The Narrows, Zion National Park

The Narrows River Walk – Zion National Park

Date of visit: Friday November 13th, 2015

Attractions/Places of Interest:

Officially the most popular hike in Zion National Park, the trail that is The Narrows follows the path of the Virgin River. The Narrows is the narrowest part of Zion Canyon, and can also be the most dangerous during treacherous weather conditions as there is risk of getting caught in a flash flood with nowhere to escape since the walls surrounding the river are over a thousand feet tall. Check the forecast before embarking and don’t risk it if any rainfall is predicted.

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There are several ways to approach the hike, but the most popular is going “Bottom Up”.

  • Bottom-Up Day Hike – Begins at the Temple of Sinawava (the free Zion Canyon shuttle can take you here) and most hikers average 6-8 miles round trip. A permit is not required if you choose this route. You will want to reach Orderville Canyon and Wall Street (about 1.5 miles from the starting point), and optionally continue another two miles to Big Springs. You can estimate it taking 2-3 hours to get to Wall Street and about 1.5-2.5 hours to get back to the Temple of Sinawava since you will be going gradually down hill (and down stream) once you turn back, making it easier.
  • Top-Down Day Hike – Only for very experienced and physically fit hikers. You will need to apply for a wilderness permit with NPS. This is the only way to experience the full 16 miles of the Narrows and typically takes 12-14 hours if you properly pace yourself. If you only want to get a general feel of what the Narrows is all about I suggest sticking to the bottom-up option but if you enjoy longer and more strenuous hikes then this may be a better option for you. The Top-Down hike starts at Chamberlain’s Ranch.
  • Top-Down Two Day Hike – If your pace is a bit slower you should opt for the two day hike, stopping to camp for the night at one of the twelve available campsites. Whether you choose the one day or two day top-down hike, make sure you have a way back to your car at Chamberlain’s Ranch or you hire a private drive to get you to the trailhead so you don’t need to retrieve your vehicle once you complete the hike.

You can read more about the trail itself over at NPS and the official website of Utah.

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Travel Gear:

Proper attire and hiking gear is crucial here – especially footwear. You will ideally want hiking shoes with very good grip, as you are hiking in the actual river and every rock you step on is very slippery. Trekking poles or a walking stick will also be a very helpful aide in helping you balance, check the depth of water, and keeping your stability.

I visited Zion in the middle of November – a time where the temperature of the water is not exactly warm. Because of this I would highly advise purchasing or renting Dry Pants, Neoprene socks, and proper boots that will ensure good grip and drain water as you hike. Avoid any shoes that contain Gore-Tex for this expedition as the material does not allow them to breathe and drain water. The dry pants will keep your underlayer completely dry, however the socks and boots are not meant to be waterproof but rather keep your feet warm. You will get used to the feeling within a few minutes.

There are numerous gear rental companies in Zion. Personally I can highly recommend Zion Outfitters. We went with the Dry Pants package for $41 and were very satisfied with our experience.

Another good idea (which I hadn’t thought of before my trip) is to get a dry bag for your valuables like your camera gear, phone, wallet, car keys, etc in case you do end up falling into the water. Thankfully no one in my group had any problems but if I had damaged my camera that would certainly ruin my trip.

For a full and up-to-date list of travel necessities and items that make your life easier while on the road whether it be hiking mountains or exploring cities, take a look at the Travel Essentials page.

Photo Gear:

You will most likely want to keep the photo gear as minimal as possible, especially due to the factor that you will be standing in water for several hours and the risk of dropping anything or falling over is an instant disaster. I walked most of the trail with my Nikon D600/Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 combo around my neck with no issues. I also had my Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 in my backpack along with my Sirui T-1205X and Induro BHD2 ballhead hanging from one of the straps. Since you’re shooting landscapes with running water, a good neutral density filter is a no-brainer here, just be careful screwing it on and off while in the water.

For a full and up-to-date list of all the photo equipment I regularly use, visit the Photo Gear page.