Hiking The Narrows: One of America’s Most Unique Hikes

Last Updated on: 4th December 2023, 11:09 pm

Hiking The Narrows is a one-of-a-kind experience that has you hiking through a gorge cut out by the North Fork of the Virgin River. In other words, the river is the trail! And that, of course, means you’re going to get soaking wet. As such, you’ll need to consider a number of factors when preparing for this hike.

Immediately below, you’ll find essential info about hiking The Narrows, such as how long it lasts and certain safety measures. After that, you’ll find a preparation and packing guide, followed by a detailed description of the hike itself.

At the very end of the article, meanwhile, are tips on transport in Zion National Park, the best places to stay nearby, and current park entrance fees.

If both the hike and preparation aspect of hiking The Narrows sound intimidating, you also have the option to book a guided tour online which also includes all the gear you need.

About This Hike

The full bottom up hike to Big Springs as seen on AllTrails

THE BASICS: There are two ways to hike The Narrows: top down or bottom up. Doing the hike bottom up is the most popular method by far, and is what we’ll be covering in the guide below.

But what exactly does that mean? Essentially, hiking The Narrows bottom up entails getting off at the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop and then hiking against the current. When finished, you’ll simply turn around and retrace your steps.

As you’ll be hiking with the current on your way back, the return journey is considerably easier and quicker.

As far as how long the hike lasts, that’s largely up to you. You’re free to stop and turn around at any point. But lots of hikers finish their journey at an area of the canyon known as Wall Street. In my case, it took me about three hours to reach Wall Street, and then about two for the return journey.

Technically, the furthest you’re allowed to go without a special permit is an area called Big Springs. But at around 5 miles from the starting point, relatively few hikers make it that far.

Unlike Angels Landing, no permit is needed to hike The Narrows (a permit is required, however, for doing the hike top down).

FLOW RATES: The hike does close sometimes when flow rates are too strong, so you’ll have to check for updates leading up to your hike.

While too technical to explain in detail here, The Narrows are accessible to hike when flow rates are between 0-150 CFS. The flow rates were 88 CFS on the day of my visit, which is considered fairly high.

Generally speaking, the difficulty of your hike will largely depend on what the flow rate happens to be that day. But even with the strong current during my hike, young children were doing it without issues.

Before your visit, you’ll also want to update yourself on the possibility of flash floods. Learn more here.

The Narrows: What to Bring

As hiking The Narrows involves walking through a river – with some sections even being chest deep – expect to get soaking wet. And as you’ll largely be walking on top of uneven and slippery river stones, you’ll definitely need something for balance as well.

But before considering what you might need to buy or pack, you should be aware of what you can just simply rent. Just outside the park is Zion Outfitters which rents out gear specifically for The Narrows hike.

A pair of special shoes, neoprene socks and a wooden stick can be rented for $34. You can pay and take your items the previous day, while you’ll have until 8:00 PM to return them after your hike. For most people, I’d highly recommend this option over buying new gear just for this hike.

If you’re renting shoes from Zion Outfitters, it’s important to understand that they will NOT protect your feet from getting wet. Rather, the material of the shoes and socks are just meant to be more comfortable while hiking in water, while the shoes are sturdy and provide good ankle support.

With that being said, numerous people online have reported being fine in regular tennis shoes, knowing in advance they’d get soaked. Water shoes should also work, but you’ll want something sturdy to protect your toes.

As mentioned, some kind of pole is a must. But even though I had trekking poles with me at Zion, I opted to use the big wooden stick provided by Zion Outfitters. Given all the river rocks, I found the thicker stick to be helpful, and I imagine that my regular poles would’ve gotten frequently stuck in all the gaps between the stones.

The canyon can be cold in the mornings – even during summer. And the sun doesn’t really make its way into the canyon until midday. As such, I saw many people start the hike in jackets. But I just wore a bathing suit and a t-shirt, and that’s what I’d recommend other people do.

