I have wanted to hike the Zion Narrows since I first learned of them on spring break of senior year. (My best friend insists it was our senior trip; I maintain it was spring break. An insignificant detail to everyone but us, for whom it seems the crux of memory.)
That year, we camped in Zion Canyon with a small group of friends, and did the first two miles of the Narrows, from the Temple of Sinawava, or, one of the most heavily-trafficked tourist destinations in southern Utah. I wanted to keep going; I wanted to go all the way. But we turned back due to the biting cold water, and our ill-preparedness.
For the last 21 one years, I’ve intended to do the full hike. This year, for my birthday, I finally did.
The Zion Narrows is a 16-mile hike through the Virgin River and the slot canyons of Zion National Park.
The Zion Narrows is an approximately 32-mile/12-hour wet walk/swim through a rushing river that, over hundreds of millions of years, cut into sandstone layers, forming majestic, humbling, thousand-feet-tall walls. At parts, the river is just twenty to thirty feet wide, the narrows canyons rising dramatically, framing slivers of the sky above.
The extended distance of 32 miles that I used above, versus the 16 miles for which the hike is known, is due to the amount of criss-crossing required to safely traverse the river. The river bottom is rocky, the rapids are forceful, and the only way to navigate them, without being bowled over, is to cross the river, again and again, until your Garmin shows you’ve doubled the mileage you expected to walk.
At points, the river was too deep to navigate without swimming. Most of the time, the water was knee-to-thigh deep. In spring and early summer, water levels are higher. In all seasons, flash floods are possible.
Bend after bend, the hues of the canyon shift as the revealed layers of sedimentary rock bare the history of their formation, in varying stripes and pattern, like gargantuan versions of the framed moving sand art sold at The Sharper Image in the 1980s.
In a portion where the walls turned deep gray, smooth, and bulbous, I became overwhelmed with emotion, under the weight of the staggering immensity of the time, apparent in the texture and magnitude of the canyons. Later, where a spring flowed off of a mossy collection of rocks, I felt giddy with the pure joy of finding myself in the middle of paradise.
I don’t exaggerate: I never felt tired, worn, cold, or frustrated. I attribute part of this to choosing good clothes, renting shoes and socks, and, along with my friend who accompanied me, planning our food and equipment well.
When frustration came, it was in the form of transportation. The start of the hike is outside of Zion Canyon. You have to get there somehow, and then get yourself to a bed somewhere when you finish the hike, 16 miles away from where you started. Hiking through a rushing river for 12 full hours was heaven; dealing with transportation was… not hell, but a really annoying hassle.
All potential future Narrows hikers, read my How-to Hike the Zion Narrows guide. I hope it’ll help you navigate the logistics, and extend the euphoric state you’ll find yourself in upon finishing this most glorious of hikes.