Explore: The Narrows of Zion National Park; top-to-bottom guide

Cimarron Chacon takes a closer look at a waterfall on The Narrows hike in Zion National Park, Utah, July 1, 2015 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

ZION NATIONAL PARK – The Narrows in Zion National Park is a quintessential bucket list hike for many visitors wishing to experience firsthand the stunning and often surreal beauty created by time and the elements that exists in between the towering Navajo sandstone walls.

The Narrows of Zion National Park, Utah, July 1, 2015 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News
The Narrows of Zion National Park, Utah, July 1, 2015 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

While the most popular access to The Narrows is from the Temple of Sinawava via the paved Riverside Walk, for a more intimate and more ambitious journey, there is no better way to see The Narrows than a top-to-bottom tour starting at Chamberlain’s Ranch and culminating at the Temple of Sinawava.

This 16-mile day or overnight hike takes explorers from the Virgin River’s humble north fork beginnings through cascading waterfalls, narrow canyons that give the trail its name, swimming holes of emerald green and beyond into a magical world where springs bubble up from hidden cracks and ferns cling to life in unimaginable places.

The canyon’s otherworldly beauty is undoubtedly what draws visitors from all over to view its secret world of wonder, and hikers won’t be disappointed by the awesome sights that await them as they make their way along the river bottom, so let’s explore what it takes to do The Narrows from top to bottom.

Permit me to pass

L-R Hollie Reina and Kathleen Berglund wade through the Virgin River on The Narrows hike in Zion National Park, Utah, July 1, 2015 | Photo by Cami Meinkey, St. George News
Hollie Reina, left, and Kathleen Berglund wade through the Virgin River on The Narrows hike in Zion National Park, Utah, July 1, 2015 | Photo by Cami Meinkey, St. George News

To hike The Narrows, either in one day or in two days, a wilderness permit is required. Permits to hike The Narrows can be obtained in one of three time periods.

  • Advanced reservations: Up to three months in advance | According to the Zion National Park Web page regarding Narrows permits, over half of all available Narrows permits can be obtained using a calendar reservation system. Reservations are available online during a three-month time frame. On the fifth day of every month at 10 a.m., reservations for the next month become available. There is a $5 nonrefundable fee for an online calendar reservation, and there is an additional charge for a permit that is determined by the size of your group.
  • Last-minute drawing: Seven to two days in advance | If there are no advance reservations on the one day available, the last minute-drawing will become an option seven to two days in advance of your trip date.
  • Walk-in permits: One day in advance | Backpacking sites are available as walk-in permits one day in advance of your trip and can be obtained at the park’s visitor centers.

In addition to the above three options, if you live near and frequent Zion National Park, there is a special membership: The Zion Express Membership. According to the permit web page:

It allows members who have obtained a reservation to convert it to a permit online, three days before their trip. The entire permit process can be completed online. Stop by the wilderness desk to enroll.

Permit costs

  • One to two people: $10
  • Three to seven people: $15
  • Eight to 12 people: $20

Permits will not be issued when the water flow is 120 cubic feet per second or greater.

Think like a Scout

“Be prepared” is not only the Boy Scout’s motto but sage advice for any hiker who wishes to tackle the exciting and grueling Narrows trail from top to bottom.

L-R Hollie Reina, Teena Christopherson, Cami Meinkey, Kathleen Berglund and Rachel Cieslewicz get ready to tackle The Narrows in Zion National Park, Utah, July 1, 2015 | Photo by Cimarron Chacon, St. George News
From left, Hollie Reina, Teena Christopherson, Cami Meinkey, Kathleen Berglund and Rachel Cieslewicz get ready to tackle The Narrows in Zion National Park, Utah, July 1, 2015 | Photo by Cimarron Chacon, St. George News

Good physical condition is key to a happy and successful trip, especially when deciding whether to do the entire 16 miles in one day or to camp overnight and see the canyon at a slightly more leisurely pace.

Both a one-day or two-day hike require the hiker to have a decent amount of stamina, agility and balance, as they will encounter several river crossings varying from ankle to chest deep and often with loose, wet rocks underfoot.

When choosing gear and clothing, it is important to consider everything from what goes on your feet to what and how much you carry and to always remember to prepare for any eventuality, including an unexpected stay in the canyon due to flash flood, illness or injury.

Here is a list of suggested gear:

  • Sturdy footwear. Sandals are not suggested and, if worn, should have toe protection
  • A layer of warm clothes. Shaded canyons coupled with cool water temperatures may require a light jacket or base layer
  • Waterproofing bags/dry bags
  • Flashlight or headlamp and batteries
  • First-aid kit
  • Extra food and clothing in case of an unexpected overnight stay
  • Clean drinking water and/or a filter or tablets
  • Sunscreen
  • A sturdy walking stick or trekking pole
Exploring The Narrows in Zion National Park, July 1, 2015 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News
Exploring The Narrows in Zion National Park, July 1, 2015 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

Safety should be a primary concern for hikers. Some of the biggest dangers that could potentially derail a hike through The Narrows are heat exhaustion, hypothermia, flash floods and lower leg fractures as a result of jumping from rocks.

