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Exactly How To Day Hike The Narrows Bottom Up In Zion

Exactly How To Day Hike The Narrows Bottom Up In Zion

The Narrows is one of the best and most iconic hikes in Zion National Park. We are going to show you exactly how you can day hike the remarkable Narrows river slot canyon trail from the bottom up at Zion National Park.

For most visitors to Zion, one day will be allocated to hiking Angels Landing and the other day for hiking from the bottom up as far possible into The Narrows.

We hiked The Narrows from the bottom up and back down the Virgin River for a total of 8 hours, wading through water ankle deep, shin deep, knee deep and even waist deep. That’s what it takes to reach Big Springs, the furthest point permitted on a bottom up day hike return in The Narrows.

But the beauty of hiking the slot canyon bottom up is that you only go as far as you feel comfortable. Then, you simply turn around and head back the same way.

The Narrows is immensely popular, extraordinarily thrilling and a truly unique adventure hiking experience. It was one of the first hiking trails we thought of when creating our popular guide to the 50 best hikes in the US.

Very few hikers make it all the way to Big Springs on a day hike but we’re going to explain exactly how you can be one of the few to complete the Narrows in one day.

Let’s day hike The Narrows bottom up in Zion National Park, Utah!

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What Is The Famous Narrows Hike In Zion National Park?

The Narrows is a river hike through a narrow and dramatic slot canyon in Zion National Park. Hikers must wade upstream through the Virgin River with sky-high canyon walls flanking to each side to reach Wall Street and eventually Big Springs.

You can either hike a top down version or a bottom up version of The Narrows. In this guide we will walk you through the bottom up version only.

The Narrows is Zion’s essential hike and the only trail we recommend every visitor should include on a Zion National Park itinerary. Angels Landing won’t be for everyone, but The Narrows is truly unmissable.

Another amazing Zion bottom up day hike is The Subway, on which you hike upstream to an incredible climax but you rarely get wet. It also requires a permit.

If you’re looking for a more constantly submerged adventure that doesn’t require a permit and is located inside the main Zion Canyon, then The Narrows is the hike for you.

Hiking The Narrows to Big Springs is one of the most fun things to do in Utah and the entire United States.

Do I Need A Permit To Hike The Narrows Bottom Up Or Top Down?

Trees inside dark canyon in utah national park

Hiking permits are compulsory for day hiking or overnight hiking The Narrows top down and you must obtain a permit before attempting to hike. However, you do not need a permit to day hike The Narrows from the bottom up.

Day hiking The Narrows from the bottom up is by far the more popular way to see the amazing river slot canyon. This is mostly down to the fact you do not need to worry about ‘winning’ a lottery in order to hike.

Getting hold of a permit to hike the Narrows top down is challenging and you need to be extremely organized. You can either apply months in advance for a permit, or apply on site in Zion for a next day walk in permit.

Important update for 2022: Advanced reservations for the Zion Canyon shuttle bus have been discontinued as of May 1st 2021. But you will need a permit to hike from Scout Lookout to Angels Landing. Visit the NPS website get your permit for Angels Landing.

How Long Is The Narrows Bottom Up Day Hike In Zion?

Day hiking The Narrows bottom up is a maximum of 9.4 miles from start to finish at the Temple of Sinawava Zion shuttle stop at the end of Zion National Park scenic canyon drive. You will hike 1 mile on Riverside Walk before stepping in the Virgin River and The Narrows slot canyon and it is 3.7 miles to reach Big Springs one way.

However, this hike is not a challenge and you don’t have to make it to the end. Getting all the way to Big Springs is challenging and it will take you almost all day.

If you would rather get a taste for The Narrows and turn around after a mile or two so you can hike more amazing trails in Zion, you will be among the majority.

Many people will combine the Narrows with other hiking trails such as The Watchman Trail, Angels Landing or Canyon Overlook in Zion National Park on the same day.

The key take home message is this:

The Narrows day hike is an out and back trail, it is as long as you want it to be and however far you decide to go you must come the entire way back on yourself.

Is Fitness A Major Factor When Hiking The Narrows?

Smooth rocks in a river canyon utah national park

No matter which route you take or how long you spend hiking the Narrows, it is not to be underestimated. It takes its toll on you both physically and mentally.

