The Narrows hike in Zion National Park is the crème de le crème of hikes in Utah, it might not be the most spectacular, offer the best vistas or indeed hold anywhere near the same adrenaline rush of precariously stepping out onto Angels Landing after a torturous number of switch backs. But what the Narrows does offer, is a somewhat unique, highly fun and beautifully brilliant hike that requires little effort and is as long, or short as you intend it to be. People flock from all corners of the world to step into the Virgin river and hike between the narrow canyon walls, around corners where every turn offers up a different view, often a different footing, usually a different depth. Without doubt, hiking the Narrows is one of the best hikes we have ever done and is a firm favourite with both Jack and Abi.
Trailhead: Riverside walk (Temple of Sinawava stop)
Trail End: Riverside walk – Or further up river if you have permits
Distance: 2 mile roundtrip from Temple of Sinawava minimum, then as far as you like thereafter (maximum 9 miles in the river)
Time: Minimum 1hr, maximum, who knows
Difficulty: Easy, if hiking only a couple of hours
There are essentially two ways you can attack the Narrows. The first is starting way up river, for this you need a permit and must pre arrange expensive transport transfers. The second, and easily the most common way is as follows:
The Narrows hike is not just the most popular hike in Zion, it is one of the most popular hikes in the United States. Its accessibility, fun factor and uniqueness make it a magnet for anyone looking for a bit of outdoor adventure. Unless you turn up ridiculously early you will be sharing the virgin river with hundreds of others. But don’t let this distract you, for at every turn people are weeded out and eventually (for us it was 1 hour) you are amongst an enthusiastic few that shared the same curiosity of what the next turn held.
Private vehicles are not allowed up the Zion Valley and so you will either hit lucky and find a spot in the visitor centre as we did, though it was Saturday morning and 90% full at 9.30am, or you can park in numerous other places in Zion village. A bus shuttle runs up the valley every 15 minutes, and you should board this and get off at the very last stop; Temple of Sinawava, named such due to the open area nearby resembling an amphitheater. It really doesn’t and I am convinced they had simply run out of names. The journey from the visitor centre takes about 30 minutes, but is scheduled at 45 minutes.
To begin the Narrows hike you must first of all hike the 1 mile along the easy, and paved riverside walk. This in itself is a nice walk populated by friendly squirrels daring you with their cute eyes to risk being fined $100 to feed them. Walk past al the idiots wearing shoes, denim and even wellies (usually Chinese) and make your way to the natural end of the walk, and place you enter the river.
The visitor centre screws hikers $25 to rent canyon shoes, and you can also rent a stick. Now, someone is seriously laughing all the way to the bank. First of all trainers/sneakers/runners, really. We did the hike in sandals, who pays $25 for a pair of shoes that are going to get soaked instantly? And sticks, you walk through woods to get to the river, there are a billion sticks! Unless you are hard to the core and plan on hiking for miles, just don’t bother.
You cant miss where you enter the river, and technicaly you can entre it at a number of places before. But wherever you enter it, you wont fail to be surprised at how cold the water is, and how murky it is. You may have seen photos online showing a crystal clear river with people hiking along all smiling, chatting and seemingly knowing each other – They are fake. The reality is, the water is a sand brown, freezing cold and everyone is on their own personal mission to stay upright. Almost instantly Jack fell into the river, the current was a little strong for him and due to his miniature size he was literally wiped out. For an adult though its more a case of balancing and not unknowingly stepping on a dodgy rock designed by you’ve been framed.
It is quite beautiful, despite the amount of people in the river, the canyon walls are extremely high and even just 50m past the starting point are no more than 20m wide. The kids absolutely loved every second of what we were doing, and we hiked for at least 2 hours up river. After the first hour the other hikers were somewhat thinned out and from an over populated photograph early on, we had empty stretches and canyon walls which seemed to go up to infinity. The thrill factor kept driving us on and though Jack had water up to his arm pits, they never went higher than my waistline. It was an absolute privilege and we genuinely loved every second. It ranks in my own top 3 hikes in the world, and tops the lists of both Abi and Jack.
I think if we ever returned to Zion I would get the permit and do the full hike, though it was amazing it was hugely popular and I just wonder how much more spectacular it would be having the place pretty much to yourself for miles and miles… I have to return.