Looking for a guide to hiking the Narrows for beginners in Zion National Park?
As a first time visitor to Zion, it may be intimidating to jump right into this difficult hike, but it’s totally doable! During my first hike of the Narrows, I learned a lot and have come to realize that even beginners can totally do it! I’ve since hiked it 3 times and it’s one of my favorites!
In this post, I’ll share what you need to know for your first time on this hike so that you’re prepared and feel confident entering the Zion Canyon!
Hiking the Narrows for Beginners: What to Know
Below you’ll find all of the top questions answered by yours truly about the top things that you’ll need to know for a visit to The Narrows. I’ve also included some of my top expert tips and recommendations to help you prepare!
Getting to the Narrows Trailhead
To get to the trailhead for the Bottom-Up route of The Narrows, you’ll begin your day at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center near the south entrance of the park.
From March to December, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is only open to shuttle buses, so you’ll need to plan to hop on one to get to the trailhead. Then get off at stop #9 which is the Temple of Sinawava.
From the shuttle stop, follow the Riverside Walk Trail for about 1 mile, until you reach the entrance to Zion Canyon, where you’ll start your official hike of The Narrows.
Expert Tip: The line for the shuttle can get really long. I arrived at 6am and there were already probably 100 people in front of me. So I really can’t stress enough that I would recommend getting there as early as you can!
Can Beginners Hike The Narrows?
If you’re a beginner hiker and are wanting to do The Narrows, you totally can! There are tons of people out there that do this hike with no prior hiking experience.
There are definitely some obstacles and you’ll need to be cautious, but as long as you’re prepared, it really is doable for all sorts of people.
During all 3 times that I’ve hiked it, I’ve seen plenty of families with children and older people.
I totally get that it can be scary (I’ll admit I was really nervous when I first did it too because of how different it is!), but with the proper preparation, you can totally do it!
Expert Tip: Although I’m saying that you can definitley do this hike, always know your own limitations when on the trail and listen to your body! You know it better than I do!
How Long is The Narrows Hike?
The Narrows hike is about 9-10 miles in total distance, but most day hikers don’t actually end up covering the whole hike. Typically they go 5-6 miles and turn around.
The trail is out and back, so you’re able to turn around whenever you want, but if you do go for the usual 5-6 miles it might take you around 4-6 hours to finish.
During my first hike, we hiked to Wall Street which is about 3 miles into the hike and it took us around 5.5 hours to complete our entire trip.
Another thing to remember is that the first mile of the trail is on the Riverside Walk, which is a paved trail along the Virgin River. This is not inside the canyon.
The Narrows really is a journey and not about the destination because there isn’t really one viewpoint to get to. So just enjoy the whole thing!
Expert Tip: When planning time to hike Zion’s Narrows, remember to set aside an extra 45 minutes for the shuttle ride, since you’ll need to take this to and from the visitor center.
How Hard is The Narrows Hike?
The Narrows is a moderately strenuous hike and does require some degree of physical fitness because you will be wading in water. There really isn’t much elevation gain though since it’s through a river.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t do it as a beginner, it just means that you need to be prepared and ready for any circumstance.
The most difficult part of the hike is navigating the rocks on the ground, because they can get really slippery. I was comparing them to wet bowling balls during my hike.
I’m an experienced hiker and during my first visit, I found myself stumbling over rocks and I had water up to my belly button because I slipped. Now that could be because I’m clumsy, but I don’t want it to be you!
So my biggest tip is to have a walking stick! I seriously think that I would have chickened out and turned around if I didn’t have one!
Expert Tip: Before stepping, set your walking stick down, push it between the rocks, and make sure that it’s got a good, solid standing before you step. This saved me from slipping so many times!
Should I Hike The Narrows Bottom Up or Top Down?
There are two ways to hike The Narrows – Bottom Up and Top Down. For day hikers, it’s most likely that you’ll hike Bottom Up.
This means that you’ll start at the Temple of Sinawava and go from there. If you want to hike Top Down, starting from Chamberlain Ranch, you’ll need a Wilderness Permit.
What is the Best Time of Year to Hike The Narrows?
The Narrows is typically open year-round, as long as the temperatures and water levels cooperate. But there are definitely better times to visit than others.
In general, the best time to hike The Narrows is during May or June, when the temperatures aren’t terribly hot and the water levels aren’t too high.
