A slot canyon is often a million year long history lesson into the unrelenting persistence of water. Wearing away a little at a time, a modest crack in a rock formation can give water the space is needs to flow until that crack becomes something much greater. There are many examples of this throughout the country, but perhaps one of the most impressive can be seen in Zion National Park’s treasure, The Narrows.
This 16 mile long slot canyon is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Some sections are as narrow as 20 feet across with soaring cliffs rising 2,000 feet above on either side. Essentially a section of the Virgin River, winding through the beautiful sandstone cliffs, it is something not to be missed when visiting Zion National Park.
Three ways to hike The Narrows.
- (10 – 13 hours) Top-Down – One Day – 18 miles long, down stream, advanced, PERMIT REQUIRED (and often difficult to get)
- (18-20 hours with gear) Top-Down – Two Day with Overnight Camping – 18 miles long, downstream, carrying gear, PERMIT REQUIRED (and often difficult to get)
- (1-10 hours) Bottom-Up – Half Day – Most popular, first mile is a paved path, varying depths of water from ankle high to waist high (i’m 5’4), can be crowded at the beginning, turn around spot is Big Springs (7.3 miles in), NO permit required.
Unless you’re a seasoned backpacker, with appropriate equipment, you’ll be enjoying the ‘Bottom-Up’ hike. Below are some tips to get the most out of your experience for a summer hike through The Narrows. If you are interested in hiking the ‘Top-Bottom’ hike I thought this site had some helpful information.
10 TIPS FOR HIKING THE NARROWS BOTTOM-UP (SUMMER)
- GO DURING THE WEEK
If you are able, skip the Friday, Saturday and Sunday crowds and opt for a weekday. The first few miles are the easiest and can have pretty thick crowds and lots of kids. The further you hike the more the crowd with thin. Once you hit Wall Street and may even find yourself completely alone. This is something special and worth the tortured legs and ankles if you can make it that far. Remember, you still have to hike back the way you came.
2. RENT SHOES, NEOPRENE SOCKS AND A WALKING STICK
Yes, you can certainly wear your own water shoes and use traditional hiking sticks, but I don’t recommend it. Not just because the water is cold, but the rocks are slippery and difficult to walk on. This hike is by no means meant for the faint of ankles – renting boots, neoprene socks and a proper walking stick will make it much more enjoyable. The boots available to rent give you more ankle support and have much thicker soles. The walking sticks are much wider at the base than traditional hiking sticks and sturdy. This keeps them from getting stuck in between the rocks. Outfitters offer packages for around $55 for the set as well as transportation (more on this below). Also, bring a mask for the beginning of the hike when crowds are heavier (COVID).
3. CHECK THE WEATHER FOR FLASH FLOOD WARNINGS
This should probably be #1 most important, but once inside the slot canyon there is nowhere to run if there is a flash flood. So unless you are Spider Man and able to scale a 2,000 foot wall, just don’t go when there is a chance of rain. Check and double check the weather. If you’re using an outfitter, they will track the weather and give necessary warnings.
4. CONSIDER PURCHASING TRANSPORTATION TICKETS (COVID RELATED)
You cannot simply drive to the trailhead, Temple of Sinawava, where your journey to The Narrows will begin. This section of Zion is only accessible by shuttle (about 30 minute ride from Springdale) to help alleviate traffic issues. Bus passes are $1, but if you are unable to buy them at least 2 weeks ahead of time online, available tickets are released 2 days before the day of your hike.
Due to COVID restrictions tickets limited and sell out right away at 9am, so you need to act fast! Because our time was limited, we wanted to rent gear, and we were also concerned with traveling at a safe distance on the bus – an outfitter was our choice. There are a couple to choose from, all with very similar names (be careful we went to the wrong one initially) leaving from Springdale. We used Zion Adventures. They were super helpful with tips for our day, dropped us off right at the Trailhead and picked us up at specified time. I felt it was well worth the $55 for transportation and equipment. Watch your time in the canyon, pick up was exactly on time. If you miss the bus back, well, I imagine it would be very difficult to get home. Pip Tip: There is also a Zion Outfitters just 1/4 mile down the road from Zion Adventures. We learned the hard way and went to the wrong one!
5. BRINK A SNACK AND PLENTY OF WATER
It took us approximately 5.5 hours to go about 4 miles in and back 4 miles at a moderate pace. We stopped A LOT for photo ops, naturally, but you are burning some serious calories walking the rugged terrain. Bring at least 2 liters of water per person and snacks to help keep you fueled. We were completely out of water by the end of the hike.
6. BRING A WATERPROOF CASE FOR YOUR PHONE
You will NOT stop taking pictures. Every turn is more beautiful than the next. I recommend being a cheesy tourist and keeping your phone in a water proof case with a lanyard around your neck for easy use. The light inside The Narrows is it’s best between 10am-3pm and excellent picture taking time!
7. USE THE RESTROOMS AT THE TRAILHEAD
As you can imagine there are no bathrooms along the way. Use the bathroom before you start your hike at the trailhead. If you must go, there is plenty of water, I’ll let you figure out the rest.
8. DON’T TURN AROUND BEFORE WALL STREET
Wall Street is a truly stunning section of the hike. If you can make it at least 3 miles in (6 miles round trip) , it is worth it. Remember the first mile is a paved trail. This could be challenging with small children. Check out this map to plan your hike.
9. DRESS APPROPRIATELY
Although it was 105 degrees outside, but it was about 85 degrees in the canyon. Although, the water was still pretty cold in August (it will be much colder at the beginning of summer), it wasn’t as hot as I thought. I recommend a light long sleeve shirt or quick dry short sleeve shirt and quick dry shorts. Also, keep any valuables in waterproof bags, I saw a lot of people taking nasty spills and there are sections, depending on the water level and your height, that were at least waist deep. Wear water shoes with good ankle support. TRUST – your ankles will be challenged to their max! Remember, your feet will have been wet for hours, I recommend a pair of flip flops to change into for the bus ride back (let those babies air out).
10. CHECK THE WEBSITE FOR WARNINGS AND CLOSINGS
The Virgin River was experiencing a dangerous algae bloom while we were there. Fortunately for us, it was in a different part of the river and we were able to hike The Narrows safely. I checked about a month later and bloom had moved into The Narrows and was shut down as a result. Always check the website first for information and flash flood warnings.
After all your hard planning make sure to soak it all in and enjoy the journey. It will be one of the most rewarding hikes of your life and you won’t regret it!
WHERE TO STAY?
If you’re looking to spend several days exploring Zion National Park, you’ll need the right overnight lodgings. There are several options including hotels, Airbnb and Glamping.
For a unique experience, check out Under Canvas Zion. Sleep adjacent to the park and under the stars with this elevated glamping experience. This is the way I like to camp with clean sheets, a real bed and a nice hot shower after a long day at the park. Check out our Under Canvas experience in Moab experience for some Under Canvas tips.
If you’re looking for more traditional digs, there are several options in Springdale. Zion National park horseshoes itself around this charming little town on the south side of the park. You feel like you’re actually staying IN the park.
Planning to visit the rest of beautiful southern Utah? Check out my Day Trip to Bryce Canyon. Plan on heading further east? You might want to check out my One Day Summer Visit to Arches National Park and Glamping Under the Stars and Under Canvas, Moab.