Last October I had the opportunity to visit Zion National Park for 3 days during my 2-week road trip visiting Utah’s Mighty Five. The highlight of visiting Zion was definitely hiking the Narrows!
If you’re like me, I pretty much knew nothing going into this adventurous hike beforehand.
I did some quick research a few days prior and I’m glad I did because being prepared is a MUST for this hike.
Looking back, it was an adventure I’ll never forget & is something I recommend you experience during your lifetime (if you’re into these kinds of things, that is).
This post will help you prepare so you can have a successful Narrows hike!
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Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park
- Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park
- Hiking the Narrows: Bottom-up
One of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to this hike is: Do I need a permit?
Well, it depends on how you wish to hike the Narrows.
3 Ways to Hike the Narrows
1. Bottom-Up (day hike)
- No permit required
2. Top-Down (16-mile day hike)
- Permit required
- Permits for this option are not available in the winter due to not enough daylight to safely complete the hike
3. Top-Down (16-mile hike over 2 days)
- Permit required
- The best option if you don’t want to feel rushed or if it’s winter when the top-down one-day permits aren’t available
Hiking the Narrows from the bottom up does not require a permit. You can hike as far as Big Spring (5 miles up the river) without a permit.
If you want to hike from the top-down (starting at Chamberlain’s Ranch), a permit IS required.
Hiking downstream is a 16-mile trek and can be done in one or two days. If you want to hike top-down, you must arrange a ride (1.5 hours) to Chamberlain’s Ranch.
How long is the Narrows hike?
Hiking the Narrows can be however long you want it to be!
Keep in mind that you need to hike 1 mile on the Riverwalk Trail to get to the entrance to the Narrows.
The farthest you can hike without a permit is to Big Springs, which is 5 miles up the river.
Getting to the Trailhead
Take the Zion shuttle all the way to the Temple of Sinawava (the last stop on the shuttle route, stop #9). Walk to the end of the Riverwalk trail, about 1 mile. The end of the Riverwalk has steps leading down where you can access the river and start hiking the Narrows!
Tip: If renting hiking gear, see if you can pick up your rentals the day/night before so you can catch the first shuttle of the day to hit the trail early & avoid crowds! Click here to see the shuttle schedule.
Be sure to use the restroom at the trailhead before you start hiking! There are not any secluded areas to use the restroom while hiking the river.
There is also a water source located at the trailhead if you want to fill up before you head into the river.
Best Time to Hike the Narrows
The river tends to be warmer & at a lower water level in the summer, which is when most people choose to hike the Narrows. July & August are the most popular months for hiking the Narrows.
April tends to be when the water is flowing the fastest, making it much harder to hike.
Snowmelt in early spring increases the water level & can lead to the Narrows being closed.
Hiking the river in the fall will give you less daylight & cooler water, but it will be significantly less crowded.
My personal suggestion would be September or October. The water temp is still tolerable and the river won’t be as crowded.
Temperature of the Water
Depending on what you wear for the hike, water temp can make a huge impact.
If you choose not to rent a wet or drysuit, the water temp will impact you the most.
When we were hiking the narrows in October, the water temp was around 50-55 degrees. We chose to rent a dry pant package from Zion Adventure Company and I’m so glad I did! I didn’t get cold & everything stayed dry except my feet (which was supposed to happen). More on hiking gear later.
Here’s a general overview of water temps across the seasons:
- Winter = 40-45 degrees
- Spring = 45-55 degrees
- Summer = 55-65 degrees
- Fall = 50-60 degrees
Of note, they say temps under 50 degrees Fahrenheit put you at risk for hypothermia.
As you can imagine, how strong the river is flowing can greatly impact the intensity of this hike.
Here’s a quick lesson on water flow:
Water flow: (cubic feet per second, CFS)
- <70 CFS, mildly difficult to walk in the water, can get up to waist-deep
- >70 CFS, moderately challenging, mid-thigh deep, sometimes chest-deep
The Narrows is closed to hiking when water flow is above 150 CFS.
When renting our gear, Zion Adventure Company had all the info we needed about the river depth & flow.
However, if you want to check before you go, click the link before & look at the second graph.
Check the weather to make sure there are no storms in the forecast.
Even if the storms are not directly in Zion, flash floods can happen rapidly (within minutes).
Also, keep in mind that while it may be hot in other parts of Zion, the Narrows can be much cooler due to the shade of the canyon walls & the temperature of the river.
Hiking the Narrows: Bottom-up
Hiking bottom-up is the most popular route since it is a shorter hike & does not require a permit.
Use this map below provided by Zion Adventure Company to help you get an understanding of hiking the Narrows bottom-up!
Points of interest when hiking bottom-up:
Mystery Canyon Falls
- Mystery Canyon Falls is located almost a half-mile up the river from the end of the Riverside Walk Trail. It’s common to see people repelling down the canyon walls at this spot!
- When hiking bottom-up, Orderville Canyon is about 3 miles up on the right. You can take a side tour here and hike up Orderville Canyon to Veiled Falls.
- Wall Street starts at the Orderville Canyon Junction (3 miles in) and is what most people look forward to when hiking the Narrows. The canyon walls in Wall Street are over 1500 feet high and get as narrow as 22-feet wide.
- Big Springs is located 5 miles up the river and is the farthest you will be allowed to hike without a permit. The campsites located here are where the backpackers stay who choose to hike top-down over 2 days.
Recommended Gear for Hiking the Narrows
At the VERY LEAST, you should have appropriate footwear and a walking stick for this hike.
I recommend against sandals/any open-toe water shoes. The rocks were much slicker than I ever anticipated and I can see how you get injured. As a nurse, I’ve seen way too many people have a bump or scrape get infected from being in various bodies of water.
A walking stick (or trekking poles) will help you immensely since you will be hiking against the current on slick rocks that you can’t always see.
In hindsight, I’m sooo glad we rented dry pants, socks, boots & a walking stick before the hike. The only part of my body that got wet was my feet & it wasn’t bad at all. And I didn’t get any blisters from the neoprene socks and water boots.
The next three items I recommend are dry bags, layers & a backpack!
Dry bags will save your important items (camera, phone, food, etc) from getting wet in case you were to fall or get your backpack wet. You can purchase these on Amazon, most outdoor retailers, or rent them from an outfitter.
Layers are a MUST for this hike, especially if starting early in the morning. The tall canyon walls leave you with very little sun exposure & it’s always more chilly by a river. I wore my Patagonia pullover the entire time.
I HIGHLY recommend you wear a backpack. There were parts of the Narrows that were deep & difficult to maneuver. I ended up using one hand to hold onto the canyon wall & the other for my walking stick.
I also suggest a backpack that is hydration compatible. It’s so much easier than trying to stop and pull out a water bottle whenever you are thirsty.
Miscellaneous Items to Bring
Bringing food, water & snacks is a no-brainer. So let’s look at some other things that were (or would have been) helpful for hiking the Narrows.
I bought a waterproof cell phone pouch from Zion Adventure Company when we rented our dry suits & ended up LOVING it. I could actually use the touchscreen through the bag without having to pull my phone out.
Looking back, I wish I’d brought some Tylenol or ibuprofen. My hip & ankle starting hurting about halfway through the hike, preventing me from hiking any further up the river. Had I been smart, I could’ve taken some medicine & hurt less every.single.step.
Last but not least, make sure you bring something to document your trip with! Whether it’s a cell phone, camera, or GoPro, this is definitely something you will want to remember for years to come.
Tip: If you bring a DSLR, you will want to bring a wide-angle lens. Otherwise, it will be hard to capture how tall the canyon walls are.
Many places in Springdale (right outside of Zion) provide you with rentals for hiking the Narrows. You can rent wetsuits, drysuits, dry bags, etc.
We rented from Zion Adventure Company and had a great experience. The workers were super informative & answered all my questions. They had us watch a short video on the hike & what to expect.
Being able to pick up our drysuits the day before was awesome because we could get to the Narrows early before the crowds.
We rented the Dry Pant Package ($45), which includes Gor-Tex dry pants, Neoprene socks, canyon shoes, and a hiking pole.
Click here to check out their rental packages (<– not sponsored, not an affiliate link).
Tip: The Gor-Tex dry pants are NOT stretchy at all. You may want to size up for comfort.
The dry pants have rubber gaskets at the bottom, so only your feet will get wet. The Neoprene socks let a water barrier in between your feet & the socks. The water is cold at first but quickly warms up once you get moving.
In hindsight, renting hiking gear was a lifesaver. I don’t think I would’ve made it very far with my entire lower half being cold & wet while sliding all over slippery river rocks in heavy, water-logged hiking boots.