If you are looking for an unforgettable adventure during your visit to Zion National Park, hike The Narrows.
The hike has all of the elements of a great adventure. You are walking through the elements, journeying to the unknown, experiencing incredible landscapes, all while overcoming obstacles along the way.
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I’m sharing tips and information that are important to know before you hike The Narrows.
What is The Narrows?
The Narrows is a popular hike in the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. Living up to its name, the river can sometimes be as narrow as 20-30 feet and the walls of the gorge, a thousand feet tall.
You can walk a paved one-mile trail to see some of The Narrows but the best views are when you experience The Narrows up close by walking/wading upstream in the Virgin River.
Two Types of Hike Options at The Narrows
There are two types of hike options to choose from when visiting The Narrows that both have wet and relatively flat, rocky terrain.
Bottom-Up Narrows Hike
The Bottom-Up Narrows Hike is a moderate hike that’s also the most popular hike of the two options because it’s shorter and doesn’t require a permit.
The trailhead is at the Temple of Sinawava, the final stop of the Zion Shuttle on the Scenic Drive. This trailhead can only be accessed by the Zion Shuttle from March – November.
(This is the hike that our family chose to do during our visit.)
You start on the one-mile paved Riverside walk followed by trekking upstream in the Virgin River.
2.5 miles from the trailhead there is a fork in the river that you will encounter. If you go to the right you’ll see Orderville Canyon. This canyon is a short hike with very narrow walls, shallow water and is relatively easy to hike.
The fork is a popular spot to explore and then turn around. If you choose to continue farther, all of the bottom-up hikers are required to turn back at Big Spring, a 20 ft waterfall that’s on the left side.
*Keep an eye on weather reports and water conditions because flash flooding can cause this trail to be closed.
The Top-Down Narrow Hike is a strenuous hike.
This hike starts at Chamberlain’s Ranch and requires a shuttle to the dirt road and the hike concludes at Temple of Sinawava.
Water flow and road conditions can cause closures for this hike.
Hikers start at Chamberlain’s Ranch and go west along a dirt road next to the stream for 3 miles. Next, they hike in the river for the next 6 miles. At mile 9 there is increased water flow. There are campsites for backpacking groups in the next 3 miles before Big Spring, that can have water chest-deep or higher.
2.5 miles after Big Spring hikers will be at The Narrows junction with Orderville Canyon. This is where you will encounter crowds of Bottom-Up hikers for the next 1.5 miles until you reach the 1-mile paved hike to the Temple of Sinawava trailhead.
Do You Need a Permit to Hike The Narrows?
Bottom-Up Narrows Hike does NOT require a permit beginning at the Temple of Sinawava. You can go as far as Big Spring without a permit.
Top-Down Narrow Hike DOES require a Zion Wilderness Permit for both day hikes and backpacking trips. Check for permit availability online for your desired date.
Do You Need a Guide to Hike The Narrows?
You don’t have to have a guide to go hiking in The Narrows. The National Park does allow commercial companies to provide services for the Bottom-up Narrow hikers only.
The downside of a guided commercial group is that those guides are required to turn back at Orderville Canyon, located 1.5 miles past the end of the paved path.
If you only went that far, you would MISS some of the parts of The Narrows that you could have seen on your own without a guide.
How Long Does it Take to Hike the Narrows?
Bottom-Up Narrows Hike
It takes about 5-6 hours on average to hike The Narrows and could range anywhere from 4-8 hours.
This is the most popular option. It’s also the hike that we chose to do as a family for time purposes with only 1 day in the park.
This is an out-and-back hike and the beauty of it is that you can turn around at any point to adjust your time.
Top-Down Narrow Hike takes about 10- 13 hours as a day hike and 12-18 hours with backpacking gear.
How Long of a Distance Are the Hikes at The Narrows?
Bottom-Up Narrows Hike is 3-10 miles round-trip. The hike is done as an out-and-back allowing hikers to turn back at any point.
Top-down Narrows Hike is 16 miles one way.
How to Plan Ahead for Your Narrows Hike at Zion
In order to have the best experience possible, you’re going to need to prepare for your hike to The Narrows prior to your arrival.
You Need to Purchase Zion Canyon Shuttle Tickets in Advance
One of the biggest things that you need to do in advance of your hike to The Narrows is to purchase your shuttle tickets for Zion National Park ahead of time.
Visitors are not allowed to drive to these areas on their own and you must use a shuttle to get there.
The non-refundable tickets are only $1 per person and you can only access other areas of Zion National Park by shuttle.
The shuttle provides access along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive to areas including Emerald Pools, West Rim Trail and Angels Landing, the Riverside Walk, and the Narrows.
