The two most popular hikes in Zion for the adventurous are Angels Landing and The Narrows. The former, Angels Landing, is a 5-mile roundtrip up a 1,500 foot tower via two sets of switchbacks, followed by a 0.4 mile finish across the “Spine,” a narrow sandstone ridgeline with 1,000 foot drop-offs on both sides. This is accomplished while holding on for dear life to the chains and stanchions bolted into the mountain, ending at the summit. Since 2000, at least a dozen people have fallen to their deaths trying to get there.
Here’s Angels Landing. Yeah, we’re not doing that.
But we are doing The Narrows.
To get to The Narrows, we drove in early from Virgin in the Jeep and parked at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center before the crowds started flowing in (around 7:30 a.m.). We then hopped on the Park shuttle which took us up the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive past Canyon Junction and Angels Landing to the shuttle’s terminus at the Temple of Sinawava and the beginning of the Riverside Walk Trail.
The Riverside Walk is a one mile stroll on even ground alongside the Virgin River to the beginning of The Narrows, a deep slot canyon cut through the hard Navajo sandstone by the Virgin River. The Narrows “trail” is in the riverbed (here’s a map), walking mostly due north until you no longer feel comfortable with the depth of the water. Most people turn around at the junction with Orderville Canyon.
After donning our rented canyoneering boots and neoprene socks ($25/person at Zion Outfitters), we grabbed our walking sticks and, a little tenuously, climbed down into the water and headed upstream.
Much of the hike is in ankle-deep water, but there is a section in the lower Narrows where the water today was crotch-deep from canyon wall to canyon wall – no escaping getting wet below the hips.
There were, of course, areas where it was possible to walk on dry “ground,” that is, rounded boulders, but most of the hike was in water. The rented canyoneering boots made the hike much easier than trying to do it in Teva sandals or water shoes like those we saw several other people struggling with. Those zebra-striped rocks (bottom right), by the way, are the result of water seeping down the rock, laden with iron and manganese, something geologists call “desert varnish.”
The canyon walls towered above us; most of the time rising 500 to 800 feet overhead!
We were some of the first hikers out this morning, so we only saw a handful of people on the way upstream.
This is an area called “House Rock,” where the river is restricted by a giant, fallen boulder, forming several small rapids, eddies and at least one still pool.
A little further along, we came to the Narrows Alcove:
There were two ways through this section: on the left, which we took on the way upstream, across boulders; or, on the right by plunging in waist deep and fighting the current (we took this path on the way back downstream).
Just beyond the Narrows Alcove, Orderville Canyon appeared on our right. This is the beginning of the section known as “Wall Street.”
We continued up Wall Street, determined to see how far we could go.
In Wall Street, the canyon walls rise 1,500 feet and are only 22 feet apart in some places! Very little sunlight reaches the water here. When the water is running high this is a dangerous area because there’s no high ground to climb onto in the event of a flash flood.
As we approached “Floating Rock,” we decided we had probably gone far enough.
We turned around at the 2-mile mark and made our way back downstream, stopping briefly to take a photo skyward. Going downstream was much easier than going upstream, into the current.
Back at House Rock, we started running into hikers making their way upstream, including this group of boys on an “Outward Bound” type of excursion. How would you like to be chaperoning this tribe? They looked and acted like the Lost Boys. I was waiting for Peter Pan and Captain Hook to show up at any moment.
The further downstream we went, the more crowded it became. Near the climb out at the end, it was wall-to-wall people. We made it out of the canyon just in time. Narrow escape.
Back at Sinawava, we caught the shuttle back to the Visitor Center and our Jeep and then drove to Zion Outfitters to return our rented gear. They had posted the days statistics: afternoon air temp (high) 87°F; water temp 64°F; river flow 41.8 cfs, rated easy/mild.
Perfect conditions to hike The Narrows.