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Best Hikes Ever: Zion Narrows, UT

Sluice through towering walls of sandstone in Utah's Zion National Park.
Zion-Hammons445x260The Zion Narrows, north of the Orderville Canyon junction (Kyle Hammons)

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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