Hiking The Narrows For Beginners: A Step By Step Guide

Female hiker in a dry suit hiking through the Zion Narrows in Zion National Park

Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park is one of the most unique hiking experiences we have had to date.

Decked out in neoprene and dry suits, we waded into the cold waters cutting through the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. With towering walls a thousand feet tall in places that seem to cave in on either side of you, it’s an awe-inspiring experience to trek through the waters of the Virgin River that have shaped this impressive landscape.

Based on our unforgettable Zion Narrows hike, we are sharing a step-by-step preparation guide to hiking The Narrows for beginners so that you too can experience the magic and wonder of this quintessential Zion National Park experience.

Hiking couple trekking through the Zion Narrows in Zion National Park. They share their lessons about how to hike the narrows

About The Zion Narrows

Located in Zion National Park in southwest Utah, the Zion Narrows is one of those hikes that quickly gets catapulted to the top of peoples’ favorite hikes or bucket list adventure lists.

Ripe with adventures for hiking enthusiasts and nature lovers alike, Zion National Park is a playground of red rock formations and colorful canyons.

But one experience in the park truly stands out…the Zion Narrows.

A truly unique experience, the Zion Narrows hike leads you through the crystal clear waters of the Virgin River, climbing over smooth rocks and boulders as you trace your way alongside 1,000-foot canyon walls.

As RVers who travel to amazing places in nature full-time, we STILL talk about the Zion Narrows frequently. Even after visiting over 30 National Parks in the U.S. and Canada

  • Zion National Park Entrance Cost: $35 for a 7-day vehicle pass; National Park Passes accepted
  • Zion National Park Map:

So as a beginner, how do you go about preparing for and actually hiking this spectacular and infamous trail?

Preparing to Hike The Zion Narrows

As a beginner hiker, hiking the Zion Narrows might feel like a daunting task. You are not alone!

The good news is that this is an easy-moderate hike and depending on the time of year can be done in a more tame manner, or a more adventurous manner depending on what you are looking for.

The thought of suiting up in a bunch of waterproof gear and wading up a river beneath towering stone cliffs put me far outside of my comfort zone.

Parts of my brain were yelling No! Don’t do it!

But what I can say is that I am so glad I did. Hiking the Narrows is one of those experiences you will be forever grateful to have had and continue to tell stories about for years to come. It’s that cool.

Bring your adventurous spirit, and get ready to be in awe of this stunning natural landscape that will completely engulf you and take your breath away.

We had no idea what to expect when preparing for our excursion and honestly, the research took hours! So we are breaking it down and sharing everything we learned with you to save you time and effort so you can spend less time researching and more time exploring!

How To Hike The Narrows As A Beginner

Here are the steps to prepare for hiking the narrows as a beginner (which we were too!):

1. Check weather conditions for the day of your hike

The Narrows in Zion National Park is a slot canyon where the Virgin River flows throughout the year. Slot canyons can be dangerous as they are prone to flash floods that can be triggered by weather and storms happening miles away. These weather events can trigger dramatic changes in water flow rates and water levels that can put your safety at risk and be life-threatening.

For this reason, it is important to stay apprised of not only the weather conditions expected for the day of your hike but also of flash flood potential ratings which determine the likelihood of a flash flood event.

Resources like this flash flood information through the National Weather Service can be a great tool for understanding flash flood risk in the Zion Narrows.

In addition, it is important to stay aware of changing weather conditions as flash floods can happen even when they are not expected. Our recommendation would be to consistently check the weather forecast and try to hike The Narrows on a clear day with no threat of precipitation. Keep in mind, the water temperature during spring, winter, and late fall will be cold, even if the outside temperatures are warm!

The Narrows will be closed to hiking when a Flash Flood Warning is issued and remains closed 2 hours after the warning has been lifted. This can be common between July and September.

2. Check the flow of the Virgin River

An example of a flow rate chart for the Virgin River from the USGS

The flow of the Virgin River through the Narrows of Zion Canyon is a measure of how quickly water is moving in cubic feet per second (CFS). The Narrows will be closed to hiking any time the flow reaches a rate of 150 CFS or more.

We had to reschedule our hike of the Zion Narrows three separate times during our visit to Zion National Park in April due to flow being over 150 CFS during the springtime snow melt. High flow rate closures can be common from April through the summer months.

While it might seem like the flow rate of the Virgin River is always correlated to the water level, this is not necessarily the case. Summer and fall tend to be the most popular time to hike the Zion Narrows due to water levels being lower and water temperatures being higher, but you can still encounter stretches of The Narrows hike that requires a full swim, even when the Virgin River flow is relatively low.

Flow rate can fluctuate often, so definitely keep a close eye on the Virgin River flow rate to better plan your Zion Narrows hiking adventure.

