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The Narrows


Getting There Lodging Restaurants Hiking Backpacking The Narrows The Subway Springdale

If you're at all physically able, hiking the Zion Narrows is one of life's incredible experiences. It's not difficult. Little kids do it with their parents every day. Older hikers do it with no problems. You're hiking up a river, so obviously the route is almost level. From beginning to end you might climb 100 feet.

This is a unique hike, which is why we give it a whole separate section on the website. There's no other place in the world where you can hike for an entire day IN a river with canyon walls so close together that in many places you can reach your hiking poles out and touch both sides.

It's a photographer's fantasy. The colors of the walls and the water change as the sun moves across the sky. Scenes change around each bend. Water has carved unique patterns and formations on the walls.

Even though it's 110 degrees "outside," the canyon and water are cool enough that many hikers wear long sleeves.

You don't have to worry about sun burn, sunglasses or even a hat.

And although special equipment is needed you don't have to buy it. You can rent it from Zion Adventures in Springdale or other area outfitters.

However, you do need to think through this hike carefully ahead of time and plan accordingly.

If you have any claustrophobic tendencies, this is not for you. You're going to spend eight hours with walls close together and the sun and sky visible only through a very narrow crack 2000 feet up. You might want to walk up the approach trail and wade the river around the first bend so you can experience the Narrows, but then retreat.

If being repeatedly submerged in water up to your waist and chest do not appeal to you, this is not for you. Much of the day you'll be wading ankle or knee deep, but any time the walls come closer together the water will deepen and you'll have to either swim or wade for a distance until the river widens back out.

If you prefer hiking on solid ground this is not for you. The riverbed alternates among sand, gravel, pebbles and rocks. The current is strong, so on the way up it resists your placing your feet, and on the return it pushes your feet past where you wanted to place them.

Like any hike, of course, you can turn around and come back whenever you want. But for the full experience, you should enter the water no later than 10 pm and allot the whole day for the hike. There are things to see and photograph, and you don't want to feel hurried.

Always check for weather reports and flow rates before starting. The ideal day is at 50 cfs (cubic feet per second). This means low water levels, calm water, and clear water. As the cfs level approches 100 cfs the water becomes deep, strong and murky, meaning you cannot see where to place your feet, you'll be hiking mostly in waist or chest deep water, and the water will be pushing you srtrongly downriver, which will tire you out after 2-3 hours. Above 100 cfs we do not recommend hiking. Postpone until tomorrow. Above 120 cfs isn't a problem because the rangers close the river.

Realize that if rain is forecast anywhere in the drainage area rangers will close the river and if they haven't yet done so, you should still not begin. It does not have to rain in the park. This river and its tributaries draw waters from a huge area and feed it into this one narrow canyon. A couple of hours rain north and east of the park will turn this gentle river into a raging flash flood from which the walls allow no escape. This is why the river is not open to hikers in the Spring. That is the rainy season here, and there are no safe days. In Summer and early Fall rain is rare so the river is usually safe. But you should always check. Even if no rain was forecast and the river was open, if you're hiking and suddenly you notice the water seems to be rising slightly, turn around and head downstream as fast as possible. This is not an idle threat. On one occasion, five died and on another seven died. The Park Service issues electronic alerts but your cell phone doesn't work in the canyon.

As for equipment, you'll need neoprene socks, river shoes, a jacket or sweater, heavy duty hiking sticks and a drybag. Zion Adventures in Springfield rents a package of shoes, socks and hiking sticks for $25 a day.

You must have a bag to keep your camera, lunch and other items from getting soaking wet. There are two ways to approach this problem. One is to buy a classic small drybag, which is absolutely waterproof, and put it inside your day pack. Your day pack will come back soaking wet, but your items inside the drybag will be fine. The other approach is to buy or rent a dry pack, that is a drybag set up as a daypack, with shoulder straps and a suspension system. This is clearly the ideal choice, but if you're only going to use it this once it's expensive. If, back home, you go whitewater rafting, canoeing and/or fishing, it would also be useful on those trips and would be well worth the investment.

The hike itself begins at the Temple of Sinewava, where you get off the shuttle and take the Riverside Walk for one mile. Here you enter the river. The canyon walls here are fairly far apart, but they continue to narrow as you hike. The first major site is 120 feet Mystery Canyon Falls, half a mile in on your right. More seep than falls, it flows out of Mystery Canyon. Usually one or more canyoneers will be rappelling down from Mystery Canyon into the Narrows (see second photo up on your left). Mystery Canyon is one of the great canyoneering destinations. You can look down into it from the top from the East Mesa Dayhiking Trail.

Mystery Canyon is a special type of feature called a Hanging Canyon, meaning its floor is high above the river it flows into.

Two miles in, you'll come to Wall Street, where the canyon narrows. Here, you'll be hiking in waist high water continually for about half a mile. Then you'll come to the mouth of Orderville Canyon on your right. This is a great sidetrip. The walls are even narrower and higher than the main canyon (see second photo up on your right), although there's usually less water. Half a mile up Orderville Canyon you come to Veil Falls (see photo, above), which will block your progress. Signs warn only permit holders may proceed above the Falls. As you hike further up the main canyon, you come to the Boulder Field, a mile of ever narrowing walls littered with loose rocks and boulders you may have to scramble around or over. If you struggle past this you come to Big Spring on your left (photo, right). This is your turning point and a good place for lunch if you can find a dry rock or spot of sand to sit on. Signs announce that only permit holders are permitted above this point. In fact, no one hikes up from here. Permit holders come down from the top of the canyon, an overnight trip.

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