Springdale Stories and Tips

Zion Narrows

If you're a backpacker, nature lover, or just want an adventure, Zion narrows will surely give it to you. I have backpacked quite a lot, living in Colorado but this hike left me in awe.

Located in the southwest corner of Utah, Zion National Park and it's sister park Bryce Canyon are some of the most amazing scenery in the U.S. They are filled with red rocks, canyonlands, and a spirit I can't explain.

My boyfriend and I had gotten a tip to hike the narrows, but we had no idea what we were in for. This is a 17.5 mile hike done in two days spending a night camping in the canyon. It is a strenous hike, most of it not along a trail but knee deep to chest deep in the water. Hiking in the river over rocks is as the park brochure says, "like walking on a million slippery bowling balls". The park only allows a certain number of people in the canyon per day and it is based on a first come first serve basis.

Knowing this, our first stop was the park's visitor center. The overnight backpacking permit table was headed by a friendly elderly park ranger who gave us the details of the hike. They are not supposed to advise you on going into the canyon or not, I'm assuming for liability reasons. They only give you the weather report. See, the canyon is likely to flash flood if there is rain, the whole hike is inside a canyon. There is only about 3 miles (only?!!?) where there is high danger - no place to climb up to safety. The rest of it there's a chance. Well, there was only a 20% chance of rain. And if the 70 year-old ranger would do it (he said he would and had) we had to. We had met another couple at the desk doing the same hike. We were set to start the next morning.

There are two options to getting to the starting point. One - there is a bus that takes you there in the morning, I believe at about 6:00am. If you aren't an early riser and have two vehicles, you can drive one up at the top and leave one at the bottom. The only thing to remember is that the roads to the top are clay and if it starts to rain there is a chance that the roads will close. We decided to take the chance and carpool with the couple we had met.

We could hardly sleep that night, anxiously awaiting the great trip ahead of us. The next morning, we took the hour drive up to the top of the trail. The trail actually starts outside of the park's boundaries - in a beautiful scenic valley that is the home of Chamberlain Ranch. The hike starts out nice and easy walking along a trail with wonderful wildflowers and streams. The trail takes you upon Bulloch Cabin - a old cabin from the early settlers still standing is the vast openness. About two hours into the hike, you start heading into the canyon. You have a canyon wall on one side, a creek running next to it and flat land on the other side. The "trail" is finding the best spot to walk. It is usually on the flat land which is constantly switching from left to right as you wind into this canyon. This requires crossing the creek and beginning your hike along the "bowling balls".

The creek slowly turns into the Virgin River. Let me tell you, this is the perfect name for it. Not only is is beautiful and serene, but pollution free. The area still looks virgin and you feel as though you are the first people to walk on the land. The trail slowly diminishes and pretty soon you must start walking in the river. It is nice and refreshing on the hot summer day and we take our time hiking. We stop for lunch and swim breaks and get to know our new hiking friends. Every turn of the corner (you are winding back and forth constantly) brings an astonishing site to your eyes. The canyon is filled with textures rocks that look as though they've been painted. The water gets deeper and you must look for the shallowest part to walk through. There were places that were chest deep and required us to lift our backpacks over our heads while walking through the water. There are also places where you must survey the area before finding the least dangerous route to get you through the canyon. We felt like we were in some National Geographic Explorer adventure. It was crazy.

After hours of hiking, we were getting tired and searching for our campsites. We had been assigned a campsite in the canyon for the night. But there was one more wonder to see this day. We ended up almost literally walking onto a 12 foot waterfall. As we looked down it we pondered how we were going to manage this one! Luckily we found a narrow path around the waterfall down to the bottom. It was a nice break and shower before heading to our campsite. Finally, after about 9 hours of hiking we found the campsite. Thank goodness for dry socks and wine!! The campsite was up on high land, well high enough anyways, with the river running next to you.

A good night sleep and ready to go the next morning - finish the hike and head into the narrow part of the Narrows. Our wet shoes back on (this was hard) and our fingers crossed for no rain, we were off. Only a couple hours ahead we ran into the Big Springs, coming out of the cliff wall, looking as if we should have been in Hawaii. The big swimming holes called our names and we had to stop for a break. Hiking on, there were amazing even narrower canyons off of this one - fun to explore if you have the time. And then the start of the narrow section - by this time we were exhausted, we had already spent another 5 hours hiking through the river on the "slippery bowling balls". But if this scenery doesn't pep you up, I don't think anything would. The walls get taller and narrower during this 3 mile stretch. They are also coal black and about 3000 feet high. I have never felt so insignificant in my life. The feeling is unbelievable and you want to constantly snap shots from your camera. I was speechless. This "virgin river" had stolen my heart.

At the end of the hike, other tourists were hiking up from the bottom (the hike for people who really don't want to hike) to see the start of the narrows. We had to of looked pretty rough - people were staring at us as though we were from Mars. And let me tell you, the blisters on my feet were screaming for the end. But it was a great acomplishment, I was proud to say I had spent two full days and almost 18 miles hiking the narrows. The end of the trek is at the Temple of Sinawara - a lodge for tourists and a parking lot with my car. And yes, it did start to pour as soon as we were out of the narrows! We had to spend the night before getting up to the other car. I don't think that our exhausted bodies would have taken us very far anyways.

Some recommendations: either really good hiking boots that can stand the water or water boots, moleskin or bandaids for blisters, waterproof clothing, and packing your belongings in garbage bags and/or ziplocks (especially your camera) inside your backpack. Also, leave behind anything that can be left behind, your backpack gets really heavy by the second day!! We skipped the tent and just brought sleeping bags and a tarp, it doesn't get very cold at night and there aren't too many animals to worry about. Be ready for a strenous but extraordinary hike!

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