The Narrows is one of the most popular hikes in Zion National Park, for good reason.
During this Zion Narrows hike, you will navigate through a narrow slot canyon with steep, thousand-foot rock walls and breathtaking waterfalls, step on dangerously slippery rocks, and trek through the rushing currents of the Virgin River.
Before you step foot into the canyon, read my Zion Narrows hiking guide. I have created a comprehensive guide to make sure you are prepared to hike through one of the most awe-inspiring slot canyons in the country, the Zion Narrows.
This Zion Narrows hike isn’t for the faint of heart. In this guide, I will dive deep into which direction you should hike, the best time to hike the Narrows, what to bring, and what exactly you can expect on your slot canyon adventure.
Complete Guide to Hiking the Zion Narrows
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What is the Zion Narrows?
The Narrows is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon, with towering rock walls stretching a thousand feet into the blue sky.
The Virgin River, which constricts to just twenty to thirty feet wide in spots, flows through this slot canyon.
Which Direction Should You Hike the Narrows?
There are two options to hike the Zion Narrows: bottom-up or top down.
I will take a deep dive into each route.
Bottom-up is the most popular route, as it doesn’t require a wilderness permit, the starting point is easier to access, and you can see the narrowest, most picturesque points in the slot canyon.
Spring, summer, or fall visitors will need to board the Zion park shuttle or peddle a bike to the Temple of Sinawava.
Winter visitors can drive directly through the Zion Canyon to the trailhead.
From the trailhead, you will hike the one-mile, one-way paved nature trail to the mouth of the canyon. This is the entrance to the Narrows where you can hike as far in as you’d like (as long as you don’t exceed Big Springs.)
Many chose to hike just a mile or two in and turn back, but you can go as far as Big Springs, which is ten miles roundtrip.
REMEMBER: What goes up must come back down. If you travel two miles into the canyon, you must hike that same two miles back out of the canyon. There is no outlet/exit on the other side that day hikers are allowed to access.
Top Down is the challenging, adventurous route. It begins at Chamberlain Ranch and requires a wilderness permit. You will need to arrange transportation to Chamberlain Ranch or plan a way to retrieve your vehicle at the end of your hike.
Once you’re there, you will hike downstream to the Temple of Sinawava, which is seventeen miles one-way.
If you can’t complete this in a day hike (it takes most people 10-13 hours to complete), you will need to make this a two-day backpacking trip and camp at one of the 12 campsites along the river between Deep Creek and Big Springs.
The campsites require reservations, and they get booked very quickly. Read about how to reserve those coveted permits on the NPS website.
Best Time to Hike the Narrows
The best time to hike the Zion Narrows is June through October.
Fall and summer are the best times to hike through the river, as the water level is lower and the temperature of the air and water is warmer.
Be warned that spring and early summer is the peak season for dangerous, life-threatening flash floods. Check the current river flow rate and consult a ranger about the present threat level of flash floods before entering the canyon. Precipitation, narrow canyon walls, and an angrily flowing river create a perfect concoction for flash floods, making it impossible to escape.
Walking becomes difficult when the flow rate rises above 70 CFS (cubic feet per second), according to the NPS. If the flow rate rises above 150 CFS, the canyon will close. I’ve attached a helpful chart to help you understand the water flow rate.
We hiked the Narrows on September 13, 2021. The river flow rate was 36 CFS and the water temperature was 56 degrees Fahrenheit. You can check the current river conditions here.
If you choose to hike the Narrows in the winter, the shuttle is not always in service, and if it is, service may be limited. Check the current shuttle schedule here. Daylight is also at its smallest window, leaving you less time to hike.
Typically the route to the Chamberlain Ranch trailhead is closed due to snowfall, so your best bet for a winter hike would be to hike the Narrows bottom-up before the end of November or after Christmas. Be prepared for freezing temperatures in the canyon; you will need extra waterproof layers to keep you warm. Watch for canyon closures as well.
According to the NPS, spring is the worst season to attempt a hike through the Narrows. Flow rates run high from the snowmelt from March through May, causing the canyon to close most days. As I mentioned before, if the flow rate exceeds 150 CFS, the rangers will close the canyon.
→ READ NEXT: 7 Things to Know Before Visiting Zion National Park
What to Expect on the Zion Narrows Hike
If you are hiking Bottom-Up, you will start by taking the shuttle or riding a bike from the Zion Visitor Center to the very last stop, the Temple of Sinawava. (Or driving during winter when the road is shuttle-free.) There are restrooms and potable water available at this stop.