Temperatures in Utah get really hot in the summer so you’ll want to be cautious of that. When I visited in July, the temperature was close to 100°F!
You’ll also need to keep an eye on current conditions because when the water level gets too high, the hike may close to avoid the risk of begin caught in a flash flood.
If you do decide to hike in winter or early spring, be prepared to encounter colder water and higher water levels.
You could also choose to hike during the fall and avoid some of the crowds and hot temperatures.
Expert Tip: If the water levels reach above 150 CFS (cubic feet per second), The Narrows will close. ALWAYS double check the conditions on Zion’s website before going on the hike and please familiarize yourself with signs of a flash flood as well.
What is the Best Time of Day to Hike The Narrows?
Aside from planning the best time of year to do this hike, I’d also recommend having a plan for the time of day that you’ll be on the ‘trail.’
Morning is generally the best for a few reasons. One is the distance, second is the temperatures that get hotter as the day goes on, and third is the crowds.
Earlier in the day, the temperatures are cooler and the canyon walls help keep the hike shaded. Plus there are typically fewer crowds since lots of people sleep in and start later in the day.
We started our hike around 7am and by the time we were finishing up around 12pm, there were hundreds of people at the start. When we began, there were only around 10 others.
I would say that the best time of day to hike The Narrows is right away in the morning, starting preferably before 9:00 am.
Expert Tip: Get to the Visitor Center an hour before the first shuttle. You’ll have time to use the bathroom, get in line, and be on one of the first buses. Then you can start before most other people and finish before the crowds!
How Busy is The Narrows Hike?
As one of the most popular hikes in Zion National Park next to Angel’s Landing, The Narrows is almost always busy.
When I first hiked it, I probably saw a few hundred people on the trail at the same time as myself. But most of them were entering as I was exiting, since I started really early!
If you want to avoid crowds like me, then I recommend heading there early or visiting in the off season or on a weekday.
Is a Permit Required to Hike The Narrows?
No, there is no permit to hike The Narrows as long as you’re starting from the Bottom Up at Temple of Sinawava.
If you’re going Top Down, then you will need a Wilderness Permit and you also will likely be completing it as a backpacking trip, not a day hike.
Where Do I Park for The Narrows?
Since the road to the trailhead is closed for most of the year, you will need to park at the visitor center and ride the shuttle to the Trailhead at the Temple of Sinawava.
When the shuttle isn’t running (January-March), you can park at the Temple of Sinawava trailhead.
Are There Bathrooms on The Narrows Hike?
The only bathrooms available on this trail are at the trailhead, so I really recommend using them before you go! As we tell our little ones, ‘even if you don’t have to go, you should still try!’
Otherwise, you’ll have to go in the canyon which isn’t recommend and honestly is quite embarassing since there isn’t a whole lot of privacy. And all #2s and toilet paper must be packed out!
Expert Tip: If you find yourself really having to go, try to hold it until Orderville Canyon because then you can at least have some privacy. Go in the water, not on the shore, and always pack out what you pack in.
How Fit Do I Have to Be to Hike The Narrows?
There really isn’t any sort of fitness level required to do this hike. I wouldn’t consider myself a super ‘fit’ person by any means but I’m able to do it!
Plus, I’ve seen tons of older people and young kids doing the hike during every time I’ve visited.
You can plan to turn around at any point, so if you don’t enjoy it or are struggling, you can always turn back. Or just walk the Riverside Walk to the entrance and see what you think!
But, about the bare minimum distance you’ll go is 3 miles, so be sure that you can at least do this before heading out!
Preparing to Hike The Narrows
If it’s your first time hiking The Narrows, there are a few things to prepare before you head out and embark on this adventure!
It’s really one of my favorite hikes in Utah, and I’m glad that you’re going to get to experience it! Here are a few ways that I would recommend preparing for the hike before you get to Zion National Park.
Choose the Right Time of Year
One of the most important parts of planning your trip to Zion is picking the best time of year to go! As I mentioned above, the best times are usually May and June or early fall.
These months are the coolest, have lower water temperatures, and there are fewer crowds!
Plus, you’ll want to try to plan to visit outside of flash flood season which falls between mid July and mid September.
Have the Right Gear
One of the hottest topics about visiting The Narrows is what you should wear and what you might not even really need to wear.
It is really important to have the right gear since it is a pretty different hike than most of us hikers are used to.
