When Is the Best Time
The Narrows are changing the entire day by the sunlight in the magical Zion. Zion National Park is otherworldly; I am always impressed by the beauty with its high Navajo sandstone formations in white, yellow, and bright orange, and I am not alone in this feeling. I will give you all details for each season for the Narrows Hike, what to pack and tips for an outstanding day in a stunning landscape. Photo all highlights of Zion named outside of the Information Centre.
Zion has become increasingly crowded in recent years and is even more popular than Yosemite National Park. Nowadays, visitor numbers top the 5 million, although the park is five times smaller than Yosemite.
Since Observation Point was closed from rockslide three years ago and for Angels Landing, a permit is required, the Narrows have become one of the main highlights for visitors in Zion.
I would say at least 80% of the visitors come to the Narrows. This means if you take the shuttle at 8 am in the morning, which is early, IMO, you wade and scramble through the Virgin River together with hundreds of people. Honestly, I’ve never ever experienced a place so crowded as the Narrows.
If you wish to visit the Narrows with all its beauty in solitude, you have to get the first shuttle in the morning at 6 am in the summer. This recommendation was given by Ryan and Vanessa from Arizona, who we met the day before at the Subway. This is definitely hard to do, and our newly renovated hotel, My Place in Hurricane, wasn't far, but we had to Park the car and take the shuttle first. They booked the only existing lodge; the Zion Lodge, inside of the stunning National Park.
However, do the Narrows, you definitely get your moments and the further you get, the quieter it’ll be. Zion National Park is an excellent destination and is open to the public throughout the year. Every season is utterly different, and for the “Zion Narrows Hike,” it is almost impossible to avoid the crowds.
Proper preparation is key for the Narrows in all seasons. In spring and fall, everything is possible, the summer is usually hot and dry, but thunderstorms can occur, and the Virgin River level increases rapidly. The winter is cold and icy, and the river level can be even higher, but it is the quiet season in Zion, and cars are allowed to access the National Park.
I will give you an overview of what to expect in the Narrows and how to prepare for each season and month. However, there is never a guarantee and watching the weather forecast is essential. Always Safety First!!
The best time to hike the Narrows in Zion is the summer, from late June until July and again in September because of the lower water level and the warmer temps. Keep in mind the summer has a high risk of thunderstorms and flooding, especially in late July and August. From mid-September onwards, it is less busy in Zion, and temperatures are still pleasant, reaching almost 80°F/ 27°C.
What Are the Narrows and How Were They Formed
The Narrows are the most minor – narrowest section of the Zion Canyon. Hiking through the Narrows means walking upstream through the Virgin Riverbed. The Narrows are a breathtaking slot canyon with towering Navajo Sandstone walls only 20 feet apart.
Sunlight reaches the riverbed in the canyon rarely, which causes a cooler and subterranean climate. The Narrows were formed by the Virgin River. The river had cut through the sandstone, and this process still continues.
The Narrows Hike for Each Season
Always keep in mind the water temperature of the Virgin River is cold and good protection to prevent you from hypothermia is essential. If a flash flood warning is issued, the Narrows is closed for safety reasons. Flash floods by thundershowers are most likely to happen in the afternoon. Due to the high elevation of Zion and the Narrows, about 4.500 ft/ 1.300 m, nights cool down, and the winter is freezing.
Spring (April–May) - High Cold-Water Level
It is not predictable if the Narrows are open in spring; they are frequently closed when the snow melts from late March until mid-May. Snowmelt and precipitation determine the height of the river level. However, in 2021 the Narrows were not closed due to the low amount of snow in the winter. In April 2022, closures occurred. Nights are still freezing. The Narrows remain closed until the Virgin River level permanently decreases below 150 cubic feet per second (CFS). What does it mean exactly?
According to a park ranger, it is already challenging walking against the current at 70 CFS and I agree. We hiked through the Narrows at 30.9 CFS and this was already difficult in parts.
So, if the level ranges above, it is demanding, tricky, and challenging with waist-to-chest deep pools. The water temperature after the winter is cold as hell. Know your limits - don't get carried away by the Virgin River!
Summer (June-August) - Lowest Level
June is a safe bet that the Narrows are open. Usually, the summer is scorching, but it is pleasant in the cooler slot canyon during the river hike. Daylight hours are longer; 14-15 hours, giving you plenty of time for the Narrows Trail. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and ask a ranger at the information centre first for the UpTo Date conditions before entering the Narrows because of the flash flood potential. The river can easily double and triple in volume. Water temp mid-June 2022 was 53°F/ 11°C.
Fall (September-October) - Low to Medium Level
September may be the best month for the Narrows Hike with the lowest water level but avoid the Labour Day Weekend and all other weekends from Friday to Monday! Zion is still crazy busy, and the south entrance gets frequently closed for cars. You can still walk bare-legged in September but not any longer in October. It is already colder, and rainfall is increasing. Pack several layers to stay warm in the cold water and rent waterproof equipment.
