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Park Beat VIII – Zion National Park – The Narrows

A lot of the time the best view is from the top, but sometimes it’s fun to explore a place by looking up rather than down. Anyone that decides to visit Zion National Park will find an array of hiking trails, camping spots and canyoneering options to choose from, but one of the most popular activities is located at the end of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive: the Narrows.

The Narrows is a remarkable gorge carved by the Virgin River in the upper portion of Zion Canyon.  There are two ways to hike the Narrows. The first way is from the top-down, which requires a wilderness permit issued by the National Park Service and can be reserved online. But keep in mind the top-down hike through the Narrows is not for the weary. The trailhead is located at Chamberlain’s Ranch, a 1.5 hour drive north of the Temple of Sinawava.  The entire hike is a total of 16 miles that can take an average of 12 hours according to the National Park Service website.  Why may you ask does it take so long? Because you are hiking directly in the river at least 60% of the time. There is also an option to camp overnight in the gorge if you so choose.
However, a good alternative for those that are adventurous and would like to experience the Narrows but don’t want to walk the entire length of the gorge is to hike from the bottom – up. During the summer, you first have to take a shuttle bus from the visitor’s center to the Temple of Sinawava bus stop. The hike through the Narrows then begins by walking down the one-mile paved Riverwalk Trail from the Temple of Sinawava to an access point into the Virgin River. Once you reach the Virgin River, you can traverse back and forth up the river as far as you decide to go. 

It’s best to bring a walking stick, clothes that can get wet and water shoes with good traction if you plan to hike. There are definitely areas of the river that are difficult to cross and your clothes will get wet! The Orderville Canyon, a tributary creek 2.5 miles from the Temple of Sinawava, is a popular turn around point up the river. But you can keep going another 2.5 miles past Orderville Canyon to Big Spring, and no permit is required. According to the National Park Service, it’s prohibited to venture up the Orderville Canyon at all and past Big Spring without a permit.


When my husband and I decided to hike the Narrows, we weren’t entirely sure what to expect, but the hike soon became one of my all time favorite hikes. As we started wading up the river in late July, people slowly made their way alongside of us.
After venturing up the chilly river a little ways, the walls of the gorge narrowed while towering higher and higher above us. 






Along the way, water softly trickled down the gigantic walls. 


There was fewer people and an absence of dry land to stand on the further up the river we went, especially past Orderville Canyon, but we kept trekking upstream. 




Occasionally, we would run into mini rapids and also some interesting rock formations plopped down in the middle of the river. 




By the time we had walked about four miles up the canyon, we were ready to head back. It was getting late in the day, and we still had to hop on the bus back to the parking lot at the visitor’s center. Although we didn’t make it all the way to Big Spring, it was a great day hike. As we headed out of the park towards St. George, Utah, we caught the sun reflecting off the orange canyons. Tired but fully satisfied with our hike, it was effortless to appreciate another beautiful example of nature’s playground. There was still a lot to explore in Zion including the famed Angel’s Landing, but it was just another reason to go back. 


Fun Facts 

  • What should I know before I hike the Narrows? Be aware of your surroundings. Entering narrow canyons always have associated risks such as flash floods, cold water and strong currents. Always obtain weather and flash flood reports before entering the Narrows.  
  • What will I need to hike the Narrows? 
    • Boots or shoes that can get wet with ankle support. 
    • Walking stick 
    • Waterproof bag for a camera, food, sweater etc. 
    • Drinking water – don’t drink unfiltered river water. 
  • Can I drive through Zion Canyon to the Temple of Sinawava? From April to October, you can only access the canyon by free shuttle bus from the Visitor’s Center. From November to March, you can drive through the park. 
  • Is there anywhere to stay in Zion National Park? There are three campgrounds (two of which are inside Zion Canyon near the south entrance and one an hour from Zion Canyon on Kolob Terrace Road). There is also the Zion Lodge inside the park. The lodge is open year round. 
  • How far is Zion National Park from St. George, Salt Lake City, UT and Las Vegas, NV i.e. closest airports? 
    • St. George, UT – 40 miles 
    • Salt Lake City, UT – 307 miles 
    • Las Vegas, NV – 163 miles

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