6 Things You Didn't Know About Hiking The Narrows

Prepare for one of the best hikes you'll ever go on.

By: Hillary + Matt
January 28, 2016

Save List
2 Saves

Ask anyone in the know and they’ll probably tell you that during your visit to Zion National Park, the Narrows needs to be at the top of your must-do list.

By pretty much any measure, The Narrows is one of America’s coolest and most inspiring hikes. The dramatic Southwest scenery and opportunity for top-tier adventure brings hundreds of thousands of curious tourists and locals annually, all with the intention to explore the mighty Virgin River as it continues sculpting its way through the vermillion sandstone of the park.

If you’re a first-timer, unsure of how to tackle such a unique adventure, it can be overwhelming to try to listen to all the advice that guidebooks and bloggers give you. Below, we’ve rounded up a list of five things you may not know about the Narrows hike that we hope will help you as you plan your next adventure!

Explore the Zion Narrows | Photo: Hillary + Matt

1. Grab the first shuttle of the day.

Okay, we get it. We’re not all morning people, but trust us, taking the first shuttle of the day is probably the best thing you can do before your Narrows hike. Not only will you be beating the crowds, but you’ll also beat the sun, which, as anyone who’s visited the desert knows, is exceptionally cruel during the afternoon hours. If you’re a photographer, another bonus to getting there early is the opportunity to take exceptional photos. Not only is the light softer (almost creating an ethereal effect), but there won’t be any tourists there to distract from the scenery.

2. You may not need rental equipment.

When we first tackled the Narrows hike, everyone we spoke to and nearly everything we read told us we HAD to rent canyoneering shoes and Neoprene socks, specifically from Zion Adventure Company. One guy even told us that hiking the Narrows was like walking on bowling balls covered in Vaseline. This really freaked us out. So, we headed over to Zion Adventure Company to check out the prices and see what the fuss was all about. In the end, we didn’t rent anything (except Hillary rented a $7 walking stick…). And you know what, we were better off without dropping the money and without carrying the extra weight.

Note: Now, we went in September, so the summer heat was enough to warm the Virgin River so that it was a comfortable cold. However, for those seeking to hike in the colder months of the year, we DO suggest renting or purchasing the appropriate equipment. Canyoneering shoes, a hiking stick and neoprene socks, when rented together, are about $23 from Zion Adventure Company .

Explore the Zion Narrows | Photo: Hillary + Matt

3. There are FREE walking sticks at the entrance.

If you get there early enough, that is. Yet another reason to catch the first shuttle – you can grab yourself a wooden branch to use as a walking stick. At the entrance to the Narrows (after your walk down Riverside Walk), you’ll find piles of sturdy walking sticks left behind by fellow hikers. Grab one that feels comfortable to you, then leave it for someone else when you return.

4. You don’t need a permit.

If you're a first-timer or have only a few hours to spend in Zion, the best way to experience The Narrows is to take the hike bottom-up. No day permit is required, though if you do wish to camp inside or hike the entire 16-mile trail from the top down, you will need to get a permit by way of the lottery. Depending on water flow, water height, your hiking ability and how far you choose to go, this hike can be easy to strenuous as you are wading upstream for the better part of your journey. Remember that you can hike in as far as you feel comfortable with the option to turn back at any time and leave the way you came.

Explore the Zion Narrows | Photo: Hillary + Matt

5. Hike at least two hours in.

The narrowest part of the slot canyon, known by the locals as “Wall Street”, is kind of the holy grail for hikers (and also where most of the tourists turn around to start heading back). Here, you’re in the heart of the Narrows, where the 2,000-foot vertical walls of orange-red sandstone constrict to a mere 20 or 30 feet across. Take a minute to marvel at the striations of sedimentation and give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done. If you’re not ready to head back just yet, venture a little farther upstream or take a right down Orderville Canyon for some more exploring.

6. Water levels can change without warning.

Whenever you’re hiking in southern Utah’s national parks, you’ll often hear about the possibility of flash flooding. Unless you’ve experienced one before, it’s really difficult to understand just how quickly (and how violently) they come on. The day after we hiked the Narrows, a cluster of thunderstorms came through the area and killed seven people hiking in a slot canyon in Zion. Always check in on the day’s weather and flash flood potential with a ranger before any hike!

There’s no way for them to contact you once you’re inside a canyon and some flash floods may occur even if it isn’t raining in the Narrows so be smart and be careful out there!

Explore the Zion Narrows | Photo: Hillary + Matt

Cover photo: Hillary + Matt

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More



Get the gear you need for your hiking adventures:

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.