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Backpacker Magazine – November 2010

Best Hikes Ever: Zion Narrows, UT

Sluice through towering walls of sandstone in Utah's Zion National Park.

by: Kelly Bastone

The Zion Narrows, north of the Orderville Canyon junction (Kyle Hammons)
The Zion Narrows, north of the Orderville Canyon junction (Kyle Hammons)

Dissenting opinion “Why spend your days wet and shivering in a dark canyon when you can see the entire park from above on the sunny Zion Traverse, which climbs above 7,000 feet?” asks Michael Lanza. “It’s without a doubt my pick for the most beautiful hike in the entire park system.”


If Disneyland had a slot-canyon ride, it would look like this: easy on the lungs, with sights so mind-bending they seem unnatural. “The sensory experience can seem impossibly fantastical,” wrote former Executive Editor Peter Flax after his trip here. “Fluted columns of spring water cascading down massive Navajo sandstone slabs, dizzying cliffs of red, brown, and black smothered by millennia of flash floods, and an overpowering soundtrack of rushing water.” But the gentle downward grade along the Virgin River doesn’t mean it’s a gimme: Flash floods are a serious threat. Target late May through October.

Do it You could shoot the Narrows in a day, but slow down and spend a night to savor the experience. From the Chamberlain Ranch trailhead, head southwest down the riverside road and after three miles, wade into the Virgin River. At 6.5 miles, the canyon narrows to just 20 feet wide. At 8.7 miles, detour a half-mile down Deep Creek to camp at site #5, perched above the river. Next day, negotiate the Goose Creek Confluence (deep pools and boulder piles can make this .75-mile section a two-hour ordeal), then continue past Big Springs (generally requires swimming). Next up, hit the Temple of Sinawawa and its 3,000-foot walls to the finish.

Resources

Shuttle
Zion Adventure Company ($30 per hiker, zionadventures.com)

Map/book Trails Illustrated Zion National Park ($12, natgeomaps.com); Hiking Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, by Erik Molvar ($17, falcon.com)

Permit Pick up the day before your trip (free), or reserve sites up to three months prior ($5/group). Call (435) 772-3256 for river conditions.

Contact (435) 772-3256; nps.gov/zion

Trip ID
477517




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Reader Rating: -

READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
Bob Washburn
Nov 05, 2013

In response to the above question, if you start at the bottom and hike up, how much you see really depends on how far you hike. It is certainly worth doing if you can't commit to the whole thing. In late summer the water is shallower and much warmer than earlier in the year. This hike is VERY weather dependent. Flash floods are a real concern. You must check weather up stream before beginning.

Star Star Star Star Star
Bob Washburn
Nov 04, 2013

In response to the above question, if you start at the bottom and hike up, how much you see really depends on how far you hike. It is certainly worth doing if you can't commit to the whole thing. In late summer the water is shallower and much warmer than earlier in the year. This hike is VERY weather dependent. Flash floods are a real concern. You must check weather up stream before beginning.

Star Star Star Star Star
Pat
Oct 10, 2013

Truly an amazing journey. IMO, doing a out and back from the Temple of Sinawava (which only gets you to Big Spring - about 4 miles in) is a poor compromise. Do the whole 16 miles from Chamberlain Ranch if at all possible.

anna
Sep 19, 2012

What's the word on doing this in late February-early March? I did it then a few years ago and it wasn't warm but we were all fine; was that a fluke or is that normal?

Eric Nelson
Aug 09, 2011

What is one hikes from the end of the ZNP road north a few miles then returns? How much of the Narrows do you get to see?

Tyler
Jul 15, 2011

This is one of the most breathtaking hikes I have ever been on. I have been down the Narrows twice and plan on doing it again and again.

northsister
Jul 14, 2011

I've been wanting to do this hike again ever since my first time 4 years ago. We camped at "the grotto", I think #12 site. Gorgeous spot and well protected. After many decades of hiking The Narrows still stands out as a favorite. Go!

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