On August 22, 2015, we headed our for an amazing overnight backpacking trip through The Narrows in Zion National Park.
We drove to Utah the day before to collect our permits, spend some time in the park, and to meet up with our travel buddies for the weekend. Alex and I went up to the Temple of Sinawava to test the water of the Virgin River coming out of the canyon to see if we would need additional protective gear to keep us comfortable during our hike. Our friends made awesome veggie tacos with a ton of guacamole and we tried to stay cool and go to bed early despite the summer heat in the desert.
For video of the trip and people-less photos of the beautiful views, check out the post on Seek the Sunrise. Josh is the blogger (aka head adventurer, photographer, planner, writer, etc.) behind California Through My Lens and Seek the Sunrise. He and his wife, Amie, joined Alex and me on this fantastic trip and he his blog post is excellent. Josh also included a video of the hike if you’re interested in seeing what it’s really like to go through The Narrows in Zion National Park.
What is The Narrows?
The Narrows can be experienced in its entirety if you take on the approximately 16 mile hike that starts at Chamberlain’s Ranch north of the park and finishes at Temple of Sinawava. The hike can be done in one day, but expect it to take you about 12 hours to complete. You can also hike the entire length as an overnight hike — sleeping in one of the campsites (permits required) nestled in the canyon. If you’d like to experience part of The Narrows but don’t have that kind of time, check out this post for information on the “bottom up” day hike option.
Zion National Park is a canyon (called Zion Canyon) and The Narrows are part of that canyon. The canyon walls soar above you as you navigate your way through the Virgin River and the landscape changes constantly and will make you want to stop and take a million photos. As you wade through the river, you’ll encounter sandy banks, trees, large boulders, waterfalls, natural springs, and areas where the canyon walls get so close together you would think you reached the end of the canyon if you didn’t know any better.
Planning Your Overnight Hike of The Narrows in Zion National Park
The permits are available 3 months in advance and can be secured online. Read the instructions on the Zion National Park website and make sure you are ready to roll once reservations are opened for your desired month. Summer is very popular, so move fast once the reservations are available. You select your campsite when you make your reservation, so make sure you are familiar with the trail and the campsites before you get started. We didn’t do much research, but after a long day we were very thankful that we reserved Campsite 1.
If you are not sure about the type of weather you may experience in Zion National Park during different times of the year, do some research before securing your permits. You can read the weather basics on the Zion website and you’ll read suggestions from other hikers as you research blog posts like this one. Our trip was in late August and during monsoon season…yes, rain is possible and yes it is terrifying and super dangerous when you’re in a canyon. Be careful while you are in the park, your safety (and the safety of the rest of your group) is your responsibility. The rangers and outfitters can only give you so much information. We were told that rain was unlikely and had a very loud thunder storm wake us up in the middle of the night. It was terrifying knowing that we may be stuck in the canyon for an extra day if the weather didn’t let up and of course we worried about our safety in case the river rose enough to reach our campsite.
For the overnight trip, you will need the proper equipment like sturdy shoes (water-specific hiking shoes are great for this trip or you can rent canyoneering shoes from a local outfitter), a backpack that is comfortable and will hold your gear, a dry bag to keep your gear dry (you WILL swim at one point), proper clothing, a hat, sunglasses, etc. Depending on the time of the year, you may want to bring a tent or a hammock to stay warm…the canyon is much cooler than the rest of the park! Barefoot Theory has a great post on what she brought on her overnight hike. I suggest bringing extra toilet paper, what they give you in the wagbag may not be enough.
You will exit the hike and get on the shuttle back to the Visitor’s Center. If you used the wagbag (NO pooping in The Narrows! You need to pack it and the paper you use out of the canyon. Do not bury your waste, you need to pack it out), dispose of it at the trashcans at The Temple of Sinawava. The same is true for your trash. We were planning on staying another night at the campground but decided to get started on our long drive home and booked rooms in Las Vegas…a hot shower, clean clothes, and a buffet was exactly what we needed after trudging through the rock-filled river and dodging screaming dayhikers (seriously, keep your drama at home. If your kids aren’t interested in hiking in the cold water, go back!).
For more detailed information on planning your trip, check out Barefoot Theory’s post.