Zion National Park, Utah
- Length: 16 miles
- Difficulty: 7/10; 1C IV
- Season: Year-round
- Type: One-way
Zion Narrows is the masterpiece of Zion National Park in Southern Utah. It is known as one of the top river hikes in the area, and rated #5 in National Geographic's Top 100 Adventures list. Following the Virgin River north into Zion Canyon, 1500 to 2500-foot sandstone walls slowly encroach upon the river, a mere 1/4-mile wide at the Temple of Sinawava. From here, the canyon walls squeeze down incredibly to 25 to 30-feet in breadth at “Wall Street,” defining the world-famous Zion "Narrows."
Hiking is done largely in the river, as for a third of the route, the river runs canyon wall to canyon wall. While water levels change from season to season, most hikers will wade at least waist-deep, and many will swim a few short sections.
Permits are required before hiking the Narrows from the top and can be obtained online or by walking in at the Zion National Park Backcountry Desk. For more information, you can call the backcountry information line at 435-772-0170. Zion National Park belongs to no one and everyone. One of the greatest dilemmas facing the Park Service is managing visitation and preservation. All visitors to the Zion Narrows and the rest of the park must follow the Leave No Trace rules.
If you plan to arrange your own private shuttle for a Top-Down hike, you'll need to park your entry vehicle at Chamberlain's Ranch. Though it's not complicated to find the trailhead parking lot, many people get lost along the way due to the lack of landmarks or clear signs. Exit Zion National Park, driving east on State Route 9. Two and a half miles after leaving the east entrance, turn left on North Fork Road. After 5 miles, the pavement ends at Ponderosa Resort. Continue on a rough, unmaintained, dirt road for another 13 miles to a bridge. Turn left at the T, then drive 1/4 mile to Chamberlain’s Ranch main gate. Enter through the gate, but be sure to close it after.
This, along with the first 3 miles of the trail, is private property. Please do not defecate, collect walking sticks, or disturb this property (locally enforced). North Fork Road is impassible after heavy rains, even with 4-wheel drive. Even in good conditions, cars with low clearance may not survive the ruts and rocks well. Also, it might be worth hiring a trailhead shuttle to avoid the three-hour round-trip to retrieve your car after the 16-mile hike.
Zion Narrows Trail Guide
Zion Narrows can be done with two routes, two different ways: Bottom-Up or Top-Down as a day-hike or overnighter. To fully enjoy the narrows of the Virgin River, most hikers choose to stay the night at one of the 12 designated campsites. The table below provides the campsite numbers with the number of people that the site is meant for. If you do not have two days, it is doable in a 12 hour day-hike.
Bottom-Up Day Route: If you are looking for a quick day hike, you can begin at the bottom of the Narrows, at the Temple of Sinawava. From there you must walk one easy mile along the path where you will meet with the river. Immediately the views are breathtaking, and each bend of the river brings new delights. Although there is no formal destination, most make it to Orderville Canyon, a tributary creek approximately 2 hours upstream. In Orderville Canyon the narrows are almost at their most magnificent. You must then hike back the same way to return to the Temple of Sinawava. No permit is required for this day-hike, but one is required if you travel upstream beyond Big Springs.
Bottom-Up Route: The best way for first-time river hikers and those with only a short time in the park. Depending on water flow, this hike is easy to moderate in summer and okay for most kids 4 feet and taller. You can hike in as far you would like and turn back at any time. From the parking lot, it is usually only 2-3 hours into the section of Narrows known as Wall Street. Return hikers find it takes 2/3 the time to hike back as it did to hike in. Early Spring yields higher water due to snow melt. October and November visitors find less people in the river. Best light for photography is between 10 am and 3 pm, May-Sept. Average hikers travel 3-4 miles up canyon and then 3-4 miles back. Bottom-Up hikers are only permitted to hike as far north as Big Springs. Accessible almost all year. Starting point is the Temple of Sinawava. You'll need to ride the shuttle into Zion Canyon, to Temple of Sinawava, and that takes about 45 minutes during the summer season.
#1 - 6 People
#7 - 12 People
#2 - 4 People
#8 - 6 People
#3 - 4 People
#9 - 6 People
#4 - 6 People
#10 - 6 People
#5 - 2 People
#11 - 4 People
#6 - 6 People
#12 - 12 People
Top-Down Day Route: This 16 mile hike as a one day event is the most strenuous option. For athletic people who are very agile hikers. Best done May through September when days are longer. Usually a 10-14 hour hike for most athletes. Very scenic if you take time to look up. Permit required. Max group size is 12 persons. Starting Point is the trailhead at Chamerlain's Ranch. Locate the NPS information sign just above the parking area. The route crosses the river and follows a dirt road for the next 3 miles as it traverses privately owned meadows, sadly slated for development in the future.
Top-Down Overnight Route: With the only disadvantage being the extra weight of overnight gear, this is the way to have the full Narrows experience. Spend one night under a blanket of stars in the canyon in one of 12 designated sites. Plan on hiking 6-8 hours each day with enough time to check out Deep and Kolob Creeks on day one, and Orderville Gulch on day two. Permit required. Max group size is 12 persons. Make sure to pack light (under 25 lbs.). Best time is May-September. Starting point is Chamberlain's Ranch, 1.5 hour drive from Zion Canyon.
The other most common route is the 16-mile hike that spans the entire length of the Narrows. Zion Narrows is one of the most well known hikes in Utah, but taking this route can be a strenuous undertaking. Much planning is required, and with only a window of about three months for favorable conditions, it is not for the faint-of-heart. These canyons provide some of the most beautiful narrows you will ever see, though, so the work is well worth your time.
Zion Narrows Water Flow
Flash floods are common during heavy rains, particularly when preceded by excessively dry periods (which tend to bake the plateau like a clay pot) or after 2-3 days of rain (which saturates the plateau, thus forcing run-off). These storms mostly occur in July-September, but it is not uncommon for storms to drop rain any month of the year and cause the river to rise very quickly. The actual flash or sudden build up of water, rocks, logs and other debris may force a wave of water to come rushing through a narrow canyon like Orderville, then junction with excessive run-off in the Wall Street corridor of the Narrows causing what is known as a roll-thru. This roll-thru carries the greatest density of debris and can be deadly.
Information provided by Utah.com.
Chart information provided by Zion Adventure Company.
- Wild Backpacker - Google Earth Map
- NPS - Campsite map and timetable
- Zion Adventure Company - Map and Trip Planner
- Zion Adventure Company - Guides and Rental Equipment
- NPS - Backcountry Reservation and Permit Information
- NPS - Zion Narrows Online Reservation System
- NPS - Zion Narrows - Zion National Park
- Weather.com - Current Weather Conditions
- NOAA - Flash Flood Potential Ratings
- USGS - Virgin River Stream Flow Ratings