The Narrows in Zion National Park is a hike in a river between high canyon walls. It's a unique experience and a very popular hike. We went early in the year and the water was a little high making things a little more difficult, especially for Linda, but I would count it as a top hike for us.
"The Narrows" is one of the classic "must do" hikes in Zion National Park. It's a popular hike and was once listed as one of "America's 100 Best Adventures" by National Geographic.
Hiking The Narrows basically means walking in or along the Virgin River as it runs through towering sandstone walls. Perhaps half of the time, or more, we would be walking in the river.
The Narrows can be hiked "Top Down" for 16 miles (requires a permit) or "Bottom Up" from the end of the Riverside Walk as a day hike for as many miles as you want before returning the same way (no permit required). We would be doing the "Bottom Up" today.
One issue is that The Narrows is often closed this time of year due to high water flow in the Virgin River from snowmelt in the upper elevations. We were fortunate that The Narrows happens to be open right now due to light winter snowpack and a flow rate in the river that makes it safe. Still we knew the water was about 45 degrees, it could be waist deep, and the river is silty so rocks and holes aren't visible.
Several outfitters in Springdale, just outside the park's southern entrance, have Narrows hiking rental packages where you can rent shoes, neoprene "socks", wetsuits, drysuits, and walking sticks for reasonable prices. We were going to rent the shoes, socks, and dry pants only, but then we learned there would be areas where the water would be higher than our waist rendering the dry pants useless.
Ultimately, we went with the canyoneering shoes, the neoprene booties or "socks", and full wetsuits from Zion Rock & Mountain Guides. We decided to go ahead and use our hiking poles instead of the single wooden sticks included in the ($35) rental package.
Note: The shoes are Adidas Hydro-Pro which are great for this purpose. They retail for about $175 a pair and all the outfitters seem to use them. We're certainly glad we didn't try this in our water shoes (not rugged enough) or our neoprene dive boots (not enough traction).
We got a bit of a late start 'cause I forgot my camera, and we had to go back to the RV park. But it also gave us a chance to figure out how we were going to deal with all of our equipment since we had to take a shuttle to the end of Zion Canyon and then still hike a mile in on the Riverwalk Trail.
It was about 12:30 by the time we got to the river and got into our wetsuits.
We had our Camelbaks for water, but placed everything else in our dry bags and then placed them in the backpacks. Soon, we were on our way upriver.
We didn't see anyone else in wetsuits. Almost everyone else had on drysuits, but the wetsuits turned out to be just fine. We were much better off than those in shorts and t-shirts walking in open-toed sandals with no walking sticks. Their red legs indicated the cold water temperatures and most didn't get very far before turning around.
Linda was extra cautious and felt unstable in the river because she couldn't see the bottom.
Within the first 100 yards, she tripped over a rock and went down. Fortunately, that was the only time either of us fell.
Though it was possible to walk the river most of the time, we quickly learned that it was better to walk on the sandbars whenever possible.
Staying in the water we had to fight the current, and we couldn't see the obstacles (tripping and possible sprained ankles) and deep holes. Sand was our friend.
Often we stayed next to the walls for some extra stability.
Eventually, after a couple of deep spots, I put my camera in the dry bag. And Linda did a few videos. Here is the first.
Of course, we couldn't forget to admire the beauty of this unique experience.
Here's another video.
Good thing for our Kodak Playsport waterproof video camera (since replaced by a better option).
We continued on.
Linda's video provides the sounds to go along with the visual images.
After awhile, the walls narrowed.
This is the section of The Narrows that most people try to get to.
In this narrowest section, there is a side canyon called Orderville Canyon that many will explore. That's also where many day hikers will turn around and head back.
We went just a little bit farther upriver until we found a sunny spot to sit down and have a late lunch. This shot is looking downriver from our lunch spot.
At this point, we determined we had enough and started the trek back.
We moved much slower than most, so we often let others pass.
One last video in this dark section on our way back.
Going back downriver with the current was certainly easier plus we learned the best routes on the way up. We took about three hours going upriver and two hours coming back.
It was a really cool hike and I'm glad we did it. I'm also glad we rented the equipment and took our hiking poles. Having both poles allowed for the ability to probe the river bottom and provided extra stability. Clearly, those with one walking stick from their outfitter were instructed on how to use them as everyone was using a similar technique, and that seemed to work well.
I definitely enjoyed The Narrows more than Linda. My balance is a bit better, and she had to concentrate a lot to stay upright and protect her knees. And she struggled more in the stronger current which tired her out. If her muscles would have allowed, she would have done a "Happy Dance" when we reached the end.
She said the amount of concentration took away from the enjoyment, and she probably would have liked it much better later in the year when the water was shallower.
We peeled ourselves out of our wetsuits - no easy task - and then made the slow walk back to the shuttle pick-up. Hauling the wet wetsuits, it seemed like an awfully long mile.
We got back to our Jeep at the Visitors Center about 7:00. We had just enough time to drop off our rental equipment and then headed home.
The hiking opportunities in Zion are amazing and there is something for everyone. No matter when we leave, there will be plenty of hiking to do the next time we come through.
Zion National Park is certainly moving up on our list of favorites.
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