The Narrows, top-down – Zion National Park (17 miles point-to-point)

Trip Overview: The 17 mile top-down Narrows backpacking trek in Zion National Park is a truly unique route. Backpackers follow the Virgin River as it traverse through tall, narrow slot canyons and gorges. Expect to spend plenty of time wading through the river and enjoy views of soaring canyon walls, sandstone grottos, and hanging gardens. The Narrows is one of the most sought after areas to hike and overnight camp in Zion National Park. The majority of the images here are from a trip in mid May.

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Overall map of the top-down Narrows backpacking trek in Zion National Park
  • Higher resolution version of the overall map for The Narrows trek (PDF)
  • Topographic map of Zion National Park for purchase (REI link)

Jump to Day 1: Chamberlain’s Ranch to Campsite #5
Jump to Day 2: Campsite #5 to Temple of Sinawava

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Preparations:

Click here to read more about Permits

Permits: Wilderness Permits are required for all overnight backpacking trips in Zion National Park. Competition for permits has been increasing in recent years, so backpackers should either plan to reserve permits in advance or have flexibility built into their trip if attempting to attain walk-in permits for this itinerary.

Advanced permit reservations for a given trek start date open up three months in advance starting at 10am MST on the 5th day of the month. As an example, if you want to start a trek on April 20th, you would try to get a reservation at 10am MST on February 5th. All available permits for start dates that month are released at the same time and the permits are given out on a first-come, first-serve basis. Attempt to log as close to 10am as possible to give yourself the best odds of snagging your desired permit. You apply for the permits online and a separate reservation is required for each night you are backcountry camping.

If you are not able to reserve a permit in advance, you may be able to get a walk-in permit the day before your trip starts. About 1/3 of all campsites are reserved for walk-ins. These walk-in campsites do not even show up in the advanced reservation system and are exclusively for walk-in backpackers. That said, there is no guarantee that you will get the permit you are looking for. It is best to arrive early the day before your trek for the best odds (the wilderness permit desk opens at 7am).

A map with showing the campsites in The Narrows is below. Campsites 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 12 can be reserved in advance and the rest are for walk-ups only. For the itinerary described in this report, we use campsite #5 as our mileage reference. Descriptions of each campsite can be found here. Note that you could extend the trip to 2 or 3 nights if you want to explore additional canyons or travel more slowly, but you need to get a wilderness permit for each night you will stay.

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Map showing the location of the various campsites in The Narrows in Zion National Park.
Click here to read more about Logistics

Logistics: The top-down Narrows route is a point-to-point hike and thus requires either a taxi/shuttle ride or two vehicles (one parked at each trailhead). The most common and recommended itinerary is to arrange for a paid shuttle ride the morning you start your trek. You can park your personal vehicle at the Zion National Park Visitor Center and have the private shuttle services pick you up there in the morning and drive you to the Chamberlain’s Ranch Trailhead. When you finish your Narrows trek you exit at the Temple of Sinawava. From there, ride the Zion NPS Shuttle System back to the Visitor Center where your vehicle is parked. Zion Guru has a shuttle that costs $47 per person, and Zion Rock Guides operates some private shuttles in the park. Be sure to inquire about current prices and ask about shuttle availability before making any concrete plans. It is likely that your shuttle service also rents any gear you will need for the trek.

Click here to read more about Difficulty

Trail Conditions and Difficulty: Backpacking and hiking in The Narrows at Zion National Park presents some unique challenges. When conditions are favorable, the top-down Narrows trek is of moderate difficulty for experienced backpackers. The daily mileage is not overly extensive and there is not much elevation change. However, much of the hike involves wading through water and there can be deep and swift crossings. The river bed is also full of large, slippery rocks, so progress can be slow. That said, the hike is all downhill and likely will not test your cardio as much as mountain passes will (expect sore feet and stabilizer muscles though!).

When conditions are not ideal, backpacking in The Narrows is more challenging/dangerous and backpackers should use caution. In the fall and winter, the water in the river is cold and thus extra protective gear should be used (e.g. dry suit). High water levels and swift currents can be an issue after the snow melt in early spring and flash floods can be dangerous during the summer. Whenever you are planning to hike through The Narrows, you should contact the park rangers and inquire about the current conditions. They will provide an honest assessment of the current risk level.

In general late spring and summer are the most popular months to hike The Narrows because the water is warmer and water levels are more manageable. Note that summer is also when flash floods are most likely, so you must keep an eye on weather forecasts. Fall is also a good time to hike The Narrows because the weather is stable. The downside is that days are shorter and the water will be cooler.