We hiked through ankle-level water and also sections that were nearly up to our chests when the CFS was just over 100 in April.

Hiking couple in their dry suits, canyoneering boots, and wooden hiking sticks in the Zion Narrows

3. Consider renting waterproof gear

There is no requirement to rent specific or special gear when hiking through the Zion Narrows. We did see people hiking in shorts and sandals…but their skin was also bright red from the cold water.

Especially in the spring, late fall, or winter months, we recommend renting waterproof gear, dry suits or dry bibs, neoprene socks, and/or canyoneering boots. You might also consider a dry bag or waterproof backpack to keep your belongings from getting wet.

Having the right gear could mean the difference between having an unforgettable experience and having an experience you would rather soon forget. People do get hypothermia attempting this hike and as with any excursion in nature, there are risks.

In the warmer summer months, you might be able to get by just fine with the gear you already own (or really no gear at all), but we do think it is helpful to have a trekking pole or walking stick of some kind. Navigating the current, especially in deeper sections, can be tricky! A trekking pole will give you added stability.

There are several outdoor stores near the West entrance of Zion National Park that make it easy and convenient to rent and return Narrows hiking gear:

You can expect full gear rental (boots, entire dry suit w/ bib, wooden hiking stick) to cost between $55-$75 for a 1-day rental.

Male hiker at Wall Street of the Zion Narrows at Zion National Park

4. Select hike time based on shuttle availability

If the conditions are right and you have the proper gear, you are ready for your Zion Narrows hiking adventure! Navigating to the start of the Narrows bottom-up hike will most likely require taking the Zion National Park Shuttle (Zion Canyon Line) to the very last stop at the Tempe of Sinawava. This is about a 45-minute ride from the Visitor Center, or a 2-hour walk (7.7 miles).

During shuttle season (typically mid-February through late November) you cannot drive personal vehicles on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, the only road leading to the Narrows bottom-up hike starting location.

The Zion shuttle is completely FREE!

To ensure that you are not stranded and have the necessary time to complete the hiking route you want, you will need to consider shuttle bus times during the season of your visit.

If you plan to do the entire bottom-up hike, this will be about a 9-mile roundtrip excursion. This takes about 4-6 hours to complete, on average.

An early start will be best to set you up for a successful adventure in the narrows! We recommend being there for one of the first shuttles of the day to avoid most of the crowds.

Buses typically come by each stop every 10-15 minutes. Be sure to plan accordingly so that you complete your hike in time to catch a shuttle from the Temple of Sinawava back to the Zion Canyon Visitor Center parking area or the Zion Canyon Village (to connect with the Springdale line). The timing of the last shuttle varies based on the season, you can check the shuttle service schedule here.

Where To Park

Zion National Park Parking: Zion National Park is a popular destination… for a good reason! This means that parking fills up fast. We recommend trying to enter the park as early as you can, or at least 30 minutes prior to the first shuttle. The best place to park for hiking the narrows will be the lots at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, which is also where a main shuttle stop is located.

If the parking in the park does fill up, you will be turned around and asked to park in Springdale, outside the gates of the park. From there you can take the Springdale shuttle line into the park.

Hiking couple among a small crowd in the Zion Narrows

5. Enjoy the magic of hiking the Zion Narrows

When all the pieces fall into place, you have the green light to experience a truly unique hiking experience. Hiking through the rushing blue waters of the Virgin River through the narrowest part of Zion Canyon is truly a spectacular sight. It is easy to get lost in the sheer magnitude of the canyon walls, and the mesmerizing experience of wading through waste-deep water for miles and miles.

This was truly a one-of-a-kind experience and we are so glad we were able to complete this bucket list hike!

The Zion Narrows Hike Details

Waterfall over the canyon walls at the Zion Narrows in Zion National Park

The Narrows Bottom-Up Hike Route

When preparing for how to hike the narrows, you will want to decide if you will be doing the bottom-up day hike or the more intense top-down route. The top-down route will require a wilderness permit and a higher level of skill and the bottom-up route is the more popular option for most hikers.

For the bottom-up hike, you will start at the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop. Then you will walk down the beautiful 1 mile-long Zion Narrows Riverside walk trail before continuing your hike right into the water.

You will pass Mystery Falls on the right, before continuing on to Wall Street and Orderville Canyon, some of the narrowest sections of Zion Canyon. At the confluence where Wall Street begins, you can explore an off-shoot into Orderville Canyon, where you will find Veiled Falls. This is a fun excursion where you can get away from crowds!

If you continue on you will pass floating rock and eventually make it to where Wall Street ends. You’ll notice here, the river starts to widen again.

Finally, you will reach Big Springs, which is the mandatory turnaround around point for hikers doing the bottom-up Narrows hike. There is no further upstream hiking permitted past this point.

