Zion National Park in Springdale, Utah, offers much to be explored for outdoor enthusiasts of all levels. Canyoneering the North Fork of the Virgin River through the Zion Narrows is one such adventure. Different hiking options are available to fit the timing and condition limitations of many visitors to the park. For experienced hikers in excellent physical condition, an overnight backpack or 16-mile day hike from the top down can be a challenging experience. However, for fit families with older children or those looking for a less intense outing, a day hike from the bottom up can be a beautiful, awe-inspiring introduction into the sport of canyoneering.
About The Narrows
The Narrows refers to a deep, narrow gorge cut into the upper Zion Canyon by the Virgin River. It is 16 miles long, 200 feet deep, and sometimes as narrow as only 20 feet wide. The river runs through the gorge, and depending on the location and time of year, can vary from being only a few inches deep to deep enough to make swimming a requirement for navigation. The views inside the gorge are absolutely breathtaking, presenting photography buffs with endless artistic opportunities.
The Bottom-Up Day Hike
The bottom-up day hike has no specific destination, but most people will hike for a total of four to six hours round-trip. You'll want to keep in mind that the trip up is against the current, so it will take more time and energy than the return trip back down. To reach the trailhead, ride the park shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava and then walk 1 mile to the end of the Riverside Walk.
What You'll Need
Regardless of conditions or time of year, a pair of sturdy, non-slip shoes is a must for your trip up The Narrows. The smooth rocks and boulders that line the bottom of the Virgin River can be slick and are notoriously uneven. A hiking stick is also helpful for all but the most experienced canyoneerers. One misstep or unexpected slip into the river can leave hikers with an ankle injury that may jeopardize their ability to complete or enjoy the remainder of the trek. In early spring when water temperatures are still cool, insulated wet suits can be rented at local outfitters to protect from both the wet and cold. Bring a backpack, so you can shed the suit if the midday sun makes it no longer necessary. As with any hiking expedition, be sure to bring plenty of water, regardless of temperatures.
What to Expect
When hiking the river from the bottom up, you're likely to see all levels of canyoneering expertise. High-adventure dads flying by carrying toddlers on their shoulders are just as common as weekend warriors contemplating every measured step. Hazards are not to be taken lightly, however, and you should not underestimate this ever-changing natural environment. There is no maintained route, and at least 60 percent of your time may be spent in the water. Swimming may even be necessary at times, depending on the time of year, and the current can be quite swift. Be sure to check the weather forecast just prior to departure, as flash floods can come on suddenly and be deadly inside the canyon.
Once on the river, take your time and enjoy your presence in these awesome surroundings. Each new stretch of the river has a fresh view offering as much natural variance as the people who have come to enjoy it. From delicate blossoms peeking through weeping canyon walls to cacti growing at the river's edge, this trip is the epitome of nature's contradictions.
The park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Services vary by season, however, so be sure to check before planning your trip. Weekly pass fees: individual with no vehicle - $12; motorcycles per individual - $12; private vehicles - $25. No permit is needed to do the bottom-up day hike of The Narrows.