 

Supplies: Bears and mosquitoes are not a major issue at Zion National Park so you can leave the bear canister at home and likely need just a small amount of bug repellent (if any). You may still wish to pre-treat your clothes with permethrin spray repellent to be protected in the event there are a few mosquitoes in the canyon. Mice can be a problem at some campsites, so be sure to store your food well.

You will want a sturdy hiking stick or trekking poles since they are extremely helpful for balance while wading across the rocky river bottom. Many backpackers have noted that a single tall, sturdy hiking stick is better than trekking poles for this route. In a swift, chest-high water crossing, trekking poles may not be tall enough for optimal support. Trekking poles also can break when lodged between rocks and stressed. A sturdy, tall hiking stick can be very useful in these situations and is unlikely to snap.

The other supplies commonly used when hiking The Narrows are neoprene socks, canyoneering shoes, potentially dry pants or a dry suit. Some backpackers report that the combination of neoprene socks and simple mesh running shoes works well. Others highly recommend renting canyoneering shoes for the extra stability. Most everyone recommends avoiding sandals (e.g. Chacos or Tevas) and other open-toe footwear because the base of the river is very rocky and the water can be cloudy. Whether or not you want dry pants or a dry suit likely will depend on the river water level and temperature when you are hiking. In the summer when the water is warm you may be ok in simple synthetic shorts. However, when the water is cool you should be cautious and bring proper equipment to avoid hyperthermia. The local outfitters in Springdale rent gear for affordable prices, and can provide advice on what you will need to be safe and comfortable.

To keep your pack and gear dry during your hike, you will want to use either a dry bag or will want to put your clothing and supplies in garbage bags inside your pack. When going across a deep river crossing, expect that your backpack will be partially submerged, so protecting your clothing and sleeping bag from water is essential.

 Below is a list of the gear recommended for backpacking The Narrows:

Hiking clothes (note that wool and synthetic fabrics are important due to their quick dry ability)

Clothes for camp (note that wool and synthetic fabrics are important due to their quick dry ability)

Hiking gear

Camp gear

Random

Food and drink

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Day 1: 10 miles; +100 feet / -1,000 feet; Chamberlain’s Ranch to Campsite #5

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Day 1 (blue) map of the top-down Narrows backpacking trek in Zion National Park. From Chamberlain’s Ranch to campsite #5.

Zion Narrows Trek Day 1 Map (PDF)

On day 1, you likely will be dropped off by your shuttle at the Chamberlain’s Ranch parking area. The first ~2.5 miles of the trek are on dry ground, following a dirt trail that meanders along the south side of the North Fork Virgin River. This section of trail where you cross the upper plateau is a nice contrast to the canyon you will soon be traveling through (though it’s not as beautiful). At the 2.5 mile mark, you pass an old cabin (Bulloch’s Cabin). Shortly thereafter the trail merges with the North Fork Virgin River and you begin to follow the river into the canyon.

From miles 3 to 7, the trail goes through a more shallow section of the river and a more open, shorter canyon. The further you travel, the higher the canyon walls will become. When you reach the ~7 mile mark, you start to enter a more dramatic portion of The Narrows hike where the canyon walls get steeper and higher. From thereon out, you will be hiking through the impressive canyons. At the ~8.5 mile, you will encounter a waterfall that blocks the main canyon. You do not need to climb over the falls and should instead use a small passage on the south side of the canyon to bypass the blockage. After the falls, the canyon becomes more and more dramatic and the water levels are likely to increase. From that point onward, you are hiking through prototypical section of the The Narrows that everyone loves.

At the 9 mile mark, you reach the confluence between Deep Creek and the North Virgin River. This is a fun area to explore where the two canyons meet. After this confluence, you will start to pass by the 12 campsites within The Narrows. The sites are marked by numbered yellow poles so keep an eye out for your permitted campsite. The water level in this part of the canyon is higher, so expect to begin to wade through relatively deep water. Campsite #5 sits at the ~10 mile mark near the confluence of Kolob Creek and the North Virgin River.

