Complete Guide to Hiking The Narrows for Beginners

Everything you need to know when hiking The Narrows in Zion for beginners or with kids. The Narrows is a bucket-list-worthy hike in Zion National Park in southwest Utah. The hike takes place in the Virgin River which winds itself through towering slot canyons and provides stunning views along the way. This hike is frequently named one of the top 10 best day hikes anywhere in the world and for good reason. It is a challenging hike, but an experience you will not soon forget. If you’re a beginner or doing it with kids preparing and having the right gear and clothing is important to have a good experience and we’ll tell you everything you need to know.

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How to hike The Narrows

There are three ways to hike the narrows, but this guide will cover how to hike The Narrows Bottom-up. This route is the best option when hiking with kids or beginners and does not require any permits. It’s an out-and-back hike so you can turn around at any point. Please note, that hiking it top-down either as a day trip or overnight trip both do require a permit.

Bottom-up Narrows Hike Overview

Difficulty: moderate to strenuous (it does depend greatly on the water flow rate and how far you go)

Time: 1-6 hours depending on stops and where you turn around, 45min shuttle ride each way

Mileage: 1 mile each way on the Riverside Walk to get to the start and then up to 9.4 miles (15.1 km) roundtrip, but it’s out and back so you can turn around whenever you need.

Trail Start: Temple Of Sinawava Shuttle Stop

Elevation: is gradual so the biggest challenge is fighting against the current and walking on the slippery algae-covered rocks. 

How to get there

The closest airports for visiting Zion National Park are:
McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas – 3-hour drive 
Salt Lake City International Airport – 4.5-hour drive

Zion National Park is closed to private vehicles typically from March through November and various other popular times throughout the year so always check the NPS site

Take the shuttle which takes about 45 minutes to get to the Temple of Sinawava which is the last shuttle stop. There is no ticket, reservation, or payment needed to take the shuttle just show up and ride. You will need to pay the park entrance fee and you can find more details here.

After you arrive at the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop there is a Riverside Walk to the start of The Narrows which is 1 mile. It is mostly paved, and very scenic and our kids ran most of the way. Remember it’s 1 mile each way so you’ll need to hike this last mile before catching the shuttle again. 

Know the shuttle times (they vary) and do NOT miss the last shuttle, it’s a long walk out of the park. You can find everything you need to know about the shuttles here.

When planning your Narrows trip

If The Narrows is a must-do on your list when visiting Zion National Park then it’s essential to look at historical monthly data to ensure you’re picking the most-likely time it will be open. 

What month is best to hike the Narrows?

Many hikers like to do The Narrows from mid-May through September when the water is warmest and water levels drop after the snow melt. The earlier in the season the colder the water will be however monsoon season starts in early July and runs through September and it frequently rains in the afternoons.

The Narrows by Month

Water flow in The Narrows

The Narrows is closed by the national park service for bottom-down hikers when the water flow rate is over 150 cubic feet per second (CFS), or during spring snowmelt. But a water flow that is comfortable and manageable for kids or beginners is typically around 50 CFS. Flow rate is measured by “CFS” or Cubic Feet per Second. A cubic foot of water is about the size of a basketball. So, if the river is at 50 CFS, about 50 basketballs of water are passing you every second. Find more details here.

Chart by Zion Guru

Pro-tip
Dark green water = deep water

Also, use your hiking stick to check the depth before going forward.

How deep is the water in The Narrows?

The water level varies greatly throughout the year but you can expect water levels of chest-high on an adult less than 5% of the time and often not higher than waist-deep the majority of the time. It’s important to plan and have the right gear if/when the water is higher. If you’ll be carrying small children in a back carrier make sure you have the right gear so you can do so safely as the rocks can be very slippery. See the gear list below for more ideas.

Warnings when hiking The Narrows

This hike can be very dangerous due to flash flooding. The flow rate and conditions in the canyon can change very quickly so on the day of your planned hike make sure to check the weather forecast, confirm rain is not in the forecast, and check with the visitor center for any flash flood warnings. Hikers have lost their lives to past flash flooding in The Narrows so it’s good to pay close attention to this.

Zion National Park continues to monitor toxic algae cyanobacteria in the Virgin River here. Currently, it is not advised to swim or for hikers to submerge their heads in the water. Drinking water cannot be filtered so this means that all drinking water will need to be hiked in. Children and dogs are especially vulnerable to cyanotoxins. This may change so please check with the NPS site above for the most current updates.