Considering how you’re going to get soaked early on in the hike, the more clothes you wear, the more wet clothes you’ll be stuck with for the rest of the day. And the canyon will eventually get warmer before long.

If you’re hiking in a colder month, then you’ll want to wear a dry suit for warmth. These can also normally be rented from Zion Outfitters.

Regretfully, I had to leave my DSLR behind for this one. Hiking The Narrows, at least, prompted me to finally invest in a GoPro. GoPros and similar action cameras are both waterproof and easily portable, so they’re perfect for capturing memories of your Narrows hike.

You’ll also need a special GoPro handle to easily carry the camera and capture footage. If you’re hesitant to splurge on such an expensive item for just this hike, GoPro regularly sells older models at a discounted price.

I did actually see one person with a DSLR. While not impossible, you’d have to carefully protect it while walking through the water, only taking it out at the occasional dry portions of the hike. Of course, you could also use your phone as long as you have a protective case.

Generally speaking, you want to bring as little as possible with you for this hike. But you’ll definitely want some snacks, water and sunscreen, while most people will want to have their phones for photos or to check occasionally throughout the hike.

Having some kind of a dry bag is a must. In my case, I placed my phone and snacks in ziplock bags and then put them in a smaller dry bag. I then placed that in a small backpack that I didn’t mind getting wet. You can also just buy a dry bag like this one that doubles as a backpack.

*Note: Zion Outfitters is located just outside the park boundaries near a pedestrian entrance. If you’ve driven into the park, you’ll technically be exiting Zion just to pick up or drop off your gear. Unfortunately, despite knowing the situation, the rangers at this entrance often give people a hard time just for stopping at Zion Outfitters and returning to the main parking lot.

 Until park officials can come up with a more logical and visitor-friendly system, be sure to have a park pass in hand when heading to Zion Outfitters.

Hiking The Narrows

At the time of writing, all those visiting Zion National Park in the warmer months can only get around the Zion Canyon part of the park via a free shuttle (learn more below). From the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, you’ll want to take the shuttle to the very last stop, Temple of Sinawava (#9).

The ride takes around 40 minutes. And once you arrive, you won’t be able to enter The Narrows just yet.

Hiking The Narrows

First, you’ll have to walk along the Riverside Walk, which is often counted as its own hike. It happens to be one of the park’s easiest, with most of the trail being flat and paved.

While the views are nice, they’re nothing compared to what you’ll see while hiking The Narrows itself. As such, the Riverside Walk felt more to me like a ‘commute’ than a hike in its own right.

Hiking The Narrows

After about a mile, you’ll find yourself at the Temple of Sinawava, a natural amphitheater and the starting point of The Narrows hike. 

The hike is immensely popular, and you’ll have to deal with crowds throughout much of it. But from my experience, the very beginning of the hike was the most crowded. In addition to numerous families, large groups of kids on school field trips also happened to be starting around the same time as me. But once I got adjusted to the water, I was able to make it past them.

Hiking The Narrows does indeed take some getting used to – especially the initial shock of the cold water.

Hiking The Narrows
Hiking The Narrows
Hiking The Narrows
Hiking The Narrows

Cold water always takes some time to get used to, and The Narrows is no different. But even after your body adjusts to the temperature, it still takes some time to get used to walking over the rocky river stones, not to mention wading through the strong current.

As mentioned above, the flow rate was particularly high on the day of my visit, and the current felt powerful for much of the hike. But while it initially felt like an obstacle, it became a big part of the fun as I got used to it.

While the strength of the current and depth of the water won’t be consistent from day to day, you’ll likely find that one of the deepest sections of the entire hike comes right near the beginning.

Just minutes into the hike, I already found myself wading through chest-deep water! (See the video below). Perhaps it was best to get it out of the way early, as after that, I felt ready for almost anything.