Once you are ready to embark on your journey, you will hike the one-mile, paved Riverside Walk that leads to the entrance of the Narrows. The paved section ends, and there you can begin to hike through the river into the canyon.
The canyon will start wider before it gradually becomes narrower. Shortly into the hike, maybe a quarter-mile into the canyon, you will glimpse Mystery Falls, a 110-foot waterfall that flows down the rock wall.
The views get better as you wind through the slot canyon with new sights to marvel at around every corner.
When you come to the confluence, you can choose to continue straight to enter Wall Street, or turn right to see another waterfall, Veiled Falls. Proceed with caution if you choose to hike to Veiled Falls; it involves a sketchy, slippery climb over a decent-sized cascade to reach the falls.
Wall Street is a famous, highly-photographed section of the canyon, featuring even narrower canyon walls with striking splashes of dark color contrasting against the light blue water. The river will widen and be marked by two large boulders once you reach the end of the Wall Street passageway. Wall Street is about a mile long.
At the five-mile mark, you will reach Big Springs, which is the furthest you may go without a permit. This is where you will turn around and head back down the river.
The beauty of this route is that you can turn around at any point along your journey; just keep in mind that whatever you hike in, you must hike back out. There’s no special emergency exit out of the canyon!
If you choose to hike Top Down, you will need a wilderness permit. Before you book your reservation, consider whether you want to hike the sixteen miles (seventeen to the Temple of Sinawava) as a very long, strenuous day hike or treat it as a single-night backpacking trip. You may not spend more than one night in the canyon.
Consider the time that you have and your physical ability. If you complete this as a day hike, it will take you 10-13 hours. If you are relying on shuttle transportation at Temple of Sinawava to take you back to the Visitor Center, you will need to exit the canyon by 8:15 PM during peak season and 7:15 PM in the off-season to catch the last bus. If you miss the last shuttle, you will need to hike 4 miles along the Zion Canyon road to the Lodge and ask someone for a ride to the Visitor Center, or, continue hiking another 4 miles past the lodge to the Visitor Center without a hitch.
You must arrange for transportation to the remote trailhead at Chamberlain Ranch. Hiring a private shuttle service like Red Rock or Zion Rock Guides is recommended or you can arrange to retrieve your vehicle at the end of your hike.
Once you are dropped off at Chamberlain Ranch, you will be greeted with an easy, three-mile hike on a gravel road. From there, the trail leads into the Virgin River from Bulloch’s Cabin, indicating the beginning of the river adventure.
The walls will gradually become taller the further you get into the canyon.
If you are overnight backpacking, campsites are scattered across the river from Deep Creek to Big Springs.
Big Springs is the point at which you will begin to see Bottom-Up day hikers. This marks the beginning of the more famous section of Zion Canyon, where the walls are taller and narrower, and the water is moving quite a bit faster.
Crowds will grow heavier as you draw closer and closer to the Temple of Sinewava.
Once you reach the Gateway to the Narrows, a paved set of stairs will lead you to the trail that takes you to the shuttle bus.
Your adventure is complete! ✨
See where Zion ranks in my Utah National Parks Ranked Best to Worst blog post!
What to Bring and Wear on Your Zion Narrows Hike
The biggest question I get about the Zion Narrows is, “Do I need to bring my own gear or should I rent on-site?”
My answer is simple: if you have the gear, have the room in your suitcase, and/or you think you’ll use the gear many times after your Narrows hike, bring your own. If you don’t have the gear, don’t think you’ll ever use the gear again, and/or you don’t have room in your suitcase, I’d rent gear at one of the outfitters.
Outfitters like Zion Outfitter and Zion Adventure Company are sprinkled throughout the town of Springdale and the National Park entrance area. These outfitters recommend renting gear like wooden hiking sticks and special waterproof shoes and socks to successfully conquer the Narrows.
While you don’t need the special gear that the outfitters recommend, if you don’t own water gear, don’t want the hassle of bringing your gear, or are hiking in the winter when the water is extra cold, renting gear from these outfitters would be a great option.
Below is everything that I brought along on my bottom-up Narrows day hike (these were items that I already owned for other hiking and water-related adventures). ⤵️
Most hikers already own a set of trekking poles. You will just need one pole on your river trek through the Narrows. I did see a few hikers with two, but most just had one, whether it was a rented hiking stick or their own pole.
You will get wet no matter which season you are hiking. The water will be higher in the spring and winter so there will be deeper wades required to cross the river.
If you are hiking in the summer or fall, the water will generally be lower, but in our case, our September hike yielded a couple of waist-high crossings.
Since the temperature is quite a bit cooler in the slot canyon and since getting wet is inevitable, you will want to wear quick-drying clothes and even bring along a jacket and pants if you’re hiking in the off-season.
Waterproof Shoes and Neoprene Socks
I wore Merrell waterproof sports shoes; they are quick drying, neoprene-lined, and have a strong grip on the bottom for all of those slippery rocks that you will encounter.
I cannot stress this enough: you need shoes that have a grip. Without it, you will fall. A lot. I saw so many people with flip-flops, Birkenstocks, and open-toed sandals, and their balance was shaky.
Between the grip on our shoes and the poles to assist our balance, we were saved from falling (mostly). I am naturally clumsy, after all.
A pair of neoprene socks are also helpful to prevent blisters.
Since we only walked in waist-deep water twice, I could’ve probably gotten away with carrying my regular hiking backpack, but I chose to bring a dry bag just in case.
If you want to carry your regular backpack, just be aware that it could get wet, and be sure to protect any items that are vulnerable to water with an inner dry sack.
Water and Snacks
There is currently a cyanobacterium warning for the Virgin River (as of November 2023), which means hikers cannot filter water in the river. This means that you will need to carry all of your water, approximately one gallon per person per day.
Carry enough snacks for an extra day in case you find yourself in a situation where you can’t exit the canyon at the time that you planned.
I chose not to bring my expensive camera and lenses into the canyon, though I saw many people with cameras, lenses, tripods, and the whole nine yards. One guy was even using his tripod as his trekking pole to guide him through the water – whatever works for you!
You can easily store your camera inside a waterproof bag to protect it from the elements, but we decided to just carry a GoPro for this excursion. GoPros are 100% waterproof, making them the perfect companion for water-related adventures. The camera can get wet, even submerged underwater. Use it to take photos and videos while trekking through the canyon.
The Insta360 is also a great waterproof camera option.
First Aid Kit
Your first aid kit might vary but I carried band-aids, gauze, medical tape, blister pads, tweezer and tick key, antiseptic wipes, sting relief, bug spray, sunscreen, an emergency blanket, electrolytes, a cold pack, and an assortment of pills (ibuprofen, anti-diarrheal, and allergy).
I wrote a complete guide on hiker first aid including how to pack a first aid kit and how to recognize, prevent, and treat common hiker injuries. 🩹
If you hike the Zion Narrows in the dark or find yourself unexpectedly in the slot canyon in the dark, you’ll want a way to see.
A headlamp is the easiest option for illumination because it wraps snugly around your head and gives you a hands-free hiking experience.
→ READ NEXT: Night Hiking Tips 🔦
Do You Need to Be Physically Fit to Hike the Zion Narrows?
Yes and no.
Since you can go as shallow or deep into the canyon as you’d like, I’d argue that you don’t technically need to be in peak physical condition. (For the bottom-up route.) If you just choose to hike for 30 minutes upstream into the canyon, you may not need to be physically fit.
However, the weather and the flow rate can drastically alter your experience, so be sure to be prepared for those conditions before you enter the canyon. If the water is flowing at or faster than 70 CFS, you will need significant lower body strength to push through the current, wade through the deeper, faster-moving water, and grip those slippery rocks with gurgling cascades rolling over them. Even at 36 CFS, there were portions where the current was quite literally pulling at my feet.
You have to use your pole and trust your shoes to grip the rocks as you carefully cross the river. Luckily, if you do happen to fall, you’re not going to go anywhere. There are no cliffs, no steep drop-offs, or waterfalls that you are going to be tossed over. You will just end up in the water; brush it off, it happens to most people at some point throughout the hike!
That all being said, don’t underestimate the seriousness of this hike. It is quite dangerous.
If you are hiking the river top down, you need to be in excellent shape. It’s no easy feat to trek sixteen miles through a slot canyon with a raging river flowing through it.
Also, keep in mind that if you’re hiking bottom-up, it is more difficult to hike upstream than downstream, as you are fighting against the current.
Alternatively, the downstream flow might pull you through the water, causing you to potentially lose your balance more quickly.
Flash floods are very real, especially in the spring and summer months with the rain run-off, snowmelt, and storm threats. Do your research ahead of time to be sure that the risk is low, and consult a park ranger or read the up-to-date flood threat sign that is posted at the Narrows trailhead.
Also, even if it’s 100 degrees in Zion, the canyon will be much cooler. Hypothermia is also a risk as you will be drenched in water.
Ultimately, you just need to pay attention, be prepared, and most importantly, enjoy the crazy experience of trekking through a beautiful slot canyon!
Discover Your Next Adventure
Where to next? I’ve got some suggestions!
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
- Capitol Reef National Park
- Arches National Park
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
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