The Narrows. Lovers of Zion National Park know the name well. If you’ve heard of this majestic park, you’ve likely heard of The Narrows. It’s one of the park’s most well-known hikes, alongside Angels Landing and Temple of Sinawava, which, unfortunately, also makes it one of the most popular. The first time we visited Zion (Zion National Park.) it was mid-October and a much cooler temperature (high 60°’s, low 70°’s). Traversing through (at times) waist-deep, icy water was not on our bucket list. However, returning to Zion at the beginning of August, with temps in the high 90°’s, would be the perfect time to revisit and hike this epic canyon with the beautiful Virgin River, right?
After doing this hike in midsummer, I would jump at the chance to re-do it in the colder, less populated months, regardless of the river’s icy temps. Wading pants exist for a reason! The amount of people was unbearable. It’s hard to tell in some of the pictures, but that’s simply strategic subject placement or pure luck. I’m not sure why we naïvely thought there wouldn’t be “that many” people; perhaps because our one and only Zion experience was when it was significantly less crowded. It was a figurative smack in the face, to say the least 🤦🏻♀️.
We left Las Vegas around 8:45am, which was our major mistake. It’s a 2.5-hour drive; however, with the 1-hour ahead time jump in Utah, it’s technically 3.5 hours. We did not take the time change into enough consideration and arrived at Zion at least two hours (probably three) too late, around 11:45am. It was already spilling over with people, with a large flashing sign prominently shouting, “PARKING LOT FULL INSIDE PARK; PARK IN TOWN”. Not good.
We stopped first at the Zion Outfitter, located immediately outside the park’s entrance. This is where you rent shoes, poles, and wading pants (when seasonally necessary) for hiking the bottom Narrows. We got the “Warm Weather Package”, consisting of boots and a pole, for $32.00 per person (the “Dry Pants Package” with wading pants costs $49.00). The boots and pole are more than necessary, as the river can be rocky, deep, murky, and contain fast moving water. We saw people hiking it in crocs and flip flops (!!) and it is NOT something I’d ever, EVER, recommend. It was hard enough navigating the rocky, hurling river in boots made specifically for it.
Honestly, I knew from the moment we stepped in line for the bus that this was going to be a much different Zion experience. The line was long and the bus full. We went straight for stop #9, the Temple of Sinawava aka Riverside Walk, which leads to the bottom Narrows. You take this 1-mile long, paved path until it ends right upon the river. Here, you switch to off-roading it, hiking literally through the river. There are places where you exit the water and walk on solid ground (or mud), but a majority of the hike is through water.
The bottom Narrows is rated “easy to moderate” depending on the water level. It was definitely “moderate” for us. Utah had just gotten a ton of rain, causing the water to be quickly flowing and waist-high in many places. It was also extremely muddy in numerous parts.
Side note: I keep saying the bottom Narrows, because there are two Narrows hikes – bottom and top. The top Narrows require a permit, won through a lottery, and you must enter between the hours of midnight and 3pm the day prior to your visit. Unfortunately, we didn’t learn of this until 6pm the night before we were set to go, effectively ending any chance to see the top Narrows. However, this was likely good, as the entire hike (top down) is 15 to 18 miles (sources vary), with some choosing to camp overnight. The bottom Narrows is about 9 miles round-trip, but many turn around long before that. The top Narrows are arguably much more beautiful, as much of it is through a gorgeous slot canyon… hence the permit 🙃.
Sadly, due to its permit-less nature, the bottom Narrows was disgustingly crowded (again – don’t let some of the pictures fool you!). Although beautiful and epic, it was very hard to enjoy and bask in its beauty due to constantly playing frogger or bumper cars with people. While the water was fast moving, making it hard to see the rocks below at times (which makes it very difficult to walk smoothly), it would’ve still been far more pleasant without the hordes of people. We kept hiking further and further with the hope that eventually the people would stop appearing. We made it 2.5 miles in and it never happened. The amount of people lessened, but it never went below at least 25 people in any given area, at any given time. We ended up turning around at this point.
Bluntly put… I will never again hike the bottom Narrows – or visit Zion, for that matter – during summertime.
Overall, it pains me that the hike through the bottom Narrows was as disappointing as it was. Zion National Park is still my favorite National Park I’ve visited; however, the bottom Narrows hike is unfortunately one of my least favorite hikes. While it’s an easy hike in that it’s not uphill, the rocky and fast-moving water make it moderate. Moderate hikes are fine and great, but when there are bodies seeping from every orifice of the canyon, it makes it a lot less appealing. Please heed my advice and learn from our mistake – do not do this hike in the middle of summer.
P.s… approximately 2 weeks after we did this hike, a female hiker tragically lost her life in the bottom Narrows due to a flash flood. They found her 4 days later, 6 miles away, near the Court of the Patriarchs. Numerous others were caught in it as well, and had to be rescued via helicopter or other means. Please – do not hike the Narrows – top or bottom – if it’s raining or if rain is forecasted. There is a very good reason why certified hiking guides cancel hikes through the Narrows if there’s even a hint of rain that day. Unfortunately, sudden rain and flash floods are a common occurrence during Monsoon Season in the Southwest, which runs from about the middle of June to the end of September. The Narrows are beautiful, but nowhere near worth your life. Hike smart.