IMPORTANT: Zion National Park has the right to cancel any backpacking trip at any time. We have reservations for Permits, permits will be issued no more than 24hrs in advance. The Narrows will be closed when the National Weather Service issues a Flash Flood Warning. No exceptions!
Description: The Virgin River has carved a spectacular gorge in the upper reaches of Zion Canyon: 16 miles long, up to 2000 feet deep, and at times only 30 feet wide. Walking in the shadow of soaring walls, sandstone grottos, natural springs, and hanging gardens can be an unforgettable wilderness experience. It is not, however, a trip to be underestimated. Hiking the Zion Narrows means hiking in the Virgin River. At least 80% of the hike is spent wading, walking, and sometimes swimming in the river. There is no maintained trail; the route is the river.
Time Required: 12-18 hours total hiking time w/backpacking gear.
Length: 17 miles
Elevation Change: 1500-ft gradual descent down the river
Day 1: We will shuttle to the trailhead. The start is Chamberlain's Ranch – a small ranch on the North Fork of the Virgin River.
From the trailhead, we follow the small dirt road across the river, and then west along the bank. The North Fork is small here, more of a stream than a river. You are a guest on the Chamberlain Ranch; please stay on the trail and don't harass the cattle. In about an hour, you pass the collapsing Bulloch Cabin, the road ends, and the canyon becomes a gorge.
The next six miles of scenery in the upper section of the North Fork is more subtle than the lower famous section of narrows and it is notable how much smaller and calmer the water flow is than what most people are used to seeing in Zion Canyon. Many forested sections alternate with brief sections of narrows in the shallow canyon. You will be hiking mostly in the water, but there are several trails-of-use along the banks early in the hike. And As the miles go by, you will notice the walls get taller as the canyon gets deeper and more impressive.
One notable landmark at the 8.5 mile mark is the North Fork Falls -- a 15-foot tall boulder/log jam that can be bypassed by hiking through a little passage on the south side. Soon after the falls, the canyon starts to look like the Zion Narrows that everybody knows and loves. At mile 9 is the majestic confluence with Deep Creek, a canyon equally as impressive as the North Fork of the Virgin River. Here the water volume doubles and you enter a much more impressive section of canyon.
Over the next three miles, we start seeing various campsites that are sprinkled throughout the canyon along with the confluences of Kolob Creek and Goose Creek. While each campsite is marked by a yellow stake labeled with the campsite number, they are easy to miss if you are not paying attention. We will be camping at site #7 at the confluence of Kolob Creek. When we find our campsite, take the time to really soak in the location and enjoy; this is a magical place to camp!
Day 2: We get a very early start as this part of the Narrows has the deepest water. Just after passing Campsite 12, you will arrive at one of the more spectacular landmarks at roughly 11.5 miles: Big Springs, a beautiful set of springs and small waterfalls with a hanging gardens on the west side of the canyon. The next section is more difficult as the canyon is littered with large boulders that block parts of the river. We may have to search around a bit to find the easiest way to scramble over and around the obstacles and avoid a few short deeper sections of water. No obstacles are insurmountable, we will always look for alternatives.
Once through the "boulder field of broken hearts", we enter the tallest and narrowest sections of the Zion Narrows, popularly known as "Wall Street." This is the deepest and most photogenic section of canyon and it ominously has no safe high ground in the event of a flash flood. It is here where we will start to bump into the majority of the "day hikers" coming upstream. At roughly 13.5 miles is the confluence with the tall and mysterious Orderville Canyon coming in from the east. (If we have enough time and energy, exploring up Orderville Canyon even for just a little bit is a lovely diversion. This narrower canyon is equally compelling.)
Soon after Orderville Canyon, the canyon opens up ever so slightly and it is only another mile and a half of winding canyon until you reach dry land. Just half a mile from the end is beautiful Mystery Falls which flows down the slick walls on the east side. And within moments, we will exit the water and join up with the crowds of tourists at the Riverside Walk. Hike the paved trail one more mile to the Temple of Sinawava where the free shuttle will pick us up.
That evening we will head back to camp outside of the park and celebrate the most epic hike we have ever done.
*Campsite 7 -- Box Elder: A 10-minute walk beyond Kolob Creek. This site is located on the left about 30 feet up on a bench. (Maximum group size: 6. Walk-in permit only.)
Flash floods, often caused by storms miles away, are a real danger and can be life threatening.
During a flash flood, the water level rises quickly, within minutes or even seconds. A flash flood can rush down a canyon in a wall of water 12 feet high or more.
