The Zion Narrows is one of the most exciting hikes that I’ve ever done, anywhere. If you’ve hiked volcanoes, rain forests, deserts and snow covered mountains, like I have, you’ll want to hike the Virgin River Narrows in Utah. It was amazing, every soggy step of the way!
Everything I’d read about the Virgin River Narrows warned that it’s a very strenuous hike. Don’t let that scare you! True, you can’t see your feet or where you’re stepping but if you have the proper equipment and tread at your own pace, then the hike can be tailored to your comfort level. Be aware, however, that there are certain uncontrollable elements. If there’s a strong current, for instance, it may be best to wait to hike another day.
It also helps to be a comfortable swimmer. There are areas of the river that you will need to swim across because they are too deep to walk. Expect to be in waist deep water through most of the hike.
Tips for Photographing the Virgin Narrows
- The canyon walls are incredibly high, meaning that most of the hike is in the shade. Shade generally makes for cold toned photos.
- Shade will also mean longer exposure times. Consider using a fast lens to compensate.
- Definitely use a tripod when your shutter speeds are slower than 1/15. Slow shutter speeds will soften the river water and capture great motion blur.
- Fall colors are amazing in the canyon.
- Plan on spending all day there.
- The best light will be from 11am to 2pm. Be inside the canyon long before then to scout your compositions.
From bug bites to falling rocks, no hike is without risks. Know the risks before the hike to manage them successfully. The 3 Main Risks to manage in a Narrows hike are:
The 4th, unofficial risk to manage is
The 4th, unofficial risk to manage is:
Hiking pole – Choose a wooden hiking pole that is about shoulder high. While you’re hiking, use the pole to feel the terrain in front of you. (Remember, you can’t see where you’re stepping.) Try to keep the pole two steps in front of you, when you can’t see, to feel for holes, large rocks, etc. There are several equipment rental places in Springdale, UT where you can get a good hiking pole.
Avoid using telescoping trekking poles. They will bend more easily than a wooden hiking pole. They don’t have the added advantage of height. Also, sand and water are likely to get inside the pole and could cause future problems. Most importantly, they are not long enough to test the river depth.
Quick Dry Clothes – The hike takes you in and out of the water throughout the canyon. When you’re out of the water, you’ll be a lot more comfortable if you’re in light weight, breathable, quick dry clothes.
Shoes – 5.10 Canyoneer Shoes. These are the the ugliest and most wonderful shoes ever! Buy your own or rent them in Springdale. These shoes will protect your feet and ankles from rocks and debris that you can’t see. They’re very supportive and have grippy outer soles that will make walking on rocks much easier.
Socks – Wear neoprene socks inside the rented shoes to prevent blisters. They will also help keep your feet warm. You can rent these, as well.
Dry Suit or Dry Pants – Wear a full dry suit from about Dec to March when the water temp may be as cold as 40 degrees. From Oct – Nov and April – May, the water is a little warmer and dry pants may be sufficient. (Rent-able)
Dry Bag for camera – There are a number of different manufacturer’s of SLR Dry Bags. Make sure that your camera is easily removable so that you’re not struggling every time you want to take a photo. Test the waterproofing before your trip. **Put a dry towel inside the empty dry bag, seal it and then submerge it in a bathtub. Dry the outside of the bag before you open it to remove the towel. If the towel’s wet, the bag is not waterproof.** Remember, that equipment can fail; consider putting your camera into a plastic bag, within the dry camera bag for your hike. I wear my SLR Dry Bag slung around my neck like I regularly wear my SLR camera for easy access. It’s also convenient to grab it and hold it over my head when the water gets deep. (Also rent-able. Be aware that rental gear gets abused and the outfitter will offer no guarantee.)
Dry Bag for other essentials – Usual accessories such as sunblock, sunglasses, hat, first aid kit, drinking water, lunch, etc can go into a separate dry bag that you won’t need to access as frequently as your camera bag. Also, I keep my spare memory cards and batteries in a plastic zip-lock bag, within my second dry bag. This way, if one bag fails, I won’t loose all of my work because half my CF cards are in another bag. Also, I’m constantly pulling my camera out of the dry bag and I don’t want to worry about loosing other items.
Backpack – You need to keep your hands free for the walking stick, your balance and photo ops. Bring a backpack that you can get wet and put your dry bag inside it. Or, get a dry bag that you can wear like a backpack.
Always check in at the Ranger’s Station before you start the Narrow’s Hike to check the:
The Flash Flood Potential
Virgin River Stream Flow Rate
Trailhead – There are two ways to hike the Narrows.
If you enter from the south, you do not need a permit. This is a great place for anyone to start, especially if you’re with kids (4 feet tall and higher), have limited time or are unsure of your ability. You can turn around at any time. Once you get through the first quarter mile the number of hikers decreases dramatically. There will continue to be less people the further you go.
To get to the trailhead, walk 1-mile down Riverside Walk from the Temple of Sinawava. It’s a paved sidewalk that meanders along the Virgin River, past hanging gardens and bold squirrels. (If you like photographing animals, spend some time with the squirrels. They love to pose.)
The first big point of interest is Mystery Falls, about .5 mile upstream.
It’s about another 1.5 mile upstream hike to Wall Street, which is where the narrowest section of the canyon starts.
Just outside of Wall Street is a side canyon called Orderville Canyon. It’s well worth the detour if you have the time.
Finally, 2 miles further is Big Springs, the furthest you are permitted to hike from this direction.
If you have more time, would like a leisurely hike or want to camp, consider getting a permit to enter from the north. This is a 16 mile one-way that starts at Chamberlain’s Ranch. You’re hiking down stream the entire time but you’ll be carrying extra gear for your overnight. Figure on two 8-hour hiking days.