The Virgin River has carved a spectacular gorge in the upper reaches of Zion Canyon: 16 miles long, up to 2000 feet deep, and at times only 20-30 feet wide. The Zion Narrows; walking in the shadow of its soaring walls, sandstone grottos, natural springs, and hanging gardens can be an unforgettable wilderness experience. It is not, however, a trip to be underestimated. Hiking the Zion Narrows means hiking in the Virgin River.
At least 60% of the hike is spent wading, walking, and sometimes swimming in the stream. There is no maintained trail; the route is the river. The current is swift, the water is cold, and the rocks underfoot are slippery. Flash flooding and hypothermia are constant dangers. Good planning, proper equipment, and sound judgment are essential for a safe and successful trip. Your safety is your responsibility. Entering the Narrows is safest when the Virgin River is low, clear, and relatively warm. Conditions change from day to day, and are impossible to predict.
Check at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center for the latest weather forecast and possible advisories. Flash floods can occur at any time, but are more common in mid-summer and early fall. From November through May, trips through the Narrows usually require wet or dry suits and special cold-weather preparation.
This is the easiest way to experience the Narrows. Ride the shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava, walk one mile to the end of the paved Riverside Walk, and begin wading up the river. Almost immediately the views are breathtaking, and each bend of the river brings new delights. There is no formal destination, and you return the same way you came. Many hikers try to reach Orderville Canyon, a tributary creek approximately 2 hours upstream from the end of the paved trail. In the vicinity of Orderville Canyon the Narrows are at perhaps their most majestic. No permit is required for this day-hike. Travel upstream beyond Big Springs requires a permit.
Walking the entire length of the Narrows can be a grueling experience. Under favorable conditions, the 16-mile route takes an average of 12 hours. Even for well-conditioned hikers, this makes for a long and strenuous day. Because the trailhead at Chamberlain"s Ranch is a 1-hour drive from the Temple of Sinawava, either two vehicles or a shuttle is necessary. A backcountry permit is required. Permits may be obtained at either visitor center, on the day before you plan to hike. A maximum of 80 people daily will be granted permits.
To enjoy the Narrows at a more leisurely pace, some visitors choose to spend a night in the gorge. There are 12 numbered campsites, each located above the high water mark at a different spot along the route. Only one-night stays are allowed. Campsites are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis upon completion of a backcountry permit. Permits may be obtained at either visitor center, the day before the planned hike or until noon on the day the hike begins. Campsite capacity is limited, and only two sites can accommodate groups larger than six.