For more detailed information on how to prevent or protect yourself from these dangers, visit The Narrows hike safety page.

The most important thing you can do to have a safe and enjoyable time is to properly prepare by reading all the safety guidelines, talk to an experienced hiker or park ranger, be aware of your surroundings and exercise good judgement.

Transport me there

The trailhead at Chamberlain’s Ranch is located one-and-a-half hours from Zion Canyon on paved and dirt roads. During the dry season, the dirt road is passable for normal vehicles but may be impassable if the roads have been wet. The road is closed during the winter months.

Because of the remote location, most hikers arrange to be dropped off at the trailhead and have a car left at the visitor center parking lot for when they finish the hike.

From April through October, travel through the main part of Zion National Park is by shuttle bus only, and hikers finishing The Narrows should be prepared to board a shuttle to ride down the canyon to the visitor center.

To get to the trailhead, exit Zion National Park through the east gate and travel 2.5 miles east on state Route 9. Turn left on the North Fork Road and travel approximately 18 miles until you cross a bridge over the north fork of the Virgin River. Shortly beyond the bridge, turn left and follow the road 0.25 miles to the gate at Chamberlain’s Ranch. Travel 0.5 miles beyond the gate and park just before the river crosses the road. Vault toilets have been provided at this area.

To begin the hike, follow the road approximately 3 miles and enter the river at the end of the road just past the old cabin.

Chamberlain’s Ranch is private property on the outskirts of Zion National Park, and visitors are asked to be respectful of said property as they hike through.

Follow the river

The Narrows top to bottom is a self-guided hike — guides and outfitters are not allowed to lead groups north of Orderville Canyon, in accordance with the Zion National Park General Management Plan Backcountry Compendium. Fortunately, it is very difficult to get lost, and all one needs to do is follow the river downstream.

The north fork of the Virgin River as seen from the beginning of The Narrows hike on the eastern outskirts of Zion National Park, Utah, July 1, 2015 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News
The north fork of the Virgin River as seen from the beginning of The Narrows hike on the eastern outskirts of Zion National Park, Utah, July 1, 2015 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

Some helpful navigation points are the 12 numbered campsites that are spread out along the trail, Big Springs waterfalls, and the intersection of Orderville Canyon with the main canyon.

The park service recommends 12 hours, even for well-conditioned hikers, to complete this hike in one day. While it can be done faster, it is safer and more enjoyable to plan extra time to take resting breaks, eat, play in the many pools of water and enjoy the incredible scenery on this iconic journey.

Hike at a glance

  • Distance: 16 miles
  • Hiking time: Allow up to 12 hours for a day hike or plan to reserve a campsite and complete the hike in two days
  • Trail characteristics: The Narrows hike is characterized by the water that runs through it, shaping and reshaping the trail. Hikers should expect to encounter loose, wet rocks (often described as walking on greasy bowling balls); ankle- to chest-deep water; sandy river banks; slickrock boulders; and other obstacles, such as downed trees

Notes

  • The Narrows from top to bottom is a long, grueling hike on uneven terrain. Hikers should be in good physical condition and have at least a basic knowledge of backcountry hiking and safety procedures. See safety guide
  • Beware of flash floods. Flash floods can occur even if it is not raining in the canyon. Be mindful of your surroundings, watch and listen for changes in the river and look for high ground. See more here
  • Be weather aware. Both hypothermia and heat exhaustion are real dangers on the trail, and hikers are encouraged to know the signs and take proper precautions
  • Hikers in the backcountry should practice appropriate leave no trace ethics, including packing out all garbage and refuse and disposing of it properly
  • Like the old Boy Scout adage says: “Be prepared.” Hikers should research the trail and plan to dress appropriately, carry the proper gear and the right amount of food and water
  • The trail starts outside of the national park, and hikers are urged to be respectful of private property

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.

Resources

  • Hiking from Chamberlain’s Ranch | Web page
  • Permits for day and overnight top-to-bottom trips | Web page
  • Narrows regulations | Web page
  • Park transportation and directions to the trailhead | Web page

Related posts

Email: hreina@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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2 Comments

  • Bender July 9, 2015 at 4:57 pm

    Great write up and images.
    .
    Floods in this canyon kill a hiker every few years. Most recent was last September. Be very aware of prevailing weather patterns before committing yourself to a situation that could get very ugly very quick. Bender stays out of the slots during monsoonal moisture patterns.

    • fun bag July 9, 2015 at 5:14 pm

      blah blah, what is a bender even? the 3rd person thing makes u sound like a doof…

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