“There really isn’t another place quite like it”… is how the the Narrows in Zion National Park are often described. Say no more, I’m all in on this one. The Narrows had been on my hiking bucket list since my first trip to Zion several years ago, but time and conditions weren’t in my favor.
Being able to hike the Narrows is kind of like winning the lottery (okay, so maybe not this hard). The right weather must meet the right water flow with the right chances for not being swept off in a flash flood. Your cards will have to line up for this one. Summer tends to be busiest season, when the water in the narrows is not so frigid and the soaring outside temps warrant a trip to the cool canyon. However I chose to pick fall to undertake Zion’s Narrows hike. Why?
The leaves were hues of golden yellow, the air was crisp, the water a bit chilly but the conditions were perfect for a hike in the Narrows. Conditions that may deter others, attracted me. The tradeoff for the colder temps was solitude; being able to enjoy this marvelous place in peace, and not with hoards of crowds (did you know that the Narrows is by far the most popular hike in the park) was a treat all on its own. The water flow was an easy 62 CFS (Cubic feet per second) and the outside temp about 55F. With little to no risk of flash flooding during our stay and sunny skies forecasted all day, it was the perfect hand of cards to be dealt, and boy did I win the jackpot on this one.
Planning this hike during the colder season requires proper preparation. I have used Zion Adventure Company in the past for other excursions, so I knew they rented gear for the Narrows hike. I found myself there the night before the hike, watching the informative video and trying on my dry suit pants and booties for the hike the next morning. The water in the autumn months can be pretty chilly so you are going to want to make sure you are outfitted with the appropriate gear (hat, long-johns and mitts too!). Springdale has several shops which offer Narrows gear rentals.
I picked the easiest hike to explore the Narrows due to time constraints. This was the Bottom-Up hike. Most hikers who do the Narrows will likely choose this route. This is a basic out-and-back hike where you can turn around whenever you please or feel tired (or you reach the point where a permit becomes required at Big Springs). This is less technical and easy enough for most skill levels. Ninety percent of the hike will involve walking or wading through the water. The water depth in some places was at least knee deep, but most was mid calf. Make sure to check water and weather conditions before heading out so you are properly prepared.
H@H says; make sure you take the hiking stick your rental company includes with your package. I actually said that I “likely won’t need it,” before I started the hike but I was dead wrong. Even with great conditions and gentle water flow, the stick is very useful to feel the ground underwater ahead and scope for rocks or potholes and to keep you stable.
The zion shuttle service into the zion canyon wasn’t running on weekdays while I was visiting (weekday service ends mid-november). This turned out to be more convenient for me. I drove straight to the trailhead at the Temple of Sinawava. A quick one mile walk along the paved but scenic riverside trail leads to a dead end.. or I should say.. a lively beginning. For those venturing deep into the narrows, this is the access point where the real fun begins.
As soon as you start moving upstream, you figure out pretty quickly that the hike isn’t going to be a walk in the park, so to speak. I mis-judged how quickly I would be able to move through the water, even though the water flow was pretty gentle. Quite frankly, it was for the best. There is so much to take in as you make your way through the canyon, so slow down and enjoy it. The canyon walls keep getting higher and narrower. The underground streams gurgle and moan. Waterfalls tumble down the walls. Water rushes around the rock obstacles. The sun light reflects off the rock and makes a warming yellow glow. Moss grows on the side of the canyon walls staining them green. Trees cling for dear life from the small ledges. Mother Nature’s artistic hand has painted magnificent colors and patterns on the rock wall faces. There really is no other place quite like it.
The trail starts out with the canyon walls fairly wide and open but massive and towering above. There are several places where the canyon floor is very wide and higher ground is easy to find to stop for a snack or rest.
The canyon walls soon start closing in at the section of overhanging rocks. The width of the canyon narrows, perhaps only ten feet wide in some sections. The water fills the canyon floor from side to side. The canyon gets a bit more chilly and dark as the sunlight has difficulty penetrating the depths below. You then know you have entered “Wall Street,” the iconic Narrows section.
Wall Street is intimidating, breathtaking and a true work of art. The canyon walls stand tall like skyscrapers. It’s places like this that make you take a step back to realize how incredible the work of Mother Nature’s force can be, and how small we are in this great big world. The feeling that I felt while inside of the Narrows is that of complete awe.
Most bottom-up hikers seemed to venture into the first part of the wall street section and turn around near the entrance to the Orderville canyon. I pushed on.
Beyond the Orderville, I saw less than a handful of people the entire time. Most were photographers trying to catch the afternoon sun on the canyon walls. Admittedly, I would stop where I saw them parked and snap a quick photo as well (take your lead from the best, right). Here, you may have a chance to take photos without being interrupted by people hiking through your shot. This would be highly unlikely during busy season.
It’s obviously no secret why this hike is among the most popular in Zion National Park, or why this hike is now at the top of my list of favorites. I imagine that this canyon looks drastically different depending on the season, time of day, the water level and the weather. Even the walk back to the trailhead had different shadows and colors. I never could put my camera away. I feel so lucky to have been granted such an incredible day to enjoy The Narrows, and in such solitude. I recommend this hike as a MUST DO if you visit Zion National Park, no matter what the season. BUT, I would hands down recommend you take a chance on autumn. I’ve visited the park in the summer on more than one occasion but nothing trumps the beauty of autumn’s spirit in the canyon. I will wager a bet that you will get a million dollar photo and an even better experience.
Happy Hiking !
Do you prefer the chilly but quiet experience or the warmer weather with crowds?