Hiking The Narrows

While The Narrows hike is unusual and challenging in a lot of ways, you at least won’t get lost. You simply keep pushing on through the gorge, with no forks in the trail to worry about (except for one, which we’ll cover shortly).

As mentioned above, while you can turn around whenever you feel you’ve had enough, most people make it as far as an area called Wall Street. And that was my goal on this day.

Hiking The Narrows
Hiking The Narrows

If you’re the type who likes to frequently check your progress, you’ll still have plenty of opportunities to take out your phone. 

The Narrows alternates between sections that are completely filled with water and others that lined with a dry river bank, so you’ll encounter several areas where you can sit down and rest for a while.

Hiking The Narrows
Hiking The Narrows

The gorge through which hikers traverse is entirely comprised of sandstone, with the walls being around 1,300 feet (400 m) high at some points! 

As the morning progressed, the sun began shining in through the gorge’s opening, bringing out the colors of this gorgeous section of the park.

Hiking The Narrows
Hiking The Narrows
Hiking The Narrows
Hiking The Narrows
Hiking The Narrows

Hiking The Narrows is indeed tiring. But the more I got used to this unusual method of hiking, the more fun it became, and thus grew my desire to continue pressing on.

And eventually, after a few hours of hiking, I made it to the beginning of what was unmistakably Wall Street. As the name suggests, this entire section of the gorge is nothing but water and towering sandstone walls.

As mentioned above, for most of The Narrows hike, you simply walk straight through the canyon. But just after you enter Wall Street, you’ll encounter a fork in the path, with the option to either turn right or continue heading straight.

This detour is known as Orderville Canyon, and it’s arguably one of the most beautiful sections of the entire hike. If you’re not in a rush, don’t miss it.

Hiking The Narrows
Hiking The Narrows
Hiking The Narrows
Hiking The Narrows

For a little while, I had completely left the crowds behind. While I passed some people on their way out, I would largely have Orderville Canyon to myself.

I kept on walking, unsure of how far it would take me. But I eventually reached what appeared to be a dead-end.

Hiking The Narrows
Hiking The Narrows

This stunning section of The Narrows is known as Veiled Falls. Part of it is lined with trees, and with the sun shining in through the canyon at this part of the day, it looked like something out of a fairy tale.

I reached the small waterfall flowing over a large boulder and was curious about what lay beyond. But despite making a few attempts to climb up and over it, it was much too large and slippery.

And so I simply decided to relax at the Veiled Falls for a bit before making my return to Wall Street.

Hiking The Narrows

Back at Wall Street, it was nearly as crowded as it had been at the very beginning of the hike. But I decided to keep heading upstream to see what I could find.

Hiking The Narrows

As it turns out, Wall Street lasts for quite a while. My original plan had been to hike upstream for around three hours before turning around. And without any apparent end to Wall Street in sight, I decided to finally begin my return.

Hiking The Narrows

As mentioned above, those hiking The Narrows bottom up – which is a majority of people – will start by hiking against the current. So as you would expect, the return trip is considerably quicker and easier.

While the hike to the middle of Wall Street took me about three hours (including the Orderville Canyon detour), the return trip took me just about two.

Hiking The Narrows

But while it may be easier to go with the current, you still have to be careful not to get swept away! 

On the way back, trying to avoid a group coming from the opposite direction, I accidentaly stepped into a deep section of the river, with water coming up all the way to my neck!

Fortunately, it just lasted for a few moments, and I made it to a shallower area without issues. But before I could dry off, I’d once again have to submerge myself in the chest-high water near the starting point.

Hiking The Narrows
Hiking The Narrows

Finally reaching the Riverside Walk, I was glad to finally be on dry land. But throughout the walk back to the shuttle, I couldn’t stop replaying moments from this unique and thrilling hike in my head.

Additional Info

As mentioned above, if you’re having doubts about hike preparation or The Narrows hike itself, you can book a guided tour online like this one. According to reviews, your tour guide can give you tips on how to traverse difficult sections, and perhaps even take photos of you if you lack a waterproof camera.