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North Virgin River near Chamberlain Ranch in the dawn (credit: K. Lund)
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Bulloch’s Cabin, passed at the ~2.5 mile mark of the top-down Narrows trek in Zion (credit: Ben+Sam)
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After the ~3 mile mark, the trail merges with the North Virgin River and you begin to see shallow canyons (credit: John Strother)
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Hiking along the northern section of the top-down Narrows trek in Zion (credit: John Strother)
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Hiking along the northern section of the top-down Narrows trek in Zion (credit: John Strother)
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Hiking along the northern section of the top-down Narrows trek in Zion (credit: John Strother)
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The further you hike, the taller the canyon walls become and the more narrow the canyon (credit: John Strother)
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Hiking along the northern section of the top-down Narrows trek in Zion (credit: John Strother)
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Entering a more dramatic section of the canyon after you pass the ~7 mile mark of the top-down Narrows trek (credit: John Strother)
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Hiking along The Narrows trail in Zion National Park (credit: John Strother)
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Hiking along The Narrows trail in Zion National Park (credit: John Strother)
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At the ~8.5 mile mark, you reach a ~10 foot waterfall that blocks the canyon (credit: John Strother)
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There is a narrow passage on the south side of the main canyon that bypasses the falls and brings you back to the main trail/canyon (credit: John Strother)
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After passing the falls, the canyon becomes more and more dramatic and the water level begins to increase (credit: John Strother)
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Backpacking the top-down Narrows trek in Zion National Park (credit: John Strother)
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Backpacking the top-down Narrows trek in Zion National Park (credit: John Strother)
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Backpacking the top-down Narrows trek in Zion National Park (credit: John Strother)
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At the ~9 mile mark, you reach the confluence of the Virgin River and Deep Creek (credit: Tom R.)
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The Narrows in Zion between the Deep Creek and Kolob Creek confluences (credit: John Strother)
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The Narrows in Zion between the Deep Creek and Kolob Creek confluences (credit: John Strother)
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The Narrow in Zion betwen the Deep Creek and Kolob Creek confluences (credit: John Strother)
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Campsite set up along the top-down Narrows trek in Zion National Park (credit: John Strother)

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Day 2: 7 miles; +100 feet / -400 feet; Campsite to Temple of Sinawava

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Day 2 map of the top-down Narrows backpacking trek in Zion National Park. From campsite #5 to the Temple of Sinawava.

Zion Narrows Trek Day 2 Map (PDF)

On Day 2, you hike roughly 7 miles through the primary section of The Narrows. The canyon views are most dramatic here. Along the way, you pass Imlay Canyon and Orderviller Canyon, both of which can be fun to explore if you have time. The further you get down the trail, the more likely you are to encounter increasing numbers of day hikers. This can degrade the scenery a bit, but the dramatic canyons are still awesome! You continue hiking through the river and Narrows until the ~15 mile mark. At that point, you can exit the Virgin River and hike along the Riverside Trail. This trail leads all the way to the Temple of Sinawava, where you pick up the Zion NPS Shuttle bus to get back to the Visitor Center.

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Leaving the campsite and heading back to the North Virgin River and Narrows to begin the Day 2 hike (credit: John Strother).
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Crossing a swift section of the river in The Narrows in Zion National Park (credit: John Strother)
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At the 2 mile mark on Day 2, you pass by Big Spring. Here you can see several small falls and a hanging garden (credit: John Strother)
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After Big Spring, you pass through a section of The Narrows where the river bottom is covered in round rocks and boulders. Be careful here with foot and use your pole/staff for balance (credit: John Strother)
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The Narrows in Zion National Park (credit: John Strother)
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Negotiating boulders and a swift water flow in The Narrows (credit: John Strother)
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Several areas of the river at are least waist high and swift (credit: John Strother)
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Around the 12 mile mark, you pass through a section of The Narrows known as “Wall Street”. Here the canyon is very narrow and steep and you would not want to get caught in a flash flood (credit: John Strother)
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The Narrows in Zion National Park (credit: S. Oliver)
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The Narrows in Zion National Park (credit: A. Valdez)
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At the ~3.5 mile mark you reach the entrance to the Orderville Gulch. This is beautiful narrow canyon that you can further explore if you have time (credit: R. Vreis)
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A deep water section of The Narrows after passing the Orderville Canyon (credit: L. Galvez)
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You are likely to encounter many day hikers the closer you get to the end of the trek (credit: M. Graf)
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Eventually you can step out of the North Virgin River and hike along the Riverside Trail
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The top-down Zion Narrows trek ends when you reach the Temple of Sinawava bus station

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Here are some similar trip reports!

Zion Traverse – Zion National Park (51 mile point-to-point)

The Escalante Route – Grand Canyon National Park (32 mile trek)

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