In general, I’d recommend having sturdy footwear, a good walking stick, layers, and sun protection. But I’ll dive deeper into everything to wear in the next section.
Understand the Landmarks in The Narrows
While The Narrows is pretty straightforward, there are a few landmarks in there that will help you really understand where you’re at and maybe when you should turnaround.
Here’s a list of the landmarks and where they’re found. I’ve also included where I would recommend turning around.
- Mystery Falls: The first landmark on the hike is Mystery Falls. It’s just a small waterfall that flows down the canyon wall and is about 1/3rd mile from the entrance to the canyon.
- Wall Street: This is the most famous part of The Narrows because it’s the most narrow part of the canyon. I would really recommend trying to get here if you can! It’s 3 miles upstream. If you’re not an experienced hiker, I would turn around after exploring Wall Street a bit.
- Orderville Canyon: This narrow canyon is an offshoot of the Virgin River. You can walk up it a short bit and it’s fun to explore. Be careful though because it does have a current and I slipped while walking. It’s 3 miles upstream.
- Floating Rock: As the name suggests, this is a large rock that looks like it’s floating in the middle of the river. It’s found just over 3 miles from the trailhead.
- Big Springs: This is as far as it’s allowed to go for bottom-up hikers. It’s a nice little spot with a variety of waterfalls and is found about 5 miles upstream.
Along with those landmarks and recommendations, here’s a map, created by Zion Guru, that can really help with planning out your trip!
What Should I Wear for Hiking The Narrows?
One of the things that I was most nervous about for my hike was what to wear. I felt like The Grinch when he says ‘What shall I wear?! That’s it, I’m not going.’ 😤
But in reality, it’s really not that deep. There are a few things that will make your hike more enjoyable and easier, which I’ll share now.
- Sturdy Footwear: Opt for a pair of shoes that aren’t too bulky, but have a sturdy bottom. You’ll want something with some traction to avoid slipping. I would really recommend renting a pair from Zion Outfitters outside the park.
- Neoprene Socks: These socks are very tight, waterproof socks that protect your feet and help prevent blisters. Again, either rent them or bring your own.
- Walking Stick: A must to help keep your balance. A heavy-duty wooden stick tends to do better, but if you only have trekking poles, those will work as well.
- Dry Sack: I didn’t use a dry sack, but if you want to ensure your items are dry, it’s not a bad idea. A few Ziploc bags will work too.
- Quick-Dry Clothing: Wear lightweight, quick-drying clothing to keep yourself more comfortable in the event that you do end up falling or hiking deeper.
- Layers: Since you will be in a canyon, the temperature will be cooler than other areas in the park, so be sure to pack extra layers that you can use if you get cold, or shed if you get warm.
- Sun Protection: Although you’ll be covered by the canyon for much of the hike, there are spots that are exposed to the sun, so be sure to protect your skin.
- Day Pack: Pack a day pack with everything that you need in it such as water, snacks, extra clothes, and sun protection.
- Dry Bibs: These bibs are really only needed during winter or early spring when the water temperatures are cold and water levels are high. You can get them from Zion Outfitters.
Expert Tip: My number one recommendation is a walking stick. Don’t underestime the power of it! If I didn’t have one, I would’ve fallen 10x more than I already did!
Should I Have Rental Gear for The Narrows?
If you already have all of your own gear, then you won’t need to rent anything for this hike. But if you don’t have sturdy, waterproof shoes and a good walking stick, I would personally recommend Zion Outfitters to suit you up!
I rented my canyoneering boots, neoprene socks and walking stick from Zion Outfitters and they were great! It was affordable, easy to get, and close to the park.
Do I Need to Reserve Rental Gear for The Narrows?
If you have decided that you want to just rent gear to do the hike, then yes you will need to make reservations ahead of time to make sure gear is available for you.
Now this really depends on when you’re visiting, but I was able to snag a few rentals the day before with no problem. This was in early June.
If you’re visiting in high season (late June through early August), you may want to plan ahead and try to reserve a few weeks in advance.
Tips for Hiking The Narrows
Since this is such a unique hike, I have a few specific tips that I wanted to share with you to help you prepare for your trip to The Narrows.
- Be Prepared to Get Wet. Even if you’re wearing fancy waterproof gear, you may still get wet. Especially if water levels are higher or you slip. Just be ready for it!
