Planing to do the Narrows hike in Zion and wondering what it’s like? This guide includes everything you need to know, and why this magical hike belongs on your bucket list!
The Narrows hike is one of the most popular hikes in Zion National Park – and for good reason! Once you experience it for yourself, it’s easy to see why. In this unique hike, you will walk in (yes, IN) the North Fork of the Virgin River, through the narrowest part of the Zion Canyon.
On either side, you will see towering cliffs that tower up to 1000 feet tall. There is spectacular scenery throughout, and it is an absolutely magical experience. It was definitely one of the highlights of my time in Zion (tied with hiking Angels Landing), and definitely one of the most memorable hikes in my lifetime!
Over the years, I’ve had friends who have done the Narrows hike and told me about how amazing it was, but I had no idea exactly how incredible until I actually did it myself.
And yes, it truly is something that belongs on your hiking bucket list, and something you absolutely must experience for yourself! There are many incredible hikes in Utah (it is home to 5 national parks including Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Arches after all), but this is like no other.
Do you want to do the Narrows hike too (yes, duh, you absolutely should)?! Here is everything you know before you go!
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Everything You Need to Know About the Narrows Hike
The Narrows Hike: Basic Info
- Distance: 4-9 miles (~5-8 hours, depending on how far you go), out and back
- Elevation Gain: 334 feet
- Zion National Park admission: $30 for 7 days (or included with the annual America the Beautiful pass – if you plan on visiting more than 2 parks in a year, this is a must!)
- Shuttle Stop: Temple of Sinawava (#9)
What are the Narrows in Zion National Park?
The Narrows are a 16 mile stretch on the North Fork of the Virgin River that is the narrowest part of the Zion Canyon. Over time, the river carved its way through the rock, creating a long slot canyon.
The canyon walls reach up to 1000 feet high, and at its narrowest, the river is only 20-30 feet wide. On the Narrows hike, you get the unique experience of actually hiking in the river and surrounded by these tall cliffs on either side, which is why it is considered one of the most famous hikes in the world! It is truly an unforgettable experience.
Some FAQ About the Narrows Hike
How deep is the water?
For most of the hike, the water was about ankle to mid-calves high. At its highest, it was about waist high, but this was only for a short bit. The water level also depends on the season and weather – for reference, we hiked the Narrows in late April on a rather warm/dry year. Expect the water levels to be shorter during the summer months, and higher during colder months.
Can you hike the Narrows in one day?
Yes – as a bottoms-up hike. This post will largely be about doing the Narrows hike as a day hike, which is how I (and most people) experienced it. You can hike the Narrows as a multi-day backpacking trek in the top-down direction, however this requires a permit.
How long is the Narrows hike?
While the entire length of the Narrows spans 16 miles, day hikers are only permitted to go as far as Orderville Canyon. Most people aim to reach Wall Street, which is about 2 miles in, and then turn back.
The duration depends on how far you decide to go, but most hikers usually spend 4-6 hours in the Narrows. For us, it took about 6 hours (including a break for lunch).
Keep in mind that these times are for hiking the Narrows themselves – if you are trying to factor total hiking time, be sure to also account for time hiking from the shuttle stop to the Narrows on the Riverside Walk (an additional 2.2 miles round trip).
How difficult is hiking the Narrows?
The bottoms-up day hike to Wall Street is relatively easy suitable for most hikers. The wading through water is a bit tiring after a while, and the rocks are slippery, which is why the Narrows hike gets a moderate difficulty rating.
If you are looking for a strenuous all-day adventure, you can also opt to continue on to the end of the trail at Big Stream. Those who opt to take a side trail to Orderville Canyon will find that the hike starts to get more difficult, and involves a bit more rock scrambling.
Are there bathrooms on the Narrows hike?
NO! Be sure to use the bathroom before you start the Narrows hike, at the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop.
If you absolutely need to pee on the hike, it is recommended that you go in the direction that the river is flowing. Do not pee on land – the smell can linger for months! If you have to go number two, then you will need to pack it out – carry some waste bags, just in case!
What equipment do I need to hike the Narrows?
Your feet will get wet and the rocks are slippery. Therefore, I recommend wearing neoprene water shoes. While you can probably attempt the hike in normal hiking shoes, I would not want to deal with wet socks. I also do not recommend attempting the Narrows hike in hiking sandals, as there are a ton of loose rocks – I would want close toed shoes.
