The Narrows in Zion is the one hike that you simply must do. Trust me, just start planning and make it happen! You won’t regret a single second of it. It will turn you into a hiker and change your perspective on the outdoors. This is definitely a bucket list.
The awesome part is that it is doable for the average person. It’s not super expensive or crazy under normal circumstances. We’ve climbed to the top of Whitney, amazing experience, but a little bit sketchy at times. We’ve hiked the JMT, which was beautiful, but long and difficult. This hike brought us more joy than I ever expected. Even our daughter who hates to hike and loathes the outdoors, LOVED this hike. Not kidding, about 98% of it is absolutely fantastic (you have to get past pooping in a bag while hoping that no one turns the corner in the process part)!23
Over three million people visit Zion National Park each year and approximately 90% of these will visit the bottom section of the Narrows. It is one of the most beautiful, popular and visited hikes in the United States. National Geographic ranked the Narrows as #4 of America’s Best Adventures. Interested? Wonderful! It is one of the most amazing hikes you will ever experience. We hiked the Top Down in one day with both of our teen aged daughters a few years ago. This is a hike you don’t want to miss.
Hiking the Bottom Up
There are two ways to experience the Narrows. The bottom up way is for non-hikers, those with health conditions, the young or elderly, non-planners or people who simply have a limited amount of time. The wonderful thing about doing it this way: a wilderness permit is unnecessary, you don’t have to check in with a ranger, you can simply get out of the free National Park Zion shuttle and hike as far and as long as you’d like.
To take this route, catch the free shuttle at the Temple of Sinawava. Take it to the very last stop, hike up the Riverside Walk, then go up the river as far as you’d like. My biggest tips are go early (the water will smell like urine in the afternoon and it will be crowded. I’m aware of how terrible that sounds, but trust me, it’s worth it.)
If you’d like to go see Wall Street (a famous section of the hike known for the beautiful colored rocks which begins about three miles upstream) or hike more than a few hundred feet, rent some canyoneering boots in town. The rocks are slippery and the boots really increase your traction. We used Zion Adventure Company, totally worth the money (roughly $23 a day). And, when I say the rocks are incredibly slippery, I mean, like super slick ice.
Hiking the Top Down
The second way to hike is the Narrows is the Top Down. It can be done in one day or split into two days. The entire hike is 16 miles long and usually takes 10 to 14 hours, depending on your gear, physical condition and the water levels. This hike requires a permit and a ride to the trailhead (Chamberlain’s Ranch) which is about an hour and a half drive from the entrance of Zion.
Luckily there are several shuttles available for roughly $37 a person. Use the shuttle! We loved Zion Adventure Company http://www.zionadventures.com/ . It was a relief to simply get in the van and have someone not only navigate but get us there safely. He was able to answer any last minute lingering questions that surfaced and was super entertaining. Plan ahead! The same day that you receive your permit, make arrangements with a shuttle service, it’s all done online. They sell out quickly. We were also able to rent gear (more on that later) at Zion Adventure Company which made logistics easier.
Getting the permit can be a little tricky. The first thing you need to do is pick out several possible days and decide if you want to do the hike in one day or two. We did it in one day and would highly recommend two days. You see, the one day trip leaves you exiting the narrows in the late afternoon among the hordes of people who have hiked up from the bottom.
Benefits to doing the top down in two days
By comparison, the two day trip will have you exiting the narrows much earlier in the day, long before the crowds have made it from the bottom. Trust me, do the two day trip. You will want to relish every moment of it. You’ll want to stop and take pictures and enjoy, especially if it is your first time doing it. The one day hike requires you to make time check-ins in order to make sure that you are out of the canyons before the sunsets. Trying to navigate your footing on the rocks in the dark doesn’t sound like fun. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, the rocks are slippery, especially in some areas of the river.
Benefit to doing the top down in one day
The benefit to doing it in one day, is that you don’t need to carry your overnight gear, hike with it in the water, or worry about spending the night in the canyon due to flash floods. I have one daughter who has anxieties and flash flood concern was more than she could handle. After doing the hike in one day, even she wished we had done it in two days!
Best time to hike the narrows
The hike is ideal in summer and early autumn. It is closed during the spring (usually March to May). The water flow and water height are high due to snow runoff making the hike dangerous. Some years it is even closed in the beginning of May due to high water. It is possible to do the hike in winter with the right gear, but the road to Chamberlain’s Ranch is often closed. The tickets go on sale the 5th of each month at 10am Mountain Time.
Tip: make sure you are logged in and ready to make the reservation at exactly 10am Mountain Time! These reservations sell out insanely fast! I would recommend June through September. The reservations run three months ahead:
If you want a trip in May, reservations are on March 5th.
June, reservations are on April 5th.
July, reservations are on May 5th.
August reservations are on June 5th.
September, reservations are on July 5th. You get the idea.
If you choose the one day hike, use this link
For the overnight backpacking two day hike, use this link https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/backpackingpermits.htm All of the camping spots are wonderful. We really liked spots 1, 6, 7, and 8.
Other tips: There are next day walk in permits at the Visitor Center and 2 to 7 day lottery permits available. If you have a more open schedule use this link https://zionpermits.nps.gov/lastminutedrawingapply.cfm
The Zion Canyon Campground is where we stayed. When making a reservation, the R next to a number means it is a site next to the river, $39 and it’s right outside the park. Watchman Campground and Zion National Park Campground South are other options. We arrived the night before the hike and spent the night after. It made one super long day. The next day we rafted down the river which was fun!
Important cautions for the narrows!
I would not recommend this hike to someone who isn’t a strong swimmer. Depending on water levels, most of the water is between your calves and waist high, however there are portions that are above your head. There are several sections that you will need to swim! Most were about the length of three cars.