Crocs, Flip Flops and Jeans, Oh My!
The secret (if there ever was one) is out on Zion National Park. Quickly climbing the ranks of the top 10 most visited parks, Zion had just over 4.3 million visitors in 2018. While there are many incredible hikes in the park, two main attractions take the lead: Angels Landing and The Narrows. Over several years of visiting Zion and especially exploring The Narrows, it has become clear that popularity of a hike does not diminish the need to prepare, or take away its challenges. After my last visit and running into some ill-prepared folks, I thought I’d put some thoughts down on what can help make an already incredible hike in The Narrows even better.
Hiking The Narrows is an amazing experience, but where to start? Generally, most people take the day-hike Bottom Up option that begins at the Temple Of Sinawava which is the last stop on the Zion shuttle. Take the River Walk trail until you reach the end where you will see stairs that lead into The Narrows. There is no permit needed for this route and you can hike up to Big Spring (about 5 miles from the trail head) then go back the same way you came. The Narrows is rated as a strenuous hike and is more challenging than people expect, especially for a first time experience.
The other option is Top Down and is considered much more strenuous. With a total of 16 miles, a wilderness permit is required which you can get on-line or try your luck on a last-minute permit the day before your hike.
The Narrows, as mentioned, is incredibly popular and rightly so as it is a truly remarkable and unique hike. Summer time and warmer months will of course have larger crowds, but as with most public lands, there is no “off-season.” Be courteous to your fellow hikers, but if you’d like some more solitude, be sure to catch the earliest shuttle up and hit slower seasons like the Fall and you may just find some alone time with only the sound of the river.
When hiking The Narrows, you must accept that you will get wet. Depending on the time of year, you’ll at least be in ankle-deep water 99.9% of your hike as there is no actual trail. In spring run-off, you could be in chest-deep water in some spots. Under that water are millions of various sized, perfectly smoothed and very slippery rocks. A few things to consider:
-Crocs, flip flops and low-profile shoes are not your friend on this hike. You should have proper footwear to give strong ankle support (breaking your ankle in there would not be enjoyable) and shoes that offer protection of your toes and feet. If you’re asking why I included crocs and flip-flops specifically, it’s because I witnessed several people attempting the hike in such apparel, along with their grimaced faces. The smooth rocks have been described as wet bowling balls and can be difficult to navigate in the best of equipment. Don’t be that person.
-Just because it’s the desert does not mean it is hot. The Narrows have 1000’ high walls that see very little direct sunlight and the Virgin River is no hot spring by any stretch. At minimum, thick neoprene socks will help keep your feet warm and with feeling to help navigate the tricky terrain. At most, a full wet or dry suit or even waders can help keep you warm. Several outfitters in Springdale have wet/dry suits for rent, along with sturdy boots and a hiking stick. If forgoing the wet/dry suit route, be sure to wear quick-dry hiking pants or shorts. Jeans can make for a miserable experience. Bring a light windbreaker or jacket as well.
Know your time-frame:
-There are no Starbucks or McDonald's in Zion, much less The Narrows. If hiking to Big Spring (the turn-around point for day-hikers) you should plan on at least five hours and a 10-mile round trip hike. Be sure to pack plenty of water and salty snacks to keep your energy up and a lunch. Of course, pack out what you pack in!
When nature calls:
-If you eat and drink, that usually means other things follow. There are no bathrooms in The Narrows but if you gotta go, well… pack a waste disposal bag to do your business and make sure to pack it out with you. Yes, for real. There are full restrooms at the Temple stop, so do your best to take advantage!
Know before you go:
-The Narrows are a slot canyon. Spring runoff, especially after a wet winter can produce very high, very dangerous flows which could cause closures or restrictions. Always check conditions on the NPS site or with the visitor center. Summer time is nice, but also poses a higher danger of storms and flash-floods. If there is a storm in the forecast in the area, do not risk it.
Leave it better:
The Narrows are a pristine and unique location. While not much litter is found in this desert oasis, it has been known to happen. Be sure to pack out all your trash and any litter you find. Don't use the river rock to build additional cairns or "rock art" structures.
Enjoy Your Time
All that said, enjoy your time! Just because there may be some guidelines and general common sense items doesn’t take away from the beauty being experienced; in fact, it will enhance it! When you’re prepared, it allows you to focus on the actual moment and your surroundings vs being worried about snapping your ankle as you thought flip-flop would be ideal. Even better, there’s no cell service in the canyon, so it gives you a great opportunity to really disconnect from the tech and reconnect with nature. As always, enjoy your public lands and Adventure Responsibly!