Trail Reviews: The Narrows – Zion National Park
Distance: 6.7 miles
Let me preface this review by saying this “trail” was by far the highlight of my time spent in Zion. An experience like no other, the journey through the Virgin river is one you will never forget. Many choose to walk the 1-mile long paved path along the river and then turn around, but I highly recommend taking the full plunge into the river and continuing the journey. Rental waders, neoprene socks, waterproof shoes, a walking stick (very necessary) and more can be rented at the Zion Outfitters shop located in the shopping center just before the park entrance.
I did this trail in early March and decided to purchase the rental gear that would allow me to go further and last longer in the river. Upon returning, I noticed multiple groups of people trying to navigate the river without the gear and saw them turn around not too far in. I can imagine it might not be necessary to invest in the rental gear in the summertime when the water is warmer, but in the winter months I would highly recommend it. With the gear, I was able to very comfortably navigate the river despite the freezing water.
From the visitor parking lot just past the entrance into the park you can take the shuttle to stop 9, the very last stop in the shuttle system. From the stop you will begin walking a 1-mile long paved path right alongside the river. The paved path will end and give way to the most exciting part, the journey up the river! I anticipated the water to be much colder and was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable it felt to trek through the water in the waders. As you ease into the water, don’t be alarmed when water begins to seep into the shoes. The waterproof shoes and neoprene socks act sort of as a wetsuit by allowing a certain amount of water to penetrate. I compared the feeling of walking in the shoes to that of walking in jelly (promise it’s not as bad as it may sound).
The level of difficulty of your adventure will depend on that day’s flow rate. The flow rate on the day I went was around 68 cubic feet per second (CFS) and I thought it was perfect; any higher and it would have been a little more stressful to traverse across the rapids than I would have enjoyed, but any less and there would have been far less fun to be had in the difficult moments. For reference, the Narrows closes when the flow rate exceeds 150 CFS.
There are 3 different sections of the narrows as pictured above. The first mile of paved path follows the dotted line and then ends at which point you move into the river. From the beginning of the river portion, the river goes out for another 1.7 or so miles until you will come upon a fork. It is at this fork that many turn around, but I decided to venture off to the right of the fork before continuing on deeper into the narrows. To the right of the fork, a very large rock may prevent you from continuing further. Luckily, I was able to get a helping hand and pulled up past the rock. From this point on the water is but a small stream and there are far less people in this area. I didn’t follow this for too long before deciding to head back the direction I came and back toward the fork.
Back at the fork, I continued forward into the what is known as the “wall street corridor”, or the section of the canyon where there is no high ground on either side of the river. This section was worth the traverse as it offered some beautiful photography opportunities. The canyon walls come even closer together and give meaning to the narrows name. Going in another mile or so from the fork, I had my fill and decided to head back.
As you can imagine, going with the flow of the river is far more difficult the going against. Though it helped that the current propelled me forward, it made for a much more intense traverse across when the force is pushing you down the river. This is when your stick comes to the rescue. All in all, it is better to be slow and strategic when crossing than quick with unsure footing. The journey back was the most stressful and also my favorite part.
If you find yourself in Zion, I can’t recommend The Narrows enough. It is worth the investment to purchase the rental gear to get the full canyon experience.