Ask anyone who has been to Zion National Park and odds are they will tell you about their time in The Narrows, in the North Fork of the Virgin River. With majestic walls, narrow slots and beautiful formations it is understandable why this canyon is so popular. I recently completed this life-list hike, and it was even better than I expected.
Planning Your Trip
There are two main ways to hike The Narrows. (You can also experience it via technical and semi-technical canyons such as Orderville, Mystery Canyon and others):
- Hike Bottom-Up. The bottom up is a great option for those who don’t have an entire day or two to spend in the Narrows. No permits are required for going from the bottom up. Just ride the Zion Canyon Shuttle to its final stop at Temple of Sinawava. You can hike up as far as you would like, then turn around and return to the shuttle.
- Hike Top-Down. Permits are required to day hike from the Top Down. The 16-mile trek begins at Chamberlain’s Ranch several miles north east of the main canyon. You can either set up a shuttle or hire a private outfitter for a ride. The trail will take you along the stream through meadows and pastures as it transforms into a river and deep canyons. Most likely there will be deep water, and potential swimming.
If you choose to hike top-down, you will need to decide whether to do it in one or two days.
One-Day Narrows Hike, Top-Down Do not underestimate this VERY strenuous option. Plan to take 12-14 hours to get out of the canyon. So get an early start and DON’T FORGET TO BRING A HEADLAMP!
Two-Day Narrows Hike, Top-Down
There are designated campsites along the Virgin River. Only camp in your campsite and there are no fires allowed. There are also group size limitations. A ranger will go over all this when you pick up your permit.
Getting Your Permit
Permits are made available on the 5th of every month, three months in advance. For example, if you want a permit for September it will be available July 5th.
On the NPS.gov site you will decide if you want a backpacking (2-day) permit or a one-day. Note that only half of the campsites are available via online reservation. The other half are held for walk up permits the day before.
Due to expanding popularity, Zion permits are snatched up quickly. If you were unsuccessful in getting a permit, don’t despair. Continue to check the site for any cancellations. You may also enter the Last Minute Drawing 2-7 days before your anticipated date.
(If you fail to get a permit, hiking the narrows from the bottom up is an amazing experience and if you get an early start you can still see the best of the narrows.)
*Note: Even if you are lucky enough to get a permit your trip can still be cancelled due to Flash Flood Warnings or high water levels.
Gear: What you’ll need
- Closed Toed Shoes. Leave the good hiking boots at camp for this trail. A good pair of light, low hikers are perfect. Leave the sandals behind, otherwise you’ll be stopping to take rocks out of your shoes every turn. The Oboz Luna Low or Sawtooth Low are great for this hike.
- Walking Stick. A great walking stick goes a long way! A great tall piece of wood is best. Not only does it provide great support while hiking it makes a great measuring stick to determine the depth of the water so you don’t take any unexpected swims. I’ve seen people using trekking poles. I would be worried about them breaking with the rocky water. But it is up to you.
- Dry Bag. Odds are you will get wet in the Narrows. Whether by a poorly placed step or a deep pool be prepared. Bring a dry bag to keep your valuables and gear dry.
- Neoprene Socks. These were my guilty pleasure when doing the narrows in mid-August. The weather was decent, but if you are prone to getting cold, as I am, Neoprene will make your trip so much more enjoyable.
To summarize the Narrows is one of the most amazing places in the world. Be prepared to share with others, especially toward the mouth of the canyon near the shuttle stop as many families and visitors will be exploring the canyon.
Remember practice Leave No Trace to protect this amazing place for years to come!
Carissa Logan loves her 9-5 job but lives for the outdoors. She is happiest when she is up on a mountain or deep in a canyon. She is the creator of Weekend Impossible where she encourages herself and others find the adventure in everyday life. Follow her adventure on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/carissa_adventurings/