Zion National Park: Zion Narrows of the Virgin River

A 15.6-mile hike-scramble-wade-swim through one of the finest river gorges on Earth.
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A 15.6-mile hike-scramble-wade-swim through one of the finest river gorges on Earth.

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 mostly wading through water and over slick 'bowling ball' rocks. This is not a trail hike, and expect to get wet up 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 chilly evening temperatures. Note: Campfires are prohibited in the Zion Narrows.

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 (ZNR014). 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.
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.
WHEN TO GO: 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. Our author scouted this trip in early June at a flow of roughly 90 cubic feet per second. Water level details on the waypoints are described for those conditions. Check out the Virgin River Flow Gauge and play around with graph parameters.
WEATHER: Watch the current weather forecast. The Narrows migh suddenly close due to high water or flash flood danger. Permits are not issued when flows exceed 120 cfs. 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.
PERMIT: The park requires permits for all thru-hikes, whether day or overnight. With your permit you'll receive a canyon map, and a pooh bag (double layer metallic ziploc) for each person. For fees and more info, go to nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/backcountry-reservations-and-permits.htm
SHUTTLES: Zion Adventure Company (435) 772-0990; Zion Rock & Mountain Guides (435) 772-3303; Red Rock Shuttle & Tours (435) 635-9104.
-Mapped by Steve Howe

TO TRAILHEAD: Drive from Salt Lake City or Las Vegas via I-15 and UT 9 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 (6:30 a.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.

PRO Trip Info

CONTACT
Zion National Park
(435) 772-3256
nps.gov/zion
WHERE TO STAY
Zion Lodge
Located on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Open year-round. Motel rooms, cabins, and suites available. Also has a gift shop and post office. Reservations recommended: 888-297-2757; zionlodge.com

Camping
South Campground: First-come, first-served. 435-772-3256
Watchman Campground: Reservations can be made six months prior to arrival date at recreation.gov; 877-444-6777

WHERE TO EAT
Red Rock Grill Dining Room at Zion Lodge
Open year round. Dinner reservations advised spring through fall: 435-772-3213.

Castle Dome Cafe at Zion Lodge
Open seasonally.

Whiptail Grill
445 Zion Park Boulevard
Springdale, UT 84737
(435) 772-0283

GROCERIES
Sol Foods
95 Zion Park Boulevard
Springdale, UT 84737
(435) 772-0277

Lin's Marketplace
1120 W State St
Hurricane, UT
(435) 635-4477 

GAS
Honey's Fuel Center
344 South 350 East
Kanab, UT 84741-3739
(435) 644-2736

Walker’s
1180 W State St
Hurricane, UT 84737
(435) 635-7529

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 25.7

Waypoints

ZNR001

Location: 37.384665, -112.838934

Chamberlain Ranch Trailhead. Private land. No camping. Follow user trail, or dirt road, your choice.

ZNR002

Location: 37.378739, -112.848987

0.89 Mi. Fence. Go thru.

ZNR003

Location: 37.376067, -112.858509

1.49 Miles. Strike road again. Follow West/downcanyon.

ZNR004

Location: 37.372791, -112.864026

2.07 Miles. Leave road, descend to river and follow old ATV track.

ZNR005

Location: 37.371231, -112.866316

Bulloch's Cabin. Old pioneer ranch ruin in field 200 yards south of trail.

ZNR006

Location: 37.371088, -112.879084

3.0 Miles. End of vehicle tracks. Cliff-to-cliff water begins.

ZNR007

Location: 37.370152, -112.882831

3.25 Miles. Wilderness Study Area boundary sign.

ZNR008

Location: 37.37099, -112.923573

6.45 Miles. Deep, tight narrows begin. Sections only 20 feet wide.

ZNR009

Location: 37.370636, -112.926368

6.63 Miles. Second tight narrows section.

ZNR010

Location: 37.368838, -112.930093

6.92 Miles. First obvious side canyon on river right.

ZNR011

Location: 37.367744, -112.931249

7.03 Miles. NPS Campsite #1. Among pines on riverside bench. River left.

ZNR012

Location: 37.36596, -112.937446

7.47 Miles. 20-foot-high waterfall over logjam. Detour by climbing left/South through crack behind house-sized boulder.

ZNR013

Location: 37.365994, -112.938666

7.55 Miles. Rugged boulder pile requires extensive clambering.

ZNR014

Location: 37.359376, -112.951983

8.66 Miles. Deep Creek Confluence. NPS campsites #2 & #3 in immediate area. Flow from Deep Creek triples water volume. Lovely but tough travel upstream into Deep Creek.

ZNR015

Location: 37.355209, -112.951701

8.95 Miles. NPS Campsite 4. Not very nice. Trail runs right through site.

ZNR016

Location: 37.352319, -112.949713

9.23 Miles. NPS Campsite 5. Aesthetic but small. Room for 2. Can camp on large flat boulder overlooking river. Limited weather shelter from overhang at cliff.