The Narrows will be closed when the National Weather Service issues a Flash Flood Warning or flow rate is 120 or higher.
The Narrows is like walking on slippery bowling balls. It requires balancing on algae-coated rocks in the middle of a swiftly flowing river. Sturdy footwear is essential. Hiking boots with good ankle support are best. Sandals and bare feet are not appropriate. Inappropriate footwear often results in twisted ankles and crushed toes. Neoprene socks are ideal in all seasons. Regardless of shoe choice, blisters will be important to counteract as your entire hike will be in water. Bring camp shoes to air out and dry your feet once at camp.
Water from the river and it's springs is not safe to drink. It has passed over rangeland and may be contaminated with illness-causing bacteria. We will carry (pack in) filtered water to drink and cook with. Expect to carry 1 gallon of water per person per day.
Harmful cyanotoxins have been found in the Virgin River system. Many remote areas in Zion’s wilderness cannot be regularly monitored for toxins, therefore current conditions may not be known. There is no known recreational water filtration or disinfection method that can reduce the toxins to a level that is safe for drinking water. Filter and disinfect all drinking water directly from springs coming out of the ground to reduce the risk of toxin exposure. Do not drink water from rivers or streams, even after filtering. It is YOUR responsibility to control cross contamination of water from the river to your mouth/open wounds. Be intelligent and protect yourself. Take extra care and be mindful of what you are doing!
Water Flow Rate
Water level fluctuates greatly from year to year and day to day depending on many factors such as rainfall and snowmelt. When the river is running below 70 cubic feet per second (CFS), walking is moderately difficult, with knee deep crossings on the slippery and uneven river bottom with frequent pools up to waist deep.
When the current goes above 70 CFS, walking against the current becomes challenging and crossings of mid-thigh deep are frequent with pools that can be chest deep. If the flow goes to over 120 CFS, The Narrows will be closed to all travel.
Leave No Trace
As with all of our hikes, we expect that our guests acknowledge and practice LNT Principles. The park service requests that you pee directly into the River rather than on the shoreline. If you need to deposit #2, YOU WILL BE REQUIRED TO PACK IT OUT....ALL OF IT, including your TP. You will be required to pack at minimum 1 WagBag.
Temperature + Other:
Average Temperature: 69/43F - (temps in the slot canyon can average about 20 degrees cooler than what is read in Springdale)
Water Temperature: 50-55F
The majority of the Narrows and camping areas do not see much light during the day due to the features and tall heights of the walls. Expect limited light/sunshine and plan accordingly.
Expect slow hiking, it takes time to navigate the Narrows.
Even in mid-summer, The Narrows can be cool. The water is cold, breezes blow steadily, and very little sunlight penetrates to the canyon floor. Although you'll probably hike in shorts, take extra warm clothing. Clothing made of wool or synthetic fibers has the best insulation.
Even the most experienced hikers occasionally fall in The Narrows. The hike will be slick, uneven and tiring. It is a good idea to waterproof ALL of your belongings. Many hikers line their packs with large plastic garbage bags, however we do not feel this is sufficient for most of your gear. Several smaller or one large waterproof sealed bag(s) will provide extra protection for essential items - sleeping bag, dry clothing for overnight, etc. Ensure your electronics, cameras and other valuables stay dry.
Flashlight / Headlamp
Hiking poles are a MUST
First Aid Kit
Even a minor injury can cause major problems in the wilderness. Ensure your footcare for blister treatment is sufficient and as water resistant as able.
Could you spend an unexpected night in the canyon? It is quite possible if flow rate increases. Therefore ensure your packed clothing stays dry at all times. The canyon can get very cool at night, plan accordingly.
Food keeps your energy up and helps you stay warm if you remain out overnight. The Narrows is unlike any other hike you've ever done quite likely. Hiking in water over uneven surfaces takes an enormous amount of energy and is a full body workout. You will need a rodent proof bag and hang on a tree.
There are no fires allowed in the canyon, though you are allowed to bring a camp stove. Please be cautious with your camp stove and clear the space around you. Lighter.
Untreated water from the river and its springs is not safe to drink. It has passed over rangeland and may be contaminated with illness-causing bacteria. We will carry in all of our water with us, no water in the canyon is safe to drink. Drink at least 1 gallon of water per person per day.
Sleeping Bag / Sleeping Pad / Tent
PACK AS LIGHT AS POSSIBLE for the most comfort and ease in hiking. Loaded packs can make an easy hike far more difficult.
We will go over ALL Gear before the Trip