One of the best activities to do on a trip to Zion National Park is none other than hiking the Narrows. On this hike, you wade through the shallow Virgin River in between towering red and carbon colored canyon walls. If you have a love for adventure and the outdoors, hiking in the Narrows in Zion definitely deserves a spot on your bucket list!
Before our trip, I searched tons about the Narrows hike, including when to go, what to wear, how to get there, trail length, etc., and always came up short! So I decided to write my own guide for hiking the Narrows for beginners. It includes everything you need to know about hiking in the Narrows in Zion so you can head out fully prepared. 🙂
Here’s everything I learned during our trip on how to hike the Zion narrows!
P.S Don’t forget to snag a 2021-2022 America The Beautiful Park Pass and save!
Guide to Hiking the Zion Narrows for Beginners
The Narrows hike (bottom-up) is an easy-moderate hike that’s ideal for the adventurous at heart. It is a great hike for couples, solo travelers, fit elders, and families! We saw many parents with their kids hiking the Narrows without a problem. The water is fairly shallow for most of the hike. There are only a few places where it gets a little deeper (it reached the top of my thighs and I’m 5’4).
How long does it take to hike the Narrows bottom-up? It really just depends. How much do you want to hike? The Narrows stretches for 16 miles but that’s if you hike top-down. Most people hike between 2-6 hours on the Narrows hike when starting at the bottom (~6 miles round trip).
Since the Narrows hike is an in-and-out trail, whatever mileage and time you put in hiking in, you have to do out. However, it does take less time to hike out since you’re going with the current. We hiked in 2 hours, and it took us 1h 15m to hike out. On a separate trip, my dad hiked in 3 hours and it only took 2 to hike back out.
Note: You should also factor in the time and mileage it takes to reach the Narrows via the Riverside Walk Trail which is 2.2 miles round trip (20-25 minutes each way). Also, it takes 40-45 minutes to get to the Narrows shuttle stop via the shuttle bus from the Zion Visitor’s Center located at the entrance of the park.
Plan for at least 4-6 hours to hike the Narrows in total (= shuttle time + Riverside Trail to reach the Narrows + time hiking in the Narrows to Wall Street and back).
You could do more, but up to you! Personally, we were satisfied with what we saw. We hiked for 2 hours and reached the part of the hike where it “narrows” and splits off to the right (seen on the below map as Orderville Canyon). I’d recommend at least hiking that far in, if not further all the way to Wall Street or continue for a super long hike all the way to Big Springs.
Many hikers will turn around before reaching the first split at Orderville Canyon. I’m glad we didn’t because we would’ve missed where the canyon walls get closer and closer together. Plus, the Navajo sandstone coloration is so gorgeous!
How to Book the Zion Shuttle Tickets Online
Make sure to book your shuttle ticket in advance on Recreation.gov (you can’t purchase shuttle tickets the same day). There are tickets you can buy two weeks in advance, but if you miss the deadline don’t worry as you still have options. (This happened to us). Here’s what to do instead:
The “Not Yet Released” tickets go live at 9 AM Mountain Time the day before the date of travel. So if you want to take the shuttle on August 18th in the morning, log in to your account on Recreation.gov to purchase Zion canyon shuttle tickets the day before (Aug. 17th) at exactly 9 AM MT. Tickets are available for 1-hour timeslots (i.e. 7:00 – 8:00 AM). The morning timeslots will sell out in less than 5 minutes so hurry up and choose!
The tickets cost only $1 and you have to have them in order to ride the shuttle when in Zion. Tip: Have your card information ready and plan your activities for that day in Zion in advance so you know what timeslot to pick.
When Is the Best Time to Hike the Narrows?
Start early in the morning to watch as the canyon walls light up with the sunrise. We started our hike around 9 AM and the river was mostly shaded thanks to the height of the canyon walls.
On your way out, the sun will likely start hitting your head and there will be parts of the canyon that are in full sun by noon. So bring a hat and sunscreen for your face because even as you trudge through the refreshing river, the sun rays will heat you up!
