Zion Narrows Hike – The Best Hike in Zion National Park

categories: USA Travel

One of the best hikes I have ever taken and arguably one of the best hikes in the U.S. is a hike up a river in Utah.

Zion National Park

In southern Utah, only a few hours drive from Las Vegas is Zion National Park. Early Mormon pioneers gave this spectacular valley heavenly names like Zion, Angel’s Landing, and The Great White Throne (of God). It is not surprising that finding Zion would give a traveler a view of heaven. In Utah’s first national park even those who never get out on any of the many hiking trails can appreciate the natural beauty.

During the busy summer months, you can’t drive your car into the main valley of the park but have to park in the main parking lot and take a shuttle bus. I am afraid that there are some tourists who stay on the shuttle bus and feel that they have seen the park but Zion is a park where you need to take a hike to really see the best parts of the park.

Hike the Virgin River

The hike that I would recommend is a popular if an unusual one where you hike up the Virgin River to the “Narrows”. This is a slot canyon that at times is 20-50 feet across and up to 2000 feet deep. When you hike the river, I really mean you really hike the river. You will get wet. Hikers can visit a local outfitter who can provide you with water-proof boots and socks, a walking stick (surprisingly useful) and a dry bag for your camera.

Before you start a hike up the river (or the longer 2-day hike down the entire length of the canyon) you first need to check the weather report at the visitor’s center. This is not the place you want to be in the case of a flash flood caused by rain in the area.

When I hiked the narrows I took the first shuttle bus of the day into the park. I hiked for 2 hours up the river to the deeper water of the Narrows. In all that time I did not run into any other hikers. It was just me and a beautiful landscape. It was not until I turned around that I ran into other hikers.

The level of the water was generally reaching no higher than my knees until I reached the Narrows but the depth will depend on the time of year and the snowmelt. It is not a difficult hike but it does take a sense of adventure and a willingness to get wet.

When I started the hike I was walking along the paths on the side of the river just as I saw the other groups do as I hiked back to the shuttle bus stop. Then as the path got more and more narrow I was trying to walk from rock to rock to stay dry. The hike speeds up a lot once you realize that in some spots you just can’t possibly stay dry. So you just plunge into the river in your waterproof boots. For this reason, the hike back was much faster than the hike up. I would pass groups carefully picking their way while I was just sloshing through the river.

Along the way small waterfalls would at times cascade down the sides of the canyon.

What to Wear and What to Bring

As I mentioned I stopped by an outfitter the night before and rented:

  • walking stick
  • waterproof boots
  • neoprene socks (wetsuit fabric)
  • a dry bag for my camera

I also wore fast drying travel shorts because if I was going to get wet it was going to be my legs. It seems odd to wear shorts and a sweatshirt at the same time as it is giving some mixed messages, but I was hiking the river in October and the weather was cool. Also the entire hike was in the shade. 

  • travel shorts
  • sweatshrit
  • camera
  • snacks
  • water bottle

I got quite hungry by the time I got back to the shuttle bus. I certainly wish I had packed some snacks.

Photography

I was glad I brought my camera on the trip but photography in the gorge has some challenges because the bottom of the canyon is dark but the top of it is quite bright.  It is almost impossible to give a sense of the depth of the slot canyon because of this. 

Listen to the podcast I did on my trip here (from way back in 2006):

Narrows Hike Zion - Best Hike in Zion National Park | Utah #travel #trip #vacation #utah #zion #national-park #hike #the-narrows #zion-national-park

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by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast, and a co-host for This Week in Travel podcast.

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