At the time of writing, everyone visiting Zion National Park during the busier, warmer months will only be able to travel around the main part of the park by shuttle.

Currently, the shuttle is completely free and no reservations are required (but that wasn’t the case when the mandatory shuttle system was first introduced).

From my experience, the shuttles seemed to come by pretty frequently, and all in all, the system worked smoothly and efficiently.

From the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, it takes about 25 minutes to reach The Grotto (for Angels Landing) and about 40 minutes for the Temple of Sinawava (for The Narrows).

You can learn more information about the shuttle, as well as view the full route map, here. Confusingly, the map also displays something called the Springdale Line, but this is only relevant for people staying in Springdale, Utah, and who will be using the shuttle to reach the park entrance.

The main problem with the shuttle system is that mostly everyone will be parking in the large lot next to the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. As such, you’ll want to arrive as early as possible to secure a spot.

On the few days I visited the park, I arrived a little after 8:00 each morning and the lot was always 80% full by that time. But what if you can’t find a spot?

I’m not exactly sure, but I’ve heard of people having to drive around Springdale to search for a spot around town. And the rangers at the ticket booth/entrance gate likely won’t even inform you if the lot is already full when you drive into the park.

Therefore, do whatever you can to get to Zion early.

Zion National Park is home to numerous campgrounds, which you can learn more about here. Just outside the park, meanwhile, is the town of Springdale, which features plenty of hotels and amenities.

High-rated hotels here include the Holiday Inn Express and the Cliffrose. Staying in this area will also give you access to the Springdale Line of the Zion shuttle which can bring you right up to the park, meaning there’s no rush to secure parking.

But there are lots of reasons to stay well outside the park. Not only would this save you money, but it would allow you to visit other nearby sites, such as Bryce Canyon National Park, from the same base.

For those coming from Las Vegas, you’ll first pass through St. George, the biggest city in southwest Utah. And it’s just 70 minutes from Zion National Park. I’ve spent a few nights in St. George at the Red Lion Hotel, which was one of the better deals I’ve found in the Southwest. Another good option that won’t break the bank is the St. George Inn & Suites.

While St. George has a lot of amenities, one major downside is that it’s about 2 hours and 20 minutes from Bryce.

The smaller town of Hurricane is only 30-40 minutes away from Zion and features a number of quality Airbnbs. And that’s where I stayed during my recent visit. But it too is a bit far from Bryce.

One of the best bases for Zion would be the small city of Kanab, about 70 minutes away from the park. It also serves as a fantastic base for numerous other sites (learn more here). If you’re coming from the east, you can stop in Kanab after a visit to Page, Arizona.

In the past, I’ve stayed before at Travelodge by Wyndham Kanab, a basic hotel that was perfect for resting after long days out in nature. They also provide free breakfast. Other popular options close to the center include Comfort Suites and the Hampton Inn.

At the time of writing, Zion National Park costs $35 to enter (learn more here).

If you’re visiting from abroad, note that in contrast to many other countries, US parks typically charge per vehicle rather than per person. However, if you’re traveling by motorcycle instead, they’ll charge you $30. And those visiting by bicycle or simply showing up on foot after riding the Springdale Shuttle will have to pay $20 per person.

Considering how many National Parks and National Monuments there are to see in the Southwest alone, the best option for most will be to buy an ‘America the Beautiful’ Annual National Parks Pass.

These cost $80 for the year. In most cases, you’re already saving money by just visiting four National Parks/Monuments anywhere in the country within a full year.

What’s more, is that only one person in your vehicle needs to have the pass. Additionally, seniors can buy the pass for just $20. So if you have someone over 62 in your party, just have them get the annual pass and everyone else will be set.

As for where to get the pass, you can purchase it in person at most National Parks or Monuments. But you can also order it in advance online.

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