Winter (November-March) - Cold High Water Level
November to March experiences the highest amount of precipitation which increases the water level. Sub-zero night temperatures and the Virgin River is cold as hell. If you plan to explore the Narrows in the winter, the quietest time, please visit the park’s visitor centre the day before. Rent the right equipment and be extra prepared. Do not risk hypothermia and injuries. Keep in mind days are much shorter, around 10 hours only. In late November 2022, a woman died of hypothermia; her partner got rescued.
Tip: Check out the daylight hours before you venture out into the Narrows. Sunrise-Sunset Times
9 Tips for the Narrows Hike
- In winter and spring, a neoprene wetsuit or even a drysuit are necessary but are definitely uncomfortable for hiking.
- I recommend neoprene socks for all seasons. If you wish to hike the Narrows until Big Spring, protect your feet from the cold. It sounds strange, but it works; wear these neoprene socks plus merino wool socks in your shoes.
- Proper water shoes with good traction - not Teva - protect your toes from the boulders in the riverbed.
At least one hiking pole for balance on the rocky, slippery, uneven riverbed full of boulders - usually, the river is gently flowing, but if you walk knee-deep against the river flow, it is challenging not to fall. Some potholes are waist-deep, which meant swimming for me, or if rivers confluence, it'll be challenging to continue. The Virgin River is a confluence of the North Fork of Virgin plus Goose Creek, Kolob Creek, and Deep Creek. Another reason for hiking pools is the clarity of the river. If the water is murky after heavy rainfall, it is more challenging to navigate through it.
Carry a waterproof backpack to be on the safe side for your valuables, camera, food, and extra clothes; either the water holes are too deep, or the riverbed surface is too slippery. You never know.
- Warm clothes and extra dry clothes in the waterproof bag or backpack. Even in the hot summer with temps above 100°F, it is cooler inside the slot canyon. I prefer for such hikes merino wool clothes. You still stay warm even if you are wet. Pack an extra layer, even if it is scorching outside of the canyon. It still takes time to get back to your car.
- For fall, I recommend several layers for comfort level.
- Always take a headlamp just in case your hike takes longer than expected.
- You Can Rent Your Equipment at Zion Outfitters right by the Visitor Centre in Springdale offers everything you need for the Narrows for all seasons. Google Maps Location
How Much of the Narrows Hike Is in Water?
It definitely depends on the season, the snowmelt and the amount of rainfall before. Nevertheless, it is a riverbed track and the majority of the trail leads through the Virgin River Some patches to the right or left may be dry, but I wouldn't count on that.
How Early Should You Arrive at Zion National Park
Come as early as possible. You already have to line up for the first shuttle at 7 am. Some websites mention you should arrive shortly before 7 am to avoid the crowds, but this is no longer a golden rule for Zion.
Nowadays, Zion is crowded from spring to autumn, and it is worst in the peak season, the summer, from June to August. Spring and Fall are less overrun but still busy, the reason why the shuttle bus service was implemented for these seasons. The only quiet time is in the winter, from December to February, but road closures occur, and the Narrows are frequently closed.
How to Get Into Zion the South Entrance
It is insane what is going on in Zion, especially at the south entrance. Even at the end of September, the access for cars gets already closed at 10.30 am on Mondays, the "crazy Monday". So either come very early or take the free shuttle bus from Springdale also, bikes and pedestrians get into the park. The entrance is closed for vehicles only.
Permit Narrows Zion
A permit is needed for Angel’s Landing and The Left Fork North Creek, the Subway Cave Hike, but not for the Narrows! If you plan to hike upstream from the Temple of Sinawava, no permit is requested, but downstream from Chamberlain’s Ranch.
High Flash Flood Potential
- Always safety first. Don't risk your life and others.
- Always check the recommendations and weather forecast at the visitor centre first: Even if there isn't any precipitation for Zion predicated, rain miles away can be treacherous, and flood slot canyons or the Narrows.
- If the water clarity changes and becomes murky when the river flow increases or you feel a cool, damp breeze getting out of the canyon, these are the first signs that the river quickly may turn into powerful rushing water with increasing levels. If higher grounds are in reach, leave the riverbed immediately.
Must Have Map
As alternative to a mapping app or for planning we recommend the National Geographic's Trails Illustrated map of Zion National Park. The map delivers unmatched detail and valuable information to assist you in your exploration of this remote and colorful wilderness.
My Hotel Tips for Zion
The best location of all hotels is the Zion Lodge in the heart of the National Park. However, we planned to explore the Narrows and Zion National Park from Kolob Terrace Road, which is less busy.
We chose the hotel My Place in Hurricane perfectly located for us. The rooms were newly renovated some with kitchenette where we prepared our lunch for the Narrows and Subway hike.
Best Months to Visit
Location and Tips
The Narrows are a thrilling bucket list hike and are famous for 1000 feet/ 300 meters high walls, sometimes only 20 feet/ 6 meters wide. I try to give you all the needed details for the best preparation because proper preparation is key to get the most out of this magnificent trail. All updates are from this summer 2022 from our second hike into the Narrows.
