The Narrows is one of the most popular hikes in Zion National Park and for good reason. Aptly named, the Narrows is the narrowest part of Zion Canyon. The canyon walls reach over 1,000 feet tall and only 20 to 30 feet wide in some places. The Virgin River runs through the canyon so the hike is mostly through flowing water that generally ranges from ankle to waist deep (and sometimes deeper).
There are three different ways to hike the Narrows and each offers a different experience. In this post, I’ll walk you through the three choices and help you decide which option is best for you.
Three Options for Hiking the Narrows
The Narrows Top Down Day Hike (permit required)
The Narrows Top Down hike starts at Chamberlain’s Ranch (private property outside the park) and ends 16 miles later at the Temple of Sinawava in Zion National Park. You’ll find yourself on dry land for the first 3-ish miles but the rest of the hike is almost all through the water.
The Chamberlain’s Ranch trailhead is a 1.5-hour drive from the Zion visitor center. The road is paved for about half of the way but the second half is along very rough dirt roads. I would not take a non-4-wheel drive vehicle on this road and highly recommend hiring one of the shuttle services offered in the area so you don’t have to worry about retrieving your car after the hike.
The Narrows Top Down Overnight (permit required)
This is the same hike as what I’ve listed above, except you split it into two days and camp at one of the 12 campsites along the hike. Permits are required for this hike and are extremely competitive.
The Narrows Bottom Up Day Hike (no permit required)
This out and back version of the hike begins in Zion National Park at the Temple of Sinawava and is as long as you want it to be. You simply go out as long as you feel like and then turn around when you’re ready. This is a great choice for day hikers who can’t get a permit, are limited on time or money, or just don’t want to hike 16 miles.
Which Option is Best for Me?
So now that you know a little about each option, how do you decide which version of the hike is best for you? There are several factors to consider.
A permit will be the number one limiting factor when considering which version of the hike you’re going to do. Both the overnight and the day hike from Top to Bottom require permits. These permits are extremely competitive and sell out in a matter of minutes during desirable months. There are only 12 campsites along the trail with only half being reserve-able in advance, so overnight permits are especially competitive.
The cheapest way to do this hike will be the Bottom Up day hike. Depending on time of year and the length you wish to walk, you probably don’t need to rent any gear for this version of the hike. If you’re hiking Top Down, you may wish to rent canyoneering shoes, a walking stick, and a pair of dry pants or dry suit.
The rental companies will charge you about $25 a day for the shoes, socks and walking stick. They charge you only half that price for a second day. If you want to add on dry pants or a dry suit, expect to pay around $40 to $50 for the first day and half that for the second day. We rented the package with the dry-pants from Zion Adventure Company for our Top Down hike and it was well worth the cost.
For the Top Down hike, you’ll also likely want to pay for a shuttle to the Chamberlain’s Ranch trailhead which will run you about $40 a person.
Don’t forget the cost of permits. They cost $15 for 1-2 people, $20 for 3-7 people, and $25 for 8-12 people. There is also a $5 fee if you apply for the permit online.
Cost approximations for each hike:
Bottom Up hike: $0 to $25 depending if you rent gear (includes gear rental only)
Top Down hike: $55 to $100 depending on if you rent gear (includes permits, shuttle, gear)
How much time do you have and how much are you willing to spend on this hike? Hiking 16 miles in one day takes a while. It took us about 9.5 hours and the park estimates 12 hours on average. On the other hand, you’ll still be hiking the better part of two days if you decide to do the overnight (though with the plus side of spending a lot more time in the canyon).
You have a lot more flexibility if you’re doing the Bottom Up hike since you can turn around whenever you feel like it and spend as much time as you desire hiking.
Time of Year
Don’t forget that most of this hike is through the water, and naturally the water gets colder as temperatures drop. The busiest time of year is late Spring and Summer because water levels are lowest and the temperatures are warmer; however, flash floods are more common during this time. During winter and early spring, you should expect colder water and higher water levels. Fall offers less erratic weather but water temperatures remain cold. No matter when you go, day and night temperatures can fluctuate greatly so be sure to bring layers!
You should also consider shuttle times when planning this hike, especially when choosing the Top Down day hike. The Temple of Sinawava is only accessible by shuttle system, which means you must be done with your hike by the time the last shuttle leaves. The last shuttle time changes depending on what time of year it is.
The National Park System averages 12 hours for the Top Down day hike. We did it in about 9.5 hours but took very few breaks. If you don’t feel like you can (or want) to do 16 miles from the time your shuttle drops you off at Chamberlain’s Ranch to the time of the last shuttle from the Temple of Sinawava, the Top Down day hike might not be a good option for you.
Since it’s generally more accessible, the Bottom Up version of the hike is a lot more crowded. Aside from the few people who rode the shuttle to Chamberlain’s Ranch with us, we didn’t see a single person until we were about three miles from the end of the hike. As we neared the end, it very quickly got crowded and in my opinion less enjoyable. Solitude was a huge reason we chose to do the Top Down hike.
Doing the Top Down version is a challenging hike. Hiking 16 miles in one day through water and uneven terrain is not the easiest thing I’ve ever done. There are some technical parts of the hike as well like scrambling over boulders or crossing knee deep rapids. If you aren’t an experienced hiker I wouldn’t recommend doing the Top Down in 1 day, especially since you’re racing the park’s shuttle schedule. The overnight hike lets you take more breaks and splits the mileage into two days, but remember you’ll likely be carrying a heavier pack. The Bottom Up will be the easiest option since you can choose how far and how fast you go.
Ok, so I’ve decided which version of the hike to do. What now?
Click here to learn how to plan your own Narrows hike.