The great thing is that there is no right or wrong way to hike the Narrows in Zion National Park. Choose your comfort level and explore as much or as little as you want!

Quick Facts & Stats

  • Mileage: Bottom-up hike, 8 miles roundtrip, Top-down hike, 16 miles
  • Cost: Bottom-up hike covered by entrance fee ($35/7 day pass); Top-down hike $15 for a group of 1-2 for a wilderness permit
  • Reservation required? Not for the 9-mile roundtrip bottom-up day hike. A wilderness permit is required for the 16-mile top-down hike (closed when the Virgin River exceeds 120 CFS)
  • Gear Required? No, but recommended. Hypothermia is a real risk, especially during colder months
  • Transportation Required?: For a bottom-up hike you can take the FREE Zion National Park shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava. For a top-down hike, you will need to arrange transportation to the starting point of Chamberlain’s Ranch
  • Will it be crowded? This is a popular hike. As with many hikes, you will most likely find that the crowds you see near the start of the Narrows thin out as you venture deeper into the canyon.
Female hiker standing among rocks below towering canyon walls while hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park

Frequently Asked Questions About Hiking The Narrows

What should I wear to hike the Zion Narrows?

In the warmer late summer months when water levels are low basic athletic gear will be just fine! Shorts, tee-shirts, leggings, sneakers or sandals (just note the trail is very rocky and can be very slippery), and maybe a light sweater for the early morning shade should be just fine!

If you are up for more of an adventure, hiking during the cooler spring or fall months will require a bit more gear and preparation. We recommend renting

What is the best time of day to hike the Narrows?

To experience fewer crowds we recommend getting an early start to the day (6am-9am). If you plan to hike all the way to Big Springs you will need most of the day for the hike (and might want to consider being there for the first shuttle of the day), but if you plan to turn around sooner along the route, you will have a bit more flexibility with your time.

What is the best time of year to hike the Narrows?

Looking for an easier adventure that doesn’t require special gear?

Late summer and early fall will be your best bet. Late summer brings low water levels, warmer water temperatures, and warm weather!

Looking for a more epic adventure with fewer crowds?

Spring and early summer will bring higher water levels and stronger flow rates for a more challenging hike. Cooler temperatures will also make it important to have the right gear to stay safe and warm. We found ourselves in chest-high water at several points along our Zion Narrows hike in April! Due to more variable conditions and snow melt, this is often when closures are more likely to happen.

How long will it take to hike the Zion Narrows?

Plan for your Zion Narrows adventure to take most of the day. Between getting through the entrance gate, finding a place to park, waiting for the shuttle, a 40-50 minute shuttle ride, a 2-mile roundtrip hike along the Riverside Walk Trail, and the hike up the Narrows and back – you are looking at around a 4-6 hour day, if not more!

The great thing about this hike is that you can easily turn back at any point based on your comfort level, what you want to see, and how long you have. We went all the way to Big Springs, but many people choose to turn around at Orderville Canyon or Wall Street.

Are there guided hikes in the Zion Narrows?

Yes! Check out information about a Zion Narrows tour, along with other great Zion National Park trips and excursions below:

Where To Stay: Camping Near Zion National Park

Looking to visit Zion National Park as part of an RV road trip? As a full-time travel couple living, working, and traveling full-time in our RV, our recommendations on where to stay near destinations focus on campgrounds and free camping areas!

During our time exploring Zion National Park, we were fortunate to be able to stay on both the East and West sides of the park. We stayed at a free boondocking area and an amazing Utah State Park:

Camping on the east side of Zion National Park:

Trees and distant cliffs from a boondocking spot on the east side of Zion National Park
Views from our boondocking spot on the East Side of Zion National Park not far from Kanab Utah

Camping on the west side of Zion National Park:

If you are looking for a unique and otherworldly hike a bit off the beaten path while staying on the west side of Zion, be sure to add Yant Flat and the Candy Cliffs to your hiking bucket list!

Blue waters and orange rocks of Sand Hollow Reservoir at Sand Hollow State Park
The Sand Hollow Reservoir is just steps from your campsite at Sand Hollow State Park near Hurricane Utah


Places To Stay Near Zion National Park:

Campgrounds & Camping Options:

East of Zion

West of Zion

Our favorite resources for finding great campgrounds and campsites include Campendium, RV Life, and iOverlander.

You can also check out HipCamp and TheDyrt for more unique camping experiences and accommodations.

If you are looking to get closer to nature, but don’t have an RV consider renting one through Outdoorsy, or RV Share.

Other Accommodations Near Zion National Park:

Another great way to get closer to nature is glamping or nature-centric stays. Here are some options like that nearby:

Booking.com and VRBO are both great resources for finding local places to stay near Zion National Park at great prices as well!

Looking for other epic hiking adventures in Utah? Here are some amazing trails we loved:

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