Hi everyone! Apart from trail runs, we haven’t really been able to get out to hike lately. This has mostly been due to weather, but also work and school obligations that make it hard to plan out a good day hike or weekend adventure. So we thought it would be fun to talk about one of our favorite hiking experiences- hiking the infamous Narrows in Zion National Park!
We hiked the Narrows back in late May of 2020. Our timing was both very lucky and very unlucky. We got lucky with dodging the familiar blazing temperatures of Zion, however, that also meant we were in the frigid waters of the Virgin River with the air outside in the 40’s. Our visit was also at the tail end of a very high snow year for Utah; the Narrows was flowing especially fast and especially deep. In fact, the trail had been closed due to dangerous conditions just the day before we did our hike! So, we were lucky that the trail was even open on the day we set out for it… but it could be said we were unlucky with the added challenges to an already difficult hike.
We began our hike early in the morning. Then, the Scenic Drive opened it’s gates at 6:00 a.m. (It now opens at 8:00 a.m., according to the Zion NPS website). However, the gates close once the street and parking lot gets full. The street can close as early as an hour after opening on busy days. For that reason, we drove up to the gates at around 5:00 a.m. and waited in our car. Even being there an hour early, we found ourselves in a very long queue to even enter the gate. If we learned anything from our trip to Zion, it is to get there EARLY if you want to find parking! **Please note, during most months of the year, the Scenic Drive is closed to personal vehicles when the park Shuttles are in operation. Due to Covid-19 protocols, you must reserve your spot/ time on the shuttle weeks in advance.**
We parked at the most Northern point of the Scenic Drive, Stop #9: the Temple to Sinawava. There are restrooms and a rest point at this parking lot. From here, we made our way to the Riverside Walk Trailhead. The Riverside Walk Trail is a 1.9 mile paved trail. The trail is very easy, with very limited elevation gain. The paved sidewalk makes it nearly impossible to get lost, as long as you stick to the trail. The trail follows alongside the Virgin River and offers beautiful views and lots of shade (though, we were there before the sun was out).
At the end of the Riverside Walk, we ended at a sand beach, where we officially began our hike into the Narrows! There was a pile of large tree branches that had been left by previous hikers to use as walking sticks/ trekking poles. I truly don’t think we would have been able to get as far as we did without those sticks- we used them to guide us through the never-ending river crossings, as well as leverage during those crossings when the flow was particularly rough.
Our “hike” may be considered more of a swim or wade. The entire trail was covered in water due to the high snow melt that year. Shores and banks that are typically exposed were completely flooded. The water was waist- high for the majority of the hike, however, there were some parts that were chest deep. Not only was the water deep, but the water was freezing. Jonathyn was wearing Chaco’s and I (Marissa) was wearing Teva hiking sandals. Both of our feet were numb from the cold waters. At some point, I had cut my foot on a rock and had ripped a toe nail, but my feet were so numb that I couldn’t feel it!
To be safe, we ended up turning around after about 3 miles. We were both freezing and the waters ahead looked more rough. With a bit more preparation, we could have rented and worn dry suits and waterproof boots, and our experience would have been much different. Still, we both commented on the how the “misery” of the cold added to the experience for us. As an added bonus, the cold waters helped to rejuvenate our sore legs from previous hikes, leaving us with fresh legs for the next day’s hike to Angel’s Landing and the West Rim Trail.
As cold as it was, the Narrows was such a fun and unforgettable experience! The massive canyon walls and waterfalls along the way were breathtakingly (not just from the cold) beautiful. Each bend in the river opened up to more spectacular views, keeping us motivated to keep pushing forward. Unfortunately, because we wanted to keep everything dry, we weren’t able to take very many pictures, but pictures wouldn’t do it justice anyways. We can’t wait to go back in warmer weather or in warmer gear so we can actually complete the hike!
Let us know if you have, or are planning to hike the Narrows!
-Jonathyn and Marissa