Hiking the Narrows in Winter in Zion National Park

Here is everything you need to know about how to prepare for hiking the Narrows in Winter in Zion National Park.

By: Lysianne Peacock + Save to a List

Originally published on out-spiration.com

Recently, my little sister was planning her trip to visit me in Moab, UT where I have been working for the last two and a half months. The plan was to just visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks but my wanderlust and curiosity for exploring a foreign part of Utah with my favorite adventure buddy was too much to resist. We decided to take a trip over to Zion National Park. I asked her to research hikes that she would want to do there. She responded with many options including Emerald Pools, Angel’s Landing, Observation Point, and the Narrows to name a few. The Narrows caught my eye. Largely because it is one of the most popular hikes, if not the most popular, in Zion National Park, but also the thought of hiking the Narrows in the winter was a far-fetched, impossible idea.

The idea of hiking the Narrows haunted and perplexed me as we continued to plan my sister’s trip. One day, I found myself Google searching “hiking the Narrows in the winter” and was greeted with favorable results. Excitement bubbled up inside of me when I read through article upon article that confirmed that the Narrows was a hike that was in fact doable, and even enjoyable, in the winter with proper preparation. I ran the Narrows as a hiking option past my sister with my research and it took less than ten seconds for her to reply: we were hiking the Narrows in the winter. Here is everything we did to prepare for this unforgettable winter trek through Zion Canyon’s narrowest canyon.

The Narrows: A Background

As the namesake suggests, the Narrows is the narrowest canyon in Zion National Park. Walls in the gorge stand thousands of feet high and at points, the canyon is now wider than 20 to 30 feet apart. The beauty of hiking the Narrows is that it can be tailored to any hiking ability. There are two ways you can hike the Narrows:

Bottom Up via Sinawava Temple Trailhead (no permit required)

Hiking from the bottom up is one of the best ways to see the narrow sections of the canyon. There are multiple ways to enjoy this section. If you don’t want to get wet and want to take it easy, you can opt to just hike the riverside trail until it meets with the Virgin River. If you are up for more excitement and don’t mind waist deep water, then continue into the Virgin River to explore the inner depths of Zion Canyon. You can choose to hike as little or as far as you would like and then turn around to head back whenever you are ready. If you do decide to venture into the river, we recommend hiking at least as far as Wall Street. This is the most narrow section of the Narrows. If you want a longer day hike, then consider hiking up to Big Springs which is ten miles round-trip.

Top Down from Chamberlain’s Ranch (permit required)

Permits are required for this hiking option. At 16-miles roundtrip, expect this hike to take 10 to 14 hours or you can split it up into two days as a backpacking trip. The hike starts outside the park at Chamberlain Ranch and ends at Temple of Sinawava. You may need to arrange a shuttle to Chamberlain Ranch since this is a one-way hike. About 80% of this hike will be spent walking, wading, or even swimming through the Virgin River. To make a reservation for a Top-Down Narrows trip, visit The Narrows Permit National Park Service (NPS) Site.

Safety Considerations for Hiking the Narrows

When planning your trip to hike the Narrows, there are a few safety considerations you need to keep in mind:

  • Flash Flood Warnings: After a storm, the Narrows can be prone to flash flooding. The Narrows will be closed immediately after a Flash Flood Warning is issued. The hike is not recommended if there is any chance of rain in the forecast.
  • Flow Rate: The Narrows will be closed when flow rate reaches 150 CFS or greater (this applies to bottom-up travel). The Narrows is typically closed in the Spring due to spring run-off that pushes the flow rate to dangerous CFS levels. Even if the flow rate is lower than this, you need to keep in mind your own physical capabilities to hike through water.

Winter Considerations for Hiking the Narrows

Winter in Zion National Park can be cold and wet. Average temperatures range between 50 and 60 degrees but the canyon can get even colder because of the high canyon walls. The water is even chillier, typically sitting between 30 and 40 degrees. Ensuring you are properly clothed is essential to avoid hypothermia. Hypothermia is when the body is cooled to dangerous levels. Dry suits and specialized footwear is recommended to keep you comfortable during your winter trek through the Narrows.

For more information on rules and regulations for hiking the Narrows, visit the Narrows NPS website.

Preparing for a Winter Hike of The Narrows

Finding Accommodations

The first step I took to preparing for a winter hike of The Narrows was finding a place to stay. There are many accommodation options to consider when planning a trip to Zion National Park.

