the Spring and Winter months, the water can dip into the 30s and in that case, you’ll need to consider renting some type of wetsuit to prevent hypothermia. I recommend going to Zion Guru to get more information if you’re considering doing this hike in the colder months. If you’re hiking the Narrows in the summer months, your daily hiking gear will serve you just fine. I hiked The Narrows in August of 2019 and the water temperature was around 50-60 F. We started the hike as early as you can get to the trailhead, so we started off a bit chilly, but once the sun entered the canyon it felt quite nice.
How fit do I need to be?
This all depends on which way you are going. If you’re making the Zion Narrows hike from the Bottom-Up, then generally people of all fitness levels can enter the canyon and experience this since you can turn around whenever you’d like. If you’re hiking from Top-Bottom, then you’re going to need a bit more stamina. Beginning this hike from the top and doing it as a day hike requires you to withstand around 11+ hours straight of hiking with the weight of your backpack on your back. If you’re doing this as a backpacking trip, then you can divide the hike by half, but you’re going to have a lot more gear with you. The hike is relatively flat, so you won’t be gaining any crazy elevation, but starting from the Top is a bigger challenge to take on then beginning from the bottom. I’d say most moderate-experienced hikers and backpackers look forward to the Top-Bottom hike.
Do I need a permit?
If you’re hiking the Narrow bottom to top, no you don’t need a permit. If you’re hiking The Narrows from top to bottom, yes you’ll need a permit, whether you’re making it a day or multi-day hike.
Are the boots and stick rental worth it/Do I have to get it?
Technically, you don’t HAVE to get the stick and boot rental, BUT I highly recommend that you do it for a couple of reasons. The biggest plus to doing this is that if you’re planning more than one day in Zion, then you’re not going to have to deal with soggy socks and hiking boots after you’re finished with the hike. The stick is a big help in giving stability and feeling for the height of rocks in front of you. You can see the bottom of the river most of the time anyway, but it can be harder to see if the flow of the river picks up. My friend and I were back and forth about getting them, but after reading all of the recommendations and completing the hike, I can say that you’re going to want them.
Where is the best place to rent the boots and stick? How much does it cost to rent them?
I paid $25 for my boot and stick rental at Zion Guru. The staff there is excellent and they’ve done most of the hikes in and outside of Zion, so if you’re looking for other awesome hikes or recommendations, they’re the best!
Are you hiking in the river the entire way?
The first mile of the trail is a paved walkway to the beginning of the canyon and every mile after that is going to be in the river. Generally, the water won’t pass your waist, but if you venture down past Wall Street, the narrowest part of the canyon, then there are portions where my friend and I had to swim a small distance and the water level was up to our chests. I am 5’8″ for reference and she’s around 5’5″ ish (maybe 5’6″ lol). But yes, you’re walking through the river for the majority of the hike.
Is the water safe to drink?
If you’re making this a day hike from the bottom, then no, the water isn’t safe to drink even with a filter. If you’re planning the top-down route, the water is undrinkable, even with a filter, from Chamberlain’s Ranch to Deep Creek (Mile 9). Once you arrive at the first campsites, then you’ll be able to drink the water with a proper filter.
What do I do if I need to pee/poo?
It’s recommended that if you need to pee then you go in flowing water in the river and if you need to poop, well, do your business, but you have to pack it out with you to abide by the leave no trace rules. If you don’t want to do that, then you’ll have to hold it until you get back to the restroom by the bus stop.
Will I regret skipping The Narrows?
If you know for a fact that you’ll be back to explore Zion in the future, then I would take your time exploring the things that excite you the most. If you have limited time, I highly recommend seeing it over skipping it. The best part about this hike is that you can make it as long or as short as you would like, so if you’re limited on time, you can still manage to see a portion of this.
Would you dare take on the Zion Narrows hike? Let me know in the comments below!
Did you enjoy this guide for the Zion Narrows hike? Save it for later on Pinterest!