I got back from Zion National Park a few days ago and immediately wanted to start writing this post. I did a couple hikes in the park and The Narrows was by far my favorite. Admittedly, I wasn’t confident enough in my hiking abilities to attempt Angel’s Landing, so I can’t compare the two from personal experience. However, from what I can tell, hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park is a lot easier for beginner hikers who might be afraid of heights and exposure (aka me).
While The Narrows is easier than Angel’s Landing, you still need to come prepared. Without giving too many spoilers away, you will be walking through waist-deep water against the current at certain points, so you need to bring the right gear. Keep reading for everything you need to know about hiking The Narrows.
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What is The Narrows hike?
The Narrows is a 16 mile there-and-back hike within Zion National Park. It follows the Virgin River through a slot canyon, giving some of the most incredible views within the entire park. There are parts of this hike where you’ll have to walk through water, so read more in the “what to expect” and “what to bring” to learn how to prepare for this type of hike.
The Narrows hike can be done from the bottom-up or from the top-down. However, the general shuttle only picks up and drops off at the bottom. So, if you hike from the bottom-up, you’ll have to hike back down, but you can turn around at any point. If you hike from the top-down, you only have hike through one way, but you have to hike the entire 8 miles. The catch here is that you need a permit to hike top-down.
If you can snag a permit and are fine hiking 8 miles, I’d suggest doing the top-down option. I met a woman in the park one day who was doing the top-down hike and she said only 16 people can hike it per day! If you end up doing this, you’ll get on a separate shuttle to take you to the top, hike to the bottom, and then take the regular shuttle to the entrance of the park or anywhere else you want to go.
How to get to The Narrows
For the rest of this blog post, I’m going to assume you’re hiking The Narrows bottom-up because that’s what most people end up doing when they visit Zion National Park. The Narrows hike is in the Zion Canyon portion of the park. To get anywhere in this section of the park, you have to take the shuttle. The Narrows hike is at the very last shuttle stop: Temple of Sunawava. Once you get off the shuttle, you’ll walk a bit on a paved path to get to the mouth of the canyon and start the Narrows hike!
Pro tip: if you’re coming to the park during the high season (summer), you’ll want to arrive VERY early. I’m talking around 5am or sooner. The shuttle line gets very long very quickly. To put it into perspective, I arrived at 6am (the time of the first shuttle departure) my first day and didn’t get on a shuttle until 7:30am. I arrived at 5am my second day and I got on the second shuttle at 6:10am. Either way, you’re going to be waiting a while, so you might as well get there early and get to your hike to beat the masses of people who will be arriving around 9-10am.
This feels like a good place to add that this hike is really best in the summer and fall. In the winter, there’s snow covering the water and in spring, all of that snow is melting and it increases the chances of flash floods. Make sure to check Zion’s Current Conditions page before you head out to this hike.
What to expect when hiking The Narrows
The Narrows is one of the most popular hikes in Zion, so it will be VERY busy. This is the main reason I suggested trying the top-down route if you can. You’ll be hiking with just 15 other people. However, I know that’s not always an option.
I said this once, but it’s worth repeating: if you plan to hike the Narrows bottom-up, plan to arrive to Zion at or before 5am to avoid huge crowds when you’re starting!
I made this mistake, so I want to spell out the parking situation as much as possible. If you put Zion Visitor’s Center into Google Maps, it will take you to the Visitor’s Center (shocker!). However, this isn’t where you want to go. If you park in this parking lot, you’ll have to pay $30 for the day. This is what I did the first day and then quickly realized my mistake.
You’ll want to keep driving past the visitor’s center and through the entrance gates. If you’re arriving before sunrise, there won’t be anyone at the gate, so you can technically get in for free. However, I have the America the Beautiful Pass (Annual National Park pass), so I would have just had to show that to get through.
There will likely be other cars that you can follow to the parking lot, but if not, you’ll turn right after the gates and park in either of the parking lots you come to on your right. Once you’re parked, there are signs that will point you to the shuttle line, but again, there will likely be people you can just follow. I’d recommend bringing a flashlight or using your phone’s flashlight since it will still be very dark at this time.
