"It's like trying to walk on bowling balls covered in Vaseline," a fellow hiker told Matt and I the morning before we were set to attempt the Narrows, one of the premier hikes in Utah's Zion National Park. "You need to have shoes that grip."
If I'm going to be completely honest, we were already somewhat nervous about the hike. Do we need a walking stick? Should we rent canyoneering shoes? What's up with those funny looking neoprene socks - do they keep your feet dry? Taking a risk, we decided to forego the rentals (except a ridiculously overpriced $7 hiking stick from Zion Adventure Co.) and just use the gear we already had to attempt the 8-mile round-trip hike.
For the last three nights, Matt and I have been staying at the Zion Canyon Campground, which is roughly a two-minute drive from the entrance to Zion National Park. In order to beat the throngs of tourists who were sure to ruin our photos, we woke up early and caught the first of the free shuttles to the Temple of Sinawava stop. Here, we would follow the Riverside Walk to the entrance of The Narrows, then wade through the Virgin River upstream until we hit Wall Street.
The day prior, Matt and I visited Zion Adventure Company, a business name we saw over and over again while researching our trip. They're one of the most well-known rental companies in the area and rent out canyoneering shoes, neoprene socks, hiking sticks, climbing equipment and more. (You can also purchase used equipment for very reasonable prices or buy new items like dry sacks, carabiners and climbing helmets.) Canyoneering shoes, a hiking stick and neoprene socks, when rented together, are about $23.
Personally, if hiking in the summer months, we DO NOT recommend renting equipment if you've got sturdy hiking boots. The items are overpriced and unnecessary. If you need a hiking stick, catch one of the earlier shuttles to The Narrows and you'll find piles of sturdy walking sticks left behind by fellow hikers. Grab one that feels comfortable to you, then leave it for someone else when you return.
Arriving at the Temple of Sinawava stop, there were eight others who got off the shuttle with us. About half didn't even attempt crossing the Virgin River to the entrance of The Narrows. After about a one-mile walk along the paved Riverside Walk, we reached the end of the pathway and were forced to cross water just above ankle deep. The water was cold, but not unbearable, and certainly seemed to get noticeably less cold as we continued our adventure.
Soaring vermillion towers and rippled canyon walls greeted us as we entered. The first rays of morning light had just begun hitting the tops of the cliffs above us and at times we paused, for photos or to take in the beauty of our surroundings, and it was as if we had the whole place to ourselves.
Steadily the canyon walls start to narrow as you approach the Wall Street area and the water deepens. During our hike, the water never reached more than the waist of my 5-foot-1 frame, but the dry air and sunlight dried my clothes quickly (and with these views, I hardly noticed I was wet at all...).
How we did it:
If you're a first-timer or have only a few hours to spend in Zion, the best way to experience The Narrows is to take the Bottom-up Hike. No day permit is required, though if you do wish to camp inside or hike the entire 16-mile trail from the top down, you will need to get a permit by way of the lottery.
Depending on water flow, water height, your hiking ability and how far you choose to go, this hike can be easy to strenuous as you are wading upstream for the better part of your journey. Remember that you can hike in as far as you feel comfortable with the option to turn back at any time and leave the way you came.
Gear you'll need:
- Hiking shoes (preferably with ankle support). Matt and I each wore our waterproof Merrell hiking shoes and regular socks. They worked beautifully but expect your feet to get wet no matter what footwear you have on.
- Waterproof Bag to carry your essentials. Matt and I each used a Sea to Summit dry sack purchased from REI. His is 13L and mine is 8L. These housed our car keys, snacks/ lunch, camera equipment and a pair of dry clothes.
- Water Bottle. Feel free to bring a filtration device if you plan on being in The Narrows for most of the day and don't want to be weighed down by multiple water bottles. We brought our Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter, but didn't actually need to use it.
- Weather appropriate clothing. Because we took our hike in September, the water was fairly warm from the summer sun and we didn't need dry suits. Matt and I each packed a long-sleeve shirt and wore shorts and T-shirts during the hike. I would also recommend taking a light jacket (I brought a Columbia rain jacket) to fend off the chilly morning air. If attempting this hike in the colder months, definitely consider wearing a wet suit to keep your body temperature regulated.
- Hiking Stick (recommended). Though a walking stick isn't essential, some of the rocks are a bit slippery and a sturdy stick helps with balance. Matt didn't use one and was perfectly fine, but I had a few close calls and having that one stick surely helped. If you start your hike early (before 8 a.m.), DO NOT rent a stick. There are plenty at the entrance to The Narrows that fellow hikers leave behind. Grab one and leave it when you're done.
Navigating the Zion Shuttle:
In order to access The Narrows, you'll need to ride the shuttle into Zion Canyon to Temple of Sinawava (a roughly 45-minute drive during the summer season). The shuttles are free to the public and start running at 6 a.m. each day. Hop on at any of the eight stops to get to where you need to go. There is a recording that plays overhead so you know which hikes start at which stops, or you can feel free to ask the drivers as they are extremely knowledgeable about the Park and its surroundings.