A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking the Narrows in Zion

Last updated Sep 10, 2021 | USA | 14 comments |

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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 money on US National Park entry fees!

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.

Tip: if you don’t have time to hike the Narrows, you can still get to experience narrow slot canyons on this slot canyon + UTV tour by East Zion Adventures.

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.

To save time getting there, I would recommend staying overnight in Springdale. The closest hotel to the Visitor’s Center is the scenic Cable Mountain Lodge. You can literally walk out your door and be there. We stayed overnight in the Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort on the opposite side of the park, so we had to leave extra early to take the shuttle in the morning.

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!

Also Read: The Perfect 2 Day Zion National Park Itinerary

zion narrows map

Map of Zion Narrows hike (bottom-up) | via Zion Guru

How to Book the Zion Shuttle Tickets Online

⚠️ Zion National Park is discontinuing the temporary shuttle ticket system for Zion Canyon. Stay up to date here.

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.

P.S grab a 2021-2022 America The Beautiful Park Pass here. It pays for itself if you visit just 2 National Parks within an entire year. You could use it for visiting both Zion and Bryce Canyon in one trip!

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 small 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!

Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park

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 (the closest hotel is the beautiful Cable Mountain Lodge).

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.

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14 Comments

  1. Terri

    Great article. Thank you . We were wondering if we needed to rent shoes and poles and this was very helpful

    I would like to reference your article in one of my upcoming blog posts if you don’t mind

    Reply
    • Bri

      Hi Terri! Thanks so much for reading and I’m glad you found it useful. Of course, I’d be happy if you referenced me on your RV blog. We can’t wait to get back to traveling in our van. Hope you have happy & safe adventures! x 🚐

      Reply
  2. kathy

    what time of year did you do the hike? I’m planning a trip in the end of May so wondering about the temperature and if I can just wear my allbirds as well, thanks! 🙂

    Reply
    • Bri

      Hi Kathy! We hiked the Narrows in mid-August. The water was cool then as well. I quickly checked the current conditions and the last water temp reading was on 4/30 and recorded 62ºF/16ºC. Hope that helps! 🙂 x

      Reply
  3. Carmon McTigue

    Is it worth it just to hike the Riverside Walk trail to just put your feet in and get the pic?

    Reply
    • Bri

      Depends on what pic you’d like to get! The start of the Narrows hike can be seen from my photo of the trailhead with everyone in the water. The canyon walls won’t actually narrow until about 2.5 hours into the hike. Hope that helps! I would say it’s still worth it, though! The Riverside Walk Trail is very scenic. 🙂

      Reply
      • lynne girard

        What a great article, you answered questions I have spent hours trying to find answers to! Thank you, thank you.
        We are thinking of early April but I have heard that the water maybe deep in March and April due to the snow melting. What are your thoughts?

        Reply
        • Bri

          Hi Lynne! So glad you got your questions answered!! Makes me so happy 🙌 So yes, it’s hard to say — according to the NPS on this page, the river can be closed to visitors during the spring due to high levels of snowmelt. It’s a tricky decision. It would also be cold. I would try to wait until mid-May if possible, and if not, I would risk it anyway! Perhaps go, and if the Narrows hike isn’t open, then there are plenty of other hiking/adventure activities in Zion that are bucket-list-worthy. Hope that helps, 💛

          Reply
  4. Amanda

    Do you have to get a permit to hike the Narrows or just snag a shuttle ticket??
    Thanks!!

    Reply
    • Bri

      You only need a Wilderness Permit to hike the Narrows top down. But if you are hiking bottom up, you don’t need a permit. You’d just need a shuttle ticket to get to the drop-off point. Hope that helps!!

      Reply
  5. Jason Gordon

    Shuttle tickets? Since when do you need tickets to get on the shuttle? Is this new?

    Reply
    • Bri

      Yeah, since the p@andemic begin to help control the crowds on the shuttles! The shuttle route was also closed off to private cars, whereas beforehand it wasn’t.

      Reply
      • Diana Lubeck

        Hi! Thanks for the information. How long is the shuttle drive from entrance to trailhead drop off? Miles ? Thank you!

        Reply
        • Bri

          Hi Diana! The shuttle drive from the shuttle station/visitor’s center all the way to the last top (Temple of Sinawava) for the Narrows hike takes around 30 minutes. It’s about 6.2 miles from the start of Zion Canyon road or about 8.1 miles from the Zion National Park Visitor’s Center. Hope that helps!! x

          Reply

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Hi, I’m Bri! I’ve been slow traveling around the world in search of new adventures since 2013. I have lived in 8 countries on 4 continents including Nepal, Mexico, Colombia, and parts of Europe! I created this blog to inspire others to live a life of adventure, seek out meaningful experiences, and to travel slowly and mindfully. Join me on this journey and let’s tick off our bucket lists! Read my story here.

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