Then, just get in line for the shuttle and wait. I brough my breakfast with me to eat in line.
If you get there early enough, you’ll probably get on a shuttle around 6am or 6:15am. The shuttle will take about 20 minutes to get to the last stop: Temple of Sunawava, where you’ll get off.
You’ll have around a mile hike on a paved path until you get to the mouth of the Narrows. Fairly quickly, you’ll start to hike in the Virgin River. About half of this hike is in water and half is on land and rocks. The full hike is 16 miles out and back (8 miles each way), but you can turn around at any point.
If you start your hike early, you’ll likely only be hiking with a handful of other people. However, when you turn around and head back, you’ll see the masses of people starting their hike. These are all the people you just avoided by getting to Zion super early!
What to wear to hike the Narrows
Since a lot of this hike is in water, it’s very important to consider what you’re going to wear when hiking The Narrows in Zion National Park. I saw small children hiking in their bathing suits, but I wouldn’t recommend that for everyone. I tried out a pair of waterproof hiking shorts for the first time and they were awesome! They dried in about 10 minutes after being fully submerged in water. Mine were from REI, but any major outdoor brand should have some.
I would definitlely recommend NOT wearing leggings. I know, I know, leggings are my favorite thing to hike in, too, but they absorb water and that would be miserable to walk in after getting them wet.
Your top doesn’t matter as much here because the deepest the water gets (at least within the first two miles) is about waist deep. I’m a relatively short person (5’4″), so if you’re taller, it may not even hit your waist.
As for shoes, you can rent a pair of boots to wear from the visitor’s center if you don’t want to soak your own shoes. I opted to just wear my regular hiking boots and wool socks and it was fine. Honestly, you get used to the wet feet feeling after a while. Just make sure to wear close-toed shoes. There are a lot of rocks you’ll be hiking on and I’d just feel much safer having my entire foot protected.
While the high season for Zion is very hot, the Narrows hike is actually quite cool. This is because you’re deep in a slot canyon that doesn’t see much sun and you’re hiking through water. I was fine in shorts and a t-shirt, but I’m also generally a warm person. I saw some people start off with long sleeve shirts because they were a little chilly.
What to bring with you when hiking the Narrows
Like I mentioned, this hike is unique in that you’ll be hiking through water. This requires some extra consideration when packing for a day hike.
You’ll definitely want to bring some kind of walking stick or hiking poles. I didn’t have hiking poles before my trip, but I’ve wanted them in the past, so I bought a pair before I went. Boy, was I happy I did! If you’re hiking bottom-up, you’ll be walking against the current on your way up and the hiking poles made it so much easier to get your footing and they helped give me confidence when walking through the river.
On my way back down the hike, I saw a lot of people struggling to keep their balance without poles. If you don’t have your own set of poles, you can rent a walking stick from the visitor’s center (along with boots).
In addition to poles, I’d also suggest a hiking backpack with a water pouch. It was so easy to just stop for a second, grab the hose, and take a drink. The alternative would be looking for a safe place to stop, taking your pack off, getting out a water bottle, and the putting it all back.
If you’re planning to do a lot or all of this hike, I’d also recommend bringing snacks. There are nice places to stop for a few minutes and eat while looking at some epic canyon views.
Of course, there are many other items I recommend bringing on any hike including a first aid kit, a pocket knife, a compass, a flashlight, and anything else you might need in a “worst case” situation. You likely won’t need these things on this hike, but I keep them in my backpack just in case.
Who should do this hike?
I personally think everyone should consider hiking The Narrows in Zion National Park. I know people say that about Angel’s Landing, too, but this hike doesn’t have any height issues or exposure like Angel’s Landing.
As long as you’re not afraid of getting wet, I’d highly recommend it. This hike gave me some of the best views I saw while in Zion National Park! Just make sure to read through this post, prepare accordingly, and you’ll be fine!