*Check if there are shuttle stop closures before you arrive.
You can use the same ticket to get off and on the shuttle as many times as you want, once you are in Zion Canyon.
You will need a shuttle ticket for each day that you want to ride the shuttle. It’s important that you pay attention to the boarding time and the date on your ticket.
Zion Canyon Shuttle tickets are available online for one-hour blocks between 7 am and 2 pm. There may be an afternoon walk-up available after 2pm.
Ideally, you’ll want to pick as early of a time slot as possible for your shuttle if you plan on hiking The Narrows or Angels Landing so that you have enough time to make it back to the bus stop before the last shuttle bus of the day.
*FYI- If you walk or bike into Zion Canyon, you’ll still need a ticket if you want to ride a shuttle later in the day.
How Do You Purchase a Zion Canyon Shuttle Ticket?
Advanced tickets for the Zion Canyon Shuttle are released twice a month, on the 16th and the last day of the month.
If you can’t secure an advanced shuttle ticket, there are additional tickets released online at 5:00 p.m for the following day.
You can print the shuttle tickets or I recommend taking a screenshot of the QR code of each ticket prior to arrival. That way you still have access to the code if you don’t have good cell service on your phone inside the park.
The last option for shuttle tickets is the afternoon walk-up tickets that are available from 2-4 pm for free, first-come, first-serve at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center.
Private Shuttle Options
If you couldn’t get your preferred time slot for the Zion National Park shuttle there are private shuttle companies that you can book through.
Red Rock Shuttles is pricer than the $1 Zion Shuttle but it could be worth it to get into the park at your desired time, especially if you only have one day at the park.
What’s It Like to Hike the Narrows?
If you like “creeking” you will like The Narrows. You will be walking upstream through the water of the Virgin River at the beginning of your hike.
You must get your feet wet since there is no trail.
During our hike, there were a few times where we could walk on the rocks outside of the water but it’s impossible to have dry shoes the whole time.
There were a few beach areas along the way that were a great spot to stop and hydrate.
Most people start their hike from the Temple of Sinawava via the Riverside Walk. You walk the 1-mile paved trail until it ends and then start walking upstream as far as you want to go.
We went beyond the fork to the left for a little while but the rocks became increasingly more slippery the farther we walked upstream past the fork.
The return hike went really fast with the advantage of walking with the current vs. against it.
When Are the Best Times to Hike the Narrows?
Late spring and summer have warmer water temperatures and lower water levels. There is also more risk of a flash flooding during these seasons.
If you visit in the winter or early spring you’ll have higher water levels and cold water temperatures.
If snowmelt in the spring raises the river to over 150 CFS The Narrows can be closed. The Narrows also closes if there is a flash flood warning issued and remains closed 2 hours after the warning is lifted.
The weather in the fall is more ideal but the water temperature is colder and daylight is shorter.
How High is the Water at The Narrows?
That answer has a lot of factors depending on the time of year and the weather (rainfall and snowmelt.)
We visited The Narrows in mid-April. The air temperature was in the low 60’s and there was not a forecast for rain that day. We did briefly feel a few rain sprinkles on our way back to the start of the trail.
During our hike, we mostly experienced ankle and knee-deep water levels for the majority of the time. There were a few instances when the water was waist-deep.
Are Flash Floods a Potential Risk?
Yes. You’ll want to keep an eye on the forecast. Do NOT hike The Narrows if rain is forecasted the day of your hike.
It’s also important to check the website for its flash flood potential during your visit.
Flooding in The Narrows can be possible at any time. The rocks at The Narrows don’t absorb water which means that water levels can rapidly rise within minutes and put hikers at risk of being stranded, injured, or worse.
Your Safety is Your Responsiblity
Pack snacks and water to help keep you energized and hydrated during your adventure.
It’s important that you take ownership of your safety during the hike. That includes constantly monitoring the weather and Flash Flood potential rating.
You may need to have a backup plan if the weather changes or if The Narrows is closed due to flood risk.
Make sure that everyone in your group understands the risks, has the right gear, and is physically able to do a hike on slippery and sometimes unstable rocks.
Be prepared for your hike because rescue isn’t a certainty.
What Time Should You Start Your Hike?
You want to get as early of a start as possible. They do not recommend starting your hike at noon or later so that you can make it back in time for the last shuttle of the day.
Is The Narrows a Family-friendly Hike?
I would say that answer depends on several factors. The age of your kids, their temperament, the weather, and the water levels.
If your kids enjoy playing in a creek, it’s an amplified experience of that. Keep in mind that the water level on an adult is higher for a child.
