Hiking enthusiasts the world over flock to Utah’s Zion National Park. And one of the best activities to do on a trip to Zion is none other than hiking the Narrows.
Hiker or not, if you have a love for adventure and the outdoors, hiking the Narrows in Zion most certainly deserves a spot on your bucket list! Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned hiking pro, this world-famous hike is doable for all levels and is one adventure not to be missed.
My name is Rob Decker, and I'm a photographer and graphic artist with a passion for America's National Parks. When I was just 19 years old, I had the amazing experience of studying under Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park, an experience that solidified my love of photography and the national parks. Now, I'm on a journey to visit, explore, photograph and create artwork to celebrate America's Best Idea.
But First, the Basics
Zion National Park is Utah’s southernmost National Park…and it's BIG. To explore it all, give yourself at least a week. The tiny town of Springdale is your gateway to Zion and makes for a great home base. A free shuttle makes stops at various locales throughout town, runs every few minutes during the summer peak season, and will take you straight into the park, so you don’t have to pay for parking once you enter.
After securing your park pass at the main visitor’s center and general store, you can load up on any supplies you may have forgotten for your epic hike. Nothing has been overlooked, you can even rent shoes, walking sticks and other handy items for about $25 a day. Another shuttle will take you around to all nine major points inside the park. It is hop-on, hop-off, so you can explore at your own pace.
But we’re here to hike the Narrows, so we get off at the last stop, called the Temple of Sinawava. It’s about a 40-minute ride from the park’s entrance. With a name like that, visions of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom tend to invade the imagination. Turns out the scenery is not far off base from the famous film and is truly inspirational.
An Exhilarating Hike
At the trailhead, you will have an easy, paved walk of one mile before you approach the Virgin River. You will be hiking in this river, and it’s exhilarating, if not the most challenging part of the hike. In fact, hiking the Narrows is relatively easy, as you are hiking the bottom of a canyon, so there is no elevation gain. At this point, most folks will stop to change into waterproof shoes, secure their backpacks, and prepare for some fun wading in the water!
The Narrows is an in-and-out trail, meaning you need to double back when you’ve had your fill of spectacular scenery. Most everyone will tell you that the trek back goes a lot faster, and there is good reason for that: at the beginning, you are hiking against the current – on the way back you are hiking with it, so it tends to speed you along a bit faster.
Even though you may feel you need to concentrate on navigating the river rocks, be sure to stop every so often and just look up at the stunning sandstone cliffs stretching far above you on either side.
At its full 5-mile length, this hike can stretch out over 8 hours. But most visitors will only hike to “Wall Street”, so plan to hike just part of it for at least 4-6 hour round-trip. You want to give yourself enough time to reach the famous “Wall Street” section, where the dramatic cliffs of Navajo sandstone coloration narrow drastically and the gorgeous cavernous scenery will stick with you for a lifetime.
Things to Remember When Hiking the Narrows
- You are trekking along the bottom of a canyon, and there is always the possibility of rain, which can come quickly. When clouds fill the sky, the park rangers will strongly advise you NOT to hike, and may even shut down the trail. Why? Because when it rains, flash floods often occur and getting caught at the bottom of a canyon can prove deadly!
- Bring a packed lunch, plenty of water, a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Your clothing should be breathable and/or waterproof. Waterproof hiking boots, or closed-toed sandals with good soles are ideal.
- If you are at all unsteady on your feet, a trekking pole or walking stick is VERY HELPFUL when navigating smooth but very uneven river rocks.
- You can certainly do this hike alone, but bringing people with you makes for a more rewarding experience. But even if you hike solo, you are likely to have lots company in the way of fellow hikers on this very popular hike.
- The opportune time to hike the Narrows is the middle of Summer (July-August). This is when there is the least chance of rain (i.e. flash floods) and here at the bottom of the canyon, the temperatures are never too warm, especially when wading through water.
- This is a relatively moderate hike, even though it is long. There are many opportunities to stop and rest, or have that picnic lunch with the amazing scenery.
- You will be hiking much of the way in water less than knee-high, but there will be points where you may be wading up to above your waist. Wear lightweight, moisture-wicking clothes that will dry quickly in the summer sun.
- Start as early in the day as possible; you will want to turn back no later than mid-afternoon so that you finish the hike before sundown. And ALWAYS turn back immediately at any sign of rain clouds forming.
- You will definitely want to take a camera (or at least your phone) with you to get some great shots. For this, a small dry bag is recommended in the event you slip and fall in the water.
- Respect the environment and only hike in designated areas – never in closed off trails.
Hiking the Narrows is such a rewarding experience and embodies the true splendor of the American West. A wonderful group activity, especially for families, kids as young as five can easily do this hike, as well as physically fit elders.
I’ve created a poster for Zion National Park — called "The Narrows" — taken from the middle of the Virgin River.
And this one, featuring a view of "The Watchman" from the banks of the Virgin River.
Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist who had the rare privilege of studying under Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park when he was just 19 years old. Now, Rob is on a journey to explore and photograph all 61 of America’s National Parks. He’s creating WPA-style posters to help people celebrate their own national park adventures — as well as encourage others to get out and explore!
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