Not only are you hiking a great distance but almost every single footstep needs to be thought out and carefully considered. Once fatigue sets in and concentration begins to lapse, it only takes one mis-step to fall and rocks hurt!

Safety should always take precedence over pride. If things aren’t going your way or you take a fall (we saw a few), don’t push it.

In terms of physical fitness, you do not need to be an athlete to reach Big Spring but you do need the following attributes:

  • Reasonable poise and balance to prevent slipping on rocks and withstanding currents
  • Moderate level of base fitness and stamina for the endurance aspect
  • Ability to climb over boulders if necessary (we had to scale a few)
  • Willpower! It takes a fair amount of determination to reach Big Spring

Can Beginners Hike The Narrows In Zion?

The Narrows is a unique hike when difficulty and beginner hikers are concerned. It is rated as a strenuous hike but not in the typical sense of the classification. Beginners can hike The Narrows, and we think every hiker with experience or not needs to understand that each step needs to be carefully considered.

We saw a handful of people fall in The Narrows and it didn’t look pretty.

But the people who fell ranged from clearly inexperienced to clearly very experienced hikers. So we wouldn’t want to put you off hiking The Narrows if you haven’t hiked very much before.

The same rules apply to all hikers in The Narrows and it levels the playing field in a way.

The good news is if you do fall, you’re only falling into a shallow river rather than 1000 ft down a cliff like Angels Landing. That is not a place beginner hikers should go in Zion National Park.

Hiring Waterproof Boots And Neoprene Socks For Hiking The Narrows

The Virgin River is warm enough in Summer to hike in typical hiking gear. However, if you are visiting outside of the Summer months and you want to hike in The Narrows, you will need to hire the Dry Pants Package from Zion Outfitter or a similar outfitter in Springdale before you get on the shuttle bus at the main visitor center.

The dry pants package contains:

  • Dry pants (waist high)
  • Canyoneering boots
  • 5mm neoprene socks
  • Wooden hiking stick (the most important item)

The package cost $49 when we were last in Zion, but despite being expensive, paying it will be the single best decision you will make at the park.

We didn’t particularly want to part with almost 50 dollars each but as soon as we began hiking in The Narrows we knew it was the only way we would have a chance of making Big Springs.

Even if you visit in Summer, it might be worth getting the boots and socks (Warm Weather Package) because you will be in the canyon a good 7-9 hours.

The sun doesn’t penetrate the canyon often, so you can expect temperatures to be roughly 10-20 degrees lower than in Springdale.

If you visit in Spring or Fall, there’s no two ways about it and we can tell you from experience you’ll need to bite the bullet and pay the money if you plan to spend a few hours inside the slot canyon.

We saw a few try to do it in October in their own sports shoes with shorts or pants but they did not last long.

Oh, and we are not affiliated in any way with Zion Outfitter – this is just good advice!

More information at Zion Outfitter website.

What To Wear Underneath

Try to dress as comfortably as possible underneath the dry pants package. The last thing you want is chafing, rubbing, blisters or anything that will prevent you hiking 7-9 hours.

If it is warm enough, go with lighter, thinner layers and most importantly, quick drying. Take layers for any food stops to guard against chill.

Here’s what we hiked in underneath our hire gear:

  • Mark – Typical gym gear like sports shorts and quick drying t shirt. One breathable quick dry medium pullover layer and one down jacket for stops, packed in waterproof bag.
  • Kristen – Sports shorts, quick dry t shirt, medium fleece layer and down jacket packed in waterproof bag, plus hair tie and baseball cap.

Do You Need A Walking Pole To Hike The Narrows?

Where are those morgans wearing dry pants package from zion outfitter with walking pole early morning before hiking the narrows

A strong and solid walking pole is essential if you want to make significant progress inside The Narrows and for safety even if you only want to go a mile or two into the slot canyon. You need a pole for balance and you will not get far without one.

You can pick up a walking pole with all packages you hire at Zion Outfitter or similar outfitter in Springdale. Do not rely on ‘maybe’ finding an improvised walking pole made of a tree branch, it won’t do the same job.

If you were to ask us what single thing made it possible for us to get as far as Big Springs when day hiking The Narrows, we wouldn’t say the socks or pants, we would say without hesitation the wooden walking pole.

