HIKING THE ZION NARROWS: Overview of Routes, Permits, etc.

The Zion Narrows (Virgin River)The North Fork of the Virgin River (aka "The Zion Narrows") is probably one of the most legendary canyons to hike in all of Zion National Park. The Zion Narrows is the section of the Virgin River just upstream from the Temple of Sinawava (the end of the road up the main canyon). Here, the majestic walls of the main canyon close in to form a tall and narrow canyon with beautiful dark corners and the Virgin River flowing around you. With beautiful flowing water and barely any direct sunlight reaching the bottom, this is the slot canyon that all other slot canyons are compared to.

Three Ways to Hike the Zion Narrows:

Wilderness Permits:

You do not need a permit to do the Zion Narrows "bottom up" day hike from the Temple of Sinawava. You DO, however, need a Zion permit for all "top-down" hikes, even if you are hiking down in one day. If you are doing the backpacking option, choose your campsite when you reserve or pick up your permit at the Zion Wilderness Desk or at the Kolob Visitor Center. (See the Zion Backpacking page for more details.) Do not squat at any campsite that you don't have a permit for; rangers do patrol and ask to see permits.

Wilderness campsites are primitive. No open fires are allowed and there are no facilities, restrooms, or garbage cans. Pack out all of your trash and leave campsites clean for the next group. You are also required to pack out all solid human waste and toilet paper. Let's talk about wag bags!

NOTE: The National Park Service will not issue any Narrows permits if water levels are too high, either because of flash floods or high flow during the 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 Wilderness Permits website for more information.

The Zion Narrows (Virgin River)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.

Seasons, Water Levels, and Difficulty:

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.

The difficulty of hiking the Zion Narrows is greatly affected by water flow. A flow below 50cfs indicates relatively easy hiking conditions while flow above 100cfs 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:

Beyond what you would take on any other hike (food, water, map, etc.), below is a list of some of the essential equipment you will need for any of the Zion Narrows hiking routes. If you don't have your own equipment, many of the outfitters in Springdale sell or rent equipment.

Please see the Zion Narrows "Bottom-Up" Day Hike and Zion Narrows "Top-Down" Route descriptions for more specific route information!

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