The Narrows Hiking Details
There isn't any permit required if hiking upstream with a slight ascent from the Temple of Sinawava to Big Spring. However, you can turn around whenever you start feeling uncomfortable. If you wish to hike the more challenging track downstream from Chamberlain’s Ranch to the Temple of Sinawava, a permit is required, and the transport has to be arranged in advance.
- Trail Length Return Hike: 9 miles/ 14 km - Allow some extra time for side canyons exploration like Orderville Canyon.
- Duration: 7 hours rather more because of photo stops and breaks. It also depends on the clarity of the Virgin River. If the river is clear, you easily can see all rocks on the riverbed, and if it is murky, it may take much longer.
- Hiking Trail by Locus Map from Temple of Sinawava to Big Spring
- Entire Trail length until Chamberlain’s Ranch: 16 miles
1 Starting Point: Temple of Sinawava - Length 1 mile
From here starts the access on the Riverside Walk. The Riverside Walk is paved and wheelchair accessible, and it is the Gateway to the Narrows. Duration 20-30 minutes - almost one mile/ 1.5 km long. The entrance "The Temple of Sinawaja" are 4.411 ft above sea level, and the hike is continuously ascending.
2 Entering Virgin River to Mystery Canyon and Falls - Length 480 m
Now you access the Virgin River, and the adventure starts. You walk most of the time through the water to the first marker, the Mystery Canyon and Falls, which may take half an hour.
3 200°Waterfall - Length 675 m
Now you access the area which is often called "The Wall Street" and the towering walls are getting higher and narrower. In the summer some sunshine gets into the canyon.
4 House Rock - Length 315 m
After roughly two miles, you reach "House Rock", so-called because it's a prominent rock where you have to wade around to continue. Now the towering walls get darker and more impressive. Due to low sunshine in this narrow part of the canyon, there is almost no vegetation.
5 Orderville Canyon - Lenght 1.2 km
At Orderville, you enter the narrowest section of this slot canyon and the most challenging part. It takes at least 2 hours rather 2 1/2 from here to Big Spring. If you plan to hike until Big Spring, you will see almost all the breathtaking highlights and the best parts of this narrow gorge. If you are an experienced hiker and still have plenty of time available, I recommend a short additional exploration into Orderville Canyon. This canyon is even darker and taller, and less water is running inside. However, some obstacles have to be overcome. After roughly half a mile, a National Park sign is placed prohibiting continuing, so please turn around.
After the Orderville Canyon and confluence, the crowds thin out because of the fast-flowing river and its rapids. I highly recommend two hiking poles, but if you don’t have any, rent at least a wooden one at the Outfitters store.
6 Floating Rock - Length 450 m
Floating Rock is another rock in the middle of the Virgin River, usually a deeper section where you have to walk or usually wade around.
This is one of the toughest parts. You either have to climb and be chest-deep in water to the right or breast-deep to the left. After this part, it takes one more hour to Big Springs. If you can make it here, you got the best views of the Narrows IMO. From here, the canyon grows wider.
7 Big Spring - 2.7 km
Big Spring is the final destination of this day hike, and it is not permitted to continue if you do not have a wilderness permit. As the name indicates, springs and waterfalls emerge out of the walls in this breathtaking place. Not many hikers wade through the water to the very end of this unique day hike.
5 Tips for the Narrows
- Visit the last restrooms before starting the Narrows Hike at the shuttle bus station.
- Never drink any water from the Virgin River and other streams inside the park, nor submerge your head. Also, don’t let your pet drink it. Since July 2020, after a pet fatality in the river, cyanobacteria have occurred and can harm people, especially children.
- Please, take out what you took in! Don’t leave any trash! Let the wilderness area stay wild.
- Most important, during this trail stay hydrated. Although it was more than 86°F/ 30°C warm, the water cools you down, and you need to pee often. Honestly, we didn’t drink enough in seven hours. Usually, you can do the adventure in six hours, but I took tons of pictures to describe the Narrows in detail and to provide honest advice.
- Definitely, come well equipped, which means proper shoes to wade along the uneven and rocky riverbed and hiking poles. It is challenging to be one hundred percent concentrated when balancing in the fast-flowing Virgin River. We saw several people falling down with their backpacks when rapids occurred because of the elevation loss.
Zion Shuttle Service Operating Hours
The shuttle service operates along the Scenic Zion Canyon Drive during the busy seasons from April to the end of November. In winter, you are able to drive in your car along this beautiful scenic Canyon Road except for the last weekend in December and at weekends in February and March.
- The first shuttle at the Visitor Centre is at 7 am in summer at 6 am, but people line up already one hour before.
- The shuttle departs every 5-10 minutes, but no reservation is needed – first come, first serve.
- Last shuttle from the Temple of Sinawava at 7.15 pm and in summer at 8.15 pm
Enjoy this unique hike and create wonderful memories, no nightmares!
I took most of the pictures, and I got some provided by my friend and photographer Chris. Please get in touch with me if you wish to use any of my photos, but I will take action against picture theft.