Also, know before you go when sunset is and plan enough time for the return trip. Hiking downstream should take half the time of hiking upstream not withstanding cranky kids. Hiking The Narrows in the dark can be very dangerous so plan enough time to get out and bring a backup headlamp just in case.

Planning your Narrows hike

Any amount of time you spend hiking The Narrows is well worth the experience. Hiking with beginners or with kids and sometimes they can surprise us with their stamina and other days they are not having it and need to turn back. There are no trail markers on this hike so bringing a watch and tracking the key mile points below along with the time it takes you is important to planning enough time for the return trip. If you have an exercise tracking watch that is waterproof this can be helpful. Try to start as early as possible to beat the crowds as it can get very crowded. 

Key milestone points when hiking The Narrows

Riverside Walk Trail (Mile 0 to 1): paved, scenic Riverside Walk trail that leads to the river entry point called the Gateway to the Narrows. There will be a lot of people gathered at the start and the first half-mile can be crowded.

Mystery Falls (mile 1 to 1.5) This is a 110’ waterfall and you’ll see the streams of water glisten on the side of the canyon walls. Even if you only make it to Mystery Falls and need to turn around (3 miles total) it is well worth the experience. 

Look for The Narrows Alcove (overhanging walls) and the Grotto Alcove as you continue. When you can spot the Grotto Alcove it signals you’re getting closer to Wall Street. 

Wall Street (Mile 2.5): You’ll come to Wall Street about 1 mile from Mystery Falls. Many of the iconic photos of The Narrows are from this section. A tributary river joins the Virgin River here and the canyon walls begin to tower up to 1500 feet and the river is about 22 feet wide here. To the right is Orderville Canyon confluence but the main route will continue straight and you’ll encounter Floating Rock not too long after entering Wall Street. The area beyond floating rock is often where you can encounter deeper water. I’m 5’3” and it was nearly waist deep on the day we hiked The Narrows. Wading through this area is beautiful but you do need the right gear and a dry bag helps (doubled-up garbage bags over a backpack can work) Two mirrored boulders, fern-covered walls, and the river widening mark the official end of Wall Street.

Big Springs (Mile 4.7):
There are a series of cascades or small waterfalls that mark the end of the bottom-up hike at Big Springs. You’ll need to turn around here and will have a 4.7mile journey back including the 1-mile paved trail to the shuttle. If you get out here be aware there can be poison ivy in this area. Also, if you come to a camping area you’ve gone too far.

The Narrows Zion Map

You might be wondering if there are any bathrooms when hiking The Narrows?

No. Definitely use the bathroom at the Temple Of Sinawava shuttle stop as this will be the last opportunity. When traveling with kids it’s always a good idea to plan ahead if someone needs to go the bathroom. For urine, the park service advises to go in the water and this is because the smell on rocks would persist for an extended period of time. This differs from most outdoor best practices to keep human waste at least 200 feet from any water source. For solid waste, these Restop bags are recommended so plan ahead as there’s no ecologically sound place to go. If your kids can’t wait or you have dirty diapers to carry out these are the best smell-free option to carry out.

Leave No Trace

Carry out what you carry in, including solid human waste. Please protect The Narrows and leave no trace.

What gear is needed to hike The Narrows

Hiking The Narrows is often described as trying to walk on slippery bowling balls. I think this is very accurate because of the algae on the rocks and sometimes the lack of visibility for where you’ll be stepping. Depending on the water current and depth, it can be very challenging, making having the right gear more important.

You can rent gear from a local outfitter or bring your own. Depending on the season you may need more or fewer items to make for a comfortable trip. Dry suits are recommended from October 1 through Mid-May. If you’re looking for local gear rental companies check out Zion Guru or Zion Adventures among others.

In our opinion, there are two must-have items for safety in any season and the rest is personal preference and comfort. The two must-have items are closed-toe shoes and one strong hiking stick or pole. 

Closed-toe shoes are a must in any season.

This could mean athletic or hiking shoes, Keens closed-toe sandals, or canyoneering boots. We did it in Keens in mid-June and were just fine but when the water is colder you may want lightweight boots with neoprene socks. Steer clear of heavy hiking boots that won’t drain. A hard, covered toe is important for navigating the large boulders underwater.

