The Narrows are world famous and for good reason.
The sandstone walls tower up to 1,300 feet above, while the river is as narrow as 30 feet. The fact that the trail is literally the river makes this hike truly unique. There may be other more narrow slot canyons, yet none are as tall or quite as impressive as this. This stretch of Zion Canyon is one of the most iconic and photographed in the Southwest.
I had briefly walked up The Narrows a ways on a previous trip, but it was time to complete the whole shebang. The 17 mile hike from Chamberlains Ranch to Temple of Sinawava is affectionately known as hiking The Narrows Top Down. Here we go!
Waking up at 6AM is a breeze if you’re headed out to do some great hiking. We flew out of the tent and walked over to the Zion Visitor Center where we met up with our shuttle. Six other people joined us for the long, bumpy ride out to Chamberlains Ranch. At the dusty parking lot, we hopped out of the van and set off. Almost immediately we crossed the Virgin River for the first time. At this point, it was just a small meandering stream cutting through a sea of grass. It gave little hint at what was to come.
As the trail continued, we crossed the river many times. Slowly, it cut deeper banks and the walls began to rise on both sides. While still on the property of the ranch, we frequently encountered cows. We had a few awkward encounters as they were seemingly backed into tight places that we had to squeeze by. Most times, though, they just hightailed and ran.
Into the River We Go
As we reentered Zion National Park, the cattle ended and so did any semblance of a path. From here on out, the trail was the river. Drifting from side to side, we followed the ankle-deep water forward, splashing when our feet slipped off the slick rocks. Soon we reached what is deemed to be the first official “narrows”. The narrow walls soared, seemingly touching the sky. Vegetation provided hints of green, but the prevailing colors were the blues of the water and the deep orange of the sandstone walls. Downriver, we scaled around a short waterfall and arrived at the confluence where Deep Creek spills into the Virgin River. Suddenly, the docile Virgin River seems to swell. The gorge here is now over 1,000 feet deep and will remain so until you exit the river 7 miles downstream. Now the fun begins.
The Water Deepens
We had lunch at a nice spot near campsite #7, cooling off in a pool in the river. Afterwards, we pressed onward through the green gorge. Pockets of forests grew on either side of the river, sometimes in impossible places high on the walls. Following the river was a bit tougher now. We had to navigate around deep pools and watch our footing as the river was much stronger. Shortly before Big Spring, we came to a place where a deeper pool crossed the length of the river.
Going chest deep was unavoidable. We held our bags over our heads and steadily traversed the pool. After Big Spring, we increasingly came across more day hikers. Up until that point, we nearly had the canyon to ourselves. It was hard to blame them. From here until just about the edge of the paved Riverside Walk, the Narrows is simply spectacular.
Heaven is This Canyon
The simple task of walking forward became difficult… our eyes refused to leave the incredible view. The steep, smooth walls of the canyon stood silent as their maker rushed ceaselessly forward. Mouths wide open, we followed wordlessly.
Every twist of the canyon brought a new view. The walls were sculpted in a million different ways, never repeating. Nature truly is the greatest artist.
We sloshed through the final stretch and exited the river, finding relief in the form of pavement after 16 miles of walking over uneven rocks. Our sore feet carried us to the Temple of Sinawava bus stop, where we caught a bus back to camp. From there we caught the Springdale bus into town and refueled at an awesome restaurant called Oscar’s. It was a rewarding meal after a long day of battling the river.
The Zion Narrows was one of the most epic hikes I have ever been on. It was the icing on the cake of another great trip to this amazing National Park.
Obtaining a Permit
The entire Narrows can be done as either a day hike or an overnight trip. Either way requires a permit. There are two ways to obtain a permit: make a reservation in advance or wait in line the day before. Advance permits become available on the 5th of the month, three months prior to your trip. For example, permits for July will open up on May 5th. The online system is easy, however they do get a lot of traffic on the 5th of every month. I struggled for several hours to get mine to go through, only to find out when I arrived in person that it hadn’t worked properly, despite me producing a receipt from Recreation.gov. For this reason, I would honestly recommend just going in person. Be prepared to get in line early; however, like 5AM early. The wilderness center officially opens at 8, but in the summer the line starts forming several hours before then.
Unless you have two cars and want to drive the long gravel road out to Chamberlain’s Ranch yourself, you will need a shuttle. There are several different companies in Springdale that offer this service. Every company charges the same rate of $35/person, so I don’t think there is much difference. We went with Zion Rock, simply because they were the only ones left with availability. Other companies that I called were Zion Adventure Co and Red Rock Shuttle. They also all seem to meet under the flagpole at the Visitor Center, making it super convenient for park visitors. We took the earliest time, at 6:30AM, but I do know they also leave at 9:30AM. Keep in mind the drive to Chamberlain’s takes about 2 hours and the narrows is a really long hike to complete in one day.
A note about water levels:
The water level of the Virgin River fluctuates greatly, depending on the time of year and current conditions. The National Park Service does not allow anyone to hike The Narrows if the flow is greater than 150 CFS (cubic feet/second). Before making any plans, check this website for current river conditions.