ZNR017

Location: 37.35019, -112.949825

9.39 Miles. NPS Campsite 6.

ZNR018

Location: 37.348638, -112.951557

9.56 Miles. NPS Campsite 7

ZNR019

Location: 37.344027, -112.951911

10.0 Miles. NPS Campsite 8.

ZNR020

Location: 37.339688, -112.95541

10.45 Miles. Campsite 9

ZNR021

Location: 37.337998, -112.956016

10.68 Miles. Many deep pools with steep dirt detour trails and boulder scrambles in between. Slow travel to Big Spring.

ZNR022

Location: 37.337259, -112.955729

10.72 Miles. NPS Campsite #10. Overhanging wall provides rain shelter. Open, 'mountain valley' feel to canyon.

ZNR023

Location: 37.334648, -112.955559

10.94 Miles. NPS Campsite #11. Nice, open campsite with 'timbered mtn valley' feel. More alpine, less gloomy than narrower campsites.

ZNR024

Location: 37.332587, -112.956508

11.13 Miles. NPS campsite #12. Group campsite for 12 people max. Hidden off-trail on bench to river left.

ZNR025

Location: 37.33104, -112.956874

11.31 Miles. Big Spring. Rushing waterfall spring with hanging gardens of monkeyflower. Canyon gets narrower and water deeper from here to Orderville.

ZNR026

Location: 37.329188, -112.957357

11.49 Miles. Long straight hallway with deep water throughout. May require swimming through mid-June of average run-off year - or after significant rains.

ZNR027

Location: 37.318008, -112.951942

12.41 Miles. Second deep water section. Boulders in sandy streambed form deep pits you may have to swim around.

ZNR028

Location: 37.309662, -112.949231

13.08 Miles. Imlay Canyon confluence is invisible on heights above river. Canyoneers finish this extremely difficult narrows with a 180-foot free rappel to river.

ZNR029

Location: 37.307881, -112.946776

13.33 Miles. Mouth of Orderville Canyon. You'll encounter many hikers from here to finish.

ZNR030

Location: 37.299973, -112.944552

14.60 Miles. Deepest water of lower canyon. Waist to chest deep along wall, river right.

ZNR031

Location: 37.299279, -112.944303

14.65 Miles. Mystery Canyon, visible as steep moss-covered slab with waterfall runnel coming down. Canyoneers may be rappelling out.

ZNR032

Location: 37.293947, -112.948327

15.17 Miles. Sandstone rock wall signals beginning of asphalt tourist trail to Temple of Sinawava.

ZNR033

Location: 37.285201, -112.947735

15.95 Miles. END. Temple of Sinawava shuttle bus stop and parking lot.

Upper Canyon

Location: 37.371233, -112.900182

Water streak and desert varnish in upper canyon

Shallow Stream

Location: 37.370107, -112.916619

Typical shallow stream section in upper canyon

First Narrows

Location: 37.370892, -112.924472

First tight narrows.

Deep Creek

Location: 37.359295, -112.951337

Deep Creek confluence.

Below Deep Creek

Location: 37.357521, -112.951466

Larger stream in lower canyon below Deep Creek confluence.

Crossing

Location: 37.353189, -112.95138

Group crossing stream above Campsite 5

Campsite 5

Location: 37.352131, -112.949535

Flat Rock at Campsite 5

Big Spring

Location: 37.331387, -112.957088

Big Spring.

Slot View

Location: 37.322855, -112.955114

Orderville Junction

Location: 37.307667, -112.946745

Thru-hiker backpacks stashed at Orderville Junction for side hike.

Small Rapids

Location: 37.306472, -112.947818

Flood Debris

Location: 37.302785, -112.946659

Flash flood debris in lower canyon.

Lower Canyon

Location: 37.298109, -112.946273

Hikers in broad, lower canyon. Can get extremely crowded on weekends and holidays.

Rock Pinch

Location: 37.365912, -112.934085

Below Deep Creek

Location: 37.357521, -112.951466

Larger stream in lower canyon below Deep Creek confluence.

Big Spring

Location: 37.331387, -112.957088

Big Spring.

Campsite 5

Location: 37.352131, -112.949535

Flat Rock at Campsite 5

Crossing

Location: 37.353189, -112.95138

Group crossing stream above Campsite 5

Deep Creek

Location: 37.359295, -112.951337

Deep Creek confluence.

First Narrows

Location: 37.370892, -112.924472

First tight narrows.

Flood Debris

Location: 37.302785, -112.946659

Flash flood debris in lower canyon.

Lower Canyon

Location: 37.298109, -112.946273

Hikers in broad, lower canyon. Can get extremely crowded on weekends and holidays.

Orderville Junction

Location: 37.307667, -112.946745

Thru-hiker backpacks stashed at Orderville Junction for side hike.

Rock Pinch

Location: 37.365912, -112.934085

Shallow Stream

Location: 37.370107, -112.916619

Typical shallow stream section in upper canyon

Slot View

Location: 37.322855, -112.955114

Small Rapids

Location: 37.306472, -112.947818

Upper Canyon

Location: 37.371233, -112.900182

Water streak and desert varnish in upper canyon

ZNR001

Location: 37.384665, -112.838934

Chamberlain Ranch Trailhead. Private land. No camping. Follow user trail, or dirt road, your choice.

