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Zion National Park - Zion Narrows (of the Virgin River)

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Star Star Star Star Star

Distance: 15.9 miles


A 15.95-mile hike/scramble/wade/swim through one of the finest river gorges on Earth
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This justly renowned hike consists of a clear, swift stream running through a 2,000-foot-deep sandstone gorge. Quiet side canyons, striking glades of maple and ponderosa, and lush hanging gardens of monkeyflower make it a must-do -- for fit hikers with strong ankles and knees. From Mile 3 to Mile 15, you'll be wading through water, over slick 'bowling ball' rocks, most of the time. It is not a trail hike. Expect to get wet to your waist often.

The Narrows can be trekked as a long dayhike, or an overnight (recommended). If done as a dayhike, you'll need to start early and travel fast to Mile 10. Below there, the route gets rougher, deeper, and much slower. Many overconfident hikers find themselves struggling to finish in deep water, near-darkness, and chill evening temperatures.

Park Service permits are required for all thru-hikes, whether day or overnight.
The best season is from May through October. Continual water makes this a fine hike even in oven-hot weather. In mid-summer the water will rarely be more than knee deep. In spring, much of it is thigh deep, and several sections may require swimming. This trip was scouted in early June at a flow of roughly 90 cubic feet per second. Water level details on the waypoints are described for those conditions. Virgin River Flow Gauge. (Play around with graph parameters and you'll note the flow effect from flash floods. Beware.)

Campfires are prohibited in the Zion Narrows, but obviously, many hikers ignore this sensible stricture. DO NOT BUILD CAMPFIRES! They make the Narrows smell like an ashtray for miles downwind. Take enough clothing to get warm if you're chilled. After your trip, report any violations you encounter.

Permits:  Zion National Park Narrrows Info  Permits ($10 for 1-2 people, $15 for 3-7, $20 for 8-122) are required for all thru-trips, even day hikes. Casual walkers often hike up from the lower end at Temple of Sinawava, but no unpermitted travel is allowed above Big Springs (Mile 11.31).You can make permit reservations by mail, or arrive the day before your planned trip and get in line at the Visitor Center backcountry desk, hoping for an opening. This is usually workable for small parties. Large groups require special permit procedures. 

Be aware of the current weather forecast.The Narrows might be closed without notice due to high water or flash flood danger - whether or not you have permit reservations - so arrive in Zion with alternate plans. Permits are not issued when flows exceed 120 cfs (cubic feet per second).

With your permit you'll receive a canyon map, and a pooh bag (double layer metallic ziploc) for each person. These work very well, and are virtually scent-proof. Use them!

Gear Up: You'll want sticky-soled shoes, preferably mid-height or taller, and a walking stick or trekking poles for stability and pool probing. A 'farmer John' wetsuit is advisable for shoulder season travel. Your pack should be totally waterproofed with trash bags or a solid pack liner. Double-bag your sleeping bag. Quick-dry shorts work work well for most seasons. Bring an extra dry shirt, an extra synthetic sweater, and a rain shell, even in the hottest weather. Shade, wet clothing, and canyon winds can be surprisingly cold. Thunderstorms can make the canyon frigid. You can rent specialty items in Springdale at the Zion Adventure Company.

To Trailhead: Drive from Salt Lake City or Las Vegas via I-15 and UT9 to the town of Springdale. While you can do the shuttle to Chamberlin Ranch trailhead on your own, it is long and slow. Three outfitters run commercial shuttles for $35/person, the preferred option. If dayhiking, take the early (6:30a.m.) shuttles. From trip's end at the Temple of Sinawava parking lot, take the free park shuttle bus to the Visitor Center, then transfer to the Springdale town shuttle. This will return you to your car at whatever shuttle company you used.

Shuttles:
Zion Adventure Company (435) 772-0990
Zion Rock & Mountain Guides (435) 772-3303
Red Rock Shuttle & Tours (435) 635-9104

High Water Caution: Under normal conditions, the Narrows is a fun, safe, athletic hike, but conditions mean everything. Whitewater kayakers occasionally paddle the Narrows in spring run-off on flows between 400 and 600 cfs. It is a very dangerous Class V river under such conditions, with raging currents, numerous logjams, boulder piles, and a blind 20-foot waterfall. In May 2009, four out of five kayak parties required helicopter rescue during flows around 500 cfs. Rains often create similar, temporary flows. If high water strands you in the Narrows during a hike, do not attempt to travel until water levels drop.

Trip Basics:
[] Hike quickly from the Chamberlin Ranch trailhead (ZNR001) to Mile 3 (ZNR006). Taking the graded road south of the river keeps your shoes dry to this point. Then it's time to wade.

[] Tight narrows begin at Mile 6.45 (ZNR008). Get your river fording skills down between here and the Deep Creek Confluence at mile 8.66 (ZNR 014). Deep Creek triples the water volume, making for deeper crossings and more powerful currents.

[] Below the Goose Creek confluence Mile 10.68 (ZNR021) deep pools, steep dirt detour trails, and slick downclimbs make travel very slow  to Big Springs at Mile 11.31 (ZNR025).

[] Below Big Springs you'll be continually in water for the next two miles, until the Orderville Canyon confluence at Mile 13.33 (ZNR029). The long, straight hallways may require swimming.

[] Below Orderville, day hikers crowd the canyon, lessening it's appeal, but travel is much easier, and swifter.

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