I rented neoprene water shoes from Zion Outfitters, located at the park’s entrance. I also recommend a walking stick (included with water shoes rental), or hiking poles as some of the rocks are loose – we saw some people attempt the Narrows hike without them, and they were struggling!
I also rented a wet bag because I was concerned about my camera equipment getting wet where the water was highest, but don’t think I really needed one. If you are hiking when the water levels are higher, I would recommend one though. For shoes, a walking stick, and wet bag, the rental cost came out to about $50.
Can you hike the Narrows with kids?
It depends. We saw many families hiking the Narrows with their kids, but it depends on your kids’ hiking abilities and tolerance. For the record, I don’t have kids myself, so I’m probably not the best person to answer this question – but here is a great article about hiking the Narrows with kids.
Best Time to Hike the Narrows
The most popular time to attempt the Narrows hike (and to visit Zion National Park) is during late spring and summer. This is when the water temperatures are the warmest, water levels are at its lowest, and the days are longest. The downsides of this is that you’ll encounter the most crowds!
Another thing to keep in mind is that the Narrows are prone to thunderstorms and flash floods in the summer months, so it may be inaccessible at times.
Those looking to do the Narrows hike with fewer crowds may consider attempting it in the fall, when the weather is most stable. However, do consider that the days are shorter and water tends to be colder.
Winter and early spring bring the least amount of crowds, but the coldest temperatures. Do also note that the Narrows may be closed at times because of rising water levels due to snowmelt.
We did the Narrows hike in late April. Yes, it was kinda crowded, but as a person who can’t handle the cold (I am a lifelong California girl after all), the weather was perfect. The temperatures hovered around 80 degrees, and the water was at a comfortable temperature as well. It also was only about ankle to mid-calf deep for the majority of the hike, and only got waist-high for a very short stretch.
A Note About the Weather and Water Levels at the Narrows
One thing to note – the Narrows (and Zion National Park) are susceptible to flash floods because it is surrounded by bare rock that does not absorb water. This is especially true during the summer months, when thunderstorms are common and runoff is funneled into the river.
Always check for updates on warnings or trail closures and DO NOT attempt to hike when there is a risk of flash floods! Water levels can rise within minutes or even seconds and hikers have been injured, stranded, or even killed in the Narrows due to flash floods. Always check the weather forecast!
Also note that the water levels at the Narrows fluctuate greatly year to year and day to day. The hike gets more challenging when the water levels get above 70 CFS (cubic feet per second), when and the water can frequently be thigh-deep, and even get as high as chest-deep! When the water levels reach 150 CFS, the Narrows are closed. Please check current conditions here before planning for the Narrows hike.
Get an early start to your Narrows hike – this way, you’ll not only avoid being in full sun, but also be done with your hike by the time thunderstorms start in the late afternoon.
What to Pack for the Narrows Hike
- America the Beautiful Pass: A must for all National Parks lovers – $80 will get you admission into all National Parks for a year. It pays for itself if you plan to visit 3 parks and is such a steal!
- A jacket: A packable, weatherproof windbreaker like this one is ideal for the warmer months, and a packable puffer like this one is great for cooler weather.
- Water Shoes: Get something with good grip because the rocks can get super slippery! These shoes get great reviews (and come in a lot of sizes and colors).
- Day Pack or Wet bag: Something like this backpack is perfect for holding all your gear, snacks, camera equipment, and more on your Zion hikes. You can also get a hydration pack for easy access to your water. If you want to prevent your stuff (i.e. camera equipment) from getting wet, also consider a wet bag (especially during the colder months when water levels are highest).
- Water: And speaking of water…carry plenty of it! I carry this water bottle with me everywhere I go, and I love it for hiking because it’s insulated and the water stays cold. It also comes in a variety of sizes to suit your needs.
- Waste Bags: Just in case because when you gotta go, you gotta go!
- Flashlight or Lantern: Just in case! My friend Christina brought along this handy collapsible lantern and I loved it so much that I had to get one for myself.
- Walking Stick or Trekking Poles: They are a necessity for the slippery/loose rocks! Get a collapsible pair like these so they fold up easily into your luggage.
- Camera: You will want to take a million photos on the Narrows hike, it is that beautiful! The Sony a6000 is my go-to travel camera.
