Guide to Hiking the Zion Narrows at Zion National Park
In the midst of 1500-foot sandstone cliffs in the Utah wilderness, a 25-foot wide path snakes through, following the Virgin River as it cuts through the canyon. This path is the Zion Narrows, and it’s one of the most beautiful and interesting hikes in the U.S. When hiking the Zion Narrows, you’ll be wading or possibly even swimming for part of the hike so be prepared for varying elements!
Hiking the Zion Narrows is a must-do for any visitors at the Zion National Park to enjoy the red sandstone cliffs that were cut away by the water. There are a few ways to hike this area, some of which require wilderness permits – but not all routes require permits.
How to Hike the Zion Narrows
Here are the most popular ways to hike the Zion Narrows and access points for day and overnight hikes.
If you go to Zion National Park, be sure to check out the Lonely Planet Zion & Bryce Canyon National Parks travel guide!
Temple of Sinawava
If you want to hike the Zion Narrows without a permit, start at the Temple of Sinawava. The Temple of Sinawava is the most accessible and popular hiking route for the Narrows. It’s an out-and-back route that allows hikers to turn around at their leisure.
You can get to this starting location by shuttle bus, and then spend about a mile on dry land in the Riverside Walk section of the trail. The Temple of Sinawava is the last stop on the Zion Canyon Shuttle.
After the Riverside Walk section, you’ll be getting in the water; make sure you dress warmly if it’s early or later in the year. The water won’t get much higher than 40 degrees in cooler weather. This route takes you through the Zion Narrows, as well as past many other famous landmarks along the wavy walls of the canyon.
While the water depth varies, it generally doesn’t get past waist-deep for adults but you may need to carry small children in sections.
Hiking the Zion Narrows from Chamberlain’s Ranch is more strenuous and requires a wilderness permit that needs to be reserved at the visitor’s center. This is often referred to as hiking “from the top down” through the Narrows.
You’ll also need to drive to or hire a shuttle to take you to the starting point at Chamberlain’s Ranch.
From Chamberlain’s Ranch Trailhead, it’s a 16-mile hike that many people choose to do in two days rather than one. If you plan to do an overnight, be sure to bring backpacking gear and sleeping bags to stay warm at night.
You’ll get to experience the scenery of the upper plateau, and there are several campsites along the way. Eventually, the plateau gives way to the canyon, where you can climb down into and through the Zion Narrows.
Other Hiking Considerations
Because the water level of the Virgin River rises during certain rainy times of the year, you won’t always be able to get a permit. You’ll also want to monitor the weather closely to avoid unexpected rain storms as flash flooding can be a concern.
Most hikers go through the Zion Narrows during the fall, to allow for plenty of time for the water level from spring to go back down. In some years, the Zion trail wasn’t open until August due to record snowfall the year before.
Be sure to carry a dry bag for cameras and other gear that can’t get wet, and you also want to have good shoes for hiking the Zion Narrows. Many hikers opt to use neoprene socks to keep their feet warm and dry!
The riverbed can be rocky and hard on feet, and the land around the Narrows is equally unforgiving. You’ll also need a good walking stick or pole to help judge water depth; you can obtain one of these from the rangers when you get your permit, rather than breaking off living plants in the environment.
The Virgin River can be used for drinking and cooking, so you’ll have no shortage of water on your trip. Be sure to bring proper water filtration if you plan to use the river water for drinking.
One of the biggest problems that the volunteers and rangers in the Zion National Park face is litter, so it’s important to leave behind no trace when you leave. Let the wilderness stay wild for the next generation to enjoy.
The views in the Zion Narrows are breathtaking; spiraling walls of wavy sandstone that appear deep red, almost a rust color, from the centuries of river water carving away at them. These places are worth the cold swim and long hike.
You’ll also probably see some docile big-horned sheep along the way, who live in the canyon. Visitors frequently report not even noticing the cold and wet when faced with the awe-inspiring sights along the way.
The Zion National Park is a national treasure that any hiker should check out.
Have you hiked in the Zion Narrows before? How was your experience? Leave in the comments below!
This post may contain affiliate links to brands we trust. If you use these links to purchase something we may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support!