Thursday, March 19, 2020

What makes the Narrows hike in Zion different?

The Riverside Walk in Zion National Park

Several years ago, when Larry and I visited ZionNational Park--along with other parks in southern Utah—we skipped the Narrows Hike. This hike takes you through the narrowest section of Zion Canyon, a gorge with walls 1,000 feet tall and some of the most spectacular scenery in America.

The tricky part is that hikers must walk though the Virgin River that runs through the canyon. There is no “trail.” You wade upstream through a river that can be waist high, depending on season, and is only 20 to 30 feet wide in places.

During our first visit we were totally unprepared for an adventure like that. Although I waded until the first bend in the river on our first visit, a longer hike (4-6 hours) to discover the reason it is called the Narrows was not in the cards.  
Deb and Beverly starting the Narrows hike
So that hike was on our bucket list when we returned to Zion last September. This time, however, our friend Deb had joined us for part of our trip, and having her along allowed me to hike in places that Larry chose not to go.

The first thing we needed to do was rent special shoes and socks and a walking stick in Springdale (the closest town to Zion). High canyon walls and water create cooler conditions than anywhere else in Zion. The shoes and neoprene socks keep your feet from getting too cold in the 60-degree water, and the walking sticks provided are quite tall and sturdy—unlike our usual hiking poles. When rented together, the footwear package is about $25 from Zion Adventure Company.

Early the next morning we took the park shuttle (personal cars are not allowed to drive on roads within the park) to Temple ofSinawava. From there we walked one mile on the paved Riverside Walk, which followed the Virgin River. When the trail ends, the wet hike begins.

Climbing over beautiful rock formations
There isn’t just one specific destination. You can walk as long as you want and then return the same way you came. Many hikers plan to reach Orderville Canyon, a tributary creek on a detour to the right about two hours upstream from the end of the paved trail. For others the goal is “Wall Street,” the narrowest section of the slot canyon. Permits are required for longer hikes.

Since we did this adventure in mid-September, water levels were somewhat lower and the current was not as fast as it might have been in early spring when snow starts melting. Still, the noticeable current made walking moderately difficult with knee-deep crossings on slick, large, and uneven rocks that covered the river bottom.  Water up to our booties was the highest we experienced!

Taking a break
Now picture this: Two ladies wearing several layers of clothing for warmth, hats, sunglasses, cameras, and backpacks that we hoped to keep dry. Very soon we were slipping, sliding, and schlepping through river water in this amazing canyon. Well, I was the cautious one, as Deb (much younger than me!) stepped her way a little more quickly through the challenging conditions.

Our hike took about five hours—about two miles and two hours in and the same for the return--with plentiful stops for pictures (a must!), snacks, and a peanut butter sandwich lunch at our half-way point. Although Larry started the journey, he soon decided to return to Temple ofSinawava to wait for Deb and me as we continued.

We walked among amazing views like this.
Along the way we were surrounded by soaring, multi-colored sandstone walls. Waterfalls streamed down the canyon sides, while trees and foliage grew in seemingly impossible places. Slick, algae-covered rocks made the going slow at times, so we watched the current carefully and chose routes to avoid the most rapid sections. Crossing from side to side was necessary, as walking a straight line in the moving water was not practical. The further we went, the more beautiful was the contrast between turquoise water and a variety of red, white, and  black striations embedded in the canyon walls.
Water was deeper in some sections--couldn't stay dry!
No description of the Narrows hike would be complete without a warning to check the weather before starting because there’s great potential for flash floods which can occur even when not expected. Much of the area surrounding the Narrows is bare rock that does not absorb water, so runoff is funneled rapidly into the Narrows making the water level rise rapidly within minutes. Rain that had been in the forecast prior to our scheduled day for hiking dissipated by that morning, so we felt it was okay to proceed, and we had a beautiful day to enjoy the sights.

Appreciating nature's handiwork
If you’re adventurous, have reasonably good balance, and don’t mind being wet for several hours (even the best hikers sometimes take a tumble into the water), the Narrows is a striking and awesome hike. You can make it as short or long as you want, keeping in mind that the views are more breathtaking the farther you go. Happy hiking!

Photos by Beverly Burmeier and Deb Delaney

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