ZNR002

Location: 37.378739, -112.848987

0.89 Mi. Fence. Go thru.

ZNR003

Location: 37.376067, -112.858509

1.49 Miles. Strike road again. Follow West/downcanyon.

ZNR004

Location: 37.372791, -112.864026

2.07 Miles. Leave road, descend to river and follow old ATV track.

ZNR005

Location: 37.371231, -112.866316

Bulloch's Cabin. Old pioneer ranch ruin in field 200 yards south of trail.

ZNR006

Location: 37.371088, -112.879084

3.0 Miles. End of vehicle tracks. Cliff-to-cliff water begins.

ZNR007

Location: 37.370152, -112.882831

3.25 Miles. Wilderness Study Area boundary sign.

ZNR008

Location: 37.37099, -112.923573

6.45 Miles. Deep, tight narrows begin. Sections only 20 feet wide.

ZNR009

Location: 37.370636, -112.926368

6.63 Miles. Second tight narrows section.

ZNR010

Location: 37.368838, -112.930093

6.92 Miles. First obvious side canyon on river right.

ZNR011

Location: 37.367744, -112.931249

7.03 Miles. NPS Campsite #1. Among pines on riverside bench. River left.

ZNR012

Location: 37.36596, -112.937446

7.47 Miles. 20-foot-high waterfall over logjam. Detour by climbing left/South through crack behind house-sized boulder.

ZNR013

Location: 37.365994, -112.938666

7.55 Miles. Rugged boulder pile requires extensive clambering.

ZNR014

Location: 37.359376, -112.951983

8.66 Miles. Deep Creek Confluence. NPS campsites #2 & #3 in immediate area. Flow from Deep Creek triples water volume. Lovely but tough travel upstream into Deep Creek.

ZNR015

Location: 37.355209, -112.951701

8.95 Miles. NPS Campsite 4. Not very nice. Trail runs right through site.

ZNR016

Location: 37.352319, -112.949713

9.23 Miles. NPS Campsite 5. Aesthetic but small. Room for 2. Can camp on large flat boulder overlooking river. Limited weather shelter from overhang at cliff.

ZNR017

Location: 37.35019, -112.949825

9.39 Miles. NPS Campsite 6.

ZNR018

Location: 37.348638, -112.951557

9.56 Miles. NPS Campsite 7

ZNR019

Location: 37.344027, -112.951911

10.0 Miles. NPS Campsite 8.

ZNR020

Location: 37.339688, -112.95541

10.45 Miles. Campsite 9

ZNR021

Location: 37.337998, -112.956016

10.68 Miles. Many deep pools with steep dirt detour trails and boulder scrambles in between. Slow travel to Big Spring.

ZNR022

Location: 37.337259, -112.955729

10.72 Miles. NPS Campsite #10. Overhanging wall provides rain shelter. Open, 'mountain valley' feel to canyon.

ZNR023

Location: 37.334648, -112.955559

10.94 Miles. NPS Campsite #11. Nice, open campsite with 'timbered mtn valley' feel. More alpine, less gloomy than narrower campsites.

ZNR024

Location: 37.332587, -112.956508

11.13 Miles. NPS campsite #12. Group campsite for 12 people max. Hidden off-trail on bench to river left.

ZNR025

Location: 37.33104, -112.956874

11.31 Miles. Big Spring. Rushing waterfall spring with hanging gardens of monkeyflower. Canyon gets narrower and water deeper from here to Orderville.

ZNR026

Location: 37.329188, -112.957357

11.49 Miles. Long straight hallway with deep water throughout. May require swimming through mid-June of average run-off year - or after significant rains.

ZNR027

Location: 37.318008, -112.951942

12.41 Miles. Second deep water section. Boulders in sandy streambed form deep pits you may have to swim around.

ZNR028

Location: 37.309662, -112.949231

13.08 Miles. Imlay Canyon confluence is invisible on heights above river. Canyoneers finish this extremely difficult narrows with a 180-foot free rappel to river.

ZNR029

Location: 37.307881, -112.946776

13.33 Miles. Mouth of Orderville Canyon. You'll encounter many hikers from here to finish.

ZNR030

Location: 37.299973, -112.944552

14.60 Miles. Deepest water of lower canyon. Waist to chest deep along wall, river right.

ZNR031

Location: 37.299279, -112.944303

14.65 Miles. Mystery Canyon, visible as steep moss-covered slab with waterfall runnel coming down. Canyoneers may be rappelling out.

ZNR032

Location: 37.293947, -112.948327

15.17 Miles. Sandstone rock wall signals beginning of asphalt tourist trail to Temple of Sinawava.

ZNR033

Location: 37.285201, -112.947735

15.95 Miles. END. Temple of Sinawava shuttle bus stop and parking lot.