Can You Use Trekking Poles Instead?

Trekking poles are not going to help with balance inside The Narrows.

The baskets (disk shaped plastic things at the bottom) will get caught in between stones, the length will be too short, and trekking poles are likely to bend and scrape in the Narrows.

A long, thick, dense and solid wooden pole can take more of a beating with less damage caused to the environment and most importantly offers better stability for you.

Is A Waterproof Bag Worth The Money?

Hiring a waterproof backpack for The Narrows is perfect for hikers who want to take anything of value inside the slot canyon, including smartphone, GPS and expensive camera gear.

For those who prefer hiking light with just water and sandwiches, you can carry a small backpack. On the occasions where you are waist deep in water, just hold your bag above your head.

Imagine slipping on a rock and falling into the Virgin River with your $ 3000 camera and lens combination. We get shudders just thinking about that!

Do you have a waterproof backpack? If not, here are two ways you can get one:

  1. You can hire a Dry Bag at Zion Outfitter for an extra $ 10.
  2. Go on amazon and choose between dozens of brands.

We tried to find a waterproof backpack and neoprene socks at the Walmart in Hurricane but they didn’t have either one at the time.

It pays to be organized!

What To Pack For Your Hike

Apart from the waterproof pants and boots with neoprene socks, what else do you need to consider packing for day hiking The Narrows?

Well, the first thing to remember is food and water. You’re going to be in The Narrows all day if you go for Big Springs.

Let’s take a look at the essentials:

The Narrows Bottom Up Day Hiking Overview

Day hiking The Narrows bottom up is among the most popular things to do in what is one of the very best US national parks, so you should come in with high expectations.

This is a full day out and back from the main Zion visitor center in Springdale. But if you plan to only hike for a few hours, follow this overview and turn around at Orderville Gulch or the Wall Street area.

Here’s a walkthrough of exactly what you can expect when you day hike the Narrows bottom up in Zion National Park:

1. Zion Outfitters And Shuttle Bus

If you’re camping at Watchman / South campground, or staying at a hotel in Springdale, you can make your way by foot or village shuttle to Zion National Park visitor center.

If you are driving from further afield, arrive as early as you can otherwise you will find the parking lots completely full at the visitor center and you will have to pay to park in private lots throughout Springdale.

At the visitor center you will find both Zion Outfitter and the shuttle bus you need to enter Zion canyon. Zion Outfitter opens at 8am and we suggest you arrive a few minutes early to get ahead in the inevitable line.

As we mentioned above, to stand any chance of making it to Big Spring outside of Summer you will need to hire the Dry Pants Package. The water is just too cold in Winter, early Spring and Fall.

Once you’re kitted out, try to be on the earliest shuttle bus after 8am and stay on until the last stop called Temple of Sinawava #9.

Many will exit at stop #6 called The Grotto for Angels Landing but everyone in dry pants gear will stay on until the final stop.

Hiring Gear At Zion Outfitter The Night Before

You can hire the waterproof gear for day hiking The Narrows from Zion Outfitter the night before between 3pm and 6pm subject to availability. If you get this organized the night before, you can be on the very first shuttle into the canyon and get ahead of everyone.

2. Riverside Walk

Flash flood sign from expected to not expected warning tourists of dangers in utah

Exit the shuttle and head toward Riverside Walk, a flat and easy 1 mile path taking you to the start of the Narrows. You will notice a flash flood sign with 4 levels of seriousness ranging from not expected to expected.

If flash floods are expected, you will not be able to hike the Narrows trail because Zion park rangers will close the route off for visitor safety.

Fall is the best time to visit to guarantee low water levels and least possibility of flash floods. Winter and early Spring water levels are much higher with snow melt, and sudden flooding is common.

Check for updated flooding information at Zion national park before hiking the Narrows.

3. The Narrows Bottom Up Day Hike Begins

At the end of Riverside Walk you will come to a set of stairs leading into the river. Make use of small wooden benches by making final packing preparations before you begin hiking the Narrows.

Between May and September, you can expect this area to be packed full of tourists, especially if you arrive around 10am-12pm.

