Hiking the Zion Narrows in Utah
The Narrows in Zion is an unforgettable hike for anyone up to the challenge, whether you're an experienced backpacker or a curious beginner. Although it's possible year-round, the best time to go is Summer and Fall, when the river flow is low and warm, and the risk of flooding is manageable.
Wade the Virgin River through a slot canyon 2000 feet deep, sometimes only 30 feet wide, past waterfalls and hanging gardens. For newcomers, a day-trip starting from the "bottom-up" could be as easy as 3-10 miles; the distance is up to you. For a serious trek, obtain a permit for "top-down" and commit to 16 miles over one or two days. Either way, good planning, proper equipment, and sound judgment are essential for a safe and successful trip.
Twice a year, I teach a free class at REI called "Prep for Zion Narrows," where I describe the two routes, provide a checklist of suggested gear, explain the top-down permit process, and answer your questions about this amazing adventure. If you would like to see the slideshow I play during the talk, it's available online here.
When preparing your trip, read all the helpful info on the official Narrows website at NPS.gov. The research links we go thru in class are:
1. USGS Report on Virgin River near Springdale Utah The current discharge ideally should be between 25-75 CFS. The trail closes at 120 CFS.
2. Watch the weather in advance to judge if the ground is saturated from heavy rains, or baked from hot and dry spells. In those conditions, rain can't absorb as quickly, leading to more run-off into the river, potentially causing a flash flood. Plan your trip considering the average weather conditions, noting trends in temperature and afternoon thunderstorms.
3. National Weather Service - Flash Flood Potential Ratings for Southern Utah.
The rangers have also posted a 3-minute overview video on what to expect hiking the Narrows.
If you need to rent gear, there are several Outfitters in the city of Springdale, right outside the gate to Zion. Our group has used Zion Adventure Company, and Zion Rock & Mountain Guides for gear, guided tours, and shuttle service. The staff at REI is great for answering questions about gear, and they have some items available for rent.
If you plan on camping the night before, to be ready bright and early, I've also written an FAQ on camping in Watchman group campsites in Zion - which is technically for our group trip in the Spring and Fall, but has good info for your own trip too.
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