- Battery Pack: I never travel or hike without this one. It can charge up to five times on one full charge!
- First Aid Kit: Be prepared, just in case! This one is compact but has all the essentials.
- Snacks: I always have some protein bars on hand to fuel me up on a hike. These Think bars are my favorite!
What to Wear for the Narrows Hike
Wear comfortable hiking clothes! I wore a pair of shorts, a tank top, and sports bra. I ended up taking the tank top off once the water started reaching my waist since it got super wet and I hate being in soggy clothes.
If hiking in the colder months, you will want to rent a drysuit as the water gets super cold and you’ll be wet – these can be rented in Springdale at Zion Adventure Company.
Whenever you plan to do the Narrows hike, you will definitely want a pair of neoprene water shoes! You can rent these in Springdale, or from Zion Outfitters, located at the park’s entrance. You will also get a walking stick included with your rental, which costs about $30.
Should I Hike the Narrows Bottom-Up or Top-Down?
The answer to this question depends on whether you plan to do the Narrows hike as a short day hike, or as an all-day or multiple-day adventure.
Most hikers will choose to attempt the Narrows hike in the bottom-up direction (including us). This is one of the most popular day hikes in Zion, and the easiest way to experience the Narrows. The bottom-up hike ends at Big Springs, about 4.5 miles into the Narrows. No permits are necessary for this option.
If you plan to do the entire length of the Narrows hike as in the top-down direction, you must secure a permit. This is only recommended for experienced hikers. Many hikers will choose to complete the entire 16 mile trek as a 2-day backpacking adventure, but some do attempt it as a (very long) day hike.
Another thing to consider about the top-down hike is that the trailhead is actually at Chamberlain Ranch, about 1 ½ hours outside of Zion National Park, and hikers must arrange their own transportation.
How far should I hike the Narrows?
This depends on your fitness level, and the amount of time you wish to spend hiking the Narrows.
Most people will do the Narrows hike up to Wall Street, which is the beginning of where the canyon is at its narrowest, about 2 miles in. I highly recommend hiking up to this point, because it is where the scenery was at its most magical – the light streaming through the walls was stunning! It took us about 2 ½-3 hours to get to this point.
After passing Wall Street, the hike starts to get more strenuous. More ability is required at this point, as there is much more rock scrambling involved. However, this is perfect for those experienced hikers who are looking for an all-day adventure!
If you wish, you can also take a side trail to Orderville Canyon, a tributary canyon on the east side of the river that is known to be taller, darker, and even more enchanting than the main part of the Narrows.
Where Does the Narrows Hike Start in Zion National Park?
The Narrows Hike starts from the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop, the last stop (#9) on the route.
To limit congestion and pollution within the park, Zion implements a shuttle system during the tourist season (March-October). During this time, Zion Canyon Drive is closed to private vehicles and you must take the Zion shuttle in order to get to the trailhead for the Narrows hike.
Because of current health and capacity regulations, you must make a reservation in advance to use the shuttle. The fee is $1, and you can find out more here. Reservations can be booked on Recreation.gov. Tickets are released about two weeks in advance, and there are a limited number of tickets released one day in advance of your visit.
Shuttles depart the visitors center approximately every five minutes – tickets are sold in one-hour windows (so if you booked the 7am-8am time slot, you can take any shuttle that departs within this time). It takes about 40 minutes to get from the Visitors Center to the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop, so factor that into your plans.
Once you get off the shuttle, you will hike along the 1 mile long Riverside Walk trail in order to access the start of the Narrows hike.
Other Things You Should Know About Hiking the Narrows
- Pack it in, pack it out! Carry out all trash, food wrappers, apple cores, fruit peels, nut shells, toilet paper, and yes, even human waste.
- Stay on the trails and don’t trample over plant life in the area. Leave plants, rocks, and natural items as you find them.
- Protect the canyon walls – don’t make carvings, graffiti, or even leave muddy fingerprints.
- The National Parks Service has advised that there have been harmful cyanobacteria in the water. Hikers are advised to attempt the Narrows hike at their own risk. Do NOT drink the water in the river (even if you have a filter, as they cannot filter out these cyanobacteria) and try not to make direct contact with the water if possible. More information here.
Have you ever done the Narrows hike in Zion? What did you think of it?
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