Your dry pants package socks and trousers will feel a little strange at first as they tighten around your legs when you enter the water. Any water that gets trapped inside quickly becomes warm.

Take care with each foot placement as you get used to walking not just in water, but also on slippery uneven stones.

Hiking With Others

There’s a good chance you will be hiking the first mile or so of the Narrows with dozens of others. Some will be quick and others slow. There will be couples, families and plenty of people solo hiking.

It can be easy to get frustrated by the clog up here and you may want to go as fast as possible to get ahead. It is a long day after all.

But our advice is to pick your moments to get ahead, namely when walking briefly on any dry ground sections, otherwise you can make less experienced hikers feel nervous or rushed in an already strange environment.

4. Orderville Canyon And Wall Street

The first major landmarks on The Narrows bottom up day hike are Orderville Canyon and Wall Street at around 2 miles into the slot canyon. Wall Street is arguably the most famous and spectacular section of The Narrows bottom up day hike.

Those gigantic canyon walls get even closer together, almost so you can spread your arms and touch each side.

After twisting and turning through the mesmerizing Narrows river slot canyon, you will have quickly learned how best to pace yourself and use your pole for balance.

This is the point in which the Orderville Canyon tributary flows into the North Fork of the Virgin River. You can turn into Orderville Canyon but you are only permitted to hike 1/4 mile upstream.

Use Orderville Gulch as a landmark if following your route on an offline map.

An overwhelming major of hikers use Wall Street as a turn around point in The Narrows. It is quite some way to Big Springs from Wall Street, so it is a great place to turn around if the hike is taking longer than you hoped.

 For those aiming to reach Big Springs, you will notice how much quieter it gets from Wall Street.

Be sure to take time to look around and appreciate your surroundings. The smoothness of the canyon walls at the bottom, the sheer scale of the walls and even a colorful tree once in a while are often missed.

5. Epic Slot Canyon Hiking

Mark climbing on a huge boulder to continue the hike further into the Narrows in zion national park utah

The next 2 hours or so are simply mind-blowing. Day hiking The Narrows from the bottom up is like being dropped into a computer game or a surreal maze but with only one direction so you can’t get lost.

You will be alone in The Narrows at times if you make it as far as Big Springs.

In truth, there is a sense of eeriness and isolation at times which can either be slightly frightening or incredibly liberating. We found both to be true as we spent what felt like an eternity wading through the Virgin River in complete solitude.

There will also be obstacles you have to navigate along your hike to reach Big Springs.

You may have to climb out of the river up a steep bank to bypass a deep section of water. Or you might end up climbing over a huge boulder like we did (pictured above).

You can swim around most of the obstacles but if it is early Spring, Fall or Winter, getting your top half submerged will not seem like a good idea.

6. Big Springs Turnaround

Big Spring is the end of the narrows hiking trail in zion national park you will know you are there when you see 3 small waterfalls

Continue wading, walking and climbing. At times it might seem like you’ve gone as far as you can, an obstacle or false dead end perhaps.

But you haven’t and there are ways to continue through them all.

Even if you see people coming back who tell you ‘the end is at the next obstacle’ – it isn’t.

We found that the hike upstream went on for such a long time, we weren’t sure if we had made it to the end and passed it or if we were still miles away.

Even using offline maps isn’t always accurate when the enormous walls flanking you are blocking signals or messing up location data.

The uncertainty became a little concerning for a short period.

How To Know You Are At Big Springs

Then all of a sudden, we knew we had made it to Big Springs.

Once you see 3 small waterfalls in a row (pictured above) and a path leading away from the river, you have reached Big Springs.

You are not permitted to go any further on a bottom up day hike in the Narrows.

It should be roughly 4 hours after the time you started by now and the perfect time to relax with a late lunch. All uncertainty is removed because now you know you just have to go back on yourself the entire way.

7. The Way Back

We only recommend hiking as far as Big Springs in the Narrows if you consider yourself fit enough and you can afford to lose one full day at Zion National Park.

The way back is long and grueling. Do not underestimate how exhausting the return leg of The Narrows can be, both physically and mentally.

We found our concentration beginning to lapse by the 7th hour and were relieved to be back on the shuttle bus not long after.

As hikers who prefer to go from point A to point B as opposed to an out and back, we found the way back to be a slog at times.

