What is the Zion Narrows Hike?
What it says on the tin, the Zion Narrows Hike is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon and it is one of the most famous and fulfilling hikes in the world.
Located at the farthest end of Zion National Park in Utah, hikers embark on a mile long scenic stroll along the Riverside Walk, historically known as the Gateway to the Narrows, in a natural amphitheater called the Temple of Sinawava.
The Riverside Walk hosts approximately 3,000 people a day in the summer, because it leads to the part of Zion Canyon where the Navajo Sandstone walls close in and water guides a pathway to the world renowned Zion Narrows.
The diverse trek through the narrows of Zion’s spectacularly sloped canyon is one of the most breathtaking adventures in the United States of America. You really have to see it to believe it, the Zion Narrows hike is probably the best hike in any American National Park.
The hike can be done in a long day and the total distance stretches 16 miles. The average time taken to complete the hike is 13 hours purely because the trek is mostly through a river, shallow enough to walk through with hips above water (adults).
Anywhere beyond the Big Spring (10 miles in) requires a permit from the Visitor’s Center.
What to expect on the Zion Narrows Hike
Stop by the Visitor’s Center
The most important factor to consider with the Zion Narrows Hike is the weather. Hiking is not permitted when the river is high which is during the winter and the end of April to early May. Occasional thunderstorms in the summer also produce on the Zion Narrows Hike.
The first step is to check with the rangers at the visitor center for current conditions. Always follow their advice.
Hiking the Zion Narrows is usually best during summer and fall and a few people take to the trail during winter and spring, when the water is cold. This is only advised for experienced hikers wearing wet or dry suits.
Take the Zion Shuttle Bus
From the Visitor’s Center, you will more than likely be advised to start at the bottom of the Zion Narrows Hike. Other routes are only advised for experienced and athletic hikers and climbers. Due to the Zion roadways and traffic flows, the only way to get to the Gateway to the Narrows is by shuttle bus by exiting at the last stop on the shuttle road, the Temple of Sinawava.
The Zion Shuttle bus is free and they run every 7-15 minutes.
The Riverside Walk
From the Temple of Sinawava, there is a flat mile-long paved Riverside Walk that leads right up to the river.
Zion’s Riverside trail will take you right by lush vegetation, wildlife, cliff edges and plenty of spots to rest and picnic.
Stand right beside the Canyon in awe as you make your way to the end of the trail where there is the option to continue on to the Narrows.
There is no physical requirement here to enter the Virgin River but you can if you choose to.
Mini beaches, carvings and weeping rocks
The Riverside Walk is an easy flat hike and can be enjoyed by all. It’s a mile long and so many beautiful features and views of the surrounding canyons can be experienced as well as the sight of hikers entering the Narrows trail at the end.
Stop off at one of the mini beaches right by the Virgin River for some of the most epic photography opportunities you will find in the country.
Enjoy the splashes from the never ending weeps of the cliff edges that drench the surrounding vegetation.
If you don’t intend to participate in the Zion Narrows Hike, we recommend this short 1 mile trail as there are so many incredible stop off points to enjoy.
Swim in the Virgin River and explore the countless natural and unnatural features such as painting and carvings on the Zion cliff edges.
Don’t miss the Riverside walk on your itinerary. Pack snacks, water and sunscreen/jackets depending on the season.
Into the River
At the end of the Riverside Walk the paved trail ends and hikers enter the water. The river becomes the trail, and though it looks a little daunting as others wade through the rocks and water, your feet will not be under water for the whole duration of the Zion Narrows Hike.
The terrain at the bottom of the water is very rocky and can be slippy and sharp. Be sure to wear good strong hiking shoes with high performing treads. Most hikers took sticks to aid balance when treading over the rock.
DO NOT attempt to hike the Zion Narrows barefoot or wearing poor performing fashion shoes such as Crocs or flip flops.
With walls a thousand feet tall and the Virgin River sometimes only twenty to thirty feet wide, you can enjoy the sight of hikers wading upstream into the depths of the canyon until they can go no more.
The water is mostly knee to shin deep and there are times where it can be waist deep so be sure to pack everything into a waterproof bag and take items out of your pockets.
The trail will provide a partial pathway alongside the river so you will have the opportunity to stop off and dry out occasionally.
You will absolutely get wet on the trail, there’s no avoiding the river, we managed to complete the trail only wet to our hips.
The Narrows hike ends where it begins, you have to walk back the way you came to get back onto the Riverside Walk. Remember, pack light, take emergency supplies including a torch and supplies for an overnight stay.
Wear the best hiking shoes you have, neoprene socks and prepare to be soaked. Take hiking sticks, plenty of drinking water and head out on the Zion Narrows Hike as early as you can.
Around 2.5 miles into the canyon, you will find Orderville Gulch. Most casual hikers don’t make it this far, and it is one of the most iconic sights in the park.
It is here where Canyoneers scramble to the top of Orderville Gulch, hike down it and then onto the lower narrows, and end the hike at Temple of Sinawava.
(Orderville is a semi-technical slot canyon that requires short rappels, serious scrambling and much wading. A permit is required to hike it.)
For more information on the Zion Narrows, check with the National Park Service on weather conditions, river flow and general advice.
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