The Narrows is, without question, one of the most spectacular hikes in Zion National Park.
The “trail” is essentially the Virgin River, which twists and turns through a gorgeous slot canyon less than 20 feet wide in places. Sandstone cliffs tower thousands of feet above, catching sunlight that illuminates the otherwise dark corridor.
Most of the time you’ll be ankle-deep in water, but depending on the river’s flow there may be some chest-deep or even swimming sections. Proper gear is essential (see below).
The Narrows stretches 16 miles from start to finish, but bottom-up hikers are restricted to Big Spring, located 3.6 miles from the trailhead. (Those hiking The Narrows top-down can enjoy the entire canyon.) Hiking to Big Spring and back can take up to eight hours, but closer destinations — Orderville Canyon, Wall Street — are no less remarkable.
Even a short hike in The Narrows is worth it. If you love bold geology, have a sense of adventure, and don’t mind getting wet, The Narrows will likely be the highlight of your trip.
The Narrows, Bottom-Up, Trail Facts
Hiking Time: 1–10 hours
Distance: Up to 7.2 miles
Elevation Change: Up to 500 feet
The Narrows hike starts at the Temple of Sinawava (shuttle stop #9) at the northern tip of Zion Canyon. Follow Riverside Walk to the start of The Narrows along the banks of the Virgin River.
Pro tip: use the bathrooms at the Temple of Sinawava; there are no bathrooms in The Narrows.
Hiking Gear for The Narrows
The Narrows bottom-up presents unique challenges above and beyond normal hiking trails. You’ll be hiking in the Virgin River, which means proper footwear and clothing are essential.
A walking staff, canyoneering shoes, and neoprene socks are highly recommended. Wear quick-drying synthetic shorts, never long pants, and bring a waterproof bag to keep food or electronics dry.
I discuss additional Narrows hiking gear — and list reputable outfitters near the park that rent and sell gear — in my guidebook Zion: The Complete Guide.
Narrows Hiking Permits
At this time, permits are not required for bottom-up day hikers. But that could change. The number of Narrows hikers is becoming overwhelming in peak season, and in 2018 the National Park Service held public forums about potential changes to the current system. Check the Zion National Park website for the most up-to-date information.
Best Times to Hike The Narrows
The best time to explore the Narrows is when the Virgin River’s flow is low (which makes hiking easier) and ambient temperatures are warm (which mitigates the cold of the river and the cool, shady canyon).
In spring, snowmelt generates high flows and temperatures can still be chilly. As spring turns into summer, flows reduce and temperatures warm. Many people consider June the best month to hike the Narrows.
Summer has delightful temperatures, but monsoon season from July to September creates the highest risk of deadly flash floods. Fall flows are generally low, but it can also be cold. Winter has the lowest flows, but freezing temperatures deter all but the most rugged hikers.
If you’re planning on hiking all the way to Big Spring, start as early as possible to give yourself plenty of time to return before sundown. If you only plan on hiking a few hours, it’s far more pleasant to start in the late morning or early afternoon when temperatures have warmed significantly.
The Virgin River’s Flow
The Virgin River’s flow is measured in cubic feet per second (cfs). When flows exceed 150 cfs, the park closes the Narrows for safety. Spring snowmelt often keeps the Narrows closed from March to late May. Following big snow years, the Narrows can sometimes stay closed until mid-July. The Virgin River’s current flow is posted at the Zion Visitor Center and at local outfitters. Flows below 50 cfs mean relatively easy hiking, with occasional waist-deep wading. Higher flows become progressively more difficult, with chest-deep or swimming sections.
Flash floods are the biggest danger in the Narrows. They can appear with little warning, creating a wall of water that cannot be outrun. Your only chance of survival is scrambling to higher ground—but the Narrows’ sheer cliffs often make this impossible.
The good news? There have been remarkably few flash flood fatalities in recent decades. Park officials constantly monitor the weather and close the Narrows whenever flash floods are likely. That said, flash floods are always a potential threat, so you should recognize the warning signs.
Looking for a Color Topographic Hiking Map of The Narrows Bottom Up?
There’s one in Zion: The Complete Guide!
The Narrows starts at the Temple of Sinawava. The first mile follows Riverside Walk, a one-mile paved trail above the east bank of the Virgin River. There are no toilets in the Narrows—and very little privacy—so be sure to use the bathrooms at the Temple of Sinawava before hiking.
End of Riverside Walk (1 Mile)
This is where you step off the Riverside Walk and into the river. Brace yourself—the water is cold and the rocks are slippery. It’s easy to stumble. Don’t rush. Take some time to get used to the strange nature of walking in the Virgin River. After five or ten minutes you’ll feel more comfortable, and you can hike upriver at a faster pace. Most hikers travel between 0.5 miles and 1 mile per hour.
Mystery Falls (1.4 Miles)
From the elevated mouth of Mystery Canyon a narrow ribbon of water tumbles down a cliff into the Virgin River. In the afternoon, canyoneers often rappel down the face of this cliff. These canyoneers have just finished a 10-mile scramble through Mystery Canyon, whose grand finale is descending into the Narrows in front of wide-eyed onlookers below.
Orderville Canyon (1.6 Miles)
Orderville Canyon is one of the most popular destinations for bottom-up Narrows hikers. It’s just far enough to be challenging, yet not as demanding as the trek to Big Spring. You can hike 0.4 miles into Orderville Canyon before reaching Veiled Falls, a beautiful waterfall that blocks further progress.
Near the junction with Orderville Canyon, the Narrows passes through a particularly narrow section known as Wall Street. In places, the walls are just 20 feet apart. Exploring this roughly one-mile corridor feels like stepping into a grand, natural cathedral.
Big Spring (3.6 Miles)
Located on the left (west) bank of the Virgin River, this gushing spring is a lush oasis of vegetation and serene waterfalls. Day hikers must turn around at this point. Take a moment to enjoy the scenery, then start the long, beautiful hike back.
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