We celebrated our 24th anniversary at Zion National Park. It would have been difficult to beat the spectacular beauty of this park or the awesome hike we did that day. We spent seven hours hiking in and playing around the Virgin River in what’s called The Narrows.
We left our hotel at about 8:30 and caught the park shuttle right out front. There’s a free shuttle bus that stops at several points in the town of Springdale and goes to the park entrance. From there, a footbridge leads to the pedestrian park entrance — pay your fee (good for 7 days, but be sure you bring your receipt each day or you’ll have to pay again) and head to the Visitor Center. From there, a second shuttle bus heads directly into Zion Canyon. For much of the year, no cars are allowed (pedestrians & bicyclists are welcome) — so it can get quite crowded in the mornings. To get to the Narrows hike trailhead, ride all the way to the shuttle’s final stop, the Temple of Sinawava.
There, you’ll first walk on the Riverside Walk trail, which is a one mile paved path along the river. It seemed that most people along this walk didn’t continue on to do the Narrows hike. The Narrows hike is extremely busy; it’s not wall-to-wall people or anything, but it’s definitely not a solitary hike in the wilderness, at least not in summer. But it doesn’t matter because it is SO fun and so beautiful!
We recommend good walking shoes and definitely using some sort of hiking poles. Many people rent shoes from one of the adventure companies in town that are sturdy and have neoprene liners. We also saw many people with one rented walking stick, and that seemed to work well for them. At least we never saw anyone fall over! We wore our own shoes and were very glad for their grippy Vibram soles, as there were several spots where the rocks were slick and that water moves pretty quickly. The neoprene liners would have been nice, but once our feet got used to the 58 degree water, it didn’t seem so bad. We would definitely recommend not wearing sandals of any kind on this hike. Your legs and toes will thank you. We saw a few crazies hiking in bare feet and one woman in flip flops, so it can be done, but it doesn’t seem like a great idea. Hiking back down the river with a broken toe or sprained ankle would really put a damper on the fun of the hike!
We were on the river by 9:30, and it was still quite cold in the canyon because the sun wasn’t high enough to get down in there. Add that to the freezing water, and we were glad to have worn two shirts. The first half of the hike is all against the current, and while it’s not terribly difficult, you’re working with each step, so we warmed up pretty quickly. The section we hiked was about 3 miles each way, and for most of that hike we were crossing back and forth through the river. Some of the hiking was on the banks through sand and rocks.
We were able to find some rocks on the bank for a nice picnic spot at about the halfway point. We brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit, cookies, our favorite sesame snaps, and some very inferior trail mix which was a sore disappointment. We also carried about 4L of water, most of which we drank throughout the day. It got much warmer later in the day!
We didn’t go all the way to the end of the Narrows. The river forks at Orderville Canyon, and we went down the side canyon a little ways to explore.
There’s a waterfall about an hour up the canyon, but we didn’t get there, either. The water was much shallower and warmer in the side canyon! It was super narrow, too. It was crazy to look up and see how high the walls went. It was also crazy to think that the river carries out about 1 million tons of debris each year, mostly during 15-20 days of flooding (yes, I was listening to that recorded spiel on the shuttle bus). I can’t imagine being in those canyons when that river is really rushing! Which reminds me to point out that the Narrows hike is closed when the water is moving faster than a certain level or if flash flooding is predicted, so check on that if you’re planning a trip.
On our way back, the walking was a bit easier because the current was going with us, but it was much, much warmer, so we got really hot. Solution? Find a deep spot and jump on in. Holy freezing cold, Batman! 58 degrees is dang cold. But with the breeze and the sun on you, you’re dry and warm again in a jiffy, ready to do it again!
Even with all so many other people on the hike, it‘s still an incredible experience to be hiking in a canyon surrounded by gorgeous sandstone walls (the world’s highest). It’s a trip we would highly recommend. If you have only one day in Zion, ride the bus to Sinawava, look out the windows of the bus as you go up the canyon, and then get off the bus and join the crowds for an unforgettable experience.
Whether you’re in a river or not, enjoy your week or your weekend!