Through, Top-Down Hike of the Zion Narrows


Zion National Park, Utah

16 Miles of an Obstacle Course in the River

On September 28, 2013, at about 2:00 p.m., in the middle of the one-way–slot canyons of the Zion National Park, our group of ten hikers had a moment of panic. We suddenly realized that, in the past five hours, we had hiked only six miles. When we calculated that we had only four more hours to make it to our campsite by nightfall, we saw fear in one another’s eyes. At the rate we’d been going, it seemed impossible.

It had been 9:00 a.m., when we were dropped off at the Chamberlain Ranch trailhead by the shuttle bus and began hiking. The canyons were about a quarter-mile wide at the trailhead. As we started heading down the river, we had been awestruck with the beauty of the canyon as its walls narrowed and rose before us. We had been so excited that we kept taking photo breaks, and that’s why we were now running so far behind schedule. What we didn’t realize then was that because of the trail’s obstacles—waist-deep pools to be waded through, uneven and slippery rocks and boulders to maneuver through, broken trees to be climbed over, and waterfalls to be negotiated—we were actually adding another half mile’s time for each mile we traversed. Even though we all had our headlamps, the terrain was so uneven that we would not feel comfortable continuing the hike after dark. Now, to get back to our campsite, it was a race with the sun.

For the next four hours, we walked as fast as we could, without breaks. As we passed Deep Creek, which joined the north fork of the Virgin River at mile 9, the water flow had increased and deepened.

Somehow, with our redoubled effort, we reached the campsite at 6:00 p.m. sharp, with just enough twilight time to pitch our tents and filter some river water for cooking. Relieved, we prepared our meal and ate as night began to fall and the temperature to drop. The next day, we would need to hike only five more miles to reach our goal.

The next day turned out to be the best part of the hike. Right after we left our campsite, we came to Big Springs, where a beautiful fountain of water seemed to flow directly out of the canyon wall. It was so breathtaking that it was hard for us to move on, but, after taking our fill of photos, we continued hiking downriver. Gradually, the canyon narrowed to about 25 feet, near the “Wall Street” section and once more provided us with stunning views. Above us towered walls of 2000-ft.-tall ochre sandstone. Words cannot describe, nor pictures depict, the beauty of these slot canyons. In the early afternoon, we reached the Temple of Sinawava and completed our hike—what an amazing feeling! One more item to check off on our hiking “bucket list”!

Now, if the Narrows sound like something you might like to see, but you’re a little intimidated by, I have some good news for you: You won’t have to hike all 16 miles to experience their beauty; you can approach from the other way with just a day hike, from the bottom up, from the Temple of Sinawava for about three to four miles into the canyons. You can still manage to see the best parts of the narrows, but with a lot less effort!

This was our second attempt to hike the narrows, and we were so glad that we were able to finish it this time around. We had come to Utah in 2010 with our permits reserved, but were unable to hike the narrows due to rain and flash flood warnings.

You can read my notes about some of the other hikes in the Zion National Park here.

All in all, if you love hiking and if you love canyons, this hike should be on the top of your list. Whether you do it bottom up as a day hike or you hike the entire course of 16 miles of the Virgin River narrows as we did, you will be rewarded with many memorable views of your lifetime.

Editing by Veronica McDavid,

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