I wouldn’t recommend visiting in the winter or spring without the proper gear because the water level is higher and the water temperature is really cold.
Our teenage boys LOVED the hike. I also want to note that one of them “accidentally” tripped the other one in the deeper water which resulted in one drenched kid due to all of the water that went into his waders.
Thankfully I packed my jacket in a dry bag and he was able to take off his soaked and cold sweatshirt underneath his waders.
Summer and early fall would be a great time to visit when water levels are lower if you prefer warmer temperatures.
What Type of Gear Do You Need for the Narrows Hike?
The right gear will make a big difference for your experience at The Narrows.
Dress in layers so that you can remove or add layers as necessary depending on the outside temperatures. You can wear regular hiking clothes underneath your waders.
Try to stay clear of cotton clothing if possible. Athletic types of clothing do well because they dry quicker.
- Close-toed shoes- preferably waterproof hiking boots made for canyoneering
- Hiking stick
- Dry Bag– Keep extra clothing and snacks dry
- Seasonally appropriate synthetic layers
- Neoprene booties
- First Aid Kit
- Waterproof Cell Phone Case
- Waders – during cooler water temperature months
Do Your Feet Get Wet?
Yes, they still get wet when you walk in water above your ankle.
The neoprene socks make it so that your feet aren’t freezing by providing insulation. They also can also reduce your chances for blisters compared to other types of socks including wool or cotton.
Do You Have to Rent Gear to Hike the Narrows?
No, gear rental is not required to hike The Narrows but I honestly wouldn’t recommend hiking The Narrows without the proper gear. We flew into Las Vegas and it was nice to not have to pack extra gear for one-time use.
We saw several people on the hike without the proper gear and they looked very cold and struggled to keep their balance without a walking stick to help them keep their balance. It isn’t as safe and didn’t look like as much fun.
Do You Need to Rent Gear in Advance for The Narrows?
Zion Outfitter doesn’t require advance reservations for equipment rentals. Your best odds for renting gear the day of your hike are in the morning when they have plenty of everything in stock. You will want to make sure that you get there especially early if it’s a holiday weekend.
If you rent in advance you can pick up your gear the evening prior to your hike after 4pm at no additional fee if there is inventory available at that time.
They also have dry suit options for kids about age 8+ (depending on their height and size). These are a great option during late Spring and Fall when water temps and flow are moderate.
Save the Wear and Tear On Your Shoes and Gear
Don’t risk ruining your hiking boots by having them become stretched. A perk of renting the canyoneering boots is that they are specifically designed for hiking through the water.
The boots are made for uneven terrain and provide traction on wet rocks while providing ankle support.
The boots are worn with a neoprene sock which is basically a wetsuit for your foot. Neoprene insulates your foot and causes much fewer blisters than a wet cotton/wool sock.
I would also recommend using the hiking stick vs. your own trekking poles. The hiking stick is more stable than trekking poles and won’t get bent or jammed between the rocks.
Where to Rent Gear for The Narrows Hike
You can rent your gear at Zion Outfitter. They are located next to the park in the city of Springdale at 7 Zion Park Blvd., Springdale, Utah. It’s only a two-minute walk from the Zion Visitor Center.
The price for the dry bib package was around $55 a person during our visit. In my opinion, it was totally worth it for the experience.
Our rental included waders, neoprene booties, Addidas waterproof hiking boots, and a walking stick. I also rented a dry bag which came in handy during our hike.
They offer 10% off rental prices to groups of 8 or more. If you have a really large group you will want to contact Zion Outfitters in advance of your visit.
Where to Park if You Are Renting Gear
There is free parking available at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center but those spots can fill up quickly.
If you park near Zion Outfitters in Springdale you are within a short walk of the pedestrian entrance across the bridge.
It’s a $25 fee for a day permit that you purchase at the kiosk machine in the lot. The parking lot is free for 2 hours but don’t try to park for longer than that without paying or you’ll likely be coming back to a parking ticket.
These spaces also fill up quickly so once again its best to arrive early for your best chances of securing a parking spot.
*If you visit in the winter months of December to February the parking lot is free on the days the Zion Canyon and Springdale Shuttles aren’t in service.
There is also a free Springdale Shuttle available to bring you from your vehicle to the park pedestrian entrance.
Where is Zion National Park Located?
Zion National Park is located at 1 Zion Park Blvd. State Route 9. Springdale, Utah.
Need a Place to Stay?
We stayed 3 nights at the Cannonville/ Bryce Canyon KOA Holiday in a deluxe cabin. It’s a great location to use as a base camp to explore Southern Utah.
Check out more of my tips for visiting the National Parks on a Budget.