Nestled in southwestern Utah, Zion National Park is a natural wonderland that beckons outdoor enthusiasts from around the world. Its striking red rock formations, deep canyons, and vibrant landscapes make it a paradise for hikers and nature lovers. One of the most iconic and unforgettable experiences within this stunning park is hiking The Narrows – a narrow, winding gorge carved by the Virgin River. Before jumping knee-deep into the river’s water, you will need some planning and essential gear before embarking on the adventure of hiking The Narrows.
Hiking Gear and Planning
Before setting out on your journey to hike The Narrows, thorough preparation is essential. This unique hike is not like your typical trail experience. Most of the hike takes place in the river, meaning you’ll be wading through water ranging from knee-deep to chest deep.
As a result, proper gear is vital. I rented my neoprene socks, boots, and walking stick from Zion Outfitter, conveniently located just outside Zion Nation Park’s South entrance. As with any hike, I always recommend getting up early to be first on the trail for the day. However, this is especially true if you want to hike The Narrows. With the popularity of this hiking trail, Zion Outfitter can run out of gear by mid-morning. Unless you have closed-toed water shoes, this is not the hike to wear your standard hiking boots or Chaco hiking sandals.
Above all else, whether you have the proper shoes or not, a hiking stick is an absolute must. The riverbed is lined with large rocks, and the river’s current will sweep your feet out from underneath you unless you always have at least two points of contact on the ground. Some individuals opt to use tree branches they find in the woods as hiking sticks while on their outdoor excursions. However, I strongly advised against doing so as these improvised hiking sticks lack the necessary durability and strength required for navigating rocky terrains or crossing rivers. Moreover, this practice goes against the fundamental principle of “leave no trace” that every hiker adheres to. It is more appropriate to spend $10 to rent a proper hiking stick rather than resorting to breaking off tree limbs or veering off the trail to use a branch that would eventually end up cluttering the trailhead or floating downstream as they are carelessly discarded at the end of the hike.
It’s also vital to consider the weather and river conditions. Currently (2023), you do not need a permit to hike The Narrows. However, the trail will close if the water level is too high. I visited in late June, and the trail reopened just a week prior. The Narrows are best hiked in the late spring, summer, or early fall when water levels are lower, and the weather is warmer. Flash floods are a real danger in this area. A reminder of how unpredictable the weather can be is played on a loop on the bus ride out to the trailhead. Take these warnings seriously, always check the weather forecast and be prepared to postpone your hike if conditions are unfavorable.
The Narrows Hiking Gear Essentials
To fully enjoy your hike in The Narrows, you’ll need to be well-equipped. Here’s a list of essential gear to bring along:
- Footwear: Sturdy and comfortable footwear is a must. Many hikers opt for neoprene socks and water shoes/boots for good grip and protection. Sandals or bare feet are not recommended due to the rocky riverbed.
- Walking Stick: A wooden walking stick can provide stability and help you navigate the uneven river bottom. I do not recommend trekking poles as they can be too flimsy and get stuck between the rocks.
- Backpack/ Dry Bags: A small, waterproof backpack will come in handy for carrying your essentials. If you are worried about getting electronics wet, a dry bag will be a must. It’s not a question of if things will get wet, it’s when things will get wet.
- Clothing: Dress in moisture-wicking, quick-drying clothing. Layering is essential for changing weather conditions. Think running shorts and light layers.
- Water & Snacks: I can’t believe how many people go hiking without water and snacks. Just because you’re hiking in the water doesn’t mean you don’t have to bring your own. Please, bring plenty of water and energy-rich snacks to stay hydrated and fueled for the hike.
- Maps and GPS: Familiarize yourself with the trail and consider bringing a map or GPS device. Maps can also be picked up from the Visitor Center for free. You likely will not have cell service in Zion Nation Park. Make sure to download your maps before starting your hike, or bring a GPS for navigation.
- First Aid Kit: You’re probably going to fall down or get a splinter. Always have a basic first aid kit on hand.
The Hiking The Narrows
The Narrows hike can be customized to suit various fitness levels and time constraints. The trailhead starts at the Temple of Sinawava and progresses upstream. The initial part of the hike involves walking on a paved trail for a mile before transitioning into the river portion of the hike. The first mile on the paved trail was the hardest for me. Out of pure excitement and anticipation, I had to weave between crowds of slow walkers and strollers before reaching the inlet to the river.
As I stepped further into the gorge, the immense canyon walls loomed above me, casting a shadow over my every move. The narrow passageway seems to swallow me whole, making me feel as small as an ant crawling through the cracks of a sidewalk. The bustling crowds that once surrounded me quickly dissipated, leaving me alone with just my thoughts and the echoing sounds of the rushing river bouncing off the walls of the canyon. The sheer magnitude of the towering cliffs left me in awe as I continued on my journey, humbled by the natural wonder surrounding me.
As I embark on my hiking adventure, I prepare myself for the breathtaking views that await me. The journey involved traversing through the rugged canyon walls, immersing myself in the cool waters that flow through the canyon, and admiring the intricate rock formations that have been delicately sculpted over millions of years by the gentle flow of water.
As I navigated the winding path, I made sure to pause and take in the surrounding beauty, looking up to appreciate the stunning views that surround me. The journey was not without its challenges; carefully zig-zagging over the river, my focus was on every step I made, ensuring that each move was calculated and safe so as not to slip or fall. It was a journey that required physical and mental agility, but the reward was a truly unforgettable experience.
The Narrows hike is a popular out-and-back trail that offers hikers the flexibility to choose their preferred turnaround point. Many hikers opt to end their journey at Big Spring, which is a great spot to take a break and enjoy the stunning views. Personally, I decided to turn around at the six-mile mark to allow myself enough time to explore other trails and visit the Visitor Center before it closed.
Hiking The Narrows in Zion National Park is an experience like no other. It’s a journey into the heart of a magnificent canyon, where the beauty of nature surrounds you at every turn. With careful planning and the right gear, you can make this adventure safe and unforgettable. So, pack your bags, and get ready to immerse yourself in the enchanting world of The Narrows. It’s a hike that will leave you with memories to cherish for a lifetime.
To fully explore all the activities available in Utah and the surrounding area, I highly recommend taking a look at the posts listed below. They offer valuable information and insights that can help you make the most of your time in the area. Don’t miss out on any of the amazing experiences the Western United States has to offer.
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