Water Hiking Shoes | Keens | Lightweight Hiking Boots

Neoprene Socks

These socks help protect your feet against the cold water. They should be 4-5 mm if the water temperature is moderate (above 50F/10C), but if the water is cold (below 50F/10C) consider 7 mm as a warmer option.
Find them here

Shorts or leggings

Most people hike in shorts in warmer months, but we liked using yoga leggings to provide a bit more warmth.

Neoprene dry suit

Can be great in any season but provides additional warmth in the cooler months. If you can’t find a rental in a kid-size sometimes buying one can be less than the rental.
Find them here

Thick hiking stick 

All hikers need at least one hiking stick or pole and I think one is better than two so you have a free hand for balance. If you’re carrying a child on your back you might want two. Because we did The Narrows last minute we used hiking poles. These worked ok but plan that they might break or not be useable after. The rocks are really hard on traditional aluminum hiking or ski poles. The rental sticks are preferred because they are a thick wood that holds up. Don’t try to do it without hiking poles or a stick it just doesn’t work. Sometimes you can find large sticks that others have used and left behind at the start of the hike but it’s hard to count on this.

Quick-dry long sleeve shirts

We found sun protection or long sleeve swim shirts to be the best to provide warmth in the early morning, when wet and dry quickly. Wear one and bring a dry backup in the pack for when you get cold.
Find them here

Dry backpack

This is important for carrying food, dry clothing, and essentials. We think the roll-top ones work best for truly keeping things waterproof as it’s good to plan your pack will get wet. In a pinch double garage bags over a backpack can work.
Find them here

Best carrier for kids when hiking The Narrows

For younger kids, a hiking carrier is really nice to have when doing The Narrows. Look for lightweight, sun-protection and if possible one with storage. We have used both the Kelty Journey PerfectFIT and the Deuter Kid Comfort Child Carrier with our twins and liked them both. For infants, LÍLLÉbaby makes lightweight, breathable carriers that are great for hiking and easy for everyday use. Another great lightweight option for kids 2+ years and up to 50lbs is the standing piggyback rider.

How to carry water

Water bladder  – There are no water refill stations on the trail. Currently, water cannot be filtered in The Narrows due to toxic algae blooms so it’s important to bring in as much drinking water as you’ll need. We like the Gregory brand for water bladders.

Nice to have extras when hiking The Narrows

Moleskin or waterproof blister bandages – after many hours with wet shoes rubbing on your feet it can be common to get blisters.

Waterproof phone case – if you want to have your phone accessible for photos but don’t want to risk it getting wet. We’ve used this one on multiple adventures and it works great.

GoPro Camera – a great option if you want a waterproof camera that’s lightweight and good for adventure. A waterproof float handle or strap is a good idea as they’re small and easy to lose.  

It’s a good idea to have a headlamp in your pack if you’re starting your hike later in the day. There is only one way out and if the sun begins to set this will help you get out safely.

Restop portable waterproof toilet bags. You must pack out any solid waste.

Snacks/lunch – you must pack out everything brought in. 

Sunscreen

Bring an alternate warm/dry clothing option to change into. The water is often colder than the air temp and very little sun reaches the base of the canyon so it’s good to have a dry long sleeve layer.

Where to stay when hiking The Narrows

There are three campgrounds inside Zion National Park and reservations need to be made in advance at recreation.gov.

Zion Lodge is the most convenient option as it is within walking distance to the Temple Of Sinawava Shuttle Stop and this will save you the 45min shuttle ride each way. This is the only lodging option inside Zion National Park.

Vacation rentals are another great option and Springdale, Utah is located right outside the South Entrance of the Park. Find great VRBO rentals here close to the park. Hotel options in Springdale can be found here.

We stayed in this amazing container house that is just a little bit further in Glendale, in between Zion and Bryce National Parks. The house had so many fun amenities it was worth a little extra drive.

If you’re looking for lower-cost car rental options check out our 8 Things to Know about Turo.

Lastly, hiking through the north fork Virgin River as it cuts its way through Zion National Park is an experience you soon won’t forget. This slot canyon includes some of the most beautiful rock forms in the American Southwest. We hope these tips for hiking The Narrows in Zion with beginners or kids will help you plan a great visit. The Narrows is such a fun experience for families.

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