- Use the Bathroom Beforehand. Surprise, surprise! There are no bathrooms on this ‘trail.’ Use it before or be prepared to go in front of others and pack out any #2! There are toilets at the trailhead.
- Hike Out What You Hike In. This is an out and back trail, meaning whatever you hike in, you must hike back out. Only go as far as you’re able!
- Stay Above the Water. The Virgin River has been known to have cyanobacteria in it. Just try to keep your head above the water and don’t be doing any swimming or drinking of the water (even if you’re filtering!).
- Pack Dry Clothes. Have warm, dry clothes in your car to change into afterwards. You will likely get wet!
- Leave Electronics Behind. Aside from a cell phone and maybe a camera, I would leave everything else valuable or electronic at home or at the hotel so you don’t risk ruining it.
My Top Tips for Visiting Zion National Park
Aside from specifics to The Narrows hike, there are also some general tips that I have learned from my 3 times visiting Zion National Park. Here’s what I recommend.
- Arrive early and be prepared for crowds. Zion is extremely busy year-round, so don’t expect to be the only one there!
- Bring sun protection. That sun can get extremely hot and you can burn quickly, so always have sunscreen, sunglasses, and a sun hat at the very least.
- The shuttle season runs from March to December. During this time, you can not bring your personal vehicle on the main park road so you’ll need to take the shuttle.
- Cell phones rarely work. Service is far and few between within the park, so don’t expect to be making any phone calls!
- Download maps beforehand. Have your offline maps ready whether that be on Google Maps, All Trails, or something else.
- Purchase an America the Beautiful pass. Or another national park entrance fee alternative, but you will need one to enter.
- Check park guidelines and updates. Sometimes, certain parts of the park may close, which you can find updates on here.
- Leave No Trace. Always clean up after yourself, leave wildlife alone, and stay on the trail.
Where to Stay Near Zion National Park
Book a stay at one of these great hotels and lodges to rest your head after a long day of exploring in Zion National Park.
Watchman Villas: Beautiful apartments with full kitchens and bedrooms, and within walking distance of the Springdale Shuttle stop.
Cable Mountain Lodge: A gorgeous lodge with Zion Canyon views and an outdoor pool and hot tub during the warm seasons.
Zion Canyon Lodge: This great lodge has views right outside lots of rooms and offers free breakfast to fuel up before your hikes.
Aside from everything else that I’ve discussed above, here are some additional answers to frequently asked questions from hikers.
How Deep is the Water in Zion Canyon?
The depth of the Virgin River that flows through Zion Canyon can fluctuate, depending on the season that you visit. Most of the time it’s 2-3 feet deep, and you should know the current conditions for your safety!
What is the Cyanobacteria in the Virgin River?
There has been toxic cyanobacteria present in areas of the Virgin River, that can be fatal to humans and pets. The national park is constantly monitoring the bacteria and their levels. Don’t drink the water in the park, don’t swim in the river, and keep your head above water.
Will I Encounter a Flash Flood During my Hike?
Flash floods are possible within Zion Canyon, especially when the forecast calls for rain. Flash flood season is mid July to mid September. Keep an eye on the weather channels to watch for flash flood warnings and familiarize yourself with warning signs of flash floods such as changing weather and fast rising water.
Can You Hike The Narrows Without Getting Wet?
While there are ways to hike without getting wet, I wouldn’t count on it. It’s pretty likely that you will get wet on The Narrows hike, so you should be prepared for this.
Can I Hike The Narrows in One Day?
Yes! The Narrows can absolutely be completed in just one day. In fact, most people do it as a day trip, when they’re hiking from the bottom up.
Do You Need to Know How to Swim to Hike The Narrows?
Not necessarily because you won’t be swimming, you’ll be hiking on The Narrows hike. But, it is a good precaution to know how to swim since you will be wading in water that may sometimes be chest deep.
Conclusion: Hiking The Narrows for Beginners
The Narrows hike is a phenomenal hike that should be on every outdoors lover’s bucket list. I’ve visited this park and done the hike 3 times and have loved every visit!
Even as a beginner, you can totally get out and experience this amazing trail! I hope that this guide to hiking The Narrows for beginners has helped and that my personal tips and recommendations help you prepare!
Now that you’re ready for this hike, be sure to prepare yourself for more of Utah’s best national parks and enjoy!