When my daughter asked if we would like to go camping in Zion National Park, Utah and hike The Narrows, it was an instantaneous…….absolutely! Utah and it’s many national parks have unparalled beauty. The red sandstone cliffs against a blue sky is eye candy for me. I had seen pictures of The Narrows, but never dreamed that I would someday hike it as I was 60 years old.
After saying yes, I immediately started researching. Was it really reasonable for me to achieve? The answer is a resounding yes if you are in at least in fair health. You should have good ankles and knees and a degree of physical stamina. But even if you are limited, there is still much for you to see and experience on the way to The Narrows.
The Narrows is a slot canyon carved into the red sandstone by eons of rushing waters brought on by winter run off and summer rains. You begin your hike at the River Walk trail head, a mile long paved pathway, and suitable for almost everyone, even wheelchair accessible. The Virgin River and canyon walls will be on one side and the steep rock walls on the other. Water seeping through the rock over centuries keeps even delicate ferns green in this high desert climate. The River Walk is the last stop on the shuttle bus, easy to get to and easy to get back, plus it’s free.
If you are planning on entering the Virgin River, the end of the River Walk is where you begin. If you aren’t sure if this is a good idea for you but you are feeling a little bit adventurous you can wade into the river and head upstream for 100 yards or so. Turn back any time you feel unsure.
If you are planning on going deep into the canyon then I recommend starting early, like 8:00-8:30 AM. The shuttle line gets very long and it gets pretty crowded even further up into the canyon. Be sure to have plenty of water and your lunch. Wear layers suitable for the temperatures you will be hiking in. The water is cold, but there can be very warm breezes and much colder temps in the shadows.
We rented boots and hiking sticks in the village and I highly recommend doing so. We saw people in flip flops, street shoes, Mary Janes and bare feet. Really not advisable, be prepared, you will enjoy yourself more. The floor of the river is covered with round smooth rocks, average size a bowling ball. The rental boots have thick stiff soles & include a sock made out of wet suit material, which help keep your feet warm. The water can be cold.
The walking sticks that came with the rental boots were wood sticks. I had 2 walking sticks that I had brought from home, more like a ski pole. I loved them, so helpful. With the sharp point I was able to find the tiniest crack to support myself. You need at leakst a walking stick, even the strongest umongst us used them.
The hike into The Narrows isn’t steep, that’s not why it’s strenuous…..that comes from the fact that you will be hiking in the river the majority of the time, against the flow of the river, over the rocks and in water at times as high as thigh deep. It could be even deeper in the spring.
We had in our group a baby about 14 months old in a backpack, a handful of kids under 6 and 3 official senior citizens. I’m certain I would not have ventured as far up the canyon as I did if it weren’t for the very fit people I was with. There was always someone to hang on to when I needed a little additional support.
It’s hard to know exactly how far into the canyon we went, but we figure it was at least 3 miles up after getting into the water at the end of the River Walk. I made it a little past the end of Wall Street and a few others went up a little further to where it was so narrow that swimming was the only option.
The beauty in this canyon will leave you speechless. Looking straight up as the red canyon walls narrow to the crystal blue sky overhead is breathtaking. As the sun moves across the sky the colors & shadows change continuously. It hardly looked familiar on our return.
Be careful not to push yourself to far. I felt pretty good at the end of Wall Street, but it takes just as much energy to go back down the canyon as it did going up. The water still makes you work just as hard. Three miles up the river is gonna be three miles back down, with the river current as strong, only it can feel stronger because you’re gonna be tired.
The last mile down to the River Walk was difficult and I won’t lie, I was so incredibly exhausted. I was so happy to see the River Walk and the stairs up to the pavement. Still meant we had another mile to go back to the comfort of the shuttle bus. Over 8 miles in total.
In the end a few of us fell in, and got wet. The day was warm, but even so wet clothes can be miserable and lower your body temperature to a dangerous low if not preparred. Some in our group had to go back early because they had nothing dry. In retrospect having a dry shirt in a ziplock bag might be wise. The day after we hiked was a much cooler, cloudy day. We heard sirens in the canyon, lots of them. Some who had been in The Narrows, fell in and ended up with hyperthermia.
When we got back to camp I was pretty proud of myself. Most of those who had to return early because of little kids, still young and strong, work out and they were exhausted. So I felt pretty good dragging myself back into camp.
I think I would do it again if I had the chance. I’m a little better prepared having done it once already. This is by far the most amazing hike I have ever been on. I’ve seen a lot of beautiful hikes having grown up in Mammoth Lakes, but this was by far my most favorite. I give it a 10!
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