Hotels/Lodges/Cabins

The park is in close proximity to towns such as Springdale, Hurricane, and La Verkin which have many accommodation options. You could also book a room for $150 to $215 per night at Zion Lodge, located in Zion National Park and a short drive from Temple of Sinawava.

Camping

There are also three campgrounds located in the park but Watchman Campground is the closest to the Narrows and the only one currently open. For more information on campgrounds in Zion National Park, visit the Campgrounds in Zion NPS Site.

Vacation Rentals

Another option for a place to stay would be looking at vacation rental sites such as AirBnb, VRBO, or HipCamp. This is the option we went with for our trip to Zion National Park. We stayed at this $44 gem on AirBnb in Hurricane which is only 30 minutes away from Zion National Park.

What to Wear

Having the right apparel to hike the Narrows can make or break your experience, especially in the winter. Here is what we recommend to wear during your winter hike of the Narrows.

Dry Suits and Footwear

A winter hike in the Narrows is going to be COLD. It is essential you take the necessary steps to properly clothe yourself to avoid hypothermia. That is where dry suits, neoprene socks, and proper footwear come in. You probably won’t have any of this just lying around, and thankfully, there are many outfitters in Springdale, UT that have anticipated that. When planning our trip, we opted for Zion Adventure Company for our dry suit rentals. They offer three different packages for the Narrows but the Dry Suit Package is the way to go for a winter hike of the Narrows. For $57+tax, you get a Gore-Tex Dry Suit, canyon shoes, two pairs of neoprene socks, and a walking stick. The walking stick is especially helpful as it helps you maintain your balance. It is recommended that you make reservations for your gear in advance. Making a reservation will ensure your gear is ready to go when you walk in the door so you can get out the door that much faster. Keep in mind, there is a $20 non-refundable deposit when making reservations.

Lysianne standing in the Narrows.

Make Like an Onion and Layer Up

Zion Adventure Company recommends wearing two to three layers underneath your drysuit to help you stay warm. I opted for two pairs of leggings, a moisture-wicking t-shirt, a polyester long sleeve shirt, and a fleece pullover. I also wore my trusty Sherpa wool hat and my water repellent NorthFace ETip Gloves. These layers combined with the drysuit package made for a very comfortable adventure.

The Ten Essentials

Making sure you bring the 10 essentials will help ensure a positive experience when hiking the Narrows and will help you be prepared for whatever conditions are thrown your way.

  1. Navigation such as a GPS device, map, or phone with a map downloaded on it
  2. A headlamp with extra batteries
  3. Sun protection including sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen
  4. A first aid kit as well as a blister kit
  5. Utility knife and a gear repair kit
  6. Shelter or an emergency bivy because you never know if you’re going to have to spend the night out in the wilderness due to extenuating circumstances
  7. A fire starter kit preferably with matches and/or a lighter.
  8. Food + extra (at least an extra day’s worth)
  9. Water + extra (at least an extra day’s worth).
  10. Extra clothes layers because it’s easier to cool off or warm up with layers instead of one heavy layers

Waterproofing

The rocks in the Virgin River are hard to see and are slippery. Even the best hikers can slip and fall into the water, so it is important to waterproof your belongings. You can line your day packs with garbage bags or you could rent dry bags from Zion Adventure Company.

Water

The Virgin River has been known to have toxic cyanobacteria blooms which makes the water unsafe to drink. It is recommended that hikers carry in all the water they need or to ensure that the water is properly filtered and/or treated with tablets or boiling prior to consumption. We recommend the Sawyer Squeeze if you do decide you want to save weight and treat your drinking water.

Photo Credit: Amazon, Squeeze Water Filter

Pack it Out

Make sure to use the restrooms prior to your Narrows hike. All human waste must be carried out of the Narrows in disposable human waste bags. You can purchase human waste bags prior to hike with this 30-pack of Cleanwaste Bags. Do not let the Narrows get trashed. As always, abide by the other Leave No Trace principles as well.

Photo Credit: Amazon, Cleanwaste Toilet in a Bag

Conclusion

Hiking the Narrows in the winter has created an unforgettable experience for my sister and I. By doing our research and going prepared, hiking the Narrows in the winter was comfortable, fun, and surprisingly quiet. If you have ever seen pictures of the Narrows in the late spring, early fall, and summer, you will know that it is jam-packed with visitors which can take away from the experience. While Zion National Park is not devoid of visitors in the winter, with colder weather brings with it less visitors and solitude. A winter hike of the Narrows might prove to be the ultimate way to experience the canyon.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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