ZION NARROWS TOP-DOWN ROUTE 

Zion Narrows top-down routeOverview:
The Zion Narrows "Top-Down" route is a wonderful 16-mile backpacking adventure. Starting from Chamberlain's Ranch outside the northeastern corner of Zion National Park, the North Fork can be hiked top-down from the upper plateau. This is the longer and less popular way to hike the Zion Narrows, but it is quite a rewarding experience to see the more subtle beauty of the the upper North Fork as it slowly transforms into the majestic and deep slot canyon that opens into the main canyon in Zion. This route is usually done as a two-day backpacking trip but can also be done as a long and strenuous day hike.

Flash Flood Warning:
No description of the Narrows would be complete without a stern warning about the danger of flash foods. Many tourists are caulous about taking the weather seriously, but please do not do this hike if the forecast calls for rain. A strong enough rain storm can quickly turn a calm and shallow stream into a deadly wall of rushing water. Please check the weather forecast and the Wilderness Desk for current conditions and for any advisories. Remember that it doesn't have to be raining directly above you for a flash-flood threat to be possible.

Logistics:
PERMITS: A Zion wilderness permit is required for all Zion Narrows top-down hikes, even if you are not backpacking. If you are doing the backpacking option, you pick your campsite when you reserve or purchase the permit for your group. Two caveats: The National Park Service will not issue any Narrows permits if water levels are too high (above 120cfs), either because of recent rains or high spring runoff. During the winter months, permits for the one-day top-down hike are also not issued as there is not enough daylight to complete the hike safely. Please see the Zion Permits website for more information.

CAR SPOTTING: If you intend to drive to Chamberlain's Ranch (the start of the hike), you must plan a way to retrieve your vehicle from the trailhead. Alternatively, you may hire a private shuttle service to drive you to the trailhead. Check with one of the outfitters in Springdale for times and rates. To drive to Chamberlain's Ranch from the east entrance of Zion National Park, drive 1.7 miles east on Route 9 and turn left (north) on the North Fork Road. Roughly 17 miles up the winding road, you will reach the gate near Chamberlain's Ranch; you can drive further through to the small designated parking area, but remember to close the gate and do not drive past the parking area. (See map below.) Note: Most of this road is a fairly rough dirt road; it is usually passable by all vehicles, but it may be impossible right after a rain storm.

Detailed Description:
The Zion Narrows top-down route is a strenuous 16-mile backpacking route. Alternatively, fast and fit hikers can do this route as a long day hike (10-13 hours to complete). Both options make for a good and strenuous adventure.

Zion Narrows top-down routeStarting at Chamberlain's Ranch, hike the dirt road west as it loosely follows the small stream. This is private property, so be respectful and stay on the road/trail; do not hike in the water at this point. The subtle beauty of the upper plateau doesn't even hint at the spectacular canyon you will later be hiking through. 3 easy miles into the hike, you will arrive at Bulloch's Cabin (the remains of an old cabin), and the trail soon hits the water and you are officially on your way. (Once you are in the shallow canyon, navigation is extremely easy, but a map is useful to keep track of your progress.)

The next six miles of scenery in the upper section of the North Fork is more subtle than the lower famous section of narrows and it is notable how much smaller and calmer the water flow is than what most people are used to seeing in Zion Canyon. Many forested sections alternate with brief sections of narrows in the shallow canyon. As the miles go by, however, you will notice the walls get taller and taller.

One notable landmark at the 8.5 mile mark: the North Fork Falls -- a 10-foot tall boulder/log jam that can easily be bypassed by hiking through a little passage on the south side. Soon after the falls, the canyon starts to look like the Zion Narrows that everybody knows and loves. At mile 9 is the majestic confluence with Deep Creek, a canyon equally as impressive as the North Fork of the Virgin River. Here the water volume doubles and you enter a much more impressive section of canyon.

Over the next three miles, you will probably be noting the various campsites that are sprinkled throughout the canyon along with the confluences of Kolob Creek and Goose Creek (both worthy of a little exploration if you have the time and energy). Each campsite is marked by a yellow stake labeled with the campsite number and you must camp at your designated spot. The National Geographic Trails Illustrated map will be useful to track your progress, but campsites might not be in the exact location as indicated on the map. When you do find your campsite, take the time to really soak in the view and relax; this is a magical place to camp!

Zion Narrows top-down routeOn Day 2, the obstacles start getting more difficult as this section is littered with large boulders that block parts of the river; you may encounter a few deeper sections of water (possibly chest deep, depending on conditions) and several boulders to scramble over and down. No obstacles are insurmountable, so always look for alternatives.

At roughly 11.5 miles, you will be at Big Springs: a beautiful spring and hanging gardens in the west side of the canyon. Just past Big Springs, you enter the tallest and narrowest sections of canyon. It is here where you will start to bump into the "day hikers" coming upstream. At roughly 13.5 miles is the confluence with the tall and mysterious Orderville Canyon coming in from the east.

Soon after Orderville Canyon, the canyon opens up ever so slightly and it is only another mile and a half to dry land. Just half a mile from the end is beautiful Mystery Falls which flows down the east walls. Within moments, the crowds of tourists will greet you at the shoreline and ask you to tell them about your adventure. Once on dry land, hike the paved Riverside Walk trail to the Temple of Sinawava where the shuttle will pick you up.

Zion Narrows topo map North Fork Road to the Zion Narrows
and Orderville Canyon.

Note: While viewing the map, click on the map
to return to this page.
Zion Narrows topo map Lower Zion Narrows Map
(Temple of Sinawava to Big Springs.)

Note: While viewing the map, click on the map
to return to this page.

Seasons and Spring Runoff:
The hiking season for the Zion Narrows is typically summer and autumn, but the start of the season is controlled by the spring runoff and water levels. The Zion Narrows is typically closed to hiking between mid-March and late May, depending on how much snow fell on the high country in winter. In record snowfall years like 2005 and 2011, hiking in the Narrows didn't open until mid-July! To see the current and median water levels as well as track the melting of the snowpack in spring, please see the Current Conditions page.

Note that it is possible to hike the Narrows in fall and winter, provided you are adequately prepared for the cold water; farmer-john wetsuit bottoms or even drysuits may be called for, depending on the temperatures. If you want to do the top-down Narrows in the winter, keep in mind that the NPS Service will not issue a one-day top-down permit because there is not enough daylight to complete the hike safely. Snowfall or heavy rains may also make the dirt road to Chamberlain's Ranch impassible.

Water Levels and Difficulty:
The difficulty of hiking the Zion Narrows is greatly affected by water flow. A flow below 50 cfs indicates relatively easy hiking conditions while flow above 100 cfs can be difficult and dangerous. The Wilderness Desk will not issue a permit for the Zion Narrows if waterflow is above 120cfs. Also note that hiking is much more difficult when the water is murky (like chocolate milk) several days after flash floods. Not being able to see rocks under the water's surface can really slow you down.

Equipment Recommendations:
Good footwear that covers your toes are must, as are hiking poles (or a hiking stick) and a fleece. Please see the Zion Narrows Overview page for specific recommendations.

Dealing with Human Waste:
For the first mile of the hike, there are plenty of pockets of vegetated shoreline. While most hikers will choose to hike from shore to shore rather than staying in the water all of the time, please do your best to avoid trampling the plantlife. If you need to pee, it is actually best to go in the river rather than on the shore. If you need to do more than pee, be prepared to pack it out. When you get your permit, the Backcountry Desk will give you a "Restroom II" foil bag for you to use to carry out your poo. Please keep the Narrows clean and pleasant for the next hikers!

Joe's Spin:
Backpacking the Zion Narrows is a very strenuous hike, but it is worth every bit of energy. From the more subtle beauty of the forested shallow sections of the upper North Fork to the imposing walls of the deepest section of the Narrows, this hike has it all. It's even more fun if you can keep your sleeping bag and stove from getting soaking wet.

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