The Narrows 2014

A unique experience in a unique place

On May 17, 2014, I hiked a portion of the The Narrows in Zion National Park. The Narrows is a deep, narrow canyon carved by the Virgin River. Although prone to flash floods and significant flows from spring runoff, the river is shallow and most often flows at a rate safe for hiking in the river. The experience of hiking in the river surrounded by steep sandstone walls might be one of the most unique available in the National Park system.

There are two main approaches to hiking The Narrows: top-down and bottom-up. The top-down approach requires a permit, shuttle vehicle (to bring you back to the start), and (usually) an overnight stay in the canyon.

The bottom-up approach starts at the Temple of Sinawava, the last shuttle bus stop on the road in Zion Canyon. This approach is immensely popular, but most people don’t make it very far up The Narrows. Don’t be alarmed by the throngs of people wading into the river after the one mile walk from the shuttle bus stop. The crowds will thin out after a while, but perhaps never enough for it to feel like solitude.

Those hiking The Narrows from the bottom-up cannot hike all the way to the top. They are required to turn around at Big Springs, approximately five miles (one-way) from the start at the Temple of Sinawava and four miles from the start of hiking in the river.

We turned around between mile three and four after hiking through Wall Street, which is probably the most visually striking section of The Narrows. Right before Wall Street, there is also an opportunity to explore approximately one mile (one-way) of Orderville Canyon, a separate canyon from the main Virgin River Narrows.

Tips, If You Go

These tips are applicable only to bottom-up day hiking during warm months (May–September). This is not a comprehensive guide. Please seek other sources of information before doing this hike.

  • Water depth: Two to three feet. The water is seldom above waist deep, but be prepared for short stretches of deeper water.
  • Water temperature: Cold. 50–65° Fahrenheit, depending on when you go. The water will feel cold when you first get in the water. But your feet and legs will get accustomed to it. You will want to be in the water during the hottest parts of the day. Dry pants are recommended below 55°F.
  • Flow rate: The Park Service closes The Narrows when the Virgin River’s flow rate exceeds 150 cubic feet per second, during spring snowmelt, and when the National Weather Service issues a flash flood warning, including two hours after the warning is lifted. It’s important to note that flash floods are a risk at any time, not only when a warning has been issued.
  • Footwear: Wear closed-toe shoes with good traction that will drain water. Do not use waterproof footwear. Water will get into your shoes from the top, and once it does, it will have nowhere to escape if you’re wearing waterproof shoes. This is a situation to avoid. Footing is a challenge. The river bottom is full of slippery rocks and uneven ground.
  • Waterproof your pack and your stuff: Line your pack with a waterproof bag, and fill the waterproof bag with your stuff. I can almost guarantee that you will slip at least once and end up dipping your pack into the water. Protect sensitive items within your pack with another layer of waterproof protection.
  • Weather: Monitor not only the weather near the park, but also the weather in surrounding areas. Thunderstorms in distant areas can cause flash floods in The Narrows. In particular, take extra caution during the monsoon season (late-July through September) when afternoon thunderstorms are frequent.
  • Clothing: Do not wear cotton or any other natural fiber that does not dry quickly. This is both a safety issue and practical advice.
  • Effort: You will be hiking slightly uphill (~100 feet per mile), against the current, on your way out. Enjoy the relative ease of the hike back, though.
  • Waste: Pack it out. Consider the logistics of possibly having to pack out your poop, too. Yup.
  • Crowds: It will be crowded. There will be a sea of people in the river at the beginning. Try to be patient. The crowds will thin the farther you go, but it is one of the most popular attractions in the National Park system. You will probably not be alone.
  • Hypothermia: Do not get stuck hiking back too late. You cannot avoid getting wet in most of the canyon, and hypothermia is a real risk if you are unprepared, even on warm days.
  • Water: Bring plenty of drinking water. You will not want to drink the river water for too many reasons to list here. The sediment-filled river water will also clog mechanical filters very quickly.


Exercise caution and consider your abilities, the weather conditions, and the consequences of your decisions before participating in any of the activities described on this website. The author shall not be held liable for any injuries to, or damages caused by, individuals attempting the activities described on this website. Furthermore, the author disclaims any liability, personal or professional, resulting from the application or misapplication of the information presented on this website. Use of the information presented on this website indicates your understanding of the risks and is an acknowledgement of your sole responsibility for your safety. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author makes no guarantee, implied or otherwise, that the information presented on this website is accurate.