The Zion Narrows, the quintessential river-carved canyon for river hiking, is the place to be from June to September in Utah’s Zion National Park. The Virgin River is the 16-mile trail that is flanked on both sides with smooth, crimson red sandstone walls that reach a height of 1,300 feet and at times are only 10 to 20 feet apart.
The river winds curvaceous through this slot canyon passing stunning multi-colored rocks, rich vegetation, dense forests, hidden nooks and fresh water springs here and there. Greenish blue water hides the slippery, uneven rocks shrouded in moss below it challenges even the most advanced hiker, but sure footing is not as much of a concern as the ever present hazard of flash floods.
River hiking guarantees that the water will be swift, the footing will be slippery and you are going to get wet. 60% of the hike is done in the river. At some points there are sandy spots on the river’s edge to take breaks from hiking in water that is knee deep. But further down the canyon these spots give way to the river and it is a constant flow from wall to wall. Depending on the time of year this knee-deep level increases to waist deep due to the dark green pools that need to be traversed either by wading through or by swimming.
There are 3 ways to hike the Narrows depending on time and skill level:
- Bottom and Back Day Hike: a 6-mile round trip hike that takes 4.5 hours and no permit is required. The turnaround point at Orderville Canyon is the narrowest and most dramatic part of the canyon.
- Top to Bottom Day Hike: a strenuous 16-mile one way hike that takes 12 hours and requires a permit.
- Top to Bottom Overnight Hike: a more relaxing option for the 16-mile one way hike that takes 2 days and requires a permit. There are 12 campsites to make camp and enjoy the sounds of the river at night under a blanket of stars.
If paddling floats your boat, then kayaking the Narrows during spring run-off might be just the thrill you seek. The Narrows have a Class V rating due to the expected difficult whitewater obstacles, but it could have Class VI repercussions because of the steepness of the canyon and the lack of additional escape routes.
Here is a recent video of paddling the Narrows via Adventure Junkie to entice you to take the plunge and kayak the Narrows for yourself.
The Zion Narrows is a quiet, mysterious place that beckons you to have a wet and wild adventure within its magnificent walls.