Key information: Zion Narrows
- Extraordinary deep, narrow slot canyon in the Zion National Park, Utah, arguably the best of its kind in the world.
- Walking in water much of the time; flash floods are a menace, so take precautions. Come prepared for wet and variable canyon conditions.
- Walkopedia rating90
- Natural interest18
- Human interest2
- Negative points2
- Total rating90
- Note: Negs: Popularity; crowding the Zion end
- Length: 1-2 days
- Maximum Altitude: N/A
- Level of Difficulty: Strenuous
This extraordinary deep, narrow “slot” canyon in the Zion NP is the best-known, and arguably the best, of its kind in the world. Water-smoothed red sandstone walls soar above, their tops usually invisible, screened by the complex and often overhanging heights, which they are over 1,000m high in places. The Narrows are quite wide at the Zion end, but have narrowed by the top of the Riverside Walk, down to 20ft in places. A beautiful, quiet, indirect light pervades the place. The Virgin River flows along the bottom, so this is wet walking.
The accessible section of the canyon is some 26km long, from the trailhead at Chamberlain’s Ranch to the north-east to the exit into the main Zion canyon at the Temple of Sinawava. It can be walked in a long day (or with an overnight); but most people walk in from the bottom of the Narrows, whether on the easy, maintained Riverside Walk or, more adventurously, further in on the longer and wet “Bottom Up Route”. The Virgin River is a permanent feature, so, once you are past the Riverside Walk, you are paddling/wading (sometimes waist or even chest deep) the majority of the time.
Top Down Route: the big ‘un. A tough but thrilling and fascinating hike the entire length of the Narrows. 26km/16 miles; Between 10 and 15 hours’ walking depending on your fitness and endurance. One very long day, or two with an overnight camping in one of the many designated campsites the Narrows, which you book when you pick up your permit.
Bottom Up Route: the trail that most serious walkers take, apart from the really tough and committed, who take on the Top Down Route. Demanding and tiring walking, much of the time in the river after the end of the Riverside Walk. But an extraordinary experience. 15km/9.4 miles return. From the top end of the Riverside Walk, it is 2 miles or so on to the junction with Orderville Canyon to the right; a lesser but still thrilling canyon, narrow and wet lower down, semi-technical and gorgeous walking in its own right (it can be canyoneered top down in 7-10hrs). Beyond Orderville, you get to Wall Street, 3km+ of exceptionally narrow and high walls with little vegetation. Get here if you can, it is the defining section. Beyond Wall Street, the canyon widens and becomes more vegetated. Most people turn back at beautiful Big Spring, a collection of several little springs gushing from the walls.
Riverside Walk: this easy, dry, maintained 2.1 mile (3.3km) return trail meanders beside the river up the still-wide canyon, at first among cottonwood trees, up to where the walls have narrowed such that the river occupies the whole floor. Enjoy hanging gardens, swamps and pools from the seeping cliffs; look out for mule deer and birds – warblers especially. A stunning walk, but a mere foretaste for the wonders of the longer trails.
You will be walking in water much of the time once beyond the Riverside Walk; come prepared for wet and variable canyon conditions – and for getting really cold. You can hire water boots and sticks (highly recommended), and other equipment and clothing, in Springdale. Flash floods are a deadly menace, so check the weather and risks, ask at the visitor centre and take careful precautions before you go.
The Narrows are closed when the river is high; snowmelt run-off is April and early May. Check closures at the visitor centre. The best times to visit are said to be June, July and the second half of September. A permit is required to walk beyond the Riverside Walk and can be hard to get, so prepare early. Check ahead for current procedures.
Zion is heavily visited, and the Narrows world famous, among walkers at least, so you won't be alone on the Riverside Walk or the Bottom Up Route. Be prepared to be accepting.
The Grand Canyon with Zion and Bryce Canyon NPs – Cicerone: excellent, although one can sometimes feel one has not got a sense of what a walk will really be like; includes all relevant practical information. Recommended. Find relevant books on Amazon.
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Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
COMMUNITY COMMENTS AND PHOTOS
Posted on: 20/10/2014
This is by far one of the most spectacular, challenging, and fulfilling hikes I have ever gone on. It is a slot canyon with cliffs of varying colors carved by a river over thousands of years rising above you and at points narrowing enough to almost touch the sides. My wife and I hiked the Zion Narrows over two days in early June. We are in our 40's, in average shape (work out 2-3 times per week), hike regularly, and trained with 20lb packs for two weeks walking every other day for about 5-7 miles. The weather was hot and dry, but the water level was still somewhat higher. We took ALL of the advice from the Zion NP website and we recommend you do too, i.e. wet socks, treaded shoes, waterproof packs, etc. They were right, we were wet 100% of the time while hiking since the river is your only path. The air is warm, the water is not, but the view and technical nature of the hike takes away any discomfort you might feel. The is little-to-no direct sun with cliffs on both sides. They give you a poop bag, so be prepared to hike out EVERYTHING. You will need two poles and use them the whole time. We both wore Keen fabric sandals because of the grippy rubber tread and toe guards (important). We cut the cheap elastic shoelace and laced them with good laces. We sealed everything in individual dry bags and used backpacks with hollow aluminum frames that float. This is important because there is some swimming involved. We used a jetboil and freeze dried prepared meals. We camped at site 12 (the last site) and we're glad we did because the second day is challenging and it's nice to clear the waterfall before you go to bed. Beware: You will NOT be able to hike this from top to bottom in 1 day. Two hikers on our ride up thought they could, but there is no way to run, it is too slick. The moment the sun went down, it is pitch black due to no moonlight and a flashlight is useless reflecting off of the water. The nights are very cold in the desert. I inquired about them when we hiked out and all I was told was that they had to be hospitalized.
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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