Hiking the Zion Narrows
The Narrows is an incredibly unique hike that takes you through knee to waist deep water of the Virgin River flowing through a towering slot canyon. It is also one of the most famous hikes in the park, Angel's Landing being its competition, so even in the winter months you can expect the Narrows to be extremely busy.
Route: There are two ways to hike the Narrows. First, is the 16 mile top-down version. This version is the longer and more challenging route, therefore it is the less popular of the two hikes. I would do this route as an overnighter to give you enough time to explore the area and enjoy the hike. This route requires a permit whether you choose to do it as a day hike or overnight hike (permits are available here). Hiking the Narrows top-down begins at Chamberlain's Ranch outside of the park and ends at the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop in the park. It will require two cars or the use of a shuttle service. You can take the park shuttle back from the Temple of Sinawava stop when you complete your hike but you will have to use a private company, such as Zion Adventure Company, to take you to Chamberlain's Ranch as the park shuttle doesn't access it.
The second route, or the bottom-up hike, is the more popular way to experience the Narrows and the hike Alex and I did. The bottom-up route begins at the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop, the last stop in the park. From the shuttle stop it is about a mile walk to the beginning of the hike and you enter the river. From here you can turn back at any point until you reach Big Spring at which point you must turn around because that area can only be accessed with a permit. The bottom-up route from the shuttle stop to Big Spring and back is 10 miles.
When to go: Summer and fall are the best seasons to experience this hike. The spring runoff usually means this hike can't be done in April and May because of the risk of flash floods. Summer storms can also produce flash floods. While it is not nearly as popular it is very possible to do this hike in winter with drysuits for those who are up for an extra challenge. No matter what season you go, always make sure to check current conditions at the visitor center before heading out.
Preparation: In the summer and fall you can complete this hike with very little preparation. Wear clothes you don't mind getting wet and sturdy waterproof shoes with toe-protection such as Keens and neoprene socks. Bring dry-bags for anything you don't want to get wet such as your camera or phone. Zion Adventure Company has these for rent if you do not want to purchase your own. Also available from Zion Adventure Company is a walking stick, which I highly recommend renting. Regular trekking poles are not suitable for this hike because the current is too strong for them. The walking sticks Zion Adventure Company provide are sturdy and hold strong against the current of the Virgin River.
If you are going to attempt this hike in the winter like Alex and I did you are going to need a drysuit to stay warm. Again, Zion Adventure Company can completely outfit you for this hike with neoprene socks, booties, a walking stick, and either drypants or a drysuit. I opted for an entire drysuit since I wasn't sure how deep the water would be and I didn't want to risk being submerged past the drypants. It turns out drypants would have been fine but the extra layer on top was a nice benefit.
What to expect: Unparalleled beauty from the very beginning! The views on this hike just keep getting better. There are so many phenomenal pictures of the Narrows online but none of them compared to experiencing it in person. Looking up at the towering walls, knowing the canyon was formed by rushing water is humbling. If you do the bottom-up version I recommend not turning around until after you reach the portion of the hike known as Wall Street. Echoing the Wall Street in NYC with skyscraper-like walls this was my favorite part of the hike. It was the the epitome of a hike through a slot canyon: a narrow berth, towering walls, and rushing water.
Alex and I got extra lucky and it snowed on us during our hike, which was a beautiful experience. We were alone in the Narrows with fat flakes circling down around us, we felt like little kids on Christmas!
I cannot recommend this hike enough to anyone who visits Zion. If you have only a day to explore Zion I would suggest using that day to hike the Narrows. There are other beautiful and well-known hikes in the park but nothing can compare to wading through the Narrows!
See more photos from Zion HERE!