The Narrows can flood at times and is not safe for hiking. Typically there are warning signs when there is risk of flooding, but if you’re not sure or don’t see any signs posted, ask a park ranger at the visitor’s center for updates on trail closures and warnings.
What Should You Wear to Hike the Narrows?
When hiking the Narrows in Zion, make sure to wear comfortable clothing. Sporty outfits – running leggings/capris/shorts (I recommend high-waist biking shorts) and breathable shirts and SPF tank tops are best. You are hiking, after all!
That said, if you head out early, it can feel quite chilly inside the canyon with the water. But once you get going, you’ll heat up.
As for shoes, I don’t recommend hiking the Narrows in Chacos or sandals. You are walking in the water 90% of the time over small and large rocks and it would be easy to stub a toe or slip. I found it much easier to carefully shuffle my way through the water rather than step over the rocks. It’s less splashy that way and you’ll have better footing.
Many hikers rent neoprene/waterproof hiking boots and socks from one of the stores in town (Zion Guru, Zion Outfitters, etc). It’s not necessary if you’re hiking during the summer months, but if you hike the Narrows during spring or fall when it’s cooler, it’ll probably save your toes from freezing off.
I wore my sustainable Allbirds trail runners and they worked just fine. Any sneaker should do if they’re not too slippery or heavy.
As for accessories – you might find it helpful to take along trekking poles to help navigate over the rocks. The river’s current is stronger in some areas, but nothing too strong to knock you over.
Take a day backpack that stores your water (it’s recommended to take at least 1 gallon per person), and other items you want to take with you. I took my camera and DJI Osmo Action along as well. You don’t really need a dry bag for the hike but it might be a good idea if you slip and fall in the water (I had a few close calls!).
How to Prepare for the Narrows Hike
The Narrows bottom-up hike is fairly accessible for all ages. That said, you don’t really need to train prior to your trip, but you should be comfortable hiking for several hours with wet feet and legs! Hiking the Narrows bottom-up is overall easy with hardly zero inclines. You might have to scramble over some rocks, but that’s about it!
How to Hike the Zion Narrows Responsibly
Here are a few tips on how to responsibly hike the Narrows in Zion.
The only bathroom available on the Narrows hike is at the Riverside Walk trailhead, the same as the shuttle stop #9 – Temple of Sinawava.
PLEASE don’t pee in the river, throw trash, or mark/carve into the canyon walls and please report anyone who does.
You’ll probably see some closed off paths where people have trampled over flora in the past. Don’t ignore those signs and trudge on anyway. Stick to the marked trails and pack out everything you pack in!
Zion National Park is a beautiful natural wonder and we should do all that we can to conserve and preserve it! Please be aware of your impact when you’re hiking the Narrows and the other trails in Zion. With thousands of visitors every day, harmful small actions really add up!
Other FAQ About Hiking the Narrows in Zion
- How difficult is hiking the Narrows? Not very difficult, unless you want to hike the entire trail length for an all-day adventure.
- How many miles is the Narrows hike? 16 miles total if you hike top-down, but most people just hike in 1-3 miles bottom-up and turn around and come back, considering you have to hike out whatever you hike in.
- How deep is the water in the Narrows? From the 2-3 hours we hiked, the water doesn’t get very deep on the river crossings. You’ll hike both in the water and on the dry rock bed that skirts part of the canyon walls. There are places that are deeper, above waist level, but you’re not obligated to go through that.
- Where do you park to hike the Narrows? From now until December 2020 or until further notice, you can’t drive your own car into the Zion Canyon to access the trailheads. You have to take the shuttle from the visitor’s center (unless you’re staying overnight in Zion Lodge then you can hop on the shuttle from there).
Finally, the Narrows in Zion National Park has become one of our all-time favorite hikes! If you are planning a trip here in the future, check out my 2 day Zion itinerary for more travel tips on what to do, where to stay, hike, eat, and more.
You will LOVE hiking in the Narrows in Zion! If you have any more questions about hiking the Narrows for beginners, feel free to drop me a question below in the comments or email me.