The cold water was up to my thighs and gushed fairly strongly against me.
I planted my walking stick firmly in front of me and moved my back leg forward, pushing against the flow of water. I carefully felt the rocks beneath me and when I felt stable, shifted my weight forward. In this way, I slowly moved forward, upstream and angling across the river to a narrow rocky beach barely two feet/ 60 cm wide on the other side of the river.
On either side of the river, sheer cliffs, about 20 feet/ 6 m apart, rose straight up to the sky for about 1,000 feet/ 300 m, leaving a narrow strip of blue directly above me.
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The Narrows Hike in Zion National Park Overview
The United States has incredible national parks, and I had done plenty of hikes, but I had never done river hiking before, nor had I hiked in a slot canyon (a very narrow canyon with very high and steep walls). The Narrows hike, a famous hike in Zion National Park, involves both.
When researching Zion National Park, I discovered that there are actually several legendary Zion Canyon hikes, including Angel’s Landing and the Subway. But consistently, one of the absolute best hikes in Zion National Park I had read about was the Zion water hike … the Zion Canyon Narrows hike … the most famous of the Zion slot canyon hikes… the famed Zion river walk …
You have to hike in the river most of the way because there is no path. There is no path because the river runs through a canyon that’s only about 20 feet wide at its narrowest point. It sounded fun, so when Kevin and I were visiting Zion National Park, it, along with rappelling down the canyons, was high on our list of things to do.
Essential Information for Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park
There are several things to consider before doing this hike.
How to hike the Narrows
There are a couple of ways to access the narrows:
- On a guided tour
There are several tours you can take that include not only Zion National Park, but also nearby parks such as Bryce Canyon. This is a great option if you have limited time and/ or don’t want to be bothered with planning all of the details yourself. All of the tours below include the possibility of doing the Narrows hike in Zion NP.
- Overnight tour to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks from Las Vegas: Spend Day 1 hiking the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon >> Overnight at Ruby’s Inn >> travel to Zion and hike the Narrows >> return to Las Vegas. Maximum 14 people in the group. Check prices and availability.
- Full day tour to Zion from Las Vegas. Have 6 hours free time in Zion, plus return bus from/ to Las Vegas. This will give you enough time to hike part of the Narrows. Check prices and availability here.
You can use the information to travel independently to Zion National Park and do the Narrows hike.
Hiking the Narrows : What to wear and what to take with you
When hiking in the Narrows, hiking gear choices are important. Hiking in a river that is filled with glacial melt is not something you want to do in shorts. Hiking in a river that has a rocky, uneven bottom is not something you want to do barefooted. Hiking in a river that has strongly flowing water is not something you want to do without something to help stabilize you as you wade across and along it.
So, you will need:
- Waterproof hiking shoes/ boots. Having the best shoes for hiking the Narrows can make the difference between a fun hike and a miserable experience. The best shoes for the Narrows have a sturdy sole, but are still comfortable wet. The best waterproof hiking shoes/ boots for men are the Salomon Men’s X Ultra 3 Mid GTX Hiking Boots and for women are the Salomon Women’s X Ultra 3 MID GTX W Hiking Boots. Read my detailed guide to the Best Hiking Boots/ Shoes for reviews, what to look for and more options.
- A hiking pole/ stick to help stabilize you. These Foxelli Carbon Fire Trekking Poles are light weight, have shock absorbers and have natural cork grips. Check prices here.
- Waterproof pants. Check options on Amazon here.
- A day pack with the usual day hike essentials. Check the Day Hike Packing Essentials here.
Do you need to rent gear to hike the Narrows?
Technically you don’t, but if you don’t have or want to buy waterproof gear (pants, socks, boots) and a stick to help stabilize you, it is possible to rent them. I recommend having your own shoes – and a hiking pole is always a good idea – but renting waterproof pants is advisable.
There are several Zion Narrows outfitters in Springdale, the town just outside the Zion National Park entrance, that offer Zion Narrow rentals. We arranged our Zion Narrows gear rental through Zion Adventures in Springdale. It was easy and worth the money.
We picked the gear up the night before at no extra charge so that we could catch an early bus in the morning.
Additional hiking resources include:
- Hiking 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking
- How to read trail markers
- Hiking Etiquette
- Best hiking gear for beginners
Two options for the Zion National Park Narrows hike
There are two options for hiking the Narrows, Zion.
- Bottom up. This is the out-and-back Zion narrows day hike, starting and ending at the shuttle bus stop.
- Top down. This involves being dropped off at the starting point and hiking for two days, with overnight camping.
How long is the Narrows hike in Zion?
You can see from the map that the full length is 5 miles/ 8 km each way, but you can easily do part of it and still have an incredible experience. The top down hike is about 16 miles (25.5 km).
How long does it take to hike the Narrows?
We did the bottom up approach. We took our time, stopped for lunch and explored the side canyon for a while and it took us about 8 hours. We got back to the shuttle about 5:00 pm and back to Springdale to drop off our rented gear a little before 6:00 pm.
You can definitely just walk for an hour or so, but the scenery gets more dramatic as you go deeper into the canyon, and it is worth making a whole day of it if you can.
If you get dropped off and start at the other end and hike down only, it typically takes 2 days.
Do I need a permit to hike the Narrows?
For the bottom-up hike, which most people do, you do NOT need a permit. However, you should check with the National Park service to make sure that the hike is open. The Narrows are subject to flash floods and can be abruptly closed.
For the top-down hike, you DO need a Zion Narrows permit. You can get Zion National Park permits from the National Park service.
How much does it cost to hike the Narrows?
There is no extra fee to do the hike, other than the park entrance fee. Weekly passes to Zion National Park cost $35/ vehicle / $30 per motorcycle or $20 per person.
If you plan to visit more than a couple of parks in a year (or the same park more than twice), then look at getting the America the Beautiful Pass. It gives you unlimited access for a year (from date of purchase) to over 2,000 federal recreation sites including all U.S. national parks plus national forest and BLM lands. It includes admission for one vehicle or four people (for places that charge per person).
Is the Narrows sometimes closed?
Yes. The Narrows are in a slot canyon and are subject to flash flooding. The National Park service in the United States is really awesome for all sorts of reasons, but one of them is the close monitoring of the status of flash floods. Always, always check with the park service the days and day before to make sure that it is open. If there is a danger of flash flooding the national park service will close it.
Do I need to be fit to hike the Narrows?
You do need a moderate level of fitness. I was 30-40 pounds overweight and not very fit at the time, and had no problems, however. Most of the hike is wading through water on uneven rocks, so if you are unstable on your feet, then this is not for you.
When is the best time to hike the Narrows?
The best time to go to Zion National Park, especially if you are there for the Narrows hike, depends on water temperature, the height or flow of the river and the likelihood of flash flooding. In general:
- December, January, February: It’s really cold and you will definitely need appropriate clothing for hiking in a river in the middle of winter. BUT there will not be a lot of other people there, so it is a good time to avoid crowds.
- March and April: It’s the start of spring, the snow is melting and the river level is often too high, which can cause the Narrows to be closed. This is NOT the best time to visit Zion if hiking the Narrows is one of your main reasons to go.
- May and June: This time of year is good to visit. I visited in May and it was great. It’s warming up, the river level has usually dropped, and the chance of flash floods is not high (but can still happen).
- July and August: This is the rainy or monsoon season, which means a higher chance of flash floods. It is also peak travel time for many people, is this is the most crowded time of year.
- September, October and November: This is still considered fairly high season. The weather is cooler, the monsoon is over, the crowds are thinner. A good time to visit, though of course, there is still a chance of flash flood closures.
What time of day is best to start the Narrows hike?
It is worth getting up early and being one of the first to start the hike. We had the canyon to ourselves most of the day. When we returned in the afternoon, the part of the hike nearest to the start was filled with people. If you don’t mind the other people, then that’s fine, but we always like to be alone, or as alone as possible, when hiking.
How to get to the start of the Narrows in Zion
It is not possible to drive in most of Zion National Park. There is a large parking area at the main gate/ the Zion National Park visitor center. If you are staying in Springdale, the town just outside the main entrance, you can leave your car where you are staying.
There is a free Zion National Park shuttle that picks up in Springdale and at the visitor center and runs along the floor of the main canyon that makes up Zion National Park. The Zion National Park shuttle service is frequent and really easy to use. In 2021, there is a ticket system due to COVID.
For the Zion Narrows shuttle, get off at the last stop (the Temple of Sinawava stop), at the far end of the park.
Map of Zion National Park Shuttle route and stops
How long does it take to get to the start of the Narrows hike?
The trip takes about 45 minutes from the visitor center. We took the Zion National Park shuttle to Narrows at 7:30 am and this was early enough to beat the crowds.
From there, it is a short one-mile, flat hike along the Zion National Park Riverwalk to the start of The Narrows. This is mostly on a paved path and if you don’t want to hike The Narrows, I would recommend hiking the riverside walk. Zion National Park riverside walk is pretty and will take you to the beginning of the slot canyon. It takes about 15-20 minutes.
Description of the Narrows hike in Zion National Park
Since we were hiking the Narrows bottom up, after the one-mile Riverwalk, we arrived at the Gateway to The Narrows. This is where we changed into dry pants that we had rented from Zion Adventures.
The start of the Narrows trail, Zion NP
At the start, the canyon is still quite wide and the river fairly shallow. The bottom is rocky and the stick we had definitely helped stabilize us. To avoid wading completely upstream all the time, we crossed at a diagonal from one side to the other, seeking a narrow path that sometimes ran along the river’s edge.
As we progressed upstream, the sides of the canyon closed in. We passed Mystery Falls, a small waterfall sliding down the rock face.
A little further along Narrows Alcove was a dramatic overhang with streaks of yellow and black rock overhanging a bend of the river.
As we progressed, the sides of the canyon narrowed even more, rising steeply on both sides, now towering hundreds of feet above us, blotting out most of the sky. The water was mostly knee-deep but deepened in parts to waist height and we relied heavily on our sticks to give us stability as we strained at times against the fast-flowing current. It was very interactive and we really had to focus, as we constantly sought the best way to cross.
Further along, the sides swirled as we passed Grotto Alcove, and blackened walls swallowed the river ahead.
Zion Wall Street
Soon after, the Narrows’ Wall Street section began, as the canyon narrowed to about 20 feet wide and the occasional sandy beach disappeared. In the Zion Narrows Wall Street, the walls tower about 1000 feet above the river. It was incredibly beautiful and dramatic.
We proceeded a little further along, but then decided to turn back and found a small beach with drift wood – the prefect sunny spot for lunch. It’s possible to continue up to Big Springs, where there is a campground, and beyond. For the entire morning and lunch time, we were alone in the canyon, except for a handful of people we passed coming the other way. They had gotten dropped off at the other end of the canyon and taken 2 days to walk downstream. Tour operators in Springdale organize drop-offs for those wanting to do this. Keep in mind you will have to hike the river with your tent, sleeping bag and food.
After a relaxing lunch in a spectacular setting, we explored the even narrower side canyon, Orderville Canyon, towards Veiled Falls. Here the water was only ankle deep, a nice break from the strong currents of the main river.
As we walked back, we encountered a lot more people, especially as we got close to the start of the hike.
The verdict: Hiking the Narrows
The Zion Park Narrows hike is one of the most unusual hikes I have ever done. There are several incredible Zion National Park hikes, and this was definitely the highlight for me of all the Zion hikes I did. As long as you are physically able, I would highly recommend it. It was, in a word, amazing. The scenery was dramatic and awe-inspiring and the Zion Narrows hike itself fun and fully engaging.
Do you have any stories about Zion National Park? I’d love to hear them. Join my private Facebook group National Parks Collectors and comment and let me know.
For more information about Zion National Park, read my Zion NP Guide.
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James Ian has traveled to 82 countries and all 7 continents. He has visited all of the main national parks in the United States, as well as many national monuments and state parks.
He has rafted through the Grand Canyon; rappelled down slot canyons near Zion and Arches; hiked among the hoodoos in Bryce and the enormous trees in Sequoia; admired the waterfalls in Yosemite and the colored hot springs in Yellowstone; seen moose in Grand Tetons and seals in the Channel Islands, and much more.
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