Stunning Scenery On Utah’s Zion Narrows Hike

Zion Narrows Hike Utah

Hiking Zion National Park

Springdale, Utah

Zion National Park is one of America’s great natural wonders. Hiking in a river between steep canyon walls on the Zion Narrows hike is a very unusual adventure.

I’ve been on a lot of interesting hikes over the years, including wildlife abundant jungle in Costa Rica and up exploding volcanoes in Guatemala. But there are plenty of awesome hikes available in the United States too.

By far one of the most unique is the Narrows hike in Utah’s Zion National Park.

Zion Canyon is a 15 mile section of imposing 1500 foot sandstone cliffs that have been cut away by the Virgin River. The Narrows is the most popular hike in the park, partly because it traverses through parts of the canyon only 25 feet wide. Hence the name.

The journey is rated as one of America’s 100 Best Adventures by National Geographic.

Hiking Zion Narrows Utah

Ice Cold Water in the Virgin River

Hiking Zion Canyon

The Zion Narrows hike is particularly unusual as a majority of the trek is within the river itself, wading up to waist deep or even swimming short sections due to lack of dry land in between the sheer rock walls.

I was visiting in November and it was beginning to get cold outside. Slow season in the park meant less hikers on this famous trail. Always a bonus.

So while I was happy there wouldn’t be too many people around, it also meant I’d need to hike through a freezing cold river for over a third of the route…

No matter. I love a good challenge. Getting up before dawn to pack lunch and prepare for the trip, I headed into the national park from my hotel located in the quirky little town of Springdale.

Groups of beautiful big horn sheep were a welcome sight on the drive to the trailhead, munching grass for breakfast on the side of the road.

Hiking Zion National Park Utah

High Canyon Walls

Icy Water in the Narrows

To hike the Narrows without a permit, you start at the Temple of Sinawava. It’s possible to get here by shuttle bus if you don’t have a car. The first section of the trail is called Riverside Walk, and it’s a dry hike for about 1 mile.

After that it’s time to get into the water! During autumn months, most people wear waterproof pants & boots with neoprene socks to help stay warm in the 40 degree water.

But I’m too stubborn/cheap to rent extra gear, so I just wore shorts and a pair of regular hiking shoes. It was a poor decision. :?

Only 2 hours into the adventure, my feet were completely numb. They felt like solid blocks of ice attached to my ankles!

Zion Canyon Narrows Utah

Wall Street in Zion Canyon

Slot Canyon Scenery

Trudging through the icy water was a bit uncomfortable, but I didn’t notice it too much due to the stunning scenery that opened up around every twist and turn. Impossibly high, steep, rust-colored walls glowing warmly with the rising sun.

These soft sandstone cliffs were smooth and wavy from the mighty power of the river.

I encountered maybe 15 other people during the 6 hour round-trip hike that took me past famous Zion Canyon landmarks like “Wall Street” and “The Narrows”. Most of them were amateur & professional photographers, up early like myself to get the best shots in the morning light.

The Narrows hike in Zion National Park made quite an impression on me. It definitely ranks up there as one of my favorite hiking trips. ★

More Information

Location: Springdale, Utah
Cost: $25 US (entry fee)
Accommodation: Cable Mountain Lodge
Useful Notes: Zion Canyon has a history of flash-floods when it rains, so be very careful (or completely avoid) hiking if the local weather forecast is predicting rain.

Any Questions Or Comments?

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29 Comments

  1. Hi Matthew,

    we are going this weekend. we are planning to start at 6am without a permit. Do we need dry pants or would regular shorts be okay? I am also taking my 5D MArk II and plan on renting a dry bag along with hiking shoes and neoprene socks and a hiking pole. what else will I need? Great pics and good summary.

  2. Hi Matthew.
    I hope to be there in mid-September, you think with normal hiking shoes and neoprene socks can cope with this challenge, I am also stubborn. Did not you afraid of falling into the water with your photographic equipment?
    Thank you.

  3. Great article on The Narrows! During my trip last April I missed it and The Subway due to flooding making it too dangerous. I can’t imagine doing it in November with the cold weather! Your photos look amazing and make me want to start planning the trip back!

  4. We absolutely love Zion, hiking there is awesome. The fall colors in Zion are hard to beat. I can’t believe you hiked the Narrows wearing regular hiking shoes at that time of year, I’m sure the blocks of ice you described were accurate! Love the images too!

  5. Isn’t it funny how we dream about traveling to exotic locales when we actually have some pretty stunning things to visit right in our back yard? I live in Vancouver, so a road trip to Utah isn’t really all that far, relatively speaking! I’ve always wanted to visit Zion to do some hiking. Now I REALLY want to visit Zion!

    1. Mid-morning seemed like the best time, especially with a tripod for using slow shutter speeds. No harsh shadows yet, and not many people in the middle of your shots. But there was still a bit of light on the walls. I started hiking at 6am, and was on my way out around noon.

  6. I remember hearing about this hike when I was in Zion. I was only 11 though, so we didn’t attempt it due to my parents’ fears that my sister and I would get swept off downstream! It’s such a beautiful place. That and Yosemite take some beating.

  7. My FAVORITE fotos, Matthew!!! The colors are vibrant and every photo is so crisp and breathtakingly beautiful! I have a long way to go in my photography! Wow! Question: I know you usually travel with the orange bag- you answered that questions I had about your equipment a while ago- so in what do you pack your camera equipment so that it doesn’t get ruined?
    You do realize, Matthew, that now besides the Gorillapod I will now have to get my hands on a “intervaldometer.” Argh! I gotta save for my trip…one day. You’re not helping, but this is wonderful! Cheers!

    1. For a wet trip like this, I use a drybag. The one I carry with me (Aquapac) is very light and thin, but strong enough to be submerged underwater for a bit with no problem. It’s listed on my travel gear page. Still need to write a review for it though. :)

      I do have some fun gadgets Janeth, but it’s important to note that they aren’t needed to have a great time traveling. The first step is getting out there!

  8. Haven’t been to Zion yet, but plan on going!
    My dad’s an amateur photographer and a big fan of the USA’s National Parks. When I saw his pictures the first time I knew I had to go!

  9. LOVE the shot of “Wall Street”-it’s my newest favorite! Looks like it might be a scene from “The Ten Commandments” or some other epic film! Nice job!

  10. Love the colours in your photography.

    We visited Yosemite and Bryce Canyon on our west coast USA road trip and almost made it to Zion but ran out of time. Although you struggled with the freezing water it looks a brilliant time to visit.

    1. I use an intervalometer attached to my camera. I can set it to take a photo every few seconds until I turn it off. This lets me take my time walking out into position, trying a few different “poses”, then going back to check out the results.

      If you’re a bystander watching this, I’m sure it looks pretty ridiculous. But the results are worth it. :D

      For these particular shots, I also used a slow shutter speed to capture the movement of the water, which meant I needed to stand completely still.