Keep your concentration up because it only takes one wrong foot placement to spoil an amazing day.

That being said, the return leg of The Narrows is still spectacular and far more entertaining than your usual out and back hike!

Zion Narrows Hiking Quick Tips

  • Hire the equipment at Zion Outfitter the night before if possible.
  • Track your progress in the slot canyon using offline maps on one of the best hiking apps like Gaia GPS or All Trails.
  • Have a full set of spare clothes ready in your car for when you finish.
  • Don’t attempt the hike without a wooden pole.
  • Do not lose your pole in the current or between boulders, the hike will be infinitely more difficult without it.
  • Start as early as possible to give yourself more daylight in the Narrows with fewer people.
  • Take plenty of water for hydration and snacks for energy, it is a long day hike.
  • If you’re going for Big Springs, do not turn around until you reach the 3 waterfalls. Even if it looks like you might have reached the end, you haven’t. Not until you see the waterfalls!

Top tip: Day hiking The Narrows is the most popular thing to do in one of the best places to visit in the USA. We recommend you start early by being on the first shuttle so you can beat the crowds and enjoy the solitude inside the slot canyon.

Beautiful photography inside zion national park the narrows hiking trail of smooth stones silky water and green yellow trees

Zion Narrows Photography

Photography is challenging inside The Narrows slot canyon. It is dark and very rarely does sunlight penetrate the canyon walls, which means you need a tripod or you’ll have to bump up your ISO to get a fast enough shutter speed.

Here are some Narrows photography tips:

  • Vertical images are much easier to frame than horizontal to fully capture the natural environment.
  • Consider there will be a lot of deep dark shadows between late morning and early afternoon.
  • If you plan to take photographs, do not forget a waterproof / dry bag and a cross body camera strap.
  • You are putting your equipment at risk every time you get your camera out because the stones are so uneven and the current can shift your balance.

There are plenty of dry patches of ground where you can set up a tripod and take great photographs inside the Narrows, just be hyper-aware of other tourists getting too close to your equipment.

Remember this is called the Narrows for a reason!

Mark and Kristen where are those morgans at big spring hiking the narrows in zion national park as far as you can go on a day hike bottom up without permit

Best Time Of Year To Hike The Zion Narrows

Spring and Fall are typically regarded as the best times of year to visit Zion National Park. However, The Narrows is unique in that you will also need to consider seasonal dangerous water levels and flash flooding potential.

Let’s take a brief look at each season:

Winter

Very cold water and higher water levels on average. Dry pants package essential to stay warm.

However, The Narrows is immensely popular and visiting Zion National Park in Winter means you have a chance of hiking with very few others around.

Spring

Early Spring the Narrows is prone to closing due to snow melt causing the river flow at over 150 Cubic Feet per Second (CFS).

Late Spring the water warm up and water levels begin to drop, however, this is the the time flash floods start being problematic. Check water levels ahead of time to avoid disappointment.

Summer

Warmest water, low water but flash floods remain a possibility.

However, longer daylight hours mean you can spend longer hiking and you probably won’t need to hire waterproof gear.

The major downside is overcrowding both in The Narrows and in line for the Zion canyon shuttle.

Fall: Low water levels and consistent weather but water begins to cool. Daylight hours dwindle but fewer tourists. We visited in October during perfect weather conditions, a weak current and no flooding. Bonus – foliage on the few trees inside the Narrows turn vibrant green and yellow!

Fall

Low water levels and consistent weather but water begins to cool so you will likely need the full warm gear package.

Daylight hours dwindle so you ned to watch your time but even on the busier days in Autumn, you won’t have to deal with thousands of other hikers like in Summer.

We hiked The Narrows in October during perfect weather conditions, a weak current and no flooding.

An added bonus of The Narrows in Autumn is unexpected foliage on the few trees inside the slot canyon turning vibrant greens and yellows!

Zion Planning Guides
Zion Hiking Guides

We hope this guide helped with planning your bottom up The Narrows day hike in Zion National Park!

Have you been to Utah? Which is your favorite National Park? 

Please let us know if we missed anything from the bottom up day hike, if you have any questions or need any help planning